We kick off the new year of 2013 with a trip to Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Four of our pioneering members flew there to participate in the 2nd Seito Seiryu Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Kokusai Renmei taikai, which consists of seminars and grading exams.
Our representatives, Michael Koh (who lead the team), Luke Yeo, Jerry Yap and Billy Yong.
We arrived in Kaohsiung on 16th January, to be greeted by two local senseis, Ms Hou (6 dan) and Ms Fang (6 dan) who gave us a tour through the MRT system in Taiwan, which is quite like the local MRTs in Singapore, yet held its own distinct character. I particularly liked the cute sound systems that played whenever a train was arriving or when the doors were about to close.
We alighted at City Council station and walked towards our hotel. The weather was nice and breezy, albeit clogged by smog in the air, but nothing too terrible. Kaohsiung apparently has very little rainfall, so it had a slightly more outdoorsy feel compared to sunny Singapore. Our hotel was a little off the main street, which was to be expected for something of lower budgets, but we were very impressed when we saw a vibrant and fresh looking building, with its youthful drawings and elegantly simple design. Indoors, it was just as pleasant. There were free bicycles for rental, the staff were friendly and could speak English. The facilities, like the outside, were just as relaxing to look at, we immediately felt right at home.
After lunch we decided to pay a visit to the dojo where we would be spending the next week training. It was indeed a beautiful place. The tourists’ map even states the historic building is the only one in Taiwan that preserves its original use since it was built by the Japanese during their occupation of the island. Kaohsiung was still in the twilights of winter, so the floorboards were really cold! In spite of this, all of us agreed that the floor, and the general ambience was magnificent to behold.
We ended the day with dinner at a local beef noodle stall, and a tour of the Liouhe night market. I tried the deep fried squid. Yum-yum! Next day was training. So we had an early night.
17th January – 19th January
We woke up at 7am. Had our complimentary breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which I might add was such a treat! Luke even ate 5-6 platefuls before he was done! Man’s got a huge appetite. Once that was settled, we headed straight to the dojo. As guests, we wanted to be there early, but apparently we were too early. The doors were shut, and without knowing of any security devices, I tried sliding the doors open. The alarm immediately went off, and after a minute or so, the dojo steward comes out of his management building, quite groggy and none too pleased, but still courteous enough to these bunch of gung-ho trainees by opening the door, and turning off the alarm.
Training for the rest of the day was pretty relaxed; mostly introductions and getting accustomed to our new swords. Unlike most of us in Singapore, the swords we used in Kaohsiung were custom made by Noshyudo smiths. They were thicker on both the blades and the tsukas, and all of us were really wowed by the quality of these blades. Some of us even wanted to buy them back, haha!
Other than that, we got to meet Kobara sensei: a bear-like body, but with the nicest, cuddliest personality you could ever find. In spite of the earlier mentioned relaxed pacing, we were bombarded with information on corrections of form and even on the importance of tsuka length. We gingerly wrote down whatever we could hold on to. Needless to say, it was an information overload.
The 18th and 19th saw us training again under Kobara sensei, with Fang and Hou sensei providing additional instruction and translation, and the head of our organisation, Esaka sensei. Mochizai sensei was busy guiding the 3 – 4 dan applicants. He did however teach us on the 20th, so that was good. Again, there was so much information by each and every one of them, we could only hold on to 50% - 70% of what they taught. Such is the nature of learning unfortunately…
Our Taiwanese hosts later brought us to a local restaurant in the suburbs. The food was really good, and Jerry brought along his whiskey, so several of us, including Hou sensei were downing the drink. Good times. We were truly bowled over by their hospitality, even when yours truly had a hard time understanding half of what they said, our Kaohsiung friends made extra efforts to make us feel like part of the family.
Oh, one more thing, the weather was freezing these few days. Hou sensei was so nice to provide winter jackets for us. I don’t think I would’ve survived without them.
Grading day itself. As usual, the weather was cold enough for me to have my hands in my pockets most of the time. We had an early breakfast as always, and arrived at the dojo an hour early. The crowds slowly filtered in. Everyone was friendly as usual, but you could tell there was a sombre mood in everyone’s faces. People were busy rehearsing the lines for the theory exam, and seniors were telling juniors to relax and take it easy. I myself was busy with the pointers I was given the day before, as was my group with their individual checks and preparations.
We had a quick warm up session, led by the various sensei. Before we knew it, the grading ceremony had begun. A formal bow, crowds dispersing into their rank categories, and the first line begins, with myself as the first to enter. It was made less nerve wrecking since I was accompanied by two other participants to my side.
We knelt into seiza, proceeded with bowing to the sword, making sure not to fiddle with the sageo, as that would lead to poor zanshin, and obsession over a trivial matter. Then was strapping the swords to our waist belts, rising up, and walking to our examination lines. Bowing to the senseis, we called out our numbers and school: “Hyaku Ichiban, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu”.
Before we knew it, the waza were finished. It was slow and deliberate, but you focus only on the present, and at the end of the last waza, all that’s left is to walk to the end place, kneel in seiza, remove your sword, bow, and leave. Next up was Luke and Jerry, followed last by Michael.
On another note, none of us felt cold during the grading. I guess nerves and concentration can help fight off the cold to some degree.
Since there weren’t too many participants going for their exams, the grading was over pretty early. People lined up again for the closing of the grading event. Esaka sensei congratulated the participants for a good show of spirit and form. Singapore was beheld with distinction, something Esaka sensei himself was pleasantly surprised with. We wouldn’t have done it without the help we had back home from our teachers.
After a long lunch break, we were back to the final training for the seminar. Mochizai sensei cleared some more inaccuracies that we were making, and this time we were really sweating. It was a good sweat indeed! By 3pm, the embu or demonstration had commenced. Grading participants performed the waza they had earlier executed, whereas others including the senseis performed their own individual techniques. Mochizai and Kobara sensei performed Tachi Uchi no Kurai, a two person kata with emphasis on distance and timing, then performed their personal techniques after. Esaka sensei held the last spot, and moved very well for a man in his late 80s, especially so for Sou Makkuri, a favourite of his.
Lastly was the photo taking session. Formal pictures aside, there was a lot of random and happy pictures being taken. Everyone was relieved to have passed, and silly poses were made for the camera.
The sun was setting. Dinnertime was near. We packed our bags and headed off to Kaohsiung harbour for some local seafood. Cheers were made. Facebook contacts were connected. Family members and daughters were introduced to bachelors.
By that time, everyone was spent, but bonds were made, and Singapore had marked itself with sterling results in the eyes of her hosts and teachers. We couldn’t thank our hosts from Kaohsiung enough, and likewise to those from Tainan for making us feel at home. As well as our members and instructors back home in Singapore, for whom we would not have come this far. And of course, our Japanese teachers for demonstrating to us, the proper ways of Eishin Ryu. Till the next batch of participants, we will continue to strive towards perfection.