EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
The interview in this edition focuses on a relatively young Shotokan sensei, Tommy Casale based in New York. Having started Martial Arts training from a very young age, sensei Casale has vast experience not only in Shotokan karate but also in biomechanics and sports science.
I feel that it’s important to hear the opinions of these younger instructors who view karate from a modern perspective yet retain a deep understanding and respect for the traditional aspects and values of the art.
This is a lengthy two part interview but I’ve purposely used both parts in this one edition as a three month gap between issues can lose the momentum. This is a great insight into how many contemporary Shotokan senseis are developing what has been handed down to us from Master Gichin Funakoshi. You may not agree with everything that Tommy Casale has to say but he certainly gets across some very interesting and valid points regarding a wide range of martial arts related topics.
What strikes me as important is the fact that most of these younger guys have a tremendous interest in KATA and delving into and unravelling the bunkai/oyo and realistic meanings and applications of the movements of these ancient karate treasures. One of the things that Tommy Casale stresses is the importance of using striking equipment (bags, pads, makiwara etc)... which I wholeheartedly agree with.
We in Shotokan have probably been guilty of neglecting this aspect over the years with too much emphasis on fresh-air techniques which probably originated with the advent of very large classes, where striking equipment was not a practical option. Unless of course the dojo you trained in had makiwara or kick-bags etc. However, if you trained in a sports hall or similar venue, then training with bags/pads or makiwara had to be done at home and in truth many karateka neglected to do this! I think it was different in Japan from what I’ve gathered, where students were literally forced into doing makiwara training either before or after their classes.
On a different note, I’m definitely old-school and I hope that karate never gets into the Olympics. I think this would be yet another nail in the Traditional karate coffin. Just look at Olympic Judo and worse still Taekwondo: both are second rate and very poor quality ‘sports’ in my opinion!
I simply had to include the article by Kevin Bellwood in this issue of SKM. This puts things completely into perspective without a doubt. When you are next training in your dojo, be it custom built complete with sprung wooden floor and mirrors, or a sports hall, a community centre, a gymnasium, a room in a school or whatever, spare a thought for what you are about to read in this wonderful little article and these incredible people who have nothing! Yet they train with a passion and innocence that touches the heart. Kevin Bellwood lives and works in South Sudan and when he returns to England he always takes back with him any old karate gi’s he can get his hands on, to give to these under-privileged karate students.
Good health, good training, Editor.
SHOTOKAN IN A ‘NEW’ NATION.By Kevin Bellwood. Photo’s By Jean Luc Mootoosamy.
I moved to South Sudan in January 2012, I work with the United Nations (UNMISS), the peace-building mission for the country; it’s helping to keep peace and develop the world’s newest nation, which officially split from Sudan on 9th July 2011.
This country has just come out of thirty years of war between the two countries; so you can guess what state the country is in. No running water, patchy infrastructure, very little electricity to speak of, only 187 kilometres of tarmac roads in the whole country, the rest are dirt tracks that only four wheeled drive vehicles dare tackle on a good day, when the rainy season is not upon us.
If you have qualifications you might have a job, working with the government, maybe the UN or one of the many NGO’s (Non-Government Organisations) that operate in the country. If you don’t have qualifications and weren’t able to escape to one of the neighbouring countries for an education during the war, then you probably are now trying to begin your education or trying to scrape a living and feed your family as best you can.
Most people have had limited access to education over the years due to the war; for those lucky enough to have fled the country, some of them had an education in neighbouring countries like Uganda or Kenya. Many of them don’t have jobs and most are unlikely to get one here in the near future, as paid work is at a premium. Many are trying to restart their education and get themselves through the limited schools and universities here.
So, amongst the many challenges I faced when I got here, was where was I going to train? I live on a UN camp in Juba, which is home to about a thousand people, its about 3KM square, it has reasonable health and welfare facilities, a small gym, volleyball court, couple of tennis courts and an aerobics hall, which are two office containers connected together.
So, I asked if I could have a couple of nights in the Aerobics ‘hall’, Tuesday and Thursday to begin a Karate club. I then put an email around camp to see if there was any interest.
I wasn’t expecting a lot of people to turn up on the first night of the new ‘UNMISS Shotokan Karate Academy IJKA’, but I was surprised. I suppose I shouldn’t have been, with very little to do here at night and free Karate training on offer, I had forty-five people turn up. I had trouble placing everybody in the dojo.
As time went on, as we have all experienced, for those of us that operate clubs, the forty-five, becomes thirty, the thirty becomes twenty-five and so on.
I now have twenty very keen members, who turn up every week and diligently train, work/shift rotas allowing them to.
I see a number of new faces join every other week, some beginners and others, existing Karataka. As word got around the camp three other Dan grades, two Rwandan nationals and one Kenyan have now joined me at the club.
One of the Rwandans, Arnould, a 2nd Dan in Wado Ryu, and George the Kenyan 1st Dan in Shotokan, first met each other in the African Karate Championships in 2001, when they fought each other in the Kumite finals. They had never met since 2001 and by some strange fluke and good fortune, they then meet up again at my club, they have now become good buddies.
Once I had established this club on the UN camp, I wanted to do something for the people in Juba, the capital and try to see if my experience could be set to good use here. I didn’t know whether there would be any sort of club in the city or not, I asked around and heard about a 1st Dan called Rashid, who operated a small club on a little waste ground in the middle of the city.
I turned up one Saturday afternoon, after trying to find this bit of waste ground for what seemed like forever, none of the streets in Juba have names yet. It’s also difficult to ask anybody as most of the residents in the city speak only Arabic, I haven’t quite mastered that yet.
When I eventually found it, I saw six very keen and very capable Karateka, all under 25, hardly any of them had Gi’s to speak of, most were wearing shorts or jogging bottoms, one was even wearing stripy pyjamas. But nevertheless a real credit to Rashid’s hard work and dedication over the past eighteen months since he started the club after returning from Uganda.
They train outside, as Juba doesn’t have any leisure facilities or places that could be turned into a Dojo yet. When it rains, as it does for half the year, during the rainy season, Rashid and his students spend the first twenty minutes clearing weeds from the ‘Dojo’ or maybe trying to get rid of the odd large lizard or snake and possibly shooing the goats away that continually stray onto the dojo, although the goats do come in handy keeping the weeds down. There is an old shed next to the area where we train that was once erected as a car port that we have recently started using as a dojo, it comes in handy when it rains, at least it has a roof, of sorts but needs a little repair.
Rashid’s students were training in the late afternoon heat; it gets above 50 degrees Celsius here most days. None of the students had ever graded, but all were advanced enough to be taught Heian Yondan; their Karate needed a bit of work, as the only training they were getting was from Rashid, a very keen and capable 1st Dan, but the only advanced training he was getting, was from the few books he had and the limited access he had to the internet, when it was working in the country, which wasn’t very often.
Rashid asked me if I would come back next week to take his class, I said I would be honoured. The next week when I turned up I had the warmest of welcomes that I have ever had at a club anywhere in the world. With my limited Arabic, I worked out that they were all grateful that a Kwawaja (a white man) had bothered to take time to come back and train them.
On my first teaching session, I kept it very basic to find out what they were capable of; they were very receptive to coaching and soaked it up. Their Kumite was excellent; they have amazing spirit. Their Kata’s were correct in the their direction, but they needed tidying up.
I couldn’t wait to get back the following week to have another opportunity to train them.
I have been teaching at Rashid’s club now for over nine months, we now have about thirty members and as many people are beginning to return to the country after being refugees in other parts of Africa, we now have 5 Dan grades that each teach on a different evening.
As most of the students have little money, they struggle to get enough together to purchase a Gi. When I return to the UK, I try to take back a few second hand Gi’s that have kindly been donated from students of my dads club near Blackpool (UK). Also, when I am feeling flush, I buy a few and bring them back with me.
When I return with them you should see the faces of the students, I hand them their ‘new’ karate Gi’s and their faces light up, their faces are enough of a thank you that you will ever need. They immediately put them on and train so proudly. Each week they turn up, their Gi’s are immaculately clean and ironed, not an easy feat with no running water or electricity in most of their homes. This I think is a true testament to how much they love their Karate.
I have now started to help Rashid grade his students through the auspice of Sensei Kato and the IJKA, and they are starting to improve immensely.
Rashid has big plans for Shotokan Karate in this country. He would like to see his club being the first and largest martial arts dojo in the country. Where they can accommodate all types of martial arts including kickboxing and Taekwondo, both of which are beginning to make in-roads in the country.
I am trying to assist Rashid in getting the funding together and helping with the knowhow of purchasing the land that they train on, and to see if an NGO will assist in purchasing and helping lay a wooden floor for the dojo. Then try to build a secure wall around it to stop the floor being stolen and broken up for firewood. Something you have to think about in a country with many desperate people trying to feed and cook with anything they can lay their hands on.
I am really enjoying my training and teaching here in South Sudan; this country has given me a new energy for my Karate and it also gives me a huge amount of satisfaction seeing my students develop through the ranks. I am hoping I’ll be able to train and teach here in South Sudan for many years to come.
I also hope that my small amount of input here in this country, will build the capacity of my students for them to eventually become a formidable force in the world of Shotokan Karate.