Bridging Cultures Through Martial Arts
By John Wakegijig
Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute and the communities of Sucker Creek, MChigeeng and Wikwemikong run a joint martial arts program teaching traditional karate. This summer they hosted a martial arts training camp with three top level karate instructors from Okinawa Japan on Manitoulin Island.
With the conclusion of school and the beginning of summer holidays, I found my role as teacher change to that of a student. My karate training over the past years was culminating with the with the arrival of three Okinawan Gojuryu Karate instructors direct from Japan. With this anticipation came a mixture of feelings - nervousness, fear, curiosity, excitement - feelings that I'm sure many have felt when in their company. Strangely, without ever having met them, I felt I already knew them. Whether it was through my karate teacher, Steven Fox-Radulovich, whose words echoed their teachings, or from the knowledge that we shared a common bond in our study of Karate - the sense of familiarity was undeniable. This perception was good, for only then was I able to recognize the situation for what it was - an opportunity to learn more about the art of Karate, and the people and culture that produced it.
When presented with an opportunity of a lifetime, one can sometimes be paralyzed by it. I feared this would be the case. There I was, standing in line with my fellow students in front of the man recognized as a Master of our style of Karate, a man with a lifetime of study, practice, and experience. My fear was unfounded, for Senaha Shigetoshi-sensei, a 9th Degree Black belt with almost 50 years experience in karate is a person I have met before - he is an elder. Humble, wise, quiet, reserved, yet so willing and anxious to share what he knew. Expecting to see differences between our cultures, I was instead surprised by this important similarity.
To outsiders, the respect and reverence that we, as hosts, showed towards our Sensei, our guest, could easily be attributed to his celebrity as a master of karate or the novelty of his visit. However, those of us who experienced his presence know differently. He embodied those characteristics that not only demand respect, but allow one to so freely give it. In our culture, elders are to be given the highest level of respect. His students who accompanied from Okinawa, Tamaki i Hidenobu and Nagamine Moriteru, , convinced me that Okinawan culture, much like my own, demands a similar, if not identical level of respect of its elders. Never once did they enter a building before Sensei. Even more telling, when asked to sit on chairs beside Sensei for a group picture, they quickly removed them, seeming almost embarrassed to be given the same treatment as their teacher and elder.
Sadly, as I reminisce about this aspect of their trip, I find that we, as aboriginal people, are neglecting this part of our culture, remembering it only when it is convenient to do so, such as at pow-wows or other such gatherings. I find it strange that it took visitors from halfway around the world to remind me something about my own culture and my responsibilities as a member of that culture: the need to respect elders in all ways and at all times.
If Sensei taught me about the place of Elders in Okinawan culture, then Mr. Tamaki, his right hand man taught me the discipline of Karate. His friendly demeanour and sense of humour belied the fact that this man had over thirty years of study in Karate. His callused hands were testament to years of training, some of which were most certainly painful. However, anyone can get calluses. Instead, it was the application of his Karate, more specifically his kata or form, that was most revealing.
In Karate, we practice Kata, a sequence of movements that serve as a catalogue of the movements that distinguish each style. Each movement within a kata represents a specific defensive or offensive technique. As a beginning student, I am required to practice these movements many times. I sometimes had doubts about the effectiveness of applying some of these techniques in a real life situation.
Mr. Tamaki skilfully, albeit somewhat painfully, taught me the error in my thinking. In one Kata, , one mimics kicking the arm of an assailant who has grabbed the wrists. Seeing this technique performed, I had doubts of its effectiveness. It seemed to acrobatic, belonging more in a Hollywood action movie then as a legitimate self defense technique. I wanted to see the proper application of this technique. He asked me to grab his wrist, and I did so lightly. Sensing my doubts, he asked me to grab much harder. I obliged and grabbed as hard as my strength allowed. He was able to kick my hand away at ease, success was accompanied by a great deal of pain in my forearm. During his stay, many more times was he able to aptly demonstrate the applications of kata, but thankfully, none as painful.
Since the visit, I've been practicing some of these things now knowing how to apply them properly. However, I now realize that some of these techniques will work only after years of travel on a path of diligent and disciplined training - a path that Sensei and Mr. Tamaki has and is most certainly following.
Nagamine Moriteru, the youngest of the three instructors, is easily the most dynamic karateka I've had the pleasure of witnessing. Having watched Mori as he is called, leads me to believe that even after decades of training, I will probably never achieve a level of skill that he has in only his 25th year. The fluidity and speed of his movements, all done in perfect form, are testament to the physical beauty that can be found in perfectly executed Karate. Despite his youth, I had a sense that he is the future of our Karate organization. Everyone, whether or not they were karate students, were awed by his physical prowess and skill in performing kata. While under no allusions that I will ever be as skillful, I am thankful to him for allowing me to see what I should aspire to be as far a karate is concerned.
In conclusion, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn karate from those who have helped create and nourish it. Senaha Shigetoshi-sensei, for me, an embodiement of the wisdom of Karate; Mr. Tamaki - a symbol of the discipline and fortitude demanded of this art; Mori - an living example of the beauty that comes with physical command of this art. From them, I learned to appreciate how little I know and how much I have to learn. Meegwetch.
John Wakegijig is a science teacher at Wasse Abin High School in Wikwemikong. John received his 1st Degree black belt this summer direct from Japan through Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institutes martial arts programme.
For more info on the program contact: Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute, (705) 377-4342, email@example.com,
Cross cultural experience. Glen Hare, Chief of MChigeeng receives an honourary black belt from Senaha Shigetoshi, Karate master from Okinawa Japan. Senaha Shigetoshi was aslo presented an Eagle Feather at a sunrise ceremony by his student Steven Fox Radulovich in recognition of his role in establishing traditonal schools of karate within Manitoulin First Nations.
Nagmine Moriteru, from Okinawa Japan executes a classical self-defence technique on John Wakegijig, Assistant Instructor from Wikwemikong First Nation. Gifts from Wikwemikong were wrapped in yellow cloth to symbolize the Eastern doorway and wisdom.