How I Came to Okinawa
There I was, living in Edinburgh under the grey wintering skies, and whilst nestled at my mum’s in the beautiful Aberdeenshire countryside, a place I had known well all my life and was frequently awed by the scenic beauty; it was Christmas and I was still mulling over a big decision.
I had a very comfortable 9-5 office job working with Edinburgh University, an easy commute that I could ride my bike on, I worked overlooking the Pentland Hills situated outside of Edinburgh City, had a fantastic Manager and wonderful colleagues. I trained 3-4 times a week with the Edinburgh University Shotokan Karate Club and took part in sport challenges throughout the year such as the Spartan Race and the Ride to the Sun 100 Mile overnight cycling sportive.
What I’m getting at is life was pretty sweet for me – but it would all change – but in the best possible way.
As I said, I was enjoying all the trappings of Christmas with the family, but a month previously an Email had zipped through from Jesse of Karatebyjesse.com giving details about a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, in collaboration with James Pankiewicz of the Dojo Bar and Challenge Okinawa, to go and study Karate in Okinawa – the birthplace of Karate!!
I fit all the entry requirements and I felt this massive sense of joy just thinking about getting the chance to go. I had always had a lifelong dream of taking a trip to Japan, a sort of Karate pilgrimage if you will, but for whatever reason Okinawa hadn’t crossed my mind, despite how much Jesse mentions it. Also, during the month of November Jessie had been posting videos from his 8 part Series of his then recent trip to Okinawa. SO. WELL. PRODUCED!!
I’m at the dining room table, staring at my laptop - “Just do it, you’re bound to get picked” says my girlfriend, who has a lot more confidence in me than a Scotsman is used to.
“Ok then” I mean, what was there to lose for trying, right?
Well, it happened, 3 days before I return to work from the Holidays and an email comes through from Jesse telling me I’ve been accepted, with the promised Kit sponsorship!!!!
“Told you you’d get it!” Chimed in my girlfriend.
I was thrilled, buzzing, amped, stoked; and my girlfriend was too, but then a realisation hit us both – we now have to change EVERYTHING!!
My manager was very supportive, and my colleagues were happy to see me go.... er... excited for me, and I went about getting my Visa, updating my passport, ending the lease on my flat and then saying goodbye to loved ones. Two months flew by so fast and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to my girlfriend as I entered the security gates at Edinburgh Airport.
28 hours, 3 flights later, and James was ready to collect me from Naha Airport. I don’t remember all too much, except the strong first taste of Goya Juice at the Dojo bar (interesting), and then having a quick chat with my new flat mate before hitting the sack.
I was finally here!!
I have plenty to tell you in the oncoming weeks, but I’ll let you know my impressions of the Okinawa Karate Nerd Program.
Let me just say that it the promotion spoke about a Sponsorship, and this must be understood as the successful applicant will receive some kit from Seishin International, a monthly subscription to Karate Nerd Insider along with guidance from Jesse and James.
All costs associated with living and training in Okinawa must be met by yourself – so if you have a large bank balance or a generous benefactor then this is ideal, otherwise you will have to secure some form of paid Sponsorship or employment whilst on the Island.
Fortunately for myself I was eligible for a Working Holiday Visa and so was able to find work whilst here, albeit on a part-time basis – there just happens to be many English Language Schools to choose from.
James also offers opportunities to work at the Dojo Bar, which is a great chance to work alongside and meet fellow Karateka from all around the globe. It also has a wealth of resources to fill your knowledge bucket.
The easiest part is of course that your accommodation is all worked out for you and James is there to help with finding a Dojo, getting around, and organising day trips around the island.
The most important feature of the program is the transformative experience of coming to the Birthplace of Karate; talking and training with fellow Karateka of all ages, styles and abilities, meeting new friends from around the globe and becoming part of a Dojo family.
You’ll learn a different pace of life, you’ll spend mornings working out in James’ backyard with his makeshift assault course, take part in seminars both open and private, and you'll get the opportunity to learn the history from Okinawans that you won’t necessarily get from a book.
It can also change your entire outlook on the Martial Arts, on how you train, and what your goals will be.
I was part of the first run of this program, which I am sure will improve with each new intake. Also, I wasn’t alone on this journey, being part of a group of Karateka from Mexico, Colombia, Jersey U.S.A., Belgium, Czech Republic and Michigan U.S.A.
I look forward to sharing more from my journey here, let me know if you have any questions about coming to Okinawa by commenting below or sending me an email, otherwise you can email James Pankiewicz for more details about the program.
*Bonus: My Top 5 Recommendations for staying to Okinawa
1. Pick a Sensei that feel you will work the best with. Be sure to try people’s recommendations and any Dojo you come across, you can see what it’s like, train as a guest, and then stick to the one you enjoy the most. Most of all, drop your ego and don’t feel you have to be with a Sensei who is famous, well regarded or well known.
2. Try and live near the Monorail and a big supermarket like Max Value. Despite the Monorail's cost you’ll be grateful for its frequency and convenience. Taxis are expensive, buses take the long route everywhere and aren’t easy to navigate, plus cycling up hills in the intense heat might not help your Karate practice.
3. Note down the times and days that the Karate Kaikan and Budokan are open so you don’t waste your time getting there when it’s closed. Make full use of the Budokan’s facilities which has a weights area, three floors to train in and free showers to use.
4. Keep up to date with Karate events in Okinawa by visiting the OKIC page and checking in with James. Do not be afraid to ask questions, it’s positively encouraged and is never considered rude – it’s the best way for you to learn.
5. Go with the flow – you don’t need to break yourself whilst you are there; only increase the volume of training or the intensity, never both at the same time.
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