Drop In: Okinawa, Pt.3
I have to survive 4 days in Japan with only 16000 Yen ($162 USD). I can do this.
Again, I’m up early and out to enjoy the day before heading to the gym later that night. I hear about a unique beach with a bridge that cuts through the ocean view and venture out and find it.
The beach is beautiful. Golden sand, crystal clear water, reefs, and a giant eye-sore of a bridge about 150 yards off. I spend a few hours swimming laps, do a movement workout, read my book and watch the locals jump off the bridge.
On the way back to my hostel, I cut through a park with small green hills. I kick off my shoes and enjoy the grass underneath my toes. I savor the fresh air, something I can’t do much of in Taiwan. I rest up for a bit longer, pack my bags, and I’m off for my final night at the gym.
The trek gets easier. The uphill walk isn’t as bad as it was before. Something about this area reminds me of London. The direction of traffic is the same, the crisp chilly air feels the same, and the cars actually stop for you at crosswalks. I’m early, so I explore the neighborhood. I got lost on my first day to gather video content before class started.
When I get to the gym I see Matsune-san chatting with his students. He’s wearing his weathered black belt. Ever since I started martial arts, I always wanted my belt to look that way, like it’s falling apart. It shows that I’ve spent a lot of time training. Goals list, revised: dumpling ears and weathered belt.
I assemble my camera equipment and say hello to everyone who walks in. Matsune-san circles everyone up, speaks in Japanese, then introduces another visitor to the gym before mentioning Grappler Mag. I find an angle in the gym and start shooting the warmups.
Their warmups have a similar structure to my class back in Taiwan, just enough to get a sweat going. After the warm up, Matsune-san introduces the technique for tonight's class. It begins with passing open guard by controlling the knees. From there, you kick one leg back and balance on the other leg while shifting your opponent’s hips to the opposite side for the pass. Once passed, you establish a knee on belly position, making sure you control all points of your opponent, so he or she cannot escape. Matsune-san continued to chain different scenarios and how to use the right pass for the job.
Matsune-san executes a forward roll to Kimura grip perfectly, graceful and deadly. Everyone on the mat pauses to appreciate the technique with a collective ‘wow’. I am part of this chorus. After some drilling, it’s time for Pass Sweep Submit.
I’m in the middle of switching batteries when Matsune-san approaches me and says, “If you want to roll, no problem. I’ll film.”
During past trips, I always found it hard to record and train at the same time. I’ll miss shots I know I would want to use if I had them. When Matsune-san invites me onto his mat, I can’t say no. Matsune-san then loans me a gi and his personal brown belt.
I throw the gi on and wrap the belt around my waste. Instantly I feel Matsune-san’s powers seeping into my skin. I do a quick warm up on the side and I’m ready to get some training in. I start out rolling with Rose to get warmed up. Rose is a tough firecracker when she rolls. It’s fun fighting off her attacks to help myself get a light sweat going.
After my roll with Rose, I have the pleasure of being passed around to a few blue belts. Then Matsune-san asks me for a roll. Whenever I start a roll with someone, I gauge the speed by the initial touch. If the person grabs me with a tight grip, I know it’s going to be a rollercoaster ride. If the person flows like water when gripping, I expect it to be a more technical exchange.
The roll with Matsune-san will go down as one of my favorites to date. I’m not naive to think that I had some super power during our roll, or that I’ve leveled up simply because he didn’t destroy me. He could’ve tapped me from any direction whenever he felt like it.
After the roll, he tells me I have good technique and bows to me. I bow in return. Then I see Nakasone-san waiting for me for the next roll. I know this will be a rollercoaster ride, because his muscle memory is heavily influenced by MMA. I tell myself not to let him pass my guard. It turns out to be a friendly back-and-forth war. Both of us are smiling and bowing at the end. He reminds me of a Japanese honey badger. He is fearless.
We circle up after a few more rolls. Matsune-san says some words of encouragement in Japanese (I think), then thanks GrapplerMag for stopping by to film the last two days.
After breaking the circle, we shake hands and take a group picture. Before leaving, I get an interview with Matsune-san. *Thank you Rose for translating.* I take a few more pictures and hand out a few more stickers. Everyone loves stickers.
Before saying my final goodbye, I give Matsune-san a gift. During the interview, I ask him: Do you prefer training in a gi or nogi? His answer is that he enjoys training everything. Doesn’t matter what it is. It can be gi, nogi, Sambo, MMA, freediving, or drinking some beer.
I am inspired by this last statement, so I run off quickly to Family-Mart next door and grab a six-pack of beer to thank him for letting me visit. Everyone loves a six-pack of beer. Matsune-san laughs and bows while taking the cold brew. He thanks me again and gives me his gym’s patch, and I am beyond stoked.
With the final handshake and bow, I am on my way back to my hostel to shower, devour some ramen, and pass out in my cubby before making my way back to Taiwan.
Before arriving in Japan, my goal was to have enough money to buy a monorail ticket back to the airport. I did some quick math. Turns out I’ll be walking away under my budget.
I did this.