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BM | 25th Feb 2008, 4:41 AM | 正剛館演義

This is Part 2 of Yoki sensei's USA adventure,  you can find Part 1 here

下面是楊紀先生的美國之行第二集﹐第一集在此

Picture

George Mattson (L) & Yoki sensei (R) in Boston Dojo (photo by Yoki sensei)

Part 2:

 

Mattson Academy of Karate

I arrived in Boston at noontime on Saturday, May 9th The views from the bus window of those suburb houses before getting into downtown Boston were completely different from the west coast. The houses of eastern New England, though elegant and dignified, on the other hand looked rather cold. On the way I was asked a few times where I was going. When I said, “to Boston,” Westerners especially replied, “People there have such pride, cold hearted, and not such a comfortable place to live.” Later when I told this to a Bostonian, he replied, “That may be so, but the more you get acquainted the more you will find people here have deep feelings.” Somehow I felt strange as Boston is a sister city of Kyoto, and here comes a student from Kyoto to visit. However,my adventure to experience America and Americans through Karate-Do was finally starting!

The Mattson dojo was located about a ten-minute walk from the bus station. As the sightseeing leaflet stated, Boston has more or less the same weather as Hokkaido, so I wore a long coat. I was soaked with sweat under the warm spring sunshine, pulling my heavy luggage on the street where there were buildings with some large companies, the post office, and so on. Office people on their lunch hour passed by, giving me a “sorry looking” glance, and seemed to enjoy looking at me struggling with my luggage. An old castle surrounded by a small moat left lonely in the valley of modern buildings represents Boston.

A little further, into a back street behind the office area and across a railway bridge, was Columbus Avenue. On one side of a wide street, I saw aged reddish-brown brick apartment houses. On the other side, there were buildings that housed smaller companies, such as a glass company, underwear company, and so on. I stood before my destination--a four-storied building. On the door, below the number indicated (303), I saw the word “KARATE” in Kanji-written faltering handwriting. I sighed with a long deep breath as I felt that I had finally arrived at the home where I belonged.

On the first floor of the building was a glass company. The dojo was on the second floor. I pushed the heavy door to open it, and walked up each step to the American Karate-Dojo. I was wondering how to say“Tanomo~!”(the first Samurai greeting when visiting other dojos), in English when two men came out from the front changing room. Now, I found out much later that “American” doesn’t mean that everyone is ridiculously big; in fact, some are even smaller than me.  However, as these two guys stood in front of me (6 ft / 190 centimeters), I wondered, “Do I have to do karate with these “monsters” from now on?” I shuddered. Do-gi were wearing green belts, though we don’t have green belt degrees in Japan. Perhaps, then, they were of fourth grade level status.

The guy with a large downward nose, a brown mustache and a big smile said, “You must be from Japan. Welcome.” and asked for a handshake. His hands were the size of baseball gloves. The other guy with eagle eyes was smiling with his very thin lips wide open to the side. I was very relieved to feel that I was welcomed. Both of them had slightly balding heads, and they were, from what I could estimate possibly around forty years old. The fellow with the mustache was Al Ford,“Please put your things in the room,” they said. I was invited to the door on the right side. Surprisingly, the room was decorated in purely Japanese style for a tea ceremony--brand new white shoji-screen paper with the smell of a unique tatami-mat that reached my nose. This room was originally presented from Kyoto-city to the city of Boston but was kept in this dojo. I sat down “Agura,” cross- legged. I was home!

In the evening I met the American Karate-do instructor, George Mattson, Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do San-Dan. He looked a little older than he did in the book, about thirty years old. He came into the tea ceremony room as he combed his light brown hair to the side with his left hand fingers. His height was about 5.83 ft / 178 centimeter, and he had a slender build. He looked like be a car mechanic, and in fact said, “I was just fixing my car.” He was concerned about the oil on his hands and wiped his right hand on his worn out shirt before he shook hands with me. His high cheekbones gave him a rather oriental-looking appearance. The way he gave a sharp gaze while talking, I judge, was from Karate.

Mr.Mattson explained that his dojo had students of an average age about thirty years old including seven women plus boy’s members. The youngest was eight years old in the boy’s class. A few of the older students were nearly sixty years old. “We were just going to have a party tonight, so it’s going to be a welcome party as well,” he said. The dojo had a wooden floor, of course, and was the size of about one hundred tatami mats (about 350 s/f). There was a mirror on the entire rear wall and there was a large window that was about half the size of the right-hand side wall. It was very much like a dojo in Japan. The only exception was it did not have an altar in front.

The stand-up dinner party started with about 100 students, including five women, at 7:00 in the evening, with hotdogs and sandwiches, beer and soda, and plenty of talking. I had been so busy and just remembered I had nothing to eat all day. “I’m Yoki. I’m Yoki.” I kept introducing myself to everyone with handshakes as I swallowed sandwiches with beer.

At the party I was asked many questions, such as,“What do you think regarding Japanese Karate and American Karate?” I replied, “I have just arrived, I don’t know yet.” “What’s Zen?” “Nothing.” I could answer now, “It’s full of one kanji character of NOTHING in one’s brain,” but I couldn’t THEN. Americans are talkative and love to debate, but when it comes to Zen, it’s hard even in Japanese to explain. I started to feel weak. I felt weak not only because of beer. The next question continued even while I tried to answer the previous. It seemed they found me quite interesting, as my answers were quite mysterious, though I felt I was only confusing, and busy eating and listening. One thing I admire about Americans--they never cast a chill over a party. Perhaps this is something they acquire from their childhood education.

Shortly after one hour, a 8mm movie film was shown. It was the first All United States Karate-Do Tournament held in Chicago the previous summer with an explanation by Mr. Mattson, as he had participated as the judge. Finally, I could eat quietly! This film was quite helpful in giving me some preliminary knowledge. I found a lot of fancy useless techniques compared to Japan. One other thing was that was the distance between the opponents was too wide. One woman was participating in a free sparring with a man, and she did quite well. In America, if men can do it, women can do it. In Japan, women participate in free sparring tournaments nowadays, but never with men. The party ended up running until midnight, at which time I crawled into a sleeping bag. It had been quite some time since I had slept on a tatami mat. It felt so good.

The first night, I couldn’t sleep well. I lay there thinking that I was in Boston to exchange Karate-Do techniques and for mutual friendship, but I was not sure at all if my Karate-Do was good enough. The first-degree black belt in Japan is just a baby beginner in Japan. Was I capable enough to instruct? I just wanted to test myself with large American guys as best as I could. If I really got hurt or badly injured, I would just have to manage to go back home. I had about $200 cash; I should be able to manage for a few months. I wondered if I should I find a job to survive but since I was visiting with a sightseeing visa, I was not supposed to get a job officially? What a guy! Why in hell start making plans so soon after I arrived? However, I was already lucky, as it seemed I could stay in this tea ceremony room, though my back was aching a little. I made it clear to myself that I would accept any kindness or goodwill I could have to survive, as I just appeared suddenly from the other side of the earth. The only one thing I could rely on was Karate-Do, with my small, skinny body to prove to be;

In Mr. Mattson’s dojo, classes were divided into the beginner’s class and the advanced. They had four classes a day. The morning class ran from 6 to 8 a.m. The afternoon class ran from 1 to 3 p.m., and there were two evening classes from 5 to 7 and 7 to 9 p.m. Students chose their classes in accordance with their work and school schedules. There were about forty students who diligently attended everyday, but the majority of students came to work out three or more times a week. There were instructors of four black belts (all Sho-Dan first degree black belt), five brown belts (third grade - first grade), and a few green belts (fourth grade) in charge of their classes.

Mr. Mattson was in charge of his own advanced class on Wednesday evenings. He would also attend each class from time to time to correct or give advice to each class. He seemed to be quite busy managing the dojo. After a while, I got to know quite a few people in the dojo and I noticed that this dojo was excellently organized with very good discipline as compared to that of a dojo under a Japanese instructor’s control. Mr. Mattson proved that an American is able to instruct just as well and have even better discipline.

In this dojo, students were expected to bow. “Karate-Do begins in REI ‘courtesy, obedience’, and ends with REI” bow. Preparation of fingers and hands, head position when bowing both before the start of class and at the end, and the correct sitting manner were all exactly defined. Moreover, students’ attitude with modesty was no different from that of Japanese students.

After I finished my own work out of Goju-Ryu in the morning, I started to take up to three classes a day. I didn’t feel like going anywhere, since I personally disliked sightseeing, so I stayed in the dojo the entire day. I just felt happy with Karate-Gi.

In the beginning, in fact, I just followed the movements of the instructors. Their movements mainly contain Kata and pre-arranged sparring, thus two classes of workouts are pretty much the same as one workout in Japan. I was often told that I was durable as I took three classes apart from my own workout. I had confidence of my training in Japan and I felt as if I was in the training camp of the Karate club. (Later, I became aware that the training method should be different between those who work daytime and the college Karate club.)

For the first week I had a hard time being patient and not to laugh in the class during workouts. I had never felt this feeling in Japan. I used to love “Samurai” and “Cowboy” movies since I was a kid. I often used to imagine that it would be nice to see a movie of Miyamoto Musashi” by Toshiro Mifune and “Billy the Kid” by John Wayne that would present a showdown face-to-face, directed by Akira Kurosawa. (Incidentally, many years later Hollywood made a similar movie with Toshiro Mifune and French actor, Alan Drone.)

When watching a cowboy movie in the theater, I often thought, “I wish I could get onto the screen,” so I could face the Yankee. It’s so funny because this Yankee was supposed to be a cowboy but he is wearing a pure white Karate-Gi and repeating “Kiai” (hai! hai!) with a squeaky voice. Luckily, I never laughed in the class. It’s just that I had such a funny feeling for a while, but my opponent never knew how I was feeling. On the contrary, he was so serious as his opponent was a Japanese Karate-man. I decided that I must learn the Kata and the pre-arranged sparring of Uechi-Ryu, though most of the basic exercises, kicks, and punches are almost the same. The only thing is, when pre-arranged sparring with somebody who is too tall, it is very hard to practice. When I faced Al Ford straight ahead, I could only see his chest, so I would glare up at him to punch and he would look down at me to punch lower. Also, I had to change my distance intuition. He had such long arms and legs.

When he made one step in, I almost jumped back to keep the distance. There were a few students smaller than me. I tried to choose my opponent for pre-arranged sparring 5.57 ft to 5.74 ft was acceptable, though they were already taller than me by approximately 3.28 inches. Al was considered to be quite tall.

Another thing I noticed was these American guys were so hairy. During one of the exercises to build the arm muscle by rubbing and hooking each other’s arms slowly with strength, sometimes I could hardly see skin through the hair. Way down to his five fingers would make a crunchy noise when I punched and again when I pulled back--bad sliding. Some exercises that I used to do without notice in Japan appeared to be quite different here.

Of course, workouts are conducted in English, but suddenly the use of funny foreign phrases would sometimes suddenly be thrown in, for instance: “Hacchime” is Hajime - means “start,” "Mu-wash-geuri” is Mawashi-geri--means“roundhouse kick,” “Shomzki” is Shomen-Zuki--means "straight punch.” I learned this language gradually. When the instructor said, “M’gattei,” everybody would turn around, except me ; my reaction had been delayed. The instructor would look at me with a puzzling face and ask, “Why doesn’t he understand Japanese?”

It took sometime to get used to the English Japanese.

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to be continued...Next chapter: "Free sparring"