A weekend with a Master
Having never trained with Akihito Isaka, or anyone from KWF, I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I had heard a great deal about Isaka Sensei, but words cannot truly convey the brilliance of his karate. Coming from a background of what you may call ‘Standard Shotokan’, I was in for shock. From the word go, there was nothing ‘Standard’ about Isaka Sensei.
Having left South Wales at three thirty in the morning, myself, my fiancé Shaun and my younger brother Scott arrived in North Wales at 9am. We arrived a little earlier than we had anticipated, so whilst Scott and I took a quick nap in the car, Shaun telephoned John Barker – Events Officer for Chikara Shotokan, and arranged for us all to meet, so we could travel to the St David’s Hotel to meet the Master.
Upon our arrival, we were met by Robert Sidoli Sensei, who took us to the lounge for coffee, which was kindly paid for by Barker Sensei. With great anticipation and pure excitement, myself, Shaun and Scott sat on the edge of our seats, talking to Sidoli Sensei, who - I may add - is a very experienced and welcoming karateka. He was more than willing to help us a great deal throughout the weekend.
We were sat drinking our coffee, when all of a sudden, everyone rose to their feet for Isaka Sensei, who strolled in already wearing a gi. He approached our table, smiling. We knew instinctively this was going to be an experience.
After our greetings we sat and ran through the questions The Shotokan Way had compiled for Sensei. With great patience he answered them, with Sidoli Sensei explaining terms, so we fully understood the points Sensei was making. We felt very comfortable talking to this master, not because of a blasé attitude on our part, but because Sensei was so warm and welcoming. Apparently, he had been training for four hours by the time we met him, something he does everyday. (And boy did this show on the course!) As we left for the course, Isaka Sensei kindly told us that we have ‘nice auras’, something I was particularly very pleased about.
After signing up in the dojo, we all warmed up, while Sensei stood in the corner, also warming up. I spent a good few minutes glancing over at Sensei - as was everyone else in the room, and no doubt doing so for the same reason as I - to catch a glimpse of his technique. Whenever Sensei caught anyone staring at him, he simply smiled and continued.
I had been told by Sidoli Sensei that training with Isaka Sensei would be a very different experience for us. This turned out to be the understatement of the weekend. The first session of three in the first day consisted of stretching and only stretching, developing means of ‘separating’ in Sensei’s words, our legs from our hips, and our arms from our shoulders. We were told that our aim was to feel a ‘special feeling’, a feeling of complete control over every muscle in our body. Isaka Sensei explained to us that your hip is not just at the front of your body, or just at the sides, but is all the way around, including front, back and sides. He explained that we should correctly place our centre of balance no matter what position our body is in. This feeling of ‘separation’ is essential in understanding and being able to control – to minute detail – the muscles employed in any bodily movement, and this isolation is further essential in allowing us to achieve the elusive ‘special feeling’.
The second course focused on further developing the sense of control we had gained in the first course, and maintaining this control whilst moving. This was incredibly difficult, more difficult than you can probably comprehend unless you’ve actually experienced a session training under Isaka Sensei! We were asked to position ourselves in Heisoku-dachi, then turn 90 degrees. We increased from 90 degrees to 180 degrees, and then further to 270 degrees. Easy, I hear you all shouting. And it was easy, as I spun my shoulders and travelled as quickly as I could, feeling pity for those who stumbled all around me. It was then that Isaka Sensei shattered my gloating, when he explained that this exercise should be performed as slowly as possible, with no aid from the shoulders. Gone was my smug expression as I stumbled with the best and the rest of them. This was hard!
During the Instructor course that we were kindly allowed to train on, Isaka Sensei taught us a very successful exercise to help us find our centre of balance, an exercise I am not going to explain here. (If you want to know, then go to the course next year!) It helped me no end, and I found that as the course finished I had an improved (albeit only very slightly improved) sense of balance when moving in most stances!
Day one over and done with, we were very kindly asked to join some of the seniors at the St David’s Hotel for a few pints of mineral water, where we spent the night feeling very welcomed by all, and being regaled with karate tales from ‘the good old days!’ I must say that one thing that stands out for me when recalling the few hours we spent with these people that we had never met before was how welcoming they all were. Nothing was too much trouble, and they (and Sidoli Sensei in particular) were more than happy to spend hours answering our inane questions and explaining anything we wanted in great detail!
Our bank of questions exhausted we headed off to our hotel to sleep. It had been an exhausting day.
Early the next morning I awoke with a feeling of great excitement. Day two of ‘My Isaka Experience’. My excitement lasted as long as it took me to sit up and take my first few steps of the day. My thighs were screaming! Muscles that I didn’t know I had were aching and suddenly I was filled with worry. How would I train on today’s courses?
I arrived at Hawarden School filled with unease. I was concerned that I would ache too much to do any of Isaka’s slow motion training as well as I wanted to. The course began with many of the same stretches as we had done the day before, and much to my delight, by the time the warm up was over I felt perfectly fine. All aches and pains gone I was ready for a day full of intense slow motion training.
The highlight of the second day will stay with me as long as I live. I am one of the lucky few people who have seen Isaka Sensei perform his very special version of Meikyo. Words will never describe this performance to you so it is not worth the effort trying. Just understand that it was possibly the most beautiful kata demonstration I have ever witnessed in my time as a karate-ka. That is honestly all I can say.
Another experience I must recount to you is that of Isaka Sensei demonstration push ups with his hands balanced on his geta, one arm in front of the other, making a push up last more that forty-five seconds. He then stood with a declaration of “Easy!” and then requested that we do the same. I think the less said about that part the better!
‘My Isaka Experience’ ended all too soon, and as Sidoli Sensei warned, there was just too much information for my ‘Standard Shotokan Self’ to take in. No doubt I will be standing in a bus queue in a few months and suddenly understand a point Isaka Sensei was trying to make. This weekend was my first ever experience of slow motion training, but if only the whole weekend had passed in slow motion. It really was over too soon. We had been lucky enough to train with Master Isaka, lucky enough to meet many fantastic karateka. Stroll on next year, that’s what I say.