What an amazing experience! If world-class karate training and life-changing cultural experience is what you were looking for on this camp, it delivered in spades.
25 Aussies; 19 High School aged students and 6 Coaches from Evolution Martial Arts and Ettingshausens left Australia seriously excited about the 2 weeks ahead (and little apprehensive about the intensity of karate about to unfold). Many of the karate students took with them quite a depth of experience and skill in hand, whilst others had begun their karate more recently and were still relatively untested. One of our EMA students from the 2010 tour returned with us in 2016 as coach - terrific, Anna Lee!
First stop on the tour: Kochi; an isolated and rural city located on the Japanese island of Shikoku.
It was already clear before leaving home that the discipline of Meitoku would be a change in lifestyle for the children. Days began before 6AM, up for roll call and assembly and preparation for breakfast. Living a disciplined life with a regimented timetable was routine for the Meitoku students. They are early for all classes, roll call and training. Meitoku days are very long and include keeping their dormitory clean and tidy. The Australian student's efforts were commendable; they absolutely kept up with Meitoku life.
Karate training at Meitoku is intense. The privilege of joining the Meitoku karate world was not lost on the Aussies. They worked hard, they fought hard, they were on time and gave it their all. Evolution Martial Arts and Ettingshausens are very proud of the work ethic and enthusiasm that the children showed. The Aussie coaches noted how impressive Head Karate Coach Oishi Sensei is inside the dojo. He has a presence like no other and had the children pushing to their capacity. Unexpectedly, Oishi Sensei invited EMA head instructor Raymond Morcomb to teach at the school. Ray was very honoured and loved the opportunity to do it! Nakata Sensei (who was a student of Meitoku in 2008 when Ray and Tanya first visited) is now the assistant coach and taught some terrific lessons.
Mr Nathan Berry from Meitoku organised a brilliant cultural exchange program for the stay. The city of Kochi is beautiful. It includes seaside, mountains and historically precious buildings. The Australians did a pilgrimage style mountain hike, a caving adventure with Mr Morisawa, a tour of the mid 1700's dated Kochi Castle with Mr Kurotake, paper making at Qraud, flower arranging (called Ikebana) with Mr Nozaki, calligraphy with Maki Morisawa, Origami and English conversation practice with Mr Ueda; and a very special Tea Ceremony with Mrs Yoshida, Mrs Horio, Mrs Sakimoto and Mrs Kihara.
The Australian kids boarded with the Meitoku boys and girls in their dormitories. Spending so much time together gave the children a chance to become good friends. It was so much more than just a holiday or a karate experience. It gave the children at a young age the opportunity to live in someone else's shoes and build friendships with those from an entirely different culture. By the end of the stay - which felt much longer than a week, the children were great mates!
Top of the range karate uniforms were made available for purchase. Kochi-based 'Hirota' distributor, Matsubara Sensei personally took the orders and delivered to the kids before departing Meitoku.
Competing in Japan was a huge highlight for the students - the Kochi Annual Prefectual Tournament was opened up to the competitors from Evolution Martial Arts and Ettingshausens. What a special opportunity. Meitoku and all surrounding dojos competed in spectacular fashion. The Aussies made courageous performances - many personal best performances - and came home with terrific results including a few wins and placings.
Next stop on the tour: Osaka; with over ten times the population density of Kochi.
Osaka dojo training was special to say the least. Being home base to the 2012 World Champion ladies team kata, the dojo buzzed with atmosphere. In order to understand the sessions here please take a moment to chat with one of the team who went! Some things are expressed best first-hand to see how great it was - and let's not forget that each person has an individual vision of what they expected and what was delivered (over-delivered it should be said). The Aussie team also trained with the local High School karate team. The Individual practice match between the Osaka High School female star and our Annika Reynolds was super entertaining :)
In the interests of brevity for the reader... Sightseeing is Osaka was great and included stunning Osaka Castle and Okonomiyake (Japanese Pancake) making; just to mention a couple of things. The children were immersed in the culture particularly in respect to food! Lots of rice was on the menu.
Next stop on the tour: Tokyo! Via the Bullet Train, no less!
In two respects this was the finale of the trip. Firstly, it was the last stop of the itinerary. But more importantly it was the grand finale of group karaoke on the bus. Everyone had plenty of warm up singing & rehearsals up to this point, but really nailed it in Tokyo ha ha.
Tokyo sightseeing was also great. Shopping was really different; there were museums and the grand Sumo tournament (with a graduate from Meitoku competing!). Sumo is an exciting and particularly traditional event. People watching of the crowd was interesting at the Sumo tournament... as well as Tokyo in general!
Thank you to the wonderful coaches from Evolution Martial Arts and Ettingshausens for your mentoring and supervision on the trip, to the students themselves who were absolutely outstandingly well behaved and represented their dojos wonderfully. Your instructors are so proud. Thank you to the staff at Meitoku Gijuku High School and to the students who made our team feel so welcome. Thank you to Osaka dojo and High School.
Finally thank you to the families for always supporting our dojo and allowing your children to attend such trips. The change in the dojo on their return is noticeable - the morale and team spirit is infective and the entire Team EMA is better for the experiences of the lucky few that attended.
We will be returning to our karate friends in Japan in the not too distant future. Keep training karate, take all the learning opportunities you can, study a little Japanese language and join us for the next Youth Development Training Camp.
Keep watching the website for a brief history of how the Karate-Do Youth Development Training Camp was founded. Soon to be uploaded.
Words by Raymond and Tanya Morcomb
Evolution Martial Arts, 2016