My first introduction to the Martial Arts was with Master Ken Keith in Chicago, IL, 50 years ago. He started teaching me the correct ways to fall and recover (as in Judo), before I went to college. This stayed with me and was reinforced by my college roommate Kent Davis, a 1st Dan in the GojuRyu system.
I was progressing in that system to the level of Green Belt but my training was interrupted when Kent transferred to another school. After a delay of about 2 years, I was able to restart my journey on the path of studying Karate under the watchful eye of Mr. Joseph Jenkins, at the Dai Kin Dojo in Detroit, MI. His was a mixed style which included Karate and Aikido techniques.
My training was interrupted, again, because of the need to focus on my medical career until time was available for outside interests. I was able to visit Grand Master Willie Adams' Dojo in 1979, when it was located on Dexter and Davison, in Detroit. I was very impressed with the level of discipline which was displayed in the Dojo.
My plan was to come back and join that Dojo, however my schedule would not permit me to do so on a regular basis. After training was completed, I took up running as a means of exercise and weight control. I ran in the Southfield, MI. neighborhood where my running buddy lived. I noticed that there was a karate school along our running circuit. I never forgot that school and promised myself that one day I would visit it. Little did I know, but that was Grand Master Adams' new Dojo location.
I finally made the time to visit and joined the classes as a white belt student in May of 2003. In the years since then, I have continued to be active at Southfield Martial Arts Institute and have attained the rank of San Dan (Third Dan) in the Isshinryu System taught by Grand Master Adams as conceived by the late Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku from Okinawa.
My current rank entitles me to be addressed as Sensei and I regularly lead the adult evening class warm-up and fighting technique sessions. I have previously participated in the yearly Grand National Tournament sponsored by Grand Master Adams' organization of affiliated schools.
My highest competitive achievement was to be awarded Second Place in Sparring in my age division (45 and over Men) in the Isshinryu Grand National Tournament held in New Orleans, LA in 2004. Since then, I have volunteered to provide Medical support to later Tournaments held in the Detroit, MI. area. My primary interest at this point is to give back to the newer students some of what has been given to me by those who have learned under Grand Master Adams.
I am most grateful to Master Keith for his introduction to the mental and physical aspects of the Martial Arts. This has enabled me to become exposed to the many concepts and techniques which make up what has become a means of exercise, meditation and "way of life" for me.Over all of these years, I have maintained contact with Master Keith and have shared my growing knowledge with him and his students of the Takeo Ryu System.
When I first read this in Classical Fighting Arts Magazine, I have to admit that I had my doubts. So much of what you see on television and read in newspapers is either incorrect or slanted (based on your perspective or political affiliation). I kept coming back to the same article as time went on and the thought of training with world renowned Okinawan Grand Masters in Okinawa began to grow in my mind.
From September 29, 2012 through October 09, 2012, that thought became a reality. Little did I know when I began the journey, that it would actually turn out to truly be an "experience of a lifetime". The group of 15 martial artists from Singapore, Canada and the USA met in Naha, Okinawa to experience true Okinawan Karate from Grand Masters in Goju Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Isshinryu (my style) and Uechi Ryu.
We trained for two hours twice daily in the Okinawa Prefectural Budokan, the Okinawa City Budokan and the private Dojo of Morio Higaonna, Sensei. The video clip is from that private Dojo session. (I am the one with the towel on my obi). The temperature was a constant 85 degrees, with a humidity of 90%. I actually lost about 10 pounds from the daily practice over 5 days due to the hard training and the sweating.
In addition to experiencing the exercise routines of the various styles, we came to appreciate the similarities and differences in blocking, punching and breathing techniques as we trained. In one session, we did a series of at least 1,500 single and double punches in 35 minutes -- without stopping!! (Lifting liberal quantities of beer later that night helped relieve stiffness).
It was not all hard work, however. We did have the oppportunity to visit memorial sites for Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju Ryu Karate) and Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan Karate) as well as the recreation of the Fukushu En enclave holding the original 36 Chinese families who came to Okinawa and influenced the creation of what we now know as Karate. It was known as Te (pronounced like tea) by the Okinawans and was originally only taught in secret and at night.
The trip also fostered the beginning of friendships among the attendees. We have managed to connect through the various forms of social media to exchange photos and relive the experiences of training as well as the appreciation of the cultural side of our exposure while visiting. I have returned to America with an enhanced appreciation of my involvement in the martial arts and especially my Sensei, Grand Master Willie Adams. He has kept true to the training and techniques of Isshinryu as it was developed by the Okinawan Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku.
To those of you who aspire to expand your training and learn from the original teachers, this trip is the best way to realize that dream and accomplish that goal.
I must extend a very special "Thank You" to Shihan Kenneth Keith. I began my journey on the martial arts path many years ago because of him. Since that time I have visited his Takeo Ryu Garage Academy and had the pleasure to train with him and his students and share my knowledge of Isshinryu. It was, in fact, his encouragement to attend the October Okinawan Training Seminar that caused me to commit to travel to Okinawa and be a part of the training. The memories of the training and the culture will remain with me always.
While I understand that the short video clip and the slide show photos do not capture the real flavor of the training, perhaps they can serve to raise your curiosity and lead you to seek out your own "experience of a lifetime" in the near future.
Donald C. Jackson, Jr.
Sensei, Isshinryu Karate