Japan: Walking in the Footsteps of the Masters
(Part 3 - Okinawa)
by Katarina Lezova

It was Friday morning and I was leaving Kyoto for the Osaka airport. My transport from Kyoto was very smooth thanks to the monorail that goes straight to the airport. Being at Osaka airport was a different experience as it seemed to me I was the only foreigner in the whole airport! Ahead of me lied the last part of my journey - Okinawa. I was very excited but also aware that I was stepping into the unknown as this third part of the trip was the least organised. I had some attempts to contact certain dojo before my arrival but that didn't work and therefore, I decided to go with the flow and get on with all my plans and ideas when I arrive in Okinawa. I had faith that things would work out but I had no idea what to expect. I have heard so much about Okinawa from others who visited the island and now it was time to experience it myself as I was going to spend a week on the island.

It was shortly after 4pm that we landed in Naha. I was really excited when I got off the plane and stepped with my foot on Okinawa. For many years, visiting the island was a dream and something that I aspired to do; in fact, I started to feel the need to do it – like I was missing a piece of a puzzle on my martial arts path.

It was very humid in Naha but spending two weeks previously on mainland Japan I was to some extent prepared for this but the heat and humidity in Okinawa still hit me. Before my arrival I printed a number of Google maps and the first one was to my accommodation - the Harumi Youth Hostel in Tomari. From the airport, I took the City Monorail – a very convenient transport mode to central Naha and Shuri - to the Miebashi station and then found my way to the Hostel. The Hostel is owned by Ohama-san and his wife. It offers simple accommodation with a much appreciated family atmosphere and I enjoyed both equally, therefore, I can only recommend it to others. Mike Clarke Sensei recommended this place to me and I am grateful for that. Prior to arriving in Japan I exchanged a couple of emails with Ohama-san to confirm the dates of my stay, however, when I arrived to the Hostel and said that I booked my accommodation there for a week Ohama-san didn't look very convinced. I immediately thought of accommodation stories that I heard from my Karate teacher when he first visited the island. Luckily, I had a printed email confirmation with me and introduced myself again. When Ohama-san saw the email he just laughed and said yes, of course all is fine. He just said that he was expecting a guy instead!

My room was on the second floor; simple but with a much appreciated air-conditioning and also a small TV. By the time I dropped my luggage off and got changed it was early evening and I decided to have a walk to the famous Kokusai-dori and get to know the surroundings a little bit. I wanted to familiarise myself with the area so that I got my bearings and could also get something for dinner. I found the Kokusai-dori without any problems and on the way also noticed the very well-known Shureido shop. Walking the streets of Naha was an interesting experience. Initially, I was surprised by the amount of concrete and the similarity of houses and it felt a bit weird. But at the end of my stay I strangely got used to it and perhaps even got to like it. I was curious what awaits me in Okinawa and I just felt content by simply being there and breathing the Okinawan air. Kokusai-dori seemed quite commercial to me at the beginning and to some extent very Western with many adverts and flashing lights. As with everything, one needs to stay longer in places to get to know the local people and their character and not be misled by the first impression. I bought some dinner at a local supermarket and when I was heading back to the Hostel a storm came and I was completely soaked! I learnt my lesson from this experience and carried an umbrella in my backpack for the rest of my stay as the rain came often unexpectedly and really heavily! Another reason for having flip-flops always on.

Weekend was coming and my plan was to start my time in Okinawa by visiting Hokama Tetsuhiro Sensei's Karate Museum in Nishihara and if possible go on a Karate tour with him. I also got in touch with my friend and Shiatsu teacher Joel Reeves about the possibility of meeting some of his friends in Okinawa and if I was lucky I might meet with the family of Higa Kiyohiko Sensei.

Saturday morning I packed my backpack and went to the Shureido shop. I have heard so much about this shop and therefore, it was nice to be there and look around. I have asked for some help with finding Hokama Sensei's dojo and for directions. The lady who I spoke to told me that I could take a taxi or a bus. I rang Hokama Sensei introducing myself and asking if I could visit the Karate Museum. He was very welcoming and just inquired when exactly I would like to come.

Considering that Nishihara is about half an hour by bus from central Naha I went to Kokusai-dori and planned to take a taxi. However, I soon realised that this won't be as easy as I thought. There was a young man at the corner of the street giving out flyers and I asked him if he knows where would be best to catch a taxi. He asked me where I wanted to go so I handed him the address written on a piece of paper and he said that he will help me to stop a taxi. By the time he spoke to the third taxi driver who didn't know the address I was getting a bit concerned that my plan to get to the Museum on that day might not work. However, in the middle of Kokusai-dori is a tourist centre, so I went there to ask for help and found out about buses that go to Nishihara. The gentleman there was a typical Okinawan with a beautiful flowery shirt and a big smile. Later, I came to see him again with other questions and he was always very helpful. He advised me which bus to take and where the bus stopped.

This experience started to feel quite like an adventure because I don't speak Japanese except a few simple phrases and words. Luckily, when I was in Kyoto with Sue we had to take a bus and I got to know the bus system and how you pay for your journey. Eventually, I got on the right bus and after about half an hour I got off in front of a hospital in Nishihara. I was a bit confused by the map and next directions but I knew that I was now in Nishihara and I was not going to leave until I found the Museum! I got some further directions from a taxi driver and continued my search. Then I saw a lady crossing the street and I asked her if I was going in the right direction to Hokama Sensei's dojo. She knew the place immediately and asked me to go with her. After we turned right at the corner we were standing in front of her car and she ended up giving me a lift! I was very grateful and couldn't believe my luck but I was also getting more aware of how helpful and nice the Okinawans are. They make you feel very welcome and are always ready to help. As I experienced a number of times during my trip, they genuinely want to help you and you feel their kindness quite strongly.

I arrived to the dojo and the Museum entrance – visible from a distance as the building is painted bright yellow - and Hokama Sensei welcomed me as if we would have met before and that was a bit confusing but to be honest I stopped being surprised by things. Before my trip to Okinawa I saw many pictures from Hokama Sensei's dojo and the Museum in particular and perhaps that's why it all felt very familiar. The Karate Museum is located above Hokama Sensei's dojo and was established in January 1987.

Hokama Dojo/Museum
Entrance to Hokama Sensei's Dojo and Karate Museum, Nishihara

Hokama Sensei made us a tea and I was grateful for this kind welcome. I was lucky as the day before he returned from a trip to Germany. Eventually after a short conversation I realised that he thought that I am one of his former students from Russia (we had a very similar name!) so I understood the very welcoming approach and the cup of tea too. We continued talking about my training and what I do, who I trained with and my reasons for visiting Okinawa. I then spent about three hours in the Museum walking around and looking at all the artefacts, pictures, weapons and certificates that Hokama Sensei collected. You will find there many old training tools and I think that for every karateka this Museum is a must. Hokama Sensei is very knowledgeable and the depth of detail that he can offer you on a variety of subjects is really impressive. We spoke also about his Karate research, previous trips and future plans. You can find out a lot by asking questions – that's how it works with most masters I met – you find out information depending on the depth of your knowledge and the interest you show.

Karate Museum
Hokama Sensei's Karate Museum, Nishihara
Picture on display at Karate Museum
A picture from Hokama Sensei's Karate Museum collection showing Miyagi Sensei with a group of his students, Naha Commercial High School, 1940

I asked Hokama Sensei if it would be possible to go on a Karate history tour with him. The tour includes visiting tombs of Karate masters and historical places linked with training and development of Karate. Depending on students' lineage Hokama Sensei adjusts the route. He was a bit sceptical at the start as ideally you have a group of people interested to do that to share the costs. Luckily, a Goju-ryu karateka from Chile, Juan Pablo was training with Sensei for three months and Hokama Sensei said that he might be interested. He rang the place where Juan Pablo was staying and I got to speak to him about all the details of the tour and he agreed. Hokama Sensei then checked with his student Taira-san if he would be free to drive us around as car is the best transport mode. There would only be four of us, so one car was sufficient. Fortunately, he was free and therefore the tour could happen. I was really happy about this as my foremost aim of visiting Okinawa was to pay respects to Miyagi Sensei and part of the tour was a visit to his tomb.

On Sunday morning, Hokama Sensei, Taira-san and Juan Pablo came to pick me up from the Hostel and I was very much looking forward to the day. Our first stop was Urasoe where Chojun Miyagi Sensei's tomb is located. Having a chance to pause and stand in front of the tomb of Miyagi Sensei, the founder of Goju-Ryu Karatedo, was a very powerful experience and I am deeply grateful that I could do it. I paid my respects and spent a couple of minutes in silence with my own thoughts pondering on where I stand with my Karate and grateful for the path that Sensei brought to the martial arts world.

Miyagi Sensei's tomb overlooks the East China Sea and it somehow felt like the right place for Sensei's tomb with the view towards China considering its influence on the development of Karate. In the hill behind his tomb there are small caves where people hid during the Battle of Okinawa – one of the many reminders of the Second World War and the great toll that the local people had to pay.

Miyagi tomb
At the Tomb of Miyagi Chojun Sensei (1888-1953), Ginowan
(On the memorial stone on the right is Miyagi Sensei's family crest)

We then visited the tomb of King Sho Shin who was King of the Ryukyu Kingdom for fifty years (1477-1526). We then continued our explorations at a nearby Shuri Ryusen where we were introduced to traditional Okinawan bingata and coral dyeing of textiles. This was a beautiful place and the bingata displayed were breath taking. We didn't have time to stay very long but I said to myself that if possible I would come to visit this place again on my own and take part in a craft workshop. The dyed textiles are among the five traditional crafts in Okinawa (the other four are pottery, lacquer ware, glass ware and woven textiles) and therefore, very much part of the culture.

Then we got back to the car and headed to the tomb of Kanryo Higaonna Sensei which is located in Shuri, not far from the Bengadake park. His tomb is the last one in a row; just near a path surrounded by long grass and without Hokama Sensei's help and local knowledge it would be very difficult to find it, so the tour was a real treasure. Hokama Sensei also always included a number of stories and explanations that provided much appreciated background information and more meaning. After pausing for a while and paying respects to Miyagi Sensei's teacher we were heading to a gravesite in Makabe (Naha) with tombs of three important Okinawan Shuri-te masters.

Higaonna tomb
Tomb of Kanryo Higaonna Sensei (1853-1915)

First, we visited the tomb of Chomo Hanashiro Sensei followed by the tomb and memorial of his teacher, Itosu Anko Sensei. As noted by Hokama Sensei, Chomo Hanshiro was one of the three Okinawans who volunteered to join the Japanese army during the Meiji era and were accepted. In total 50 Okinawans volunteered but only three passed the physical exam and all of these were Itosu Anko Sensei's students (the other two students being Yabu Kentsu and Kudeken Kenyu).

A student of Bushi Matsumura, Itosu Anko is particularly known for his '10 Lessons of Karate' that he wrote in 1908. Thanks to him Karate was included into the physical education curriculum at schools. The final tomb that we visited on this gravesite was Bushi Matsumura's. The story about him defeating a bull is very famous. Among one of his teachings was also 'go with the flow'. Notably, his wife Tsuru was also a well-known karateka.

During the tour I asked Hokama Sensei if we could go to Tomigusuku to visit Miyazato Sensei's tomb. I was glad when he announced in the car that it would be the next stop. Miyazato Sensei became Chojun Miyagi Sensei's student in 1938 and in 1953 he established the Jundokan. He was Barrett Sensei's teacher and paying my respects to him was an important part of my 'pilgrimage'. I felt really lucky that in one day I had a chance to pause and bow in front of the tombs of the masters who came before and had such a crucial impact on the development of Goju-ryu Karate.

Miyazato tomb
Tomb of Miyazato Eiichi Sensei (1922-1999), Tomigusuku

Driving back to Tomari, we visited the Matsuyama Park - another important place included in the tour. This was the training ground of the Matsuyama group; here practitioners gathered to train together and learn from the original Chinese teachers who came to Okinawa. In 1987 a monument for Miyagi Sensei and Higaonna Sensei was erected in the Park.

Matsuyama Park
Monument to Higaonna Kanryo Sensei and Miyagi Chojun Sensei in Matsuyama Park. With Hokama Sensei and Taira-san.

Across the road from the Matsuyama Park is the Fukusyuen Garden. Built in celebration of 10th year of establishment of the sister city relationship between Naha and Fuzhou in China. The garden was built with the use of materials from Fuzhou. Its long history goes back to the time when 36 families of Fuzhou China came to Naha. A nearby memorial commemorates it. The garden constitutes three elemental spaces of brightness, calm and brilliance. It is also composed of sights and buildings representative of Fuzhou: 3 mountains (Mounts Yu, Wu and Ping), 2 pagodas (White and Bird Pagoda) and 1 body of water (Min river). The buildings are made of wood only and the entryways are located in each of the four cardinal directions.

36 Families monument
Monument commemorating the arrival of 36 Families of Fujian to Naha in 1392, Tomari

Driving through Tomari we passed through Higashi-machi where Miyagi Sensei was born and used to live. Our final stop was master Matsumora's monument which is located in a playground in Tomari. After the tour I was left with a lot of information and experiences to process. Being able to see all these places that I previously only read about in books was an essential part of my martial arts study and an unforgettable experience. It was more about 'feeling' and 'being' at all those places than the information and additional historical details that I gained through it. The only way to experience this for yourself is to go there – nothing else will ever substitute the experience.

After making some notes back at the Hostel I went for an afternoon walk to the famous Tsuboya and Heiwa-dori. Walking first through Kokusai-dori the sound of sanshin playing added to the atmosphere. Tsuboya district is well known for its pottery – in Okinawan dialect called 'yachimun'. It's approximately a 400m long street between Heiwa-dori and Himeyuri-dori. The technique that is used in Okinawa originates from China and was later influenced by Japanese and Korean ceramics. Tsuboya is full of small usually family run shops selling beautiful pottery. It was also time to try some Okinawan soba and goya chanpuru!

Shisa standing near Tsuboya, the famous pottery street
Pottery shop (Tsuboya)
A pottery shop at the Tsuboya-dori and its owner. It was here that I bought a pair of shisa

On Monday morning, I decided to make a trip to Shuri. I was heading to the Kinjo pavement and the Shuri castle. Whenever I can I prefer to walk than to take public transport, so instead of the monorail I walked from Tomari through Asato towards Shuri. While walking through Asato I found the Jundokan that was closed at the time and the opening hours were stating 5pm-10pm. I looked through the glass door and saw a known picture of the dojo and Miyagi Sensei's bust.

I continued following a printed map to the Shuri castle. I knew I was walking in the right direction when I came to a main road indicating that it's 1.8km to Shuri castle and 1.2km to the Kinjo pavement. Finally I reached the bottom of the Kinjo pavement. To be honest I was quite excited about this knowing that Miyagi Sensei used to train here and run up it. My teacher ran up the pavement when he visited the island with his sensei, so it was kind of like a real must. I changed from flip flops into trainers and got ready. From the bottom it looks like it's going to be fine all the way up but it gets really steep! I started to run first and then was just doing my best to reach the top and keep going until the end. If you ever think that you have a good physical condition come here and run up the pavement; that will show you where you stand! I passed by a few people – who most probably thought that I am a bit crazy but once I reached the top it had a sense of achievement and I was really happy that I had a chance to run up in the footsteps of those who came before me and who I respect. Once on top, it started to rain heavily and the rain didn't stop for the rest of the day.

Kinjo pavement (Shuri)
At the bottom of the Kinjo pavement, Shuri

From the top of the Kinjo pavement it's only a minutes' walk to the Shuri castle. It was constructed around the 14th century and used to be the centre of Ryukyu Kingdom and its politics, foreign affairs and culture for about 500 years. It's an impressive and beautiful castle that became the royal seat in 1406 of King Sho Hashi who united the island. The castle was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and restored in 1992 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Okinawa's reversion to Japan. Since December 2010, it's designated as a World Heritage Site. As the rain was getting heavier I decided to walk through the famous Shureimon gate that has the kanji 'A Land of Propriety' written on it and found my way to the previously visited Shuri Ryusen place.

Result of attending a bingata workshop at Shuri Ryusen, Shuri

Bingata represents Okinawan dyed work. Inspired by nature and its elements – such as sun, wind and sea – it changes a simple textile into beauty and gives it a different form as if somehow giving it a stamp of Okinawa with all that it contains.

I spent Tuesday exploring Tomari, stayed for a few hours on the Naminoue beach where I enjoyed swimming in the sea and had a chance to stop and reflect on my past three days on the island. I also visited the nearby Naminoue shrine. At the start of the day it looked like it will be a welcome cloudy day but as it turned out the sky cleared and it was so hot! After walking hours and drinking litres of water and green tea from the vending machines I started to feel the sun more and more. I continued walking through Tomari as I wanted to visit the Matsuyama training ground again. When we went there with Hokama Sensei our time was limited and I wanted to properly walk around the park and explore the grounds. However, after the Matsuyama park, I knew that I need to get some food and get away from the sunshine. I went to the Heiwa-dori and stopped in Akasatana – a small family restaurant for some Okinawan soba and that considerably helped. I then visited the nearby Makishi market – a colourful place full of local food, products and fish.

Makishi market (Naha)
Makishi market, Naha

In the meantime, I still hadn't heard from Joel's friends and thought that perhaps they are all busy and it's not a convenient time for meeting but I decided to email again and find out what I could do and if ringing them from Okinawa wouldn't be better. As it turned out later they tried to ring my number but for some reason couldn't reach me. Eventually, on Tuesday evening, I managed to get through to Kiyohiro-san who is Higa Sensei's son and we arranged to meet.

On Wednesday morning, Kiyohiro-san came to pick me up at the Hostel and we drove to his brother's family restaurant for lunch. We spoke briefly before and I explained that if possible I would be grateful for meeting his father Higa Sensei and if there would be a chance to train with him I would be very much interested. However, before we arrived at his brother's place Kiyohiro-san asked me if I would like to stop at the Bugeikan first and see the dojo. Of course, I agreed and realised that it would also mean meeting Higa Sensei as the dojo is located on the first floor of his house. The encounter with Higa Sensei was a really nice moment. Kiyohiro-san introduced me to his father and we sat in seiza for a little while talking. One of his students brought us a home-made fruit drink that was refreshing in the hot weather. I asked Kiyohiro-san to translate some things for me about my training, lineage and my trip to Okinawa. When I mentioned Eiichi Miyazato Sensei, Higa Sensei noted that 'he was a good man'. After I answered some of his questions about my training he asked if I would like to join the evening training. I was more than happy to accept this invitation.

Here, I would like to say thank you to Joel Reeves - who teaches Okinawan martial arts and is a professional Shiatsu practitioner - for his friendship and his initial introduction to his teacher, Higa Sensei and putting me in touch with his family. His introduction contributed to the very warm welcome that I received and by Thursday evening I had met almost the whole Higa family and had a chance to practice with Higa Sensei. Although short, my training with Higa Sensei was very enriching. If you are interested to find out more about Joel's own experience of being taught by Higa Sensei you might want to read his recent book 'The Karate-ka: A Search for the Old to Understand the New' as it provides a very personal and insightful reflection of his training.

The Higa family also took me on two trips. On Wednesday, Sensei's daughter Mineko, son Kiyotomo and grandson were going to the Aquarium in Motobu and they asked me if I would like to join them. The training with Higa Sensei was not until later in the evenings and I was happy to go with them and see a different part of Okinawa – the North. To some extent, I got used to spending time on my own and exploring places and this was a nice change that enabled me to get to know Okinawa better as well as the Okinawans. Once we left Naha by car the surroundings started to get greener and driving next to the shore gave a beautiful sight of the sea. The colours became so vivid.

Aquarium (Okinawa)
Aquarium in Motobu where Okinawan colours and the sea world are displayed in full

The second trip on Thursday was with Higa Sensei's other son Kiyohiro who took me on a trip to Ryukyu-mura. Kiyohiro-san doesn't practice Karate but has a dance studio in Itoman. During our car trip I asked him so many questions about Okinawa and Okinawans that I was surprised he didn't give up! We drove through Chatan village and passed Kadena taking the Route 58. Ryukyu-mura is a village that was built to recreate the lifestyle of the Ryukyu Kingdom and show the old Okinawan culture including its crafts and food. The typical shisa were everywhere and Ishiganto on sale as souvenirs. Ishiganto are small stone slabs that you can find in T-intersections around Okinawa. The stone is inscribed with three Chinese characters meaning to ward off evil spirits. By Chinese folklore, evil spirits are limited to movement only in straight lines. Because of the way homes are constructed, Ishiganto are essential in keeping evil spirits from wandering inside.

Ryukyu Mura

The two trainings that I took part in at the Bugeikan were a great opportunity to learn something new and look into a different style. According to 'Okinawan Karate - Timeline and 100 Masters' book by Hokama Sensei in 2000 Higa Kiyohiko Sensei was officially recognised as the successor of the Shuri-te style of Karate of Hanashiro Chomo. I felt privileged to be able to spend some time in his dojo. Before the first training started, Higa Sensei was interested to find out why I want to train Shuri-te. I explained my reasons and that I would like to learn the softness of their style.

The practice really allowed for a good reflection and a better view on my own style. Shuri-te is not only softer but also the foot work is different – it's very light and movement is on the balls of the feet. It should be so light that you don't hear the stepping on the tatami. There are also more circular movements within the practice. During the first training we focused on Shuri-te Sanchin. It's different from the Sanchin we practice, mostly in the hand movements but the basics are the same. We also did partner training and Sensei emphasised the engagement of fingers and thumbs when striking vital areas.

The second training started with preparatory exercises, light movement practice and was followed by partner training where we practiced a variety of combinations how to avoid an attack or take the opponent down. Towards the end of the training, sanshin music started to play in the dojo and that added to a nice atmosphere. Before we finished a group of older ladies started to come into the dojo for their session. While we continued with partner training and these ladies started to walk in a circle around us practicing some relaxation techniques.

During both trainings, Higa Sensei's mother was present sitting at the front in a chair to Sensei's right. Ancestor Worship is an important element of the culture and considered a traditional religion. After the second training was finished, Higa Sensei asked me to introduce myself to his mother and it felt almost like getting an approval for being there or more as giving an explanation for my presence. Respect towards ancestors is very important here. He then asked me what I thought about the training and if I liked it. Despite Higa Sensei's age his grip was very powerful and the twisting and turning was quite painful but at the same time it all appeared so soft. There was no effort and it appeared as a dance.

I came to Bugeikan to learn something different because of that I put on a white belt during the trainings. Higa Sensei knew about my rank and asked me in the end about the belt and my reasons. After explaining my view, he said that my technique was good and next time I come I should wear my black belt as we all do Karate. He continued that the style doesn't matter really but what matters is in your heart. Higa Sensei concluded that I am welcome to come and train with them again and even stay longer if I want to learn more as this time we didn't have so much time. I felt the warmth coming over me and a feeling of contentment followed. I was leaving Gibo late in the evening thinking about the impact of all these experiences and beyond all I was grateful for his last words and my time at the Bugeikan. It was my last evening in Okinawa as the day after I was leaving to Tokyo followed by my final flight to London that would give me plenty of time to think about my last three weeks in Japan.

At the Bugeikan. In the centre Higa Kiyohiro Sensei, sitting on the seat to his right is his mother, next to her one of Sensei's students; to his left is his son Kiyotomo and Mamoru Nakamoto Sensei from Shorin-Ryu.

Conclusion: Onko Chi Shin

Looking back I am really glad that I visited both mainland Japan as well as Okinawa because it allowed me to get to know almost two different cultures and see different things and therefore, perhaps understand more. As Henry Miller put it: 'One's destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.' And that's how my trip really felt.

I think that visiting Okinawa at some point is a must for everybody who practices Karate because nothing compares to being there. But then it's like with everything – it's what you make of your own Karate and where you want to take your practice that really matters.

The trip taught me a lot about myself. Particularly in Okinawa I had to decide things for myself and as a result, my choices led me to the experiences that you read about. On a reflection, that was perhaps one of the most important lessons. To pause, look within and as sentimental as it might sound – to follow your heart. I have heard a lot about Okinawa from other people who visited the island and made their own experiences. At the start, I somehow 'wanted' to have a similar experience and almost wanted to go through the same, however, I realised that this is 'my' trip and my experiences would be different.

I wrote these three contributions about my Japan trip in a hope that they might help to inspire some people to do their own trips and discover their own adventures. I felt so very lucky when I finished the trip. Above anything however stand all the people that I met on my journey who with their kindness, support, hospitality and generosity made my trip so very enjoyable.

My main aim was to walk on the land where Miyagi Sensei once lived and trained and to be able to pay my respects to him. Has the trip changed anything for me? It has definitely broadened my perspectives and more importantly, I have learnt again some new 'life lessons' and something new about myself. I think that the change is more internal.

I would like to say thank you to my Karate teacher Garry Lever who has supported and encouraged me to do this trip as well as for all his advice and what he taught me during the past five years. It was a personal development journey in itself. I am also grateful to Barrett Sensei and Mike Clarke Sensei for their advice, recommendations and sharing their stories. Inspiration is what you always gave me. I say thank you to Joel Reeves for all help in Okinawa and beyond; and Sue Eddie for finding time to talk to me about Japan and helping me with planning my stay in Kyoto. She remains a true inspiration for me – a karateka living her life by example. Without the support of all these people my trip would have been a very different one. And finally, my big thank you goes to all the Masters who allowed me to train with them during my trip – Miyagi Sensei, Ueno Sensei and Higa Sensei. I am truly lucky.

And to all of you who found the time to read my contributions: Thank you for 'allowing me' to walk you at least with my words to the places I visited and I hope that you enjoyed these journeys. John Maki Evans once wrote 'You cannot see what you cannot feel, and you cannot gain skills you have no feeling for'. Therefore, explore, experience and challenge yourself. Learn from the past, understand it and prepare for the future. And finally, go and see these and other places for yourself. Good luck on your own paths!

Shisa - a memory from Okinawa

Katarina Lezova

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”