The next day, back at the dojo, I meet the strong and charismatic sensei Shinjo Kiyohide, another longtime Okinawan karate champion who has been practicing karate since the age of 10 (now 69 years old, he radiates good health. ). Once again, it’s kata time. He shouts a series of specific commands – “Turn your feet 30 degrees!” “And” arms 20 cm above your body! – like, again, I clumsily imitate the movements.
Then, after practicing a few punches and kicks, without fanfare or warning, he pulls out several pieces of wood from a green shopping bag. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry as he grimly holds the first one up in his hands. “Tap here on the count of one and two,” he orders in a clearly non-negotiable voice. “And then… Punch! Punch! Punch !”
And that’s how after less than two days of karate, I scan a piece of wood, before my arm pops out – and somehow, like magic, it breaks, like a cartoon, in half – before doing the same with a karate kick.
Let’s be honest, the wood was probably the thinnest available – but the experience was exhilarating (plus my kids were deeply in awe when they saw videos later – hoping the unarmed bedtime fight becomes more easy).
It only offered a very small glimpse into the world of karate, as Shinjo sensei sums it up: “I always say ‘it’s never enough’. Karate is the practice of a lifetime. My training ends when I die.
The final piece of the karate puzzle takes place later in the spa, with a deep shiatsu massage, strokes inspired by kata movements. On the verge of sleep, mind-boggling memories floating in my consciousness, I realize that I may never be in contention for an Olympic karate medal – but it was the perfect taste of the martial art of karate. Okinawa peace.
The writer has traveled as a guest of the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau and Hoshinoya Okinawa.
Karate Kaikan (karatekaikan.com) offers 100-minute beginner karate experiences in English. The costs depend on the number of people (for example, it’s about 8,800 yen each for groups of four). It also houses a karate museum and a restaurant.
Hoshinoya Okinawa (0081 570 073 066; https://hoshinoya.com/okinawa/en/) will offer from September a special Ryukyu Karate stay of two nights, including three karate training sessions, two meditations, a shiatsu massage and an Awamori nightcap, from 84,300 yen per person, excluding accommodation. The room only doubles from 130,000 yen.
For more information on Okinawa, visit visitokinawa.jp; and for more information on exploring karate in Okinawa, visit karate.ocvb.or.jp.
Travel abroad is currently limited. Check out FCDO’s advice on gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice Before traveling.