As a new fiscal year is about to kick off, in mid-March, several members of my Lee’s Matsumoto Dojang and I went to Singapore after a one-year interval to reunite with a Master we respect sincerely and some very dear friends.
I had vowed to visit again during my last trip and to make our visits an annual event, but it was actually sheer good fortune that our visit coincided with the ITC Championship and for me be both honored and humbled to be invited to join the umpires for the event from the Championship Chairman, Mdm. Carnation Chai. As soon as I received the invitation, I started counting the days as I did in my childhood leading up to major events.
We were disappointed that Mr. Masaru Enami, I Dan, had to decline from joining us at the last minute due to injury, as he, too, was looking forward to being back. So our contingency consisted of Mr. Hiroaki Suzuki, Green Belt (6th Gup), who was visiting for the second time; and Mr. Shigeru Nasu, Yellow Belt (8th Gup), for whom it was also the very first overseas trip. One of our dojang’s objectives is to make friends from outside Japan, so this trip served as a very important activity in achieving that goal for our participants.
On the personal front, I was snowed under with a myriad of events and appointments both at work and with my family, so I was on a very tight schedule leading up to it. As a result, I feel very bad that I made both Master Daniel Sng and my friends at ITC worry about our time, and I have thus learned that next time, I need to plan with more flexibility and time.
It was around 6 pm on Friday when we arrived at Changi International Airport. We were very conscious of the time as we knew class starts at ITC at 7 pm, so we rushed to our hotel, checked in, and headed for the dojang as fast as we could.
For me personally, this is my third trip to Singapore, so finding the dojang was easy. And it was so wonderful to meet Master Sng, Mr. Jeremy Tan, our generous and precious interpreter, Mr. Dennis Wan, and everyone else I so missed!
And most of all, I was finally able to thank my dear friends for their kind gifts and messages upon the passing of my father last year. I am very grateful to Ms. Jules Takagishi, II dan of ITF Hyogo, who acted as a go-between and I have since vowed to also continue to act as a bridge between ITC and ITF-JAPAN to keep our friendship alive and share in the good will.
The training on the first day seemed slightly less taxing than what I recall from last year. I doubt it is due to our being more fit or better trained. Actually, as the competition was on the following day, the main focus of the training was on last-minute checks and adjustments to patterns and final preparations for the event. The dojang was charged with a little bit of nervous but mostly excited energy, and I, too, got very excited.
On the day of the big event, I made a grave error and caused Mr. Jeremy Tan a big headache, to say the least. I forgot to adjust for the time difference, and thus, made him wait in the lobby for me for a very long time!!! As soon as I realized my error, I rushed to change and jumped in his car! Luckily, I had long woken up and had finished my morning routine, so the damage was not fatal, but I feel terrible about the incident.
The Championship was very orderly and a wonderful display of talent and dedication, perseverance, and indomitable spirit!
The participants were both having fun and taking the event very seriously, just as I see in Japan. It made me reconfirm that when we study the same martial art, there is no age or language or national boundaries – we all feel the same and aim for the same – to be the best martial artist we can be. It made me feel grateful to Taekwon-do once again, for without it, I would not have enjoyed the bond with such wonderful friends and to share in the joy and excitement.
The ITC competitors were of dynamic movements and really displayed skill and talent in their patterns and jumping kicks!
I was an umpire, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching them as a spectator as well.
If I were to point out one major difference between Japanese competitors and competitions, and those of ITC, it is that ITC competitors are less concerned about winning and thus seem to enjoy being in the competition more.
Of course they are happy to win and are disappointed when they lose, but more than the results, they seem to cherish the feeling of solidarity and camaraderie through being in the same competition together.
I would like to see Japanese competitors enjoy the electric feeling of being in a competition and the sense of achievement one feels after giving one’s best when all is done, just as I observed the ITC members do!
And how I look forward to the day ITF-JAPAN and ITC members can stand on the same stage and compete to establish a bond only competitors who grow to respect each other can enjoy. That would give everyone so much joy and such a great sense of bonding!
After the competition, the Japanese delegation returned to our hotel and then was invited out to dinner by Master Sng. As usual it was not just a feast for the stomach but for our souls as well. Sharing not just food, but good spirits and much laughter as well.
It was a very enjoyable time as we were able to meet with Mrs. Sng and Mr. Jonathan Sun, who, despite his busy schedule, made time for us and came with souvenirs for us.
The noodles I received were… absolutely delicious! And spicy. Yet, it grows on me and made me want to eat more of it!
Our last training on Sunday was just as I had remembered it from a year ago, in true ITC style!
The skipping at the beginning of the class ebbs away our stamina and the pushups and sit ups finish us. It was tough! And this is exactly what I wanted the Japanese participants to experience! Next year, I hope to bring with me even more members so that they, too, can share in shedding some blood, sweat in tears on the ITC mattress – which we diligently wipe down before and after class!
During the class, two students from Matsumoto were taught patterns and I was able to learn the stick pattern, with which I have been fascinated for some time now. I was not able to learn the entire patter in one lesson, so I dearly look forward to the next session!
All training time was precious, but I was also given the honor of teaching as well. I am deeply indebted to Mr. Dennis Wan for acting as interpreter and assisting me because without him, it would have been very difficult. I hope my lesson met Master Sng’s expectations.
Unfortunately, the Japanese delegation was not able to participate in the afternoon sessions. We were invited out to lunch, and had another fun dining experience at a nearby food court. When I ordered mostly fruit, which is something I seldom voluntarily eat in Japan, Dennis asked me if that would be sufficient and seemed concerned!
But I only get to eat watermelon in summer in Japan, so it was a treat to get it at the end of our winter season. Of course, I was also not so ravenous due to being quite exhausted from the last few days. But the tasty fruit sure was both a gastronomical and emotional treat!
After lunch, the ITC members saw us off as we were driven by Justina and Carnation to our hotel. We are more than grateful that so many ITC members went out of their way to arrange for our transportation during our stay.
Though we had to rush to make the checkout time, we still had ample time until our return flight, so we each went about our own way to enjoy the last little bit of time in Singapore. Hot and humid summer is still a while away back in Japan, so just being out in the Singapore heat was a treat for us.
The trip enabled us to spend valuable and wonderful time. We owe it all to the generosity and hospitality of Master Daniel Sng, who is a beacon and true living example of the tenets of Taekwon-Do. His family and our friends at ITC are led by his example and are more than generous with their time and patience, too. I would also like to thank Mr. Jeremy Tan for always being available and acting as the go-to person for me.
I can never express my gratitude enough in words and hope only that my actions and continued commitment to our friendship with ITC can demonstrate how greatly honored I am to be among you in Singapore. Already, I cannot wait to see you all again!
Thank you and Taekwon.
Matsumoto Dojang Representative
Written by Mr. Ken-ichi Nonaka, 5th Degree Black Belt, ITF Japan – Matsumoto
© Island Taekwon-Do Centre 2014
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