The First Interviews
The Karate Nerds in Okinawa are living the life! But for some of us, the novel and amazing journey here will soon be coming to an end…
But before it’s over, we wanted to actually sit down with each of the 2017 Nerds individually and get some of their thoughts about their experiences here in Okinawa – what they’ve learned, what they expect to take back home to their respective countries when it’s all over, but most importantly, how they’re outlook on life and Karate in general has changed as a result of this amazing adventure!
So without further ado…
In this first round of interviews, we have Josh LaSelva and Jose Manuel Hinojosa –
We will begin with Jose’s interview:
Q: Jose, can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be a part of the 2017 Karate Nerd Experience? What was it like for you in getting prepared to come here?
A: “I’m a 27 years old martial artist with a long career behind me. Training Tae Kwon Do as a child, Gumdo (Korean Swordmanship) as a teenager, and picking up Karate and Kung Fu later in my years… after training in all these different martial arts, I came to realize that each sensei (or Sabobnim or Shifu, depending on the country the martial art is from) always adds their own belief, their own essence, to the martial art. And this was when I began to wonder what would it be to go to the roots of one of them – particularly Karate.
Q: “Were there difficulties in leaving home to make the journey here?”
A: “After I got selected from the OKNP, I sold my car, my real katana, my Iaido blade, and told my wife I was leaving for 3 months. I left my Dojo with someone else in charge as I embarked on this journey. When I arrived to Okinawa, the first week I had to decide under which Sensei I would train. My first choice was Hokama Tetsushiro, Goju Ryu Hanshi, and one of the most well known Senseis here in Okinawa. I came in with a white belt, but he quickly told me to put on the belt that I was back in México – so I put on my green belt and started training.
As the months went by, I was constantly told that my level wasn’t that of a green belt (That’s the martial arts background kicking in I suppose!), but I didn’t have the nerve and courage to ask if I could be tested in Hokama´s Sensei Dojo. But then I was told I could, but only with the permision of my Sensei back in Mexico. So I asked, and he said ‘Go for it, you are there, learn as much as possible and come back to share everything.'”
Q: So then you tested for Shodan?
A: “Yes. And having already 2 black belts in 2 different martial arts, I have to say this test got me offguard… It was a test only for me, with his whole class watching me. I felt the pressure of having a testing commitee of 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Dans all watching my movements. I made some mistakes when my nerves got the better of me, but then I realized something fundamental in this experience… THIS WAS NOT A COMPETITION. This is not a race, but a journey that we each take at different junctures in our lives. And it’s our duty to enrich it, live it, embrace it, and then grow. Every test in my life before this, I always strived to shine and to be the best, looking at the other people around me… but this time, it was me and only me.”
Q: So How do you feel now that it is about time for you to return home? What are your future plans with Karate?
A: “I got awarded with Shodan, and I have to say, I felt humbled by that experience. I feel the need to bring this to México and then come back so that we can build a bridge of friendship, knowledge and improvement in our Karate training and our life. As this last 2 weeks is passing and I m getting to go back to México, I cannot help but think that I was given something special that I must cultivate – something I must give back. A tree has just been planted in me, and now I feel its my duty to harvest the fruits and share them.”
And next, we have Josh LaSelva:
Q: Josh, how have you been feeling about your time here in Okinawa so far? Is it anything like what you expected?
A: “Within three days, I went from living at home and teaching children, to living on the opposite side of the world and training regularly with the kobudo master I have admired since childhood. As such, It is safe to say that all of my cultural and perceptive boundaries have been thoroughly dissolved. The wave of knowledge that crashed on to me upon arrival at the dojo of Kinjo Masakazu sensei was undeniably overwhelming. But I found the process of attempting to stay afloat quite enjoyable, and saw myself getting better at it on a daily basis. Shortly after my arrival, I was invited to join the Kubagawa dojo in performing at the opening of the Karate Kaikan, which was an honor to say the least. It became clear early on that this was a family that welcomed newcomers with open arms, and gifts of priceless martial knowledge.”
Q: “Wow! That’s amazing! So what has your training been like exactly? I know you do a lot of Kobudo training here – is that coming along anything like you expected when you decided to come to Okinawa?”
A: “After a couple months, an announcement came that I would need to prepare for my Shodan grading – and this came to me as a complete shock. While I had known the required kata for a few years already, I did not feel that I was completely comfortable with the new ways of doing things as shown to me by Kinjo sensei. Thankfully, a large blue building less than fifty meters from my apartment called “Shureido” had exactly what I needed to solve this problem: a 6 foot heavy weight bo. I began practicing at the park just outside my apartment, and video taping myself to track progress. Comparing myself to the performances of Satoshi san, and Kenta san, (Kinjo sensei’s two sons), I felt that I had an infinitely long way to go. But after a week or so of practice, I began to feel that my kata were now presentable, and just in time for the grading too.”
Q: “So what happened?”
A: “On the day of the graduation I arrived at the dojo feeling anxious, but was able to calm myself down with the meditative repetition of kata. Soon enough, Kinjo sensei walked into the dojo formally dressed, and sat down at the table set in the front of the room with several of the senior students and instructors. And before I knew it, the grading had begun! My friends Sam and Rudy were grading that day as well; however, being the lowest rank, I had to perform first. This was probably the greatest blessing I could have been offered, though! Once I got into the dynamic rhythm of Kubagawa Nunchaku, I was transported to another world – no amount of nerves or stress could affect me at that point. After that, the grading continued for a couple hours, until finally it was announced that everyone who tested that day had passed, and now there was nothing to do but celebrate.”
Q: “After that experience – and overcoming the initial fear of testing so soon after coming to Okinawa – how are feeling about your training now? Has your energy or attitude changed as a result?”
A: “The upcoming Monday I arrived at the dojo, and received my new belt. And as I picked up my bo, and looked at myself in the mirror, I realized that I had unlocked a new tier of expectations, a higher demand for competence, a burning desire to improve. Basically from that point, I set out to earn my next rank, and I continue to do so each day I enter the dojo. It’s a never ending quest for me to achieve my personal best.”
So it’s pretty safe to say that the 2017 karate Nerd Program has been everything expected and much, much more for Jose and Josh. Here in Okinawa, the training is so rich and full of complex content, it really does seem like it’ll take a lifetime to begin grasping all the nuances and flavor of traditional Karate and Kobudo…
One consensus is certain though: Training in Okinawa is an eye opening and endlessly fun time! And we can’t wait to hear what the other Nerds have to say about their experiences.
So keep an eye out! 🙂