Okinawa: Center for Martial Arts
Enthusiasts Can Integrate Training Into Their Travels
By Nolan Webb
Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate, is a virtual mecca for those who have dedicated their lives to the study of the martial arts. Nearly 50 million people in 140 countries around the world pull on the traditional cotton uniform called a gi and step out on the training room floor each day to train their bodies and minds in this ultimate expression of self defense.
Tours to Okinawa begin in the capital of Naha, a city of 400,000 friendly inhabitants. The main island, the largest in an archipelago of more than 150 islands, is full of cultural relics such as the castle at Shuri, fascinating historical sites from World War II, and hundreds of world-class beaches and coral reefs.
Iha Sensei, my Okinawan master for this tour and founder of RyuKonKai, has more than 40 years of experience in the martial arts, and he is one of the most respected masters of Okinawan weaponry in the world. He has trained many champions and today has placed in my humble hands a wooden set of nunchaku, the deadly weapon made famous by Bruce Lee. Around me stood 15 children between the ages of six and 12 swinging their weapons like old pros. After finishing a 2-hour cycle of repetition and correction, I could just barely struggle through the first few sets of basic blocks and strikes.
Naha is the official headquarters for many of the world's most popular karate styles, most notably Goju-ryu, Shorin-ryu, and Uechi-ryu, as well as the home of traditional Okinawan weaponry, kobudo. As an eager tourist, the place to begin is at the Naha Martial Arts Hall, or Budokan, the center for numerous martial arts styles and masters. There is a nominal charge of 300 yen (about $2.50) at the door and enthusiasts are welcome to drop in and train on their own or introduce themselves to one of the visiting instructors or sensei.
One of the highlights of my 2-week stay on the islands was the opportunity to meet and train with so many martial artists from dozens of different styles all over the world. At the Budokan any enthusiast should be able to locate an accommodating instructor.
Martial arts instruction is not limited to the Naha and the southern region of Okinawa. The central cities of Okinawa City, Gushikawa City and Nago further noth are very foreigner friendly and secondary centers for martial arts. Recognized experts in Uechi-ryu, Isshin-ryu, and Okinawan weaponry are all within 30 minutes of the center of Okinawa City.
For More Info
The best time of the year to visit Okinawa is between September and early May.
Recommended Internet Sites:
The Okinawa Convention and Visitor's Bureau (www.ocvb.or.jp/en/index.html)
The Okinawan Prefectural Government has a fine web page dedicated to traditional martial arts (www.wonder-okinawa.jp/023/eng/index.html).