Win a Scholarship to Study Karate in Okinawa

scholarship Okinawa karate

Hi Maxwell! Can you briefly introduce yourself to the readers of JetLi.com?

My name is Maxwell Honey. I am a writer, musician, health and wellness coach, and avid martial artist. Currently, I am living in Okinawa, Japan, studying martial arts as part of a program called the “Karate Nerds,” which was started and organized by James Pankiewicz and Jesse Enkamp (http://www.karatebyjesse.com/).

What is it you really love about martial arts? What’s the benefit of this kind of training, in your opinion?

I love putting myself into challenging situations, and I think martial arts is probably one of the most challenging things a person can do. I also enjoy seeing how things feel in different martial arts and movement practices too – whether that’s karate, aikido, Brazilian jujitsu, capoeira, silat, wing chun, judo, yoga… I like to take the parts that feel right for me and develop them into something of my own. It’s scientific to me! It’s like doing research for a long and complicated book that you write over many, many years (something which I am also doing) – that kind of challenge is endlessly rewarding for me.

I think martial arts is a lot like philosophy and music, in that most people love listening to a variety of music styles! And most good musicians would never dream of only learning to play one genre of music – even when they specialize, musicians generally practice and learn many styles. This is what, in my mind, creates true masters in any art form.

Each one has a different, but equally valuable perspective to offer. Furthermore, you can’t understand any one of them quite as well, if you don’t also know something about the others! It’s synergistic. And so for me, martial arts is the same way.

Applying for the program

scholarship Okinawa karate

I’m sure many readers would be interested to find out more about the scholarship – especially as I imagine most would not be previously aware of it. Could you shed some light on what the scholarship entails?

The scholarship for the Karate Nerd Program is really about the “connections” James Pankiewicz has here in Okinawa. He made it very simple for the group of us coming from around the world to train karate, kobudo, and other arts, which if you came by yourself, could be somewhat tricky to do, since you likely don’t know anyone here. James was able to make introductions to Sensei for us, help us to find accomodation, show us around the city, the island, even let us borrow bikes so we can get to our classes! His help has been invaluable.

How did you find out about the program? Did you think it was “too good to be true” when you first read what it was all about? How did your decision to join fit in with the rest of your life?

I found out about it via a link I came across on Jesse Enkamp’s Facebook page.

When I read about the Karate Nerd Program, and that it was an opportunity to study many styles of karate and martial arts, in the place where many of these arts were born, I did kind of think it was too good to be true! It seemed like an unprecedented opportunity, but also kind of out of reach.

My decision to join the Karate Nerd Program ended up being more about the start of a longer adventure for me personally. I came to the decision around that time that I was going to spend the next few years just traveling the world – learning about different cultures, martial arts, language, and really just living a more nomadic and free life.

I wanted to begin building my lifestyle and career around travelling and adventure, instead of the other way around! I didn’t want to be locked into a 9-5 job, or to any one place, or one way of living. So really, the Karate Nerd program was the perfect way for me to do all the things I wanted to do! I just needed to figure out how my other life goals would fit into the equation first…

Can you tell us about the application process – what was involved, and how long did it take all up to apply?

Applying was quite simple; it’s just a two page application that you send in via e-mail, which James and Jesse then review. I spent about 4 hours writing up my application and answering the questions! Admittedly though, I did edit it quite a few times as I was very keen on getting in.

AS SOMEONE WHO WAS SUCCESSFULLY SELECTED TO PARTICIPATE, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE OR TIPS ON THE APPLICATION PROCESS?

 I payed close attention to my goals and aspirations as a martial arts practitioner in the application process. I wanted to really state clearly what I wanted to achieve and do for others if I was accepted – which I think this is wise for anyone applying. The Karate Nerds program is ultimately here to help people to become more self actualized and confident in their own abilities – both as martial artists, and just as human beings. So if you go into the application process thinking of how you can better serve others, rather than just yourself, I think you have a much better chance of getting in.

Training

scholarship Okinawa karate

What does a “typical” day at look like at your school? Is there a set schedule, or is there flexibility in which classes you can take?

The schedule for training here is widely varied, depending on what style of karate or Kobudo you are studying, as well as what dojo you are training at. That said, most karate classes here are held in the evening, say 8-10pm, mostly because it’s cooler at that time, and because the students are all out of work by that time!

At Itokazu Sensei’s Kobudo dojo, I have been training a bit earlier, starting around 5pm, and ending around 7 or 8pm. The layout of the class itself is quite intense – generally doing what’s known as hojo undo for an hour or more, followed by kata repetitions for the remainder of the class. Uechi Ryu, the karate style I primarily practice here, has a similar class layout, starting always with warm ups, fundamental kata, then going into body conditioning, partner drills, and then sparring (if we do it).

In terms of flexibility, there is quite a lot! We often cross train in the mornings as a group from around 9 to 11 at the Karate Kaikan, and will occasionally do a tabata type workout starting around 7am, which is basically strength training and cardio. Most of us in the Karate Nerd Program are doing a different style of karate, but we often get together to cross train and share what we are learning. It’s a blast, really!

How have you found the quality of instruction?

The instruction has been phenomenal. Take for example, Itokazu Sensei, my Kobudo teacher here. He has been incredibly demanding of me, and has challenged many core beliefs I had about my own abilities – but he’s been very compassionate as well! Very understanding of my limitations. So it’s a good balance! And I’ve really come out of my shell in a lot of ways in that training.

My training in Uechi Ryu and other karate styles has been amazing too – although  I’ve been doing a bit less of that. Nevertheless, I’ve learned so much karate in just 5 months here, it’s difficult to quantify. I think it’s going to take some time for my brain to catch up with everything my body has been learning!

I want to add too that if you don’t know any Japanese, but really want to come and train here, it’s not a huge problem! Of course I would very much encourage anyone wanting to come to at least learn some – as it really shows that you’re serious and committed to learning – but it’s not impossible to get along without being fluent. So for those who maybe aren’t as quick to pick up foreign languages or are worried about that part, you can put your mind at ease!

Is there anything Itokazu Seisho Sensei, or another Sensei, has said or taught you that has had a profound effect on your practice, or your way of thinking about Kobudo or karate?

Sensei has given me an immense amount of information and knowledge to chew on since I’ve been here. Itokzau Sensei is a 9th degree black belt in Matayoshi Kobudo, as well as Uechi Ryu Karate, and so his knowledge of martial arts is really just mind blowing – like many of the teachers here. I don’t train Uechi Ryu with Sensei specifically, but I have trained with him before, and he has helped me immensely in ironing out my techniques and kata.

With Kobudo, my mind has been more in processing mode; not so much into reflection yet! I think the main thing I have gotten from my Kobudo training, though, is that: self discipline really is a skill that can be developed! Doing something repeatedly – even when you might hate it and just can’t stand the idea – over time, just the discipline of that becomes exponentially more beneficial for your psyche! It literally engrains itself into your body. And then you become that drive – that never give up attitude – and that shows up in your character in truly amazing ways.

I’ve also overcome my immense aversion to physical pain in my training here! This is not a teaching per se, more a byproduct of just practicing. But I’ve found that, if you can find a little joy in the process digging deep into the uncomfortable parts, such as kata repetition or sparring, it starts to become really fun! When you’re looking forward to the pain, sweat and bruises, instead running from it in your mind, a kind of Catharsis happens – you start to find pleasure in it! And that was when my attitude really transformed.

scholarship Okinawa karate

How do you think learning karate in its birth place, Okinawa, differs from staying in your own country to learn?

The context in Okinawa is much more traditional than in the States – you have to be more aware of where you are lacking, where you need work, how you speak, how you bow, etc. And it can challenging. This is just the way training is here general; you really have to be willing to develop! This is not to say my karate training in the states was not deep or complete in any way, but rather that there are these other layers of training which I had not before been introduced to – at least not very much – but here in Okinawa they are right at the forefront. After 4 or months though, most of the differences are no longer apparent to me; it’s all very normal now!

Is there a karate move or skill that you had previously wanted to master, which you can now perform thanks to your training in Okinawa?

There are many skills and techniques I’m always wanting to learn more about it! I’m always absorbing on new things. In Uechi Ryu, there’s a kata called Seiryu which I recently learned and have been practicing a lot, so I’m happy that I can perform that now! And it’s definitely improving. Honestly though, traditional karate is much more about repetition than mastery, I think.

Since you never stop learning, the word master is kind of a misnomer in some sense! So discipline and repetition kind of take the cake. I have been focusing a lot on fighting and sparring technique though – working a lot on my speed, timing, precision, power, endurance… those attributes have improved tenfold since I’ve been here. I’ve gotten a lot of help from so many people here with all of that!

scholarship Okinawa karate

You mentioned you also practiced Aikido when you lived in Michigan – have you been able to keep up your training in Okinawa? How different is Aikido from other martial arts? Do you think Aikido compliments your karate practice, and vice versa?  

Aikido is a special love for me, and is quite different from karate – I like to think of it as a Yin-Yang sort of relationship. I haven’t been able to train Aikido much here in Okinawa, as there aren’t any schools that I know of, but I’m always thinking about it and working on it! It’s always with me – even when I’m training in other things

Here’s an Aikido lesson: my Sensei in Michigan, Dave Mata, would always focus a lot general awareness training – something which I struggled with a lot at first. What is that exactly? Well it usually started with a question, such as: why are there smudges on the window? Who’s carrying sensei’s bags? Or general exclamations like… there’s blood on the mat! Dust in the corner! An empty tea kettle! Who’s filling it!? Gross smell in the air, a student struggling that needs help… anything in the environment that is out of place or needing attention, the lesson is: you should be the one taking care of it! So that focus in my Aikido dojo is pretty intense – nothing really gets missed (at least not if you’re Sensei is Mata Sensei)…

So when you train to be hyper aware of your surroundings like that, you naturally become more aware of your own intentions as well – it just happens. You realize when you’re training to impress somebody, or to compete with someone, or to fit in, or to dominate someone else… all of that becomes crystal clear… and then you get past it! You realize what you really wanted to do all along was to train for your own benefit – to be of of better service to others. You realize that selfishness just doesn’t feel good! And that it feels a lot better to be fully aware and helping other people… so that training has been invaluable to me!

As for your second question: again, I think all martial arts compliment every other eventually. You learn to move you body in a lot of the same kinds of ways, and the more styles you study, the more the crossovers become easier and easier to see. And I think that’s when it really becomes your own way. There are a ton of similarities between the Aikido weapons system and that of Matayoshi Kobudo, for instance.

And when I first started, I noted down the common patterns and rhythms, but in the end…my brain and nervous system just worked it out! Because a lot of things were in there already – I had moved many of these ways before. So the commonalities and crossovers from Aikido have certainly helped me to improve much more quickly in kobudo than I would have otherwise. And the same is true for Karate as well! Although, I think perhaps somewhat less so than with Kobudo.

Life in Okinawa

scholarship Okinawa karate

Did you encounter any culture shock when you initially moved to Okinawa? Was settling in relatively easy, or did you struggle at first to find your feet?

It’s been challenging in some ways, but not for the typical reasons people struggle with culture shock. I’m in the process of coming into my own in a number of life arenas here – both career wise and martial arts wise – so a lot of that has been coming to a head in it’s own way. But I’ve travelled a lot already in my life, so I don’t generally have any problems with adapting to new cultures and environments – except for the very normal human feeling of just being lonely if you don’t have a tribe. But I’m good at finding my tribe. The language barrier can be challenging sometimes, but I actually quite enjoy that! I like just using basic and simple language. It helps us recognize our common humanity I think. But I’m still learning a ton of Japanese, which has been great.

Food has been a bit more tricky to figure out for me – in the States, for instance, I eat mostly fresh, local and organic, and any meat products I eat usually get from sources whom I know are treating the animals well and letting them graze on quality food. This hasn’t been as easy to do in Okinawa, however – but that’s mostly due to a lack of connections to farms and farmers here. Nevertheless, there’s a huge variety of vegetables, fresh seafood, fruit, quality eggs, and superfoods here that I had never had before! And which, once I figured out what was available and what things were and how to cook them, I really didn’t have any more issues.

How would you describe living in Okinawa to someone who’s never been?

Living in Okinawa has been incredibly laid back, relaxing, rejuvenating, quiet. Really, all the things which I highly value. Big cities are a bit much for me now, but the cities here are literally the perfect size – the people are super friendly, the hospitality is amazing. Everyone goes out of their way to help others here! At least that’s been my experience.

It’s also quite convenient in terms of mass transit, groceries, things like that (although all of that varies depending on where in Okinawa you live). I live in Tomigusuku right next to the new Karate Kaikan building – an area which is quite close to both the beach to the southwest, as well as downtown Naha to the north. So it’s really the perfect spot. In fact, I highly recomend this area to anyone planning on visiting. Especially if you like things a bit less busy, and a bit more quiet like I do.

scholarship Okinawa karate

Was accommodation organized for you, or did you have to find it on your own?

James Pankiewicz helped us to find our apartment here before we arrived. He rents apartments and Airbnbs around Tomigusuku and Naha, and they are all super nice. We settled on the first one that was offered to us! It was already furnished – with bedding, tables, floor chairs, some shelving, a fridge – and it was also right next to the Karate Kaikan and the beach! So that was totally ideal. When I come back to Okinawa in 2018, I will definitely be talking with James about finding my accommodation!

Okinawa has a become an increasingly popular tourist destination, but it’s not often we hear about what it’s like to live there as a foreigner. What do you think are the main draws of living there?

I’d say the main draws are: it’s very laid back and relaxing, there’s tons of awesome things to do like snorkeling, dancing, karaoke, lots of drinking and eating (if that’s your thing), lots of martial arts training and traditional Japanese cultural activities to practice and learn (if that’s your thing!). There are truly wonderful and amazing people, beaches everywhere (and they’re easy to access), so many beautiful sights to see like historical ruins, temples, and the Churi Aquarium.

You can rent/buy bicycles and motorbikes very cheaply, and then drive yourself wherever you need to go – nothing here is far away. You can always eat cheap and healthy (and if you don’t like to cook, you never have too – you can buy yourself a meal at a Family Mart or local restaurant pretty much 24/7!). You don’t have to worry about crime ever or about people being rude and partying late into the night in the apartment next door to yours. Foreigners are generally very welcomed here I think.

Basically, Okinawa is a tremendously safe, convenient, fun, relaxed, and endlessly exciting place to live!

Practical considerations

scholarship Okinawa karate

What is one thing you wish you knew before leaving your home country to embark on this journey?

I pretty much had my bases covered this time around. I suppose one can always do more research before embarking on a long journey to a new place, but I really enjoyed the spontaneity of this trip. I didn’t worry too much about anything before hand. Also, I knew it was Okinawa, and from everything I had heard from my karate friends, or read online/watching travel vlogs, it sounded so relaxed and fun and beautiful here. I just wasn’t worried about it.

I do wish I would have known about how long it really took for money to transfer from one debit card to another – especially when you’re doing all your banking online. Even though that’s a fairly small thing, it could’ve been a much bigger thing very easily! I was smart in that I had several debit cards me, but there were still a few hiccups with waiting on funds to transfer, fees etc. So just make sure you talk to a bank person and really understand how all of that works before you travel. Have multiple cards with you, keep them in different places, and know the transfer times between accounts.

Are there any practical or personal considerations people who are thinking of participating in this program should keep in mind?

Oh yes! Lots. First off, I’d say you want to make sure you are in good physical and mental shape before deciding to do the Karate Nerds Program – it’s only going to get more full on as it builds and develops more over the next few years, so I think conditioning is a good starting analysis for anyone looking to apply..

I also think it’s wise to be as specific as possible about personal goals, like: what do you want to accomplish here in Okinawa? What are you going to do with the martial arts knowledge you receive? Is this something you plan to continue doing after the program is over? What are your biggest fears? What are you absolutely terrified of that you really don’t want be afraid of any longer – and are you willing to let it go if and when you’re confronted with it? 

The Karate Nerds Program is demanding, and there is a lot of self reliance required – you have to get yourself to your own classes (whether that’s drive, walk, run, or bike), but you won’t know where you are going right away, and you won’t know a lot of people – so all of takes time and effort. Then, of course, you have to do the training! You have to keep showing up and digging in every single day all on your own (especially when you think you’re wiped out). And while you may this with no problem at home, it’s just not quite the same here; you have to find healthy ways to push through your own barriers.

My own personal piece of advice would be: spend some time finding a community here that feels right for you! Make some friends when you arrive, some new connections, and really focus on building that. Maybe that’s people in your dojo, or maybe a language class, but this makes all the difference as to how successful this program can be for people. It’s too easy to get isolated if you’re only focused on training – you have to focus on your relationships too! There are so many cool people in Okinawa, you won’t have any trouble finding a click that feels right here. But you have to put yourself out there!

Wrapping up

scholarship Okinawa karate

Are there any final comments you would like to make?

Live your dreams and trust yourself – that’s what I’ve learned on this adventure. Challenge yourself to overcome your deepest fears, but also do what makes you truly happy! Don’t ever let anyone else tell you what’s good for you, or what you should be doing.. respect yourself and your own path. You have to develop a thick skin too. As Jacko Willick says, “Don’t try and be tougher… just BE TOUGHER!” Because it’s your life – and there’s no good reason to let anyone else dictate how it should go, or what it is worth.

We can all do anything we put our minds to. As long as we choose to put in the time and the effort, nothing we desire is ever out of reach! We do have to choose wisely, though, but how? Just do more of what you really love! Triple down on your strengths! Let go of the things you aren’t so great at, and stop regretting not putting your time into things that other people care about but you don’t! Value what you value – and forget what anyone else thinks about it. Life is too short to worry about the opinions of other people – especially if they don’t support your vision and your dream! Trust yourself.

Thank you for your time, Maxwell!

Comments
Read more like this