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Mark W & the Scottish Masters' Japan Trip

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Back in May, club member Mark W and a group of the Scottish Masters visited Japan for an exciting two weeks of training and sightseeing at the home of judo. 🇯🇵 Mark has written up a great summary of their trip which you can read below.

"A group of 13 of us who train at the monthly Over 30s sessions at Ratho had been planning and saving for a trip to Japan since 2018. Due to the pandemic, the trip was postponed a few times but we eventually got out there in May of this year after travel restrictions were lifted.

As the 13 hour flight drew to its end, the first sight out of the plane window as we approached Tokyo was the snow-covered peak of Mount Fuji above the cloud base – an inspiring view indeed announcing our arrival in Japan.

With all feeling jaded from the flight and having just arrived that afternoon, we headed for the Kodokan to watch the monthly Red Belt competition – an open weight Shiai “Winner Stays On” with old style rules; leg grabs allowed and 30 second hold down for ippon. There were some very impressive displays by judoka of various ages competing against each other. Particularly impressive to me was a Japanese player I’d guess to be around my age who dispatched 5 contenders before he ran out of steam and was beaten in newaza.

Watching the monthly Red Belt competition

A visit to the Kusakura shop felt like we were really getting into local Japan. A very small and absolutely packed store full of quality judogis that is in the upstairs room of a tenement building you could easily walk past!

First time on the mat followed the next morning with a visit to the American Embassy Dojo. This session was held by Lance Gatling, a long-term resident of Japan who is a respected judo historian and author. The session was a great warm up to get moving after travelling and also very informative with detail and background from Lance on “Shizen Hontai”, natural posture.

At the American Embassy Dojo

That afternoon it was on to the Kodokan for a session hosted by the Tokyo Judo Federation in the International Dojo on the 6th floor. There was a good mix of ages and grades on the mat with the coach demonstrating a De-Ashi Barai combination with Ko Soto Gari. The instruction was in Japanese, but we were made very welcome with all those we practised with helping to translate where they could or demonstrating as Uke.

That following day it was a change of hotels as we headed over to Mount Fuji for a few days. After settling in on day one we took a bus to the 5th Station, about 2/3 of the way up the mountain which is as far as was permitted for the time of year. We then walked back the 16 miles to the hotel taking in some fantastic scenery and historic temples on the way.

Google Translate came in handy to confirm that, as we suspected, the signs on the pathways in the woods with pictures of bears on them were indeed a warning to be aware that we were in their territory! I wasn’t unduly concerned by this as I’d convinced myself that, although I couldn’t outrun a bear, surely I could run faster than at least one of the other guys in the group!!

Look out for bears!

After the Mount Fuji trip it was back to Tokyo and the Kodokan. This time for the Business Association session, where we had the privilege of practising in the top floor Dojo. This session was for players who are employed by businesses who sponsor the judoka and provide them time to practise and compete. Obviously a huge step up for myself and many of the guys in our group, however this was a great experience and thoroughly enjoyed the randori with these guys - even if they didn’t get out of first gear in our practices!

Next night it was back to the Kodokan for open mat Kata training. As always, we were made to feel very welcome by all on the mat and received patient, good humoured instruction and correction from high level coaches as my Uke, Sandy, and I worked through the first two sets of Nage No Kata. It was inspirational to see coaching being given to one group practising the Ju No Kata by an older lady wearing 9th Dan belt. We were told that when the lady had begun judo as a child, she was taught by a sensei who himself had had learned directly from Jigoro Kano.

Katsuko Umezu, 9th Dan

There’s varying levels of enthusiasm for Kata among judoka in the UK, but I’m sure all would be inspired seeing this:

Next time on the mat was another double session beginning with a return visit to the US Embassy then on to a club at Takanawa in a high school dojo. Many of the players at Takanawa had come through the high school club and continued at the dojo on site. This visit was very reminiscent of a UK session with a familiar warm up, some technique practised then on to randori where we mixed in throughout with the host players. Following this session we were given a tour of the nearby Sengaku Ji Temple by Lance who relayed with great depth of knowledge the story of the 47 Ronin, a fascinating insight to the Samurai mindset and inspiration for the Keanu Reeves film.

Our last session was on our final night of the trip. We travelled to a dojo in the suburbs where we were given a demonstration and tried out a few techniques from old schools of Japanese Ju-Jitsu by Eric Shahan, a prolific author on the subject. Having tried out a few techniques under Eric’s instruction and acting as his Uke for several, I can now much more appreciate why Kano refined these arts into the Gentle Way and omitted many of those techniques from Judo! The dojo was a fantastic facility, especially as part of a suburban sports complex. This had been built as a training centre for competitors for the Tokyo Olympics, so the legacy of those Games is certainly a great benefit to that community now using the dojo."


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