Saturday, 29 November 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"choden" which means "super electric" and refers to what we'd call a superconductor. I bring this up because I just got back from looking at some of the interesting displays outside the Museum of Maritime Science in Odaiba. I didn't go inside but one of the displays there was of a superconducting electromagnetic ship propulsion system, also known as magneto-hydrodynamic drive, which involves applying a magnetic field to a conducting fluid (seawater in this case) to propel a ship. The Mitsubishi Group actually built a working prototype (the first in the world) called the Yamato1 and the engine (on the right) is on display outside the museum.

Of course, as much as I'm intrigued by technology, I didn't travel across the Rainbow Bridge and all the way to Odaiba just to see what is essentially a gigantic water squirter. No, instead, I went for the 2008 Tokyo Automotive Games.

But before that, a bit of info on Odaiba. Odaiba is a large artificial island in Tokyo Bay, one of 6 originally built 1853 to defend Tokyo (nee Edo) from intruders. In the early 1990s, right before the Japanese economic bubble burst, Odaiba was slated to be developed as a showcase for futuristic residential living and commericial buildings.

Then everyone ran out of money, leaving Odaiba full of plans but empty of anything substantial.

In the late 90's, new investors started coming in and turned it into the tourist and general leisure area it now is. And indeed, there are some really cool things there like the Fuji TV headquarters (with it's odd spherical add-on), the Miraikan Museum which showcases emerging science and innovation, the Rainbow Bridge, a replica Statue of Liberty, and plenty of shopping malls, one of which has two floors of "Little Hong Kong" serving all that Hong Kong cuisine has to offer.

But I went for the Automotive Games show, which is kind of like a mid-level car/bike show. Taking place in a huge parking lot, there were lots of car and bike parts vendors, RC car racing, some stunt riding shows, Moto1 (dirtbike racing), FMX (dirtbike jumping), Drift shows, and Vespa racing (seriously!).

It wasn't anything amazing but there was a large variety of stuff going on and, since there is no Tokyo Motor Show, it let me get my fix of turbos, powerslides, and tire smoke.

And, as it happens sometimes with shows like these, the absolute best car of the day wasn't even part of the show- I found it in the parking lot. A Ferrari F40!!

Oh, and this..... "Ok son, get in there while I take a picture of you with the girls..."

OH!!! I almost forgot.......... there were Stormtroopers........

Monday, 24 November 2008

World Championship Pics...

Yay pictures! Thanks to Carl (the current Shiramizu intern) and Amy (his fiance, professional photographer, and "unofficial" intern) for the great pics. Especially since I didn't have time to take them from the floor.....

Team Japan's Matsuhisa Ko (red) does his part for the WKF ad.
And he's a Wadokai member!

R. Aghayev (AZE, red) dodges a punch from S. Margaritopoulos (GRE) in the Men's Open Finals.
Aghayev followed with a take-down...

Richard (L) and me looking busy...
I mean.... being busy.... "looking" concerned =P...

K. Kneuhmann (GER, red) and N. Fujiwara (JPN, blue) in the Women's -53kg Finals.
Imagine this happening in a split second and you being the judge to decide who scored the best technique...

Women's -60kg podium.
1st - M. Sobol (RUS)
2nd - N. Varasteh (CAN)
3rd - K. Strika (SRB)
3rd - V. Dogan (TUR)

Men's -70kg podium
1st - R. Aghayev (AZE)
2nd - T. Moussa (EGY)
3rd - S. Nagaki (JPN)
3rd - S. Baghbani (CAN)

We didn't get any medals, so we settled for a picture with two of the nice ladies who handed the medals out... that's sort of the same, isn't it?? haha...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

19th WKF World Championships in Tokyo... Part 2

[Note: Still need a bit of time for the pics.]

By the way, be sure to check out all the results here. And a very special congratulations to Canadians Saeed Baghbani (3rd place, Men's Individual Kumite, -70kg) and Nassim Varasteh (2nd place, Women's Individual Kumite, -60kg).

After sleeping some 5hrs, it was back to the Budokan for another day of the tournament.

This time around, with a better understanding of what's going on, I got straight to work organizing the rings. I got a hold of all the tournament ladders so I knew what fights were running and waiting to be run and, along with Richard, we set about making sure the rings run smoothly. Eventually, we split up and I took rings 1 and 2 while Richard took 3 and 4.

The work mainly consisted of making sure all the teams were sat on the correct side of the ring and in the order they were to fight in. When they were done, I'd make sure they'd keep moving either to their new seat position for their next fight or to wait outside whether they lost or just had to wait for the next batch of fights.

As expected, some of the coaches and competitors were rather reluctant to move, sometimes because they thought it was bothersome that they had to move all the time or because they wanted to stay to watch the fights. I found the best way to deal with them was to politely ask them and explain that the next group of fighters were coming. Eventually, they started to recognize me and, at times visibly reluctantly, would heed my requests and move out of the way.

Oh, and I also got myself a walkie-talkie with an earpiece- just like a secret agent!! Richard had let me in on his little secret about dealing with non-compliant coaches by putting his hand on the earpiece and pretending like the head table was telling him to tell the coach to clear the area. Sneaky haha......

Famous People
Being a world championship, it's expected that there are a lot of rather famous or important karate athletes, coaches, and instructors there. And working the floor, I had the privilege of meeting, talking briefly with, or at least seeing many of them.

People like:

Robbie Smith Sensei, New Zealand- Widely regarded as one of the best Wadokai instructors not currently teaching in Japan, if not just one of the best, period. Very well respected and very courteous. Funny too, as I found in the farewell party.

Ticky Donovan, England- David 'Ticky' Donovan is perhaps the most famous karate coach and former competitor to come out of England. Aside from winning a world championship in 1976, he led the British team to 5 consecutive world titles in '82, '84, '86, '88, and '90.

Manuel Monzon, Canada- Team Canada Head Coach, he led Saeed and Nassim to their respective 3rd and 2nd place finishes. He's also an all-around nice guy who was very kind during the tournament, never bothered by my constant ushering of competitors. He was even nicer at the party, where we chatted some more. Perhaps I'll compete under him for Canada someday....... perhaps haha....... Oh, and I didn't get a chance to talk to Saeed, but I did meet Nassim, who's a happy, energetic, and driven girl from Toronto.

John Fonseca and Elisa Fonseca Au, USA- Independently both well-established karate champions in their own right, they recently married to form some kind of undefeatable marital karate superpower. Elisa came in 2nd in Women's Individual Kumite, +60kg.

Team Hong Kong China and Team Macau
"Wow, you speak Chinese?!?!"................ I suppose this is a legitimate shock since we ~are~ all in a foreign country. And they were used to dealing with the Japanese in English. And they thought I was Japanese. And probably a bunch of other reasons....... I was shocked too- that I could still remember how to speak it haha.....

But really, I was quite happy that I could help those teams out in Cantonese, especially since they had some rather important concerns like finding one of their athlete's ID cards.

And actually, at the farewell party, I got to chatting with the chairman of the Karatedo Federation of Hong Kong China. He mentioned there isn't any Wado-ryu in Hong Kong but I intend on staying in touch and visiting him next year when I'm in HK. Maybe there'll be something I can do about helping the Wadokai expand =).....

Farewell Party
Held in a giant banquet hall of a hotel in Shinagawa, it was a rather fantastic party. I mean, the president of the French karate association bought 100 bottles of champagne for everyone, probably because they did so well (second only to Japan in terms of medal rankings). This, in addition to the seemingly endless supply of other drinks...

Then there was the buffet, which was enormous!! I mean, lots and lots and lots of food. Like, "enough smoked salmon to choke a killer whale" lots............. I ate a lot........

They also had a taiko drumming group give a performance, which was one of the best taiko performances I've seen.

Towards the last half of the evening, Richard and I took it upon ourselves to hand out the tournament results. We figured it would be a good way to meet various athletes and coaches as well as pacify quite a few people upset by the fact that it took a long time to print and compile over 100 copies of the results (not just the finalist, but the entire tournament ladder results for all the divisions), many of whom I had to deal with.

But in the end, it was great. We just walked around, was happy and congenial, shook their hands, and just tried to help everyone enjoy their what little time they had left in Japan.

By the time I got home Sunday night at 11pm, I was exhausted from having volunteered for nearly 22hrs over two days. But it was a great experience to have been at the world championship, especially being able to be at the front table and be a part of all of it. There was much to learn from how the best athletes warm-up, train, and compete to how a tournament of this calibre needs to be run to what kind of spirit it takes to win.

And......... it's a World Championship. How many times would I get to say that I've gone?? =)

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

[Note: I'm still sorting the pics. I'll put them in/put up a new post when I'm done.]

"hashafukukatsu" which, in all its complicated-kanji-ness, is the Japanese equivalent of "repechage". Repechage (lit. re-fishing) is French for "rescue " or "save" and is a practice in sports that allows competitors who have been eliminated from the tournament ladder to compete for a separate spot.

In the case of karate, it would be something like competing for 3rd place if you got knocked out of the semi-finals and can extend all the way back to the very first round that the eventual 1st place competitor fought in. It's arranged such that the first and second competitors who lost will have a match and the winner fights the one who lost the following round, the winner of which fights the one who lost the fourth round, etc.

So, technically, one can lose in the first round to the gold medalist and still be in for a chance for bronze, provided you prove your worth by defeating all the other competitors the gold medalist beat on his/her way to the top spot.

"Hashafukukatsu" is the Japanese word for such a process and includes the word for "revenge (fukushuu)" in it.

And why would I bother explaining all of this?? Well because this past Nov 13-16 was the 19th WKF World Karate Championships at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. It's been 31 years since the biennial World Championships were held in Tokyo so it was quite an event.

I volunteered on the last two days of the event which was great but unfortunate because all the events that I liked most (kata, team kata, and team kumite) were run on the first two days. Despite that, I got ring side seats to some very exciting individual kumite matches between some of the best karate athletes in the world.

What follows are a couple of anecdotes about my time there.

Up at 6:30 like any other workday and at the Budokan by 8am. I get my staff ID card (they've named me LIANG in katakana- I hastily write my first name in cuz there's nothing worse than people shouting LIANG at me all day, though one staff member still did it) and a really nice staff jacket and head off to do......... whatever it is they're getting me to do.

Turns out Richard (who volunteered there all 4 days) has got me helping out with the head table, where the WKF officials are running the show. I meet Mr. Esteban Perez, head of the WKF Organizing Committee and official "guy who runs everything".

For the better part of the morning, I felt particularly useful running around passing on orders and making sure the results are sent to the press room every 15 minutes (after a few times though, I passed this job on to some other volunteers). From about 11am onwards though, I started to help organize the competitors as they waited their turn in their rings.

That I did for most of the day and it involved a lot of "firm yet polite" speaking to many different coaches and competitors. I also had to help keep the area in front of the head table clear, so it was more "firm yet polite" speaking with people who had barged in. Lastly, the volunteers (and the hired security) eventually realised I wasn't Japanese, so I was called over to deal with a lot of the non-Japanese people who poked their head through the curtains set up around the perimeter of the competition area.

During the day, I could take a few minutes here and there to just stand and watch the fights from ring side and that was amazing. Perhaps I shouldn't be that surprised though, considering it was a world-class event with the top competitors from over 100 countries. The day ended off with all the final matches of each division run that day, which was............. well, I'll get to that.....

After all that, I headed off to dinner with Richard, Arakawa Sensei, Oliva Sensei (whom I mentioned in the previous post), Mrs. Oliva Sensei, and a few friends of Richard's.

Miscellaneous notes

They're SO FAST
Nowadays, kumite has evolved to the point that the distinction between styles has all but disappeared and has led some to start calling it "sport karate" vs "traditional karate". What I mean is that while one use to be able to tell one karate style from another based on how they fought, it been developed and honed to the point where all the athletes now fight the same way because that is that most effective way. Kata, on the other hand, still maintains its distinct, style-specific visual form and kata from one style is easily distinguishable from another style's kata.

It's easy to make the argument that kumite competitors need only to be exceptional athletes because of its focus on speed, power, and flexibility. And while some kata competitors can be successful based only upon athleticism, those who can demonstrate the essence of their style and a true function to their movements define that which is what I believe to be the core of martial arts.

Having said that, there's no question that the fighters I watched were extremely athletic. Their movement speeds and reactions were unbelievable at times. Coupled with the strict officiating of the WKF Judges, the way the athletes scored points was utterly amazing....

Final Rounds
... except in the final rounds. On Saturday, all the finals were actually rather boring, with many of the fights running the entire time limit (2:00 for women's, 3:00 for men's) with nothing but the fighters circling each other.

Understandably, everyone wants to win a world championship so no one is ready to risk going first, making a mistake, and letting their opponent score with a counterattack. But, at the same time, watching only the final match gives almost no indication of how good the athletes are.

Watching the final few rounds of eliminations as well as the repechage are often more exciting...

Rafael Aghayev (AZE)
... except when it came to this man. Aghayev is one of the best fighters in the world and finished the tournament with TWO gold medals- Men's Individual Kumite Open and Men's Individual Kumite -70kg.

Not only was he exciting to watch, he was fearless in his matches and not afraid of going on the offensive if the opportunity arose even in the finals. And when he did, he was consistently faster and sharper than his opponent to make sure he got the point he was going for.

But the most amazing thing was that the Azerbaijani was only about my height, which only serves to underscore how effective his fighting is to defeat opponents particularly in the Open division, where there is no weight category and he had to make his way past fighters sometimes 7 or 8 inches taller than him.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"bougyo" which means "self-defense". And that was only a small part of the kumite seminar I took part in in past Sunday.

As you may know, this weekend is the World Karate Federation's (WKF) World Championships and, for the first time in 31 years, it is being held in Tokyo. I'm volunteering on Saturday and Sunday (they signed me up as a translator!!........) so it'll be a great experience to watch, up close, the best of the best from all over the world.

But before all this, Richard organized a seminar with Antonio Oliva Sensei, who is a 5-time Spanish National Karate Champion and is now an internationally renowned WKF kumite coach, traveling to as many as 25 different countries every year to teach his approach to winning.

With Oliva Sensei was two competitors that he trained, a Latvian 17-yr old named Kalvis Kalnins (a WKF Junior World Champion) and Adam Kovacs, a Hungarian who's going to compete this weekend. The seminar was divided up into two sessions, with the 9:30am-1pm session for kids and a 2-5:30pm adult session.

The kids session was focused mainly on drills- improving their movement, leg/hand speed, and timing. One oft uttered criticism of the Japanese training method is that it's overly repetitive and predictable, with drills essentially lining up all the students and having them do one move countless number of times- exactly how sparring matches DON'T happen.

The exercises done at the seminar, however, had a random variable thrown in which mean the kids were learning how to adapt to the situation as well as sharpening their reflexes without losing focus of what they're supposed to be practicing.

I had gone to the seminar with two of my students from the high school, so I spent the morning running the drills with them and Carl (the current intern).

After a short lunch, the adult session started which had a different set of drills interspersed with short lectures.

The one thing that Oliva Sensei has really done over his 30+ years of experience is to essentially take something seemingly random and analyze it scientifically. He explained to us what is required to win matches by taking into account who the fighter is, who the judges are, where in the ring you are, the time remaining, the distancing between you and your opponent, when to be attacking/defending, and so on and so forth.

I would say that not all of it is new, and any competitor will eventually develop their own sense about these situations, but Oliva Sensei has taken it as far as to connect all the concepts together to produce a plan to win.

Despite the fact that I thought the kids session was better (lots of great drills and timing training), Oliva Sensei stressed that those are foundational skills and he's actually interested in teaching teachers the concept of tactics, which are the next level from just having ability.

Either way, it was a great seminar hampered only by the fact that I got stepped on in a really weird way by one of the guys I was practicing with. I now have a cut under the nail of my left big toe, which isn't a huge deal except for the fact that I can barely walk (which I guess is a big deal haha)....... it doesn't hurt if I don't move, I can put weight on it (so it's not broken), but it's annoying nonetheless....... I had hoped to be back training by next week, but I just want to walk normally right now haha........

I guess my toe-bougyo needs a bit of work.........

Yay karate!! =P.......

Friday, 7 November 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"iro iro" which is "various" and this past week was indeed filled with "iro iro" activities.

Kita-ku Tournament

Just like last year, I went to the "Kita-ku" Karate Tournament, which is one of the oldest karate tournaments in Tokyo still running. Kita-ku is the northern region of Japan and the school I work at is conveniently a part of this, so naturally the karate club was competing. All the students competed in individual kumite and there was a Seiritsu grad (past members of anything are affectionately known as OB's, or "old boys") who entered individual kata and helped comprise the kumite team.

See above was a board breaking demo. The sensei who's arm just had a board broken over it (R side) is some 75 years old...... intense.......


On Friday night, one of my roomates was going to what he called an "experimental noise" concert. What the heck, I figured, and I went along.

The club itself played a lot of techno, but not trance or house or anything like that....... it was really bass heavy and at times strangely arrhythmic. I'm sure there's a name for the genre, but I have no idea what it is. Dancing, apparently, consisted of swaying like zombies to the "beat"..... very interesting, to say the least......

The band that was playing is called Kuruucrew, a 5-man band that play what I would considered something that borders between ultra-heavy metal and flat out noise. There was a drummer, a guitarist, a bass guitarist, a saxophone player, and a guy who played a flourescent light tube.... and I'm not joking.....

I have yet to figure out how he "plays" it, but it almost looks like he had a mic hooked up to it and then he just turns the tube on and off to generate that characteristic buzzing noise. Then he feeds the noise through some reverb pedals to make............ "music". I've also yet to figure out how he manages to turn it on and off so consistently because anytime I turn on flourescent lights, they tend to flick randomly for a few seconds before fully turning on.......... oh well haha....

As for the band, it borders on simple loud noises atop a 130+bpm beat. Upon a background of constant guitar feedback and nearly constant bass strumming and bass drumming is that light tube "guitar", almost random cymbal crashes, and that saxophone (also mic'd through reverb pedals) which I could never hear.

Beyond that, they had 3 dancers (one male, one female, one yet-to-be-determined) in skin-coloured leotards and green Hawaiian grass skirts pole dancing. They also pulled stockings over their face like bank robbers. Dancing consisted of....... anything....... from spastic jogging-in-place to interpretive arm waving...... and moshing from the audience at the front......... I didn't partake =P.....

The band played a 30min set which was, for me, an.............. experience, let's say =P....

Tokyo Motor Week

Now that the Tokyo Motor Show has returned to its biennial roots, there isn't any big car show until the Tokyo Auto Salon next January. In response to this, the Japan Automobile Manufacturer's Association (JAMA) held the Tokyo Motor Week. Held in three locations, the motor week gave the public a chance to see new models from various Japanese manufacturers, last week in Yokohama and Odaiba, and this weekend in Roppongi.

It's set up like those "display shows" often seen in malls, where the cars are more like adding to the action rather than being the action itself.

I went to the one in Roppongi, held in the rather high-end Tokyo Midtown shopping complex.

Unforunately, despite the ads claiming to appeal to younger audiences with live DJ's and guest appearances, the show didn't offer much. In fact, each "display" was a single car. And, seeing as "average" people tend not to buy cars with "uncomfortable" sport suspension, "cramped" sporty interiors, and "noisy" performance engines, it was mildy interesting at best. They did have an Evo X, but that's not anything to get that worked up over.

There were, however, a couple other neat things.......

Such as these....... whatever they are. I know they're two back-halves of a Nissan Cube welded together. I have no idea what they're for though.

And this.....

Yes, that is really the dash for the Toyota Crown Hybrid. Yes, it's a complete LCD screen, capable of displaying...... well...... anything. Including a picture of the car when you get in. Also note the little unit on top of the steering column. That houses a sensor that constantly monitors the driver's eyes in case the driver is shoulder checking (ie- not looking forward) and the car bears down on some obstacle. It then beeps at you to warn you about the impending crash.... =P

The last thing I'd like to mention is that the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo is connected to this shopping complex, and the driveway of the hotel had cars worth more than the entire show including a V-10 Audi S8 and a long wheelbase Rolls-Royce Phantom.......

Tomorrow I'm off to a karate seminar led by Antonio Oliva Sensei, the Spanish National Team Kumite Coach and coach of "iro iro" karate world champions. He's in town for the World Karate Federation World Championships next weekend. And you can be sure there'll more to read about that next week =)......