Last week I had to go to Santa Monica, CA for work. It was a three day trip, which interfered with my normal training schedule, and I knew I was going to be eating less-than-ideal food so it was important for me to get in a proper training session. Hotel room kata just wasn’t going to cut it. In light of that, I consulted my good friend, Google, to find out where I might be able to train. I knew that there was a Shotokan dojo just down the street, but I wanted to see what else was around. As it turned out, there was a Japanese Goju-Ryu (JKF/Seiwakai) dojo less than three miles from my hotel, and since Naha-Te styles are quite different from Shuri-Te styles (like Shorin-Ryu and Shotokan) I thought that would be a great place to cross-train.
|The JKF/Seiwakai logo|
I sent an email through the dojo website, and received a response from Sanjit Mandal, who teaches Japanese Goju-Ryu in Northern California and manages the website for his teacher, Sensei Vassie Naidoo. Sanjit passed along his sensei’s contact information, and I was able to arrange to come and train with them. I explained that I have learned Sanchin, Tensho, and Seiunchin, so I would be able to participate in kata practice, but my versions would be different. Since they train in a Japanese branch of Goju-Ryu, I figured it would be pretty formal, but aside from a couple videos I found of Sanjit demonstrating kata and bunkai I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
|The World Budo Arts dojo, as seen from Google Maps|
When I arrived, I noticed that the dojo was rather small, with most of the space being taken up by the raised floor that was the mat area. There were already quite a few people on the mat practicing, but it seemed rather informal so I asked a young lady wearing a black belt where I could change. She informed me that if I walked around the building, there was another door into the back of the dojo, where there were some small changing stalls. After changing into my gi and white belt, I decided that I have been very spoiled by training in such large facilities over the course of my martial arts journey. As usual, my social anxiety crept up on me and my legs felt like Jell-O as I bowed on the mat and introduced myself to Sensei Vassie, who greeted me and told me to find a spot to warm up until class started. The mat area was made of a raised floor covered with wood grain patterned puzzle mats. A heavybag, a stack of extra mats, and an assortment of striking pads were arranged along one side, and on the other side there was a lone, floor-mounted, rope-wrapped makiwara. I didn’t try out the bag or pads, but the makiwara had just the right amount of flex to it–I think it needed another layer or two of rope, though.
|Vassie Naido, Shihan, Shichidan (7th Degree Black Belt)|
When class started, Senpai Christine started us off with some light, mobility-based warm-ups, then handed us off to another black belt who took us through some basic sparring drills and kihon (basics) with a high level of intensity. After that, Sensei Vassie had us do some different kihon, and then we did walking line drills with sequences of kihon and techniques from Goju-Ryu kata, some of which were pretty awkward for me. I was surprised to discover how difficult this part of class was for me, both from a technique standpoint and an endurance standpoint. It would appear that while I have been working on my power, I have let my cardiovascular and muscular endurance slip. I will have to remedy that!
Seiunchin, as practiced in Seiwakai Goju-Ryu
Kata practice came next, where we went through Sanchin, then Tensho, then Seiunchin, and I did my best to adapt my kata to the way they were doing it. Everyone was kind enough to hide their laughter at my awkward attempts to do things the way they were doing them. Some of the differences were very interesting! The Shuri-Ryu versions follow almost the same enbusen (performance line) as the Japanese Goju-Ryu versions, except for the end of Sanchin and Tensho, and the breathing and tempo are different. Smaller differences could be found in the angles the arms were held, variations in hand positions or the height of techniques. I think I will be integrating at least some of the differences into my kata practice in the future, because they fit a bit better with my ideas for applications.
Old-school kumite at a JKF Goju-Ryu dojo in South Africa
Once we had been through each kata two or three times, with corrections, it was time to spar, which was a surprise to me! Sensei Vassie told us to find a partner and bow to them, and I expected him to give us a partner drill to do, when the word “kumite” (sparring) was called out. I was kind of hesitant with the sparring because I didn’t know how hard or light to go, or whether throws and grappling were allowed, but I still had a good time with it. It seemed like medium-contact knockdown sparring, but with controlled strikes (no contact) to the face. Everybody was tough, and there were lots of leg kicks, which is always great to see! I found out afterward, although I suspected it during sparring, that several of the Goju-Ryu students also cross-train in Kyokushin. For the last few minutes of class we did a pretty intense ab work session–leaning ab holds at several angles and slow-motion bicycle kicks–and my abs did give out several times, so I obviously need to work on that, too.
|Myself with Vassie Naido, Shihan, and his students at World Budo Arts|
After class, I got a quick photo with everyone and had a little time to chat and exchange some contact information. As it turns out, Senpai Christine actually lived in Phoenix for a few years, and for one of those years she lived just a block away from us! Small world! I had some good, albeit short, conversations with a few other people about the training, and was given an open invitation to train with them again the next time I am in town. Of course, I extended the same invitation to them, should they ever be in the Phoenix area. I also met Sensei Tom Callahan, who is a Sandan (3rd degree black belt) in Kyokushin, and teaches at the same dojo after the Goju-Ryu classes are over. He seemed to be a nice man, and it turns out that an online karate friend of mine (Evergrey) also knows him, so that was pretty cool, as well. Many thanks go to Sanjit Mandal for getting me in contact with his instructor, Vassie Naido, Shihan, for allowing me to train in his dojo, and to all his students for being open and welcoming!