Last Thursday was a great day.
I was here at home, practicing Karate in my sweaty underwear as usual, minding my own business, when suddenly… somebody knocks on the door!
Everything went slow-mo, like in an action movie: I jumped stuntman-style sideways to the closet, and grabbed a t-shirt, made a dive-roll to the nearest pair of shorts, and backflipped my way to the door while simultaneously dressing myself, preparing to face whoever dares to knock on the door while I train.
Exhausted (and excited) I opened the door carefully. If you only knew how many shady characters I’ve seen around these hoods…
However, my suspicion quickly turned into joy when I saw that a 6th dan black belt friend of mine was standing there. “Oh, hello Jesse-san! Are you free?” He said and looked eager to take me somewhere. He had a camera in one hand and his little daughter in the other.
“Yes, of course, where are we going?” I replied, as I discreetly returned the nunchaku I had hid behind my back, to the bookshelf.
I didn’t really get a clear answer, but no problemos, off we went! Five minutes later I was sitting in his car, headed for destination unknown. It turned out to be a really great afternoon.
Our first stop was the gravesite of Gusukuma Shinpan (also known as Shiroma Shinpan in correct Japanese). I wrote about him here a while ago.
Japanese graves are quite special, unlike any Western grave. In Japan, families are always cremated and buried together, in one big tomb (known as a haka), and not individually which is the more Western approach. Here is a photo I managed to snap:
As you can see, it looks kind of like a small “courtyard”. In the front people usually put flowers, burn incense and so on. According to Wikipedia, some graves can also have a box for business cards, where friends and relatives visiting the grave can drop their business card!
Anyway, the grave of Gusukuma Shinpan looked relatively untouched. No business cards nor flowers…
Here is the sign saying “The Grave of The Gusukuma Family”:
A master who is today forgotten by many, resting in an anonymous and quiet place… Maybe how he wanted it.
Anyway, that was the first stop. Though I really can’t say I share the fascination of graves with the Japanese, the next stop happened to be another grave. But I don’t complain!
After zigzagging through narrow alleys and hiking through a piece of djungle infested with mosquitoes we finally reached it.
Meet the final resting place of Karate legend Chotoku Kyan:
Chotoku Kyan was one of the more influential traditional Okinawan Karate masters who lived, and his legacy is today preserved (in different forms of course) by quite many people all over the world. If you don’t know about Kyan, read about him here.
To me it’s funny how his haka (grave) is a small, hidden, spot in the djungle, while Gusukuma Shinpan’s haka is a big, modern, fancy grave with a sign and all… If you consider their individual impact/footprint on Karate today you might argue it should be the opposite.
Let’s move a little bit closer:
What you see is basically a stone wall and a small step or altar. According to my Okinawan guide (who coincidentally shares name with the buried) it looks like this (old and worn out) because of the bombing during the war. But how do we know this is Chotoku Kyan’s grave? I could just have made this up! Maybe it’s just a random grave in the djungle?
Well, since the grandson of Chotoku Kyan himself pointed this exact grave out, I’m quite sure it’s the correct one, though it doesn’t have any “official sign” to confirm it.
But hey, what’s that blue and black stuff right in front? Let’s zoom in:
What you see here is incense (in blue ceramics), burning. You can see that there are three big black sticks right in front. They are burned to show respect for the deceased, and a bonus effect was that the mosquitoes disappeared (for a few seconds at least).
Today we burned three sticks. Why? Simply beacuse we were three people present!
Okay, that’s it. After loosing probably two or three litres of blood (due to the mosquitoes of course) we headed back to the car. My Okinawan friend told me we had one more stop before I could return.
That last Karate/Kobudo stop was a very special one.
But… I had to promise to never tell anyone about it… sorry!
(It was really serious)
I will only say this: I learned and saw (and took photos) of something that has supposedly been extinct or forgotten, but is still practised by very few selected people in secrecy. Now I’ve already said to much.
Okay, just forget that last thing. You never read it. Read what? I don’t know, I forgot.
So, we drove back to my apartment, and after trying my hardest to express my gratitude (which I always seem to fail at) I went back to training in my underwear again. Just like I had been doing a few hours earlier.
What a great Thursday afternoon.
I even made it to training later that evening.