The following review was submitted to me by Ed Sumner (Kyoshi, Nanadan, Goju-Ryu under the late Chinen Teruo Sensei). I have added photos, and done some minor grammatical editing.
I had the opportunity to attend the Ryukyu Martial Arts Friendship Gasshuku this last weekend, hosted by Noah Legel at the Peaceful Warrior Dojo in Scottsdale, AZ. Noah had attended our Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors Gasshuku in Buckeye, AZ, in July of this year, and had made a very favorable impression by becoming everyone’s favorite uke! So I was excited to be able to reciprocate by attending this event. Let me talk a bit about first impressions. This was my first visit to the Peaceful Warrior Dojo, and I must say that it is a very nice facility, very well equipped, and with an excellent space for training. But what I was really impressed with were my fellow attendees. It was clear right away that everyone had left their egos at the door, and brought instead a genuine interest in learning new things to add to their martial repertoires. I feel like I’ve acquired a whole new circle of friends.
We started on Friday with a session taught by Noah. It was specific to a form of Naihanchi that I’d never encountered before. Noah said it was from a style known as KishimotoDi, and the kata is Tachimura no Naihanchi. When I say that I found it to be very “Chinese-like,” that is intended as a compliment. I really enjoyed the kata, even more so when Noah referred to it as “an old man’s kata.” Being 68, with two hip replacements, bad knees, etc., that sounded like the perfect form for me! Noah is an excellent teacher, and it was clear that he really knew the material, and more importantly, really enjoyed being able to share it with us.
Saturday morning began with a session taught by Sensei Ryan Parker. He pretty much took one of the beginning sections of Pinan Godan (which I learned in 1965, but haven’t practiced in 40 years), and gave us bunkai oyo after bunkai oyo, giving a deep and rich understanding of the real meaning behind the kata. It was really great to dig deeply into such a foundational kata, and find so many “nuggets” laying there below the surface. Sensei Parker did a great job helping all of us get it!
Saturday afternoon was a special treat for me personally. As a white belt, way back in 1965, I’d immerse myself in every Black Belt magazine that came out. And the name “Chuck Merriman” seemed to be in every one of them for having won one championship or another. I finally got to meet Sensei Merriman earlier this year, when he graciously attended our BOVW Gasshuku. Sensei Merriman is not only a living legend; he is a walking encyclopedia of information about Karate generally, Goju Ryu specifically, and Okinawan culture, too. It was a joy to see him again, and to be able to participate in a class he was leading. And, frankly, after two sessions of working outside of my style (Goju Ryu), it was kind of nice to not feel totally confused by everything! Of course, that also meant I wasn’t in the same level of “learning mode,” but Sensei Merriman managed to show me some sides of Goju Ryu that were new to me as well. A great session.
During the last session on Saturday, we had an “open forum” time, and everyone more or less went to their own favorite interest. I saw a very nice looking chi-ishi in the corner, and since that is my personal favorite of all the Hojo Undo equipment, I made a bee-line to that. It turned out to be a beast! Heavy! I was able to do all of the techniques with it, but just a few of each was plenty. Then, having made a promise to my lovely bride, I took my leave a bit early, but already feeling eager for the next day’s training.
Sunday morning started with some Yamane-Ryu Kobudo. A confession: I’ve never been much interested in Kobudo, even though my Sensei in Okinawa, Katsuyoshi Kanei, was for some years the president of the All Okinawan Kobudo Association. He kept trying to pull me in… “Ed go get a bo!” But all I really wanted to do at that time was fight, and besides, you just can’t walk around the streets with nunchuku, sai and a six foot long stick. But all these years later, I find that there is an interesting connection that gave me much more reason to look forward to this session. A longer name for Yamane Ryu is “Yamane Chinen Ryu.” That’s because it is supposed to have originated in the Chinen province of Okinawa. It was the family style of my teacher, Sensei Teruo Chinen. His uncle was the head of the family style. So with that connection in mind, I was more curious that I might otherwise have been to learn a bit of this system. Sensei Raphael Gutierrez taught us the Yamane Ryu version of Shuji on Kon. Sensei Gutierrez did an excellent job of showing us how to improve our mechanics with the bo, and by the end of the session, we could all do the kata. We’d learned the pattern… another lifetime or so and I might be able to say I actually know the kata.
I conducted the second session of the day, and it was a rather eclectic bit of information. I included some bunkai oyo for Sanchin kata and Seiyunchin kata. We also talked a bit about how Sanchin kata is an excellent starting place for not only a good self-defense, but a good legal defense for after you take care of a bad guy. Then I took everyone through some drills for improving one of the most fundamental techniques we do; the not so simple gyaku-tsuki. My goal was to give each teacher present some tools to take home and use with their students. Hopefully they enjoyed what we worked on.
We wrapped up the day with a session conducted by Noah’s Sensei, Sensei Richard Poage. Several things were very clear to me. One; part of the reason why Noah is an exceptional young Karate practitioner is that he has an excellent teacher. Two; Sensei Poage has a deep understanding of the material he presents, as well as an outstanding ability to demonstrate each technique. Another confession: About half way through the final session, my titanium hips both went “no mas” at about the same time, and I spent the rest of the time watching from the sidelines. And I enjoyed every minute of that as well.
My home is about an hour and twenty minutes from the Peaceful Warrior Dojo, but I hope to be able to visit again with some frequency. And for those who didn’t make it, keep your eyes open for next year’s date, and get yourself here. It is worth the time, effort and money to participate.