My Trip to Japan by Celine Kwan, Kuyukai Black Belt

The 11 hour flight to Wakayama, Japan seemed rather long for a first time international traveller, but it was well worth the journey. Upon arrival at Kansai airport, the Go Ju Ryu Canada karate team members were enthusiastically welcomed by fellow Ku Yu Kai Japan club members. This felt like a much needed long time reunion, since the last time I saw their faces was close to eight years ago. The Japanese atmosphere, culture and hospitality were overwhelming to take in at first, but over the 10 day stay we eventually adapted to the surroundings.

Something I will most likely never forget will be the training sessions we had, preparing us for the Ku Yu Kai 5th Hirano Cup Tournament. Fitting almost thirty students into a tiny, non air-conditioned dojo was only the half of it; add in a room temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, intensive warm ups and pools of sweat dripping down your face, and you have the recipe for a typical karate class in Japan. It was definitely not like your average class back in Canada.

The day of the tournament was a complete eye-opener for me: getting to observe, compete against and meet fellow club members from all over the world was an experience of a life time. Who can say that they got to compete against a South African, a Belgian, a Japanese and an Indian, all in the same day? Not many people, let’s just say that. The tournament was already intense to watch, but the pressure was definitely on when it was time to compete. Everyone entered the ring with concentration, focus, and a face full of sweat. Considering the heat and the determination in each individual’s eyes, I knew the competition was going to be tough. As I entered the ring to perform my kata, my heart was beating so loud and fast that I felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. Not the feeling you want before you are about to execute a difficult kata in front of five judges. In the end I came out ahead with a victorious first place win, and our Sensei, Julie Zilber, received a well fought second place trophy for her kata in the Master’s division. As the results were being presented I was literally jumping for joy awaiting my coveted trophy and plaque. The whole tournament put on by Saikou Shihan Osamu Hirano was a success; with close to 200 competitors it was a great way to interact and create friendships with club members across the world.

The rest of the trip was filled with sightseeing tours in the vicinity of the city and delicious dinners loaded with ramen and sushi until you were stuffed to the brim. These were only some of the many ways our Japanese hosts showed their hospitality to their guests, besides the fact that they graciously offered us accommodations at their houses. We were extremely grateful. As the trip drew to an end, a huge party was hosted by Sensei Teramura Seiji, as a thank you for travelling all the way to Japan to take part in the tournament. It was a chance to have fun, enjoy good food, let loose and establish friendships to last a life time.

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