The Torture Chamber (but we like it like that)
Most sane people who write about martial arts understand the inherent problems in talking about fighting systems. The most obvious challenge comes from attempting to translate the purely physical into words, but the more difficult one is based on describing the mindset. And don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with much on either of those. However, I would like to point out that when traveling to Okinawa for a heavily karate-based vacation, you create in your head certain expectations. There are characters from fiction that populate our stereotypes, such as The Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi, or Kill Bill's derivative Hattori Hanzo, and these stereotypes apply to the dojo we will be visiting, too. Most of the schools we've attended classes in have had formalized looks. Wood paneling, a shrine up front, weapons of limb destruction placed politely out of the way. A low-ceilinged shack up a hill is far from the reality of most Okinawan dojo, and yet we found ourselves Thursday night peering past the harsh yellow of the outdoor light into a room that was probably more suited to housing chickens than anything else. We were ecstatic. Homemade tools designed to improve muscle toughness hung neatly on the walls next to Okinawan farm tools turned by time into self-defense weapons. Machine parts and other found objects for building strength while doing forms shared equal space on the rack of implements as the more commonplace makiwara punching block sat idly nearby. The florescent lights cast a disconcertingly clinical glow on what was otherwise an organic approach. You came here not to study, but to grow. The most important tool we would encounter that night were the legs of the dojo owner, Mr. Yonamine, and his student Masako. In our system, we use a pattern of precisely-placed kicks and punches to condition muscles. Yonamine and Masako made sure that, whatever else our experiences with the other implements of his school were, we'd remember those leg-strength checking kicks that rattled our spinal columns long past when we returned home.