For photographs from the Budosai by event photographer Roman Boldyrev click here

Today is one month to the day since the arena doors of the Okinawan prefectural Budokan burst open and the IOGKF world Budosai began! The event quickly caught the attention of all local martial artists in Okinawa as historians were quick to inform the IOGKF that the Budosai’s 1,100 participants had broken the record for the largest traditional Karate gather of all time on the island. With this and so many accomplishments taking place the one massive week that celebrated all things Karate, it’s important to reflect and take in the key messages of the event.

It all really began when a team of dedicated volunteers rallied together early in the morning at the Budokan on July 25th. They were under the leadership of IOGKF Adminstrative Director Sensei Adrienne Langgartner (IOGKF Canada), who was charged with the mammoth task of organising the registration process for over one thousand participants and their families. Along with this the Black belt grading registration table, book sales, the whispering elms IOGKF Jewelry shop, rare sake store and tourist activities desk were all running at the same time. There were so many opportunities for this kind of large operation to become a huge disaster, but it didn’t! Sensei Adrienne had carefully and expertly thought out every possible scenario and took measures to make sure the registration process ran like clock work – and that it did! A huge thank you to Sensei Adrienne and her large team of volunteers for their efforts!

Tuesday morning began with 3rd Dan and above training, the group gathered inside the main arena of the Budokan and Master Morio Higaonna took to the stage. Pristine white gi and black belt on, our supreme master lead the group through an hour of Sanchin Kata. It was a great way for a majority of the black belt group to begin the Budosai, with a session dedicated to the bedrock Kata of our style.

The one hour session flew by and before you knew it the arena doors were opened to all grades. IOGKF members and a small group of all styles guests flooded in the doors. The word had got around to most of the participants that this Budosai was going to the be the biggest ever. However I don’t think any body could have pictured how big this event was truly going to be. The people just kept coming and coming and coming through the doors.

After a line up and bow in, we were welcomed to the world Budosai by Higaonna Sensei. We were asked to try our best all week and to look, listen and sweat. Nakamura Sensei then took to the stage to take 1,100 people through jumbi undo. The hiza geri’s of 1,100 people made an almighty crack sound and the deep synchronized breathing of so many karate-ka during stretching movements was like a Goju-ryu created hurricane. But nothing matched the sound and energy that came from over a thousand passionate kiai’s when Higaonna Sensei took to the stage for kihon training.

Group training then followed as the massive group of karate-ka spread itself over the three floors and main area of the Budokan. Just as they needed a bigger boat in Jaws, most agreed that if the next Budosai was going to be any bigger, they were going to need a bigger Budokan! Don’t worry, we’ll have it! A new and larger Budokan in the works for the next Budosai, including the proposed construction of the Sensei Morio Higaonna assembly hall (we will keep you all posted on developments of this).

Many people had, had concerns about Higaonna Sensei’s health going into this event, following his health scare back in 2015. Higaonna Sensei had obviously been working very hard on his recovery and this was evident by how well he was during this event. He certainly did not disappoint and his passion, awe-inspiring power and technique are all working for him as well as ever. His gentle smile and humble nature still touched the lives of the thousands of foreigners who moved on Okinawa to share one week with him.

The format of each day followed the same with higher level Dan grade training held every morning. Followed by preparatory exercises and basics taken by Nakamura Sensei, Sensei Ernie Molyneux and Sensei Henrik Larsen, who make the IOGKF International executive committee. Three group sessions lead by some of the worlds best IOGKF instructors followed after.

We were also visited by some special guests each morning, including Sensei Terry O’neil (Shotokan) and a very special master, Sensei Shuichi Aragaki (the last living student of Chojun Miyagi Sensei and an IOGKF advisor) who came to view training every day and attend the Sayonara party. All this he did at 88 years of age! He is an inspiration!

There was also a special visit and demonstrations performed by some Chinese visitors from Fuzhou. We were treated to demonstrations of the bird and ground fighting styles of Chinese boxing, which were very interesting to see. Along with taking some of the best ‘selfies’ you will ever see, one of the Chinese masters requested to try Kakie with Higaonna Sensei. Sensei happily agreed and brought smiles to everyone’s faces when his body sprung into action changing from your typical kakie movement to a circular motion and back again, with the power in his hips and body so easy to see. Needless to say his friendly challenger quickly withdrew and responded with a bow of respect, which Higaonna Sensei immediately returned with a smile. It was great to see.

We also have lots of special announcements each morning with weddings and proposals all taking place during the week of the Budosai. Congratulations to Sensei Andy and Lisa Franz (IOGKF USA) on their wedding! Sensei Steven Smith (IOGKF USA) also took things up a notch when he proposed to his now fiance in front of the entire Gasshuku! Congratulations to them and also to Sensei Phil McClements (IOGKF England EGKA) who also got engaged through the week.

The entire event group photo was another adventure on its own! The photographer was little dot in the distance on the other side of the arena, as he was so far back to fit everyone in the picture! A big thank you to everyone for their patience and co-operation to make this happen. I think you will agree that the results speak for themselves!

On the Wednesday evening a Budosai celebration concert was organised by opera soparno, Natsuko Minegishi who is a Shotokan practitioner. Natsuko Sensei and her talented friends put on a wonderful show for Higaonna Sensei and all who attended, which was very well received.

The Black belt grading saw over 120 participants all going for different levels from 1st – 8th Dan. This was a massive effort to co-ordinate, so three black belt gradings were organised to take place all at once with Sensei Higaonna, Sensei Bakkies, Sensei Terauchi, Sensei Nakamura, Sensei Ernie and Sensei Henrik all overseeing the testing.

Before we knew it, it was day five of training and everyone was wondering where the last week had gone. They say time flies when you’re having fun and this was definitely the case at the world Budosai. The final day of training started with three group training sessions before everyone lined up for what is affectionately known the world over as the ‘spirit session’ – the final big sweat session of any IOGKF Gasshuku. However Higaonna Sensei commented to everyone that he had seen how hard everyone had trained all week and how tired we all looked. He invited everyone to take a seat and instead spent the last 45 minutes of the Budosai giving a lecture on the history and traditions of Goju-ryu and how important it was for us to take these feelings and past times back home with us. It was an unexpected, but fantastic way to end the Budosai. Everyone felt close affection for Higaonna Sensei, Nakamura Sensei and all the other welcoming and fantastic instructors who gave their full effort and knowledge to their classes at the Budosai and all participants were feeling energetic about getting back home to their own dojo’s and spreading what they had learned.

But before that chance came it was time for the demonstration rehearsal. Sensei Bakkies Laubscher (IOGKF South Africa) took the reigns of the massive group and by using his vast military background he quickly had 1,100 people lined up, at attention and marching to their correct positions in no time. The only thing Sensei Bakkies was missing was his ‘Bon Jovi cable’ so he could zip line from one side of the arena to the other! It was a big task, but well organised by our 9th Dan instructor.

The final day of the Budosai saw the masters demonstrations take place. Looking around in the crowd of spectators you could see many famous faces of masters from other Goju-ryu organisations and Karate styles, all coming to witness the biggest every traditional Karate gathering in Okinawan history. There were speeches held at the beginning of the opening ceremony, followed by some excellent Taiko drumming and singing performances that really got the crowd excited. Higaonna Sensei then took to the stage to lead all attendees through Kihon training which was met by thunderous applause. After a well executed shuffle of the lines, all IOGKF Black Belts then performed Sanchin Kata under the guidance of Sensei Bakkies. The sound of the breathing was impressive being on the floor and a part of the demonstration, but the view from the stands was equally amazing.

There were then demonstrations by children participants of Gekisai Dai Ichi and Ni and IOGKF Okinawa and Japan members performed Hojo Undo exercises under the eye of Higaonna Sensei. We then witnessed some wonderful demonstrations from some of IOGKF International’s most senior instructors. Watching these performances, along with giving you plenty of inspiration for returning home, also gave you a sense that IOGKF is looking very strong and that Goju-ryu Karate is in safe hands going forward into the next generation.

A demonstration showing all of the Goju-ryu Kata to the public was very exciting to watch. From young Asato San, a junior black belt from Higaonna Sensei’s Dojo, performing Gekisai Dai Ichi, to some of our senior instructors performances, right through to the jaw dropping execution of Suparimpei Kata by Nakamura Sensei, all really showed the quality of IOGKF instructors world wide. Higaonna Sensei finished the event with a great and smooth performance of Tensho Kata.

The monorail ride back to the centre of Naha was very packed after the demonstrations, as everyone went off to prepare for the Sayonara party. What a great night of celebrating not only Goju-ryu, but also each others cultures. Sensei Bakkies opened the party with a speech, explaining that 2016 was the 50th anniversary of Higaonna Sensei’s Karate being brought to his home country of South Africa and that it was true testament to Higaonna Sensei’s hard work that so many people are here still supporting him half a century on.

After the grading results were announced by Higaonna Sensei and Nakamura Sensei, each country performed, gave presentations and presented gifts, all in the spirit of goodwill. Although all the countries gave a great night of entertainment, I think everyone will agree that Nakamura Sensei and IOGKF Canada’s performance of ‘Goju style’, a remixed version of ‘Gangnam style’, took the cake and first place!

With members from over 45 countries in attendance and all having shared so much together in the one week, made it difficult to say goodbye as another Budosai came to an end. With the 2020 Olympics being held in Tokyo, Japan, it is going to be difficult to host such a major event in the land of the rising sun. So it has been decided that IOGKF will host the 8th World Budosai in July 2019 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of IOGKF International, which was founded in 1979!

Thank you to all of those who traveled to Okinawa to make the Budosai the massive success it was. Thank you also to Higaonna Sensei, Yamashiro Sensei and their team in Okinawa for you hard work organising the event, along with all the instructors who shared their knowledge and experience with all involved.

Until the next Budosai! Sayonara!