I'll probably talk more in depth about the Okinawa trip as time goes on, but it was absolutely wonderful.
Firstly, I'll refer to my trip companions as TJ & H. Both are black belts and far senior to me. TJ is my sensei, and has been for the past decade. He and I are also good friends, as we would pretty much have to be to still be putting up with each other! H is the closest thing that TJ has to a direct superior within the IWKA. They both trained under the same sensei years ago, and are roughly the same age, but H lives in a much more connected area, and has far more opportunity to train with others (our dojo is the only Isshinryu dojo for at least 90 minutes in any direction). She runs a good-sized school, and takes and teaches a lot of seminars, and is a genius at cross-connecting people. TJ is a roku-dan (6th degree), and H is a nana-dan (7th degree). I'm a ni-dan (2nd degree), who is about ready to go to 3rd by time, though it will probably be a while before I have the time and focus to do the requisite polishing of my advanced weapons kata. My bo kata have gotten hopelessly tangled!
The trip ended up being 9 days instead of 10, because they cancelled our plane for mechanical reasons the first day, and we didn't get in the air until the next day. We didn't waste the time, though. H gave us a private lesson, and then we attended regular classes at her dojo that night. We learned a couple of really interesting 2-person drills, that we've since incorporated into our own classes. It's so rare for us to be able to train with other Isshinryu people that getting the opportunity was a treat in and of itself.
Okinawa itself is beautiful, but very, very humid. It felt like stepping into a shower every time we went out - and apparently we hit lucky weather, a good 10 degrees or more lower than usual for the time of year, and quite breezy. The breeze also kept the insects down. The one night we trained and the air was still, there were mosquitoes in absolute clouds - though as usual, I was the only person getting bit.
We trained with Master Shimabuku Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and with Tokumoru-sensei (a traditional weapons master) every morning. On the double days, not much else got done for obvious reasons. My foot was well healed, which was good, because Shimabuku-sensei had us running laps of the dojo, barefoot, for about 20 minutes before the beginning of class. Made me very glad that part of my self-rehab had been hoofing it all over my neighborhood barefoot to strengthen the muscles in my feet! Poor TJ had a brain blackout the first time he got up to demonstrate a kata, and is still mortified about it all these months later. I feel awful for him, but at the same time I'm grateful, because by the time I got asked to demonstrate, I was much less nervous, because nothing worse could happen, short of injury. My first demo went fine, and TJ has been singing my praises for saving his reputation ever since - but honestly, I don't think I'd have done half as well if he hadn't unintentionally helped with my nerves.
The workouts with Tokumoru-sensei were fascinating. He took apart one of the bo kata we already knew (Tokumine no kun for the curious), and went through it step by step, changing nearly everything by just a little. It's nearly an entirely different kata in feel, while still being easily recognizable as Tokumine. He also showed us kata for tekko, www.rkagb.com/weapons_te
and tecchu. club.quomodo.com/http---
which were very cool to learn. There aren't a lot of resources in the US for learning these, particularly the tecchu. The tecchu kata is a particularly nasty one - there's a lot of face stabbing involved!
In the time in between classes, we visited Shureido - one of the premier karate suppliers. H got some weapons and belts, TJ got some gi tailored for him, I got a gi off the shelf (Getting to pull it out of the bag and start using it is my planned reward for when I'm back under 200 lbs), and TJ and I both got a prototype of a bag so new they don't even sell it officially yet!
We also went to Kokusaidori, which is the main shopping strip on Okinawa. They sell just about everything there, from clothing and pottery to fresh fish and pig face (no really!). TJ and I managed to distract H a bit and buy her a pair of Shisa - the traditional guardian dogs of Okinawa. You see them outside of nearly every building, usually in clay, but also carved of wood or stone, and sometimes as elephants or dragons or cats instead of dogs. They're a lot like the Chinese fu dogs, which is apparently their origin, but with some distinctively Okinawan touches. I also bought a mounted pair in blue for Rob, complete with an Okinawan sand charm for health.
We couldn't not play tourist, so we also visited Shurijo, the castle that used to be the seat of Okinawan government, which has been restored, and is gorgeous. It was weird to feel so tall - all the door frames were just barely taller than me - hair brushing height. TJ loved it - he's felt short all his life, so being in a country where he's slightly taller than average was really novel and enjoyable for him. We also went to Katsuranjo, which used to be the northern seat of government, but which is still ruins, just in the beginning stages of restoration. Both were really interesting and beautiful. The ocean views on Okinawa have to be seen to be believed.
The weekend we were there, Master Shimabuku took us to the Okinawan bull fights. These only happen twice a year, so it was quite a coincidence that we could see them. Fortunately, Okinawan bull fights look absolutely nothing like Spanish ones. Firstly, it's bull-on-bull, not bull against human. Secondly, the fight is won as soon as one bull disengages and refuses to fight. No fighting to the death, and very few of the fights had any injury to the animals at all. The shortest fight was all of about 20 seconds, as one bull simply didn't want to fight, the longest was about 20 minutes. The bulls were very docile to people, and there were about a dozen people running around in the ring while the fights were on (4-10 for each bull), shouting and encouraging their bulls. Out of 11 fights and 22 bulls, there were 4 minor injuries among the bulls and none of the people (though one guy had to scramble, when he tripped while the fight was backing toward him). It's not going to be my favorite sport ever, but I'm glad to have seen it once. TJ, who's a general sports fan, thought it was awesome, while H felt more like I do.
While there we stayed in a traditional Japanese-style hotel room, with futons on tatami (cotton stuffed mats on woven grass floor coverings), which were surprisingly comfortable, all sleeping in one room. We had a lot of Japanese/Okinawan style food, and generally went as native as possible. My Japanese got quite a work-out, as it turns out I'm just good enough to get myself into trouble. According to Iha (H's friend and a professional translator), my accent is excellent- near native- so people would hear me say something, assume I was good with Japanese, and launch into a full bore conversation. And of course, since I'm barely past novice, I'd be lost about half a sentence in. I had a lot of conversations that consisted mainly of me protesting that no, really, I'm just a beginner, and my conversational partner taking that to be Japanese-style politeness (meaning you always downplay your skills), and continuing to barrel along full spate. Iha did a lot of correcting and laughing when we went shopping together, but I had a lot of fun, and it's good to know my pronunciation is good - at least when my grammar/conversational skills get better, I won't have to relearn that part!
Flights out and back were long, but uneventful. Many, many thanks to my wonderful brother-in-law for coming and staying with Rob and the boys while I was gone!