Karate is not about how to fight; it’s about how to not fight, and how to not lose.
Akihito Yagi, the 8th degree black belt master and President of the International Meibu-Kan Gōjú-ryú Karate-do Association carries the tradition of his grandfather, Meitoku Yagi, in promoting karate in film and around the world.
Before there were belts, before there were professional sports, the ancient art of karate was a way of life in Okinawa. Developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom, it swept across the mainland to become one of Japan’s most synonymous sports.
2020 marks the debut of karate in the Olympics. The Tokyo program features two categories: Kumite and Kata. The kumite competitions consist of three-minute fights, while the kata competitions are based on the power and precision of techniques.
There are a variety of karate styles, each with their own kata movements, but only four are recognized in these Olympics games. A traditional Okinawan style, Gōjú-ryú, emphasizes correct breathing, body strengthening and conditioning. Gō refers to hard, closed hand techniques and linear attacks. Jú refers to soft, open hand techniques with circular movements.
The kata movement is a blocking technique. “It makes you strong,” shares Yagi. “It trains the body how to block, how to escape, but also how to kick and punch.” He embodies this spirit and tradition of Okinawa. Meibu-Kan means “House of the pure-minded warrior.” Within this house Yagi trains students from around the world who seek the root of this martial art. They range from small children to 92 years old. They seek strength in body, mind and spirit, and the keys to the healthy longevity for which Okinawa is renowned.
Over dinner, Yagi shares with me that breathing affects the heartbeat, which affects our nervous system, which manages our reaction to stress, regulates our digestion, and therefore impacts how to metabolize our nutrition and all that we absorb in our lives.
Okinawan cuisine is extremely healthy. The soil, made from elevated coral reef, is uniquely mineral-rich, and is pummelled by UV rays that cause fruits and vegetables to grow thicker layers of protection and anti-oxidants. Daily consumption of fruits and vegetables is high. Even the pigs feast on the famous Okinawa pineapple. Fish are as plentiful as they are colourful. Bonito broth is used instead of salt. And a custom of hara hachi bu, eating until 80 percent full, is practised because low caloric intake improves blood sugar control and lowers production of free radicals. Okinawans emphasize positivity, laughter, optimism, flexibility and adaptability.
A key factor for spiritual health and minimizing stress has to do with the Okinawan concept of ikigai, a reason for living—a reason to get up in the morning. For Akihito Yagi, it is to carry the mantle of karate around the world and weave together physical, mental, social and spiritual health for the next generation. www.japan.travel/en/ca/
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.