In a year where pandemics, natural disasters and political unrest has driven the world further apart than any other time in living memory, technological platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime have managed to help keep us somewhat connected, despite the current challenges we all face.

Karate and the IOGKF are no exception to having its everyday operation thrown into mayhem around the world. Many dojos are struggling to operate classes within restriction guidelines, some are forced to train outside with limited numbers and weather issues, while others have unfortunately not been able to survive the pressures placed upon them by current events. 2020 has been a challenging time for all and the IOGKF motto of ‘never give up’ has had its limits tested.

The Bubishi’s eight poems of the fist, from which Chojun Miyagi Sensei took the name Goju, contains a line that encourages the reader to

“Act in accordance with time and change.”

We have seen this put into practice by the IOGKF lineage over the past generations leading back to the founder. An’ichi Miyagi Sensei was taught one-on-one, learning the full Goju-ryu system from his teacher. An’ichi Sensei in turn adapted his teaching style to include group training and to pass on the full system to many of his students, his most prominent being Morio Higaonna Sensei. Higaonna Sensei, the founder of the IOGKF, received his early training in a post WWII environment in Okinawa where no formal classes were held, and you came and left the Dojo as you pleased. When Higaonna Sensei arrived in Tokyo, it was his turn to change the way Goju-ryu was taught, deciding to run formalised classes at the Yoyogi Dojo from 1960, to better cater to the masses of students coming to train; something Goju-ryu had never experienced before. This new method is a large part of how Goju-ryu has spread, through IOGKF, worldwide and has been adopted by many other martial arts associations also.

Fast forward to 2020 and IOGKF, under the leadership of Chief Instructor Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura, finds itself cut-off and separated from its 75,000 plus members for the first time in its 41-year history. Nakamura Sensei, one of the world’s most in-demand Karate instructors, can service up to 20 member countries per year and in 2020 has not been able to leave his home in Canada since March. What was IOGKF to do in this situation? Wither and die as we have sadly seen with many other prominent martial arts organizations across the world? The answer can be found in the eight poems, it was time once again to act in accordance with time and change.

Many dojos around the world, including the IOGKF Honbu Dojo in Burlington, Canada, moved their classes onto Zoom, with Nakamura Sensei teaching daily out of his home until the Canadian lockdown ended. Now with students allowed back into his Shudokan Dojo under restrictions, Nakamura Sensei continues to teach both in person and Zoom classes simultaneously to keep his Dojo alive and well. Countries as far spread as Australia, South Africa, Argentina, United Kingdom and all across America and Europe quickly followed suit.

But on a world scale, the hunger to learn from the IOGKF’s best and most senior instructors has been building and building. Smaller online Gasshukus were hosted by countries such as Portugal, Israel, Australia, and others, along with an all grades training charity event thrown into the mix. But for an event to fully unite the IOGKF world and its many countries, Nakamura Sensei put into motion to have an online World Black Belt Gasshuku event. A two-day, online extravaganza to maintain the standard and technical excellence within the IOGKF.

The event would be held over two days on October 3-4, 2020. Registration opened and within a short period hundreds of people from 40 different nations united online. A search of Google and Zoom records appear to place this event as the world’s largest online traditional karate training event.

For day one of the event, along with teaching himself, Nakamura Sensei was also able to include the talents of Sensei Bakkies Laubscher, 9th Dan, Chief Instructor of South Africa, and the highest graded student of Higaonna Sensei. Also, teaching was IOGKF senior advisor, Sensei Jorge Monteiro, 8th Dan, Chief Instructor of Portugal.

They were proceeded by none other than the grandmaster himself, Morio Higaonna Sensei, who came live to more than 340 IOGKF members from 40 different nations to give a lecture on the traditional supplementary training of Goju-ryu. IOGKF members from central Africa to New Zealand, New York to London, Buenos Aries to Copenhagen and many, many more tuned in to look, listen and sweat under the IOGKF’s best. Many Southern Hemisphere participants, the Aussies and Kiwis particularly, began training between midnight and 2am, very early hours of the morning, wanting to be involved.

Seeing Higaonna Sensei so happy and healthy raised the spirits of everyone and the inspiring, stable-as-rock, performance of Sanchin by Kuramoto Sensei and Shime by Higaonna Sensei left all the participants in awe.

Through four group rotations featuring these instructors, Higaonna Sensei reminded us that Goju-ryu is about improving yourself. Nakamura Sensei echoed these sentiments by reminding us all that we will get through this difficult time together and that our focus should be purely on ourselves when we train, not comparing ourselves to others. Sensei Monteiro wished for everyone to stay safe and gave us hope that we will see each other again soon.  Bakkies Sensei brought the first day’s training to a close be reminding us to enjoy our training and have fun. Wise advise from all four masters and although thousands of miles apart, you could feel an energy through the monitor of tiny laptops around the world. The motivation and enthusiasm to join for day two was at an all time high.

On the Sunday, Nakamura Sensei welcomed the Vice-Chief Instructors of IOGKF International to join him. Sensei Ernie Molyneux from England and Sensei Henrik Larsen from Denmark, both 8th Dan black belts brought a depth of knowledge and expertly instructed their classes to a gathering of close to 350 people once again. These senior instructors covered Kata relevant to grade groups, bunkai, and irikumi after being taken through traditional preparation exercises and basic skills training by Nakamura Sensei – including kakie drills you can practice by yourself during this pandemic situation.

To conclude the day’s training, Nakamura Sensei finished by wishing everyone ‘good morning, good afternoon, good evening or good night’, once again showing the magnitude of those attending this event. He encouraged us to keep our spirits strong by continuing to develop ourselves with Karate. Sensei Henrik weighed in on the realistic position of the world at the moment, saying that the pandemic situation looks like it could continue for the foreseeable future and that gathering together like this on Zoom to test and better ourselves is the best way forward at this time.

Sensei Ernie finished off by congratulating Nakamura Sensei and his team on the incredible effort to successfully bring this event together. He elaborated to say that he thought Higaonna Sensei was extremely clever to promote Nakamura Sensei to the role of IOGKF Chief Instructor as Sensei Ernie’s generation do not seem to be as tech savvy as current generations. And that it was Nakamura Sensei’s willingness to embrace the current situation and evolve to the next best possible teaching method that has helped IOGKF to remain in a strong position.

Acting in accordance with time and change does not always come when we choose. It can be sprung upon us when we least expect it and all we can do is react using what we know. The many years of extreme discipline and training have helped our Chief Instructor to develop and more importantly remain a positive, enthusiastic, creative, and calm leader throughout these unusual circumstances. For that and for all the instructors who gave their time at this incredible event we all say, dōmo arigatō gozaimashita.

Please follow the link below for a gallery of our gasshuku participants.

-by Sensei David Lambert, 4th Dan, IOGKF Australia