A Lesson in Okinawa


Christopher N. Geary in Okinawa, Japan.My first overseas tour in the Marine Corps was to Okinawa, Japan and the Philippines, so I told Sensei Omidvar that I would be gone for about six months but wanted to continue my training with him when I got back. I asked him whether he thought I should consider training in the martial arts overseas. He told me to be very careful because the training and the people over there were very different. When I did get to Okinawa, after some time had passed I looked into training and found a man on base who was teaching the martial arts. I heard that he was a former Marine who was working as a private contractor or manager of a restaurant/bar on base. I believe he was a first- or second-degree black belt who may have studied under a native Okinawian in town. I don't remember his name, but I do remember that he was a muscular black guy who I think was bald. We had only one class, and he spent most of the time running me through drills. We trained in a racquetball court, and I remember him saying, "Kiai louder, punch and kick harder." (Kiai is a spirit shout that gives you more power when you hit something.) I believe the art he taught was Okinawa Te, but I don't think he taught me much of anything in that class. Instead, it seemed that he was just seeing what I knew and trying to prove that he was in charge. The class seemed to last forever, and by the time it was over the sun was going down. After the class, he had me do pushups on some very rocky ground outside. It hurt, and just to test him to see if he could do them, I asked, "How many can you do?" He pumped out about 50 or so fast and perfect pushups on his front two knuckles (index finger and middle finger of each hand). As I was looking down at my skinned and bloody knuckles and trying to pick out bits of rock and dirt, I thought, Well, I can see that I'm going to have some fun with this guy and he is going to make me suffer.

This teacher bragged that the training I would receive from him would be much better than what I had received in the U.S., because the martial arts had originated in Okinawa, Japan. I remember saying something along the lines of, "I thought the martial arts were from China." His reply was, "Oh, well, yeah, technically you're right, but you know." I told him that I thought I was pretty good and that I had some good technique, and I remember him saying, "Well, show me some of your blocks." I did, and he said, "Oh, those look pretty good." We talked about this and that, and I remember asking him about the rank structure in Okinawa. He told me that you were promoted to white, green, and then to one or three levels of brown belt, then black belt. He told me that when I was ready to test for my black belt he would take me to his instructor in town and have me test in front of him. The only other thing that I remember was asking him how long it took for most people to get their black belts in Okinawa, because I wanted to know the difference between the training in the U.S. and Japan, and he said, "About one year."

I think his whole intent from the beginning was to intimidate me, but I still wanted to learn. We scheduled another class, but he never showed up (and I believe that he had my contact information). I saw him about a month later by the tennis courts, and he apologized for not showing up. "I know it must be frustrating for you," he said, and I was thinking, Man, this guy is a jerk. After the one and only class that I'd had with him, he had given me a lecture about discipline, saying that he would teach me how to set my mind to anything, and yet this guy was blowing me off. I think that he was pretty much full of it and didn't really know what he was doing. But the first class was pretty hard, and I have to admit that I was pretty scared, but I had showed up again and that made me feel pretty damn good about myself. That was all of the martial arts training that I ever did overseas. I wish now that I had gone into town to learn. I never saw a dojo (martial arts studio/school) in town, but I never really looked that hard.

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