Trip to Japan 2017

Thursday, 27 April 2017
Master Sng, Aunty Karen, Yuki Fung Mdm, Dennis Wan Sir and I met at the airport at 11pm for our flight to the city of Matsumoto, Japan.

After a 7-hour flight, we arrived at Chubu Centrair airport at 8am, where we made our way, via train, to Nagoya station where we took the limited express Shinano en-route to Matsumoto town, in Nagano prefecture. The duration of the journey was 2 hours.

At Matsumoto Station, we were met by a familiar face and a very good friend to ITC, Mr Kenichi Nonaka Sir. After checking in and leaving our luggage in our hotel, Kenichi Sir took us on a walking tour through many interesting sites in Matsumoto Town, such as Yohashira Shrine, Nawate Dori Street (where we had Taiyaki, fish-shaped pastries with fillings), and most importantly, Matsumoto Town’s national treasure, the Matsumoto Castle. Kenichi Sir shared and described some of the castle’s interesting designs and historic artefacts including the 60-degree incline staircase. Kenichi Sir shared that he has already visited the Castle about 30 times, himself!

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After dinner, Kenichi Sir brought us for some drinks and introduced one of his students. It was a very relaxing night as we chatted about Singapore, Japan, Taekwon-Do and many other topics. The weather was rather cold that evening, but the warmth from alcohol (just a little!) and the friendship we shared more than made up for it. Afterwards, we retreated back to our hotel rooms for some rest.

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Friday, 28 April 2017
Kenichi Sir and his mother, Noriko Arai, kindly took us out to other places outside of Matsumoto Town for some sight seeing. We visited Daio Wasabi Farm and Azumino Glass Museum before having lunch at Kuruma-ya Soba, which was next to Ariyakezan Shrine. We also visited Hokata Foot Hot Spring, and Azumino Winery.

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We had a chance to experience and take pictures of the sakura blooming, and have soba, which was Matsumoto’s specialty, as well as enjoyed a relaxing foot “onsen” in preparation for training the next day.

We wound down the day with an excellent conveyor belt sushi experience.

Saturday, 29 April 2017
Kenichi Sir fetched us and we headed to Matsumoto City gymnasium for some Taekwon-Do action after all the sightseeing and feasts. Besides Kenichi Sir’s students, the Nagano City Taekwon-Do Club, led by Mr Yamagishi Kouji Sir, came to join us as well.

We started off the training session with Ms Tomoka Jin Mdm’s 3rd Degree black belt grading. I could see that there was quite a difference in the requirements for grading. One of the differences was that they perform 17 techniques in their 1-Step Sparring!

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Next up, it was Master Sng Sir’s style of training. He started out with his famous (or rather, infamous) 2-minute running on the spot with punching exercise, followed by several of Sir’s other exercises from his ‘encyclopedia’. Sir then demonstrated and taught several self-defense techniques, such as cross arm grabs, collar grabs and chokes, to the class, within his hour-long training.

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Dennis Sir, Yuki Mdm and I assisted in correcting the students on emphasising the techniques’ finer points and I was glad to see that the students were very interested in the lesson. Although there was no small amount of pain involved, they persevered and earnestly tried multiple times to get the footwork and grips on point.

Sir’s 1-hour class felt more like 10 minutes as we all completed the training too soon. We then had a short lunch break, and Kenichi Sir started his class soon after. Kenichi Sir took the class for fundamental techniques such as punching and kicking. We did drills with the class as well as took turns to hold the kicking pads while the everyone practiced.

In the blink of an eye, the day of training was done and we went back to our hotels to freshen up for the Anniversary Dinner in the evening.

ITF Matsumoto’s 20th Anniversary Dinner was held at Matsumoto Tokyu Rei hotel. It was a cozy and casual dinner held in the hotel’s restaurant. We had a 6-course meal of great fusion food, a refreshing change from the (also good) traditional Japanese food that we have been having for the past few days.

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The dinner started off with a speech from the Chief Instructor of ITF Matsumoto, Mr Kenichi Nonaka, thanking the guests for attending the event. Notable guests who graced the event included Master Daniel Sng, Mr Shin Matsuda (4th Degree Black Belt in the World Taekwon-Do Federation), and Kenichi Sir’s friend, Mr Kouji Yamagishi, who also brought his team from Nagano.

I had the opportunity to meet up with Mr Suzuki and Ms Hayashi, who previously came to Singapore for ITC’s Annual Championship 2017, at the dinner as we were seated on the same table together.

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During the dinner, Jin Mdm, who was the host for the event, divided the tables into groups and invited Mr. Yamagishi to be the quiz master for a game. One representative from each group was tasked to come to the front and perform a ‘fundamental movement’ which will be given by Mr. Yamagishi in Korean. I thought that it was pretty serious ‘theory’ training (it didn’t help that Sir was right in front of me) and started to sweat. However, everyone was cheering and that’s when I thought I could just relax and ‘pose’. Not only myself, but Yuki Mdm and Dennis Sir too had an opportunity to show their theory knowledge.

All of a sudden, music started playing and a few members from the Matsumoto and Nagano team went up to the front, and started dancing to the music. This dance that they were performing is actually performed every summer for the Matsumoto Festival which was highly interesting – they even blended Taekwon-Do moves to the catchy music!

The fabulous evening came to a close much too soon, but not before we took group photographs. We all thought that it was great to spend our last evening Matsumoto as such, but there was more to come.

Sunday, 30 April 2017
In the morning, Kenichi Sir and Jin Mdm picked us up at our hotel for another session of training. The agenda was to refine some of the pattern techniques as well as another round of self-defense practice. I could see that all the students were very interested in learning these self-defense techniques and also amazed me about how much pain could be dealt onto an opponent. The training lasted for about 2 hours before we changed and proceeded for lunch – ramen!

After the delicious lunch, we left Matsumoto with heavy hearts as we thanked Kenichi Sir and Jin Mdm for their wonderful hospitality and warmth in Matsumoto through those 4 days and 3 nights. We then headed to our next destination, Nagoya.

We arrived in Nagoya in the late afternoon, and had some sightseeing before retiring early in preparation for the next day.

Monday, 1 May 2017
We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Kobe station in the morning to meet a fellow friend and ex-student of ITC, Jules Takagishi Mdm. The first place we went to was Herb Garden. We took a cable car up to the top where the park is. On the way up, we were treated to the sight of beautiful flowers and grasslands. In the background, we could see the sea. Jules Mdm mentioned to us that from Kobe, one can experience both the mountains and the sea.

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We spent a few hours there, enjoying the fragrance of the herbs and the beauty of the colourful flowers. Next we headed to Sannomiya, the main town of Kobe for lunch and shopping, then headed to the Jules Mdm’s place in Ashiya for some rest.

In the evening, we had training in Ashiya, which was located on the second storey of a shophouse. We had a family join us for training that evening, along with Jules Mdm’s children, Nanami and Oozora. The training was comprehensive as we did lots of stretching of different muscle groups in the legs in preparation for bag kicking and lots of sparring.

Sparring was conducted differently – when a Black Belt pairs with a White Belt, the senior is not allowed to attack. Instead, they may only block and move so that the White Belts can learn to attack and gain confidence in their technique.

As always the training ended before we knew it, and we took a few group photographs before heading nearby for a shabu-shabu (hot pot) dinner! It was a lovely dinner to conclude our trip – seeking respite from the cold weather outside, we enjoyed an excellent hot pot meal with Jules Mdm and family. Thereafter we made our way back to our hotel in Nagoya, did our necessary packing for our trip home the next day.

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Tuesday, 2 May 2017
We proceeded to Chubu Centrair Airport for our flight home.

Through this trip, I had actually experience different training styles between two of the clubs in Japan and it was a good experience to learn and share different parts of Taekwon-Do. I would like to extend my thanks to Master Sng for helping us and initiating the trip as well as his ever-growing teaching and selfless attitude in imparting of skills. Thank you to Dennis Sir and Yuki Mdm for coming along on this trip. Lastly to Kenichi Nonaka Sir and Jules Takagishi Mdm for your hospitality towards us and we look forward to meeting again either in Japan or Singapore!

Taekwon,
Joel Mok

Written by Mr. Joel Mok, 3rd Degree Black Belt, ITF Singapore
© Island Taekwon-Do Centre 2017