SPECIAL: An interview with Shifu Heng Zhen Shi of the Boston Shaolin Kung Fu Center

Eric Chadbourne (iokarate.com) and David Chan (instituteofcombativearts.com) take a look at the Boston Shaolin Kung Fu Center and sit down with Sifu Heng Zhen Shi to learn about his background and what inspired him to start the school in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Please go to http://sampan.org/ to read the whole interview.

I was very fortunate to team up with Eric Chadbourne from Sampan to conduct and publish this interview. It was just wonderful to experience and watch what is known to be one of the oldest forms of martial arts.

Gasshuku Karate Camp Canada 2011

The Gasshuku Karate camp is known for their very hard-working approach to traditional Karate training. The lead instructor is Sensei Ron Fagan and along with his Senpai Budrow, both are senior ranked in Chito-Ryu Karate. Sensei Fagan is a technician and innovator in karate instruction and practices.

After years of hearing how great the training is at Sensei Ron Fagan’s Karate camps, I had to experience this for myself. From a special invitation from a friend, Sensei Charles Quimby invited me to travel with him and his students to the camp this year.

The three day camp was full of scheduled activities to keep all the participants busy. It was evident that the organizers came up with a thorough plan and I had to say they executed it very well. The camp consisted of scheduled training sessions with appropriate breaks.

The start of every training session consisted of warm up exercises that involved medicine balls, with the incorporation of calisthenics. Then the sessions lead into specific focuses, that worked kicks, sweeps, footwork, and kata. At the end of each session, groups were formed and pitted against each other for friendly competition. The competitions were primary non-martial arts related, like making a basketball shot or completing a small puzzle. The interesting part was the losing team had to stay back at the end of the session and perform calisthenic exercises.

“I don’t think we are better then anyone else, we just train different.”
Ron Fagan Sensei

I thoroughly enjoyed the practice of techniques in a breakdown to isolate specific aspects, techniques that may seem elementary, but never the less was appreciated no matter of age, gender or rank. The organization and synchronization of practice with over 60 practitioners at the camp was very inspiring to experience.

The camp in general gave me a re-invigoration for Karate practices and for my martial arts in general. The generous attention and knowledge I received gave me many things to revisit in my martial arts.

“Good Karate is good Karate, no matter what the style.”
Ron Fagan Sensei

Karate’s Body Conditioning

At a special evening class at Okikukai Headquarters, most of the current high ranking Shohei Uechi Ryu Senseis including the current Okikukai President Nakahodo Sensei was in attendance.

The class was a traditional class with junbi undo and hojo undo at the beginning of class. Then came the kotae, a regular body conditioning exercise phase that is heavily emphasized in the Uechi Ryu style of karate. Every student was asked to take off their gi tops, and then was asked to break up into three groups to be tested in sanchin. Sanchin testing is very helpful in not just body conditioning, but allows the practitioner to have full one on one guidance from the instructor.

Okinawan Karate Master Exclusive

The person on the left is Yoshi Arakaki Sensei the President of the World Association of Uechi Ryu Shobukan and Kobudo Master on Hamahiga Island. The person on the right is a worker at Yoshi Arakaki Sensei’s Hamahiga Sea Salt factory.

My Sensei from Okikukai brought me here on a very special trip. Yoshi Arakaki Sensei gave us a exclusive tour of his sea salt factory and the bay where he pumps the water from the sea. Then he gave us a tour of his village, which is not very far from his factory. The village is small, but is rich with history and culture. The people on Hamahiga island live a simple life in a country setting and can easily travel to Okinawa by way of a bridge that links the two islands together.

I was interestingly surprised when Arakaki Sensei told me that the people of Hamahiga Island are mostly descendents of Samurai clans. Arakaki Sensei said that even his great grandfather was a Samurai. We were given exclusive entrance to a shrine which was built to preserve their family’s’ history. In that shrine Arakaki Sensei showed us pictures of his family on a wall, which included his father, grandfather, and great grandfather. At the foot of the wall below the pictures on display is a dark wooden staff. Arakaki Sensei said the staff originated from China and has been in the family since his great grandfather.

First class at Okikukai Headquarters

This is a picture of my first Karate class at Okikukai Headquarters. I did not participate in class, but I had the honor to sit and talk with Okikukai vice president Arakaki Sensei as we watched the class.

Yamashiro Sensei lead the first class to a group of mostly European students that just arrived on the island earlier that day. It was a very interesting sight for me at the time, because I had never seen a traditional Okinawan karate class being conducted. All of my karate class experiences has been from America and I only wondered how different the classes may be conducted in Okinawa. To my delight, many of the school (dojo) etiquette and beginning class formalities are very similar to what I had been taught in America. I did find that Yamashiro Sensei did have a different teaching style and different way of implementing basic exercises.

As I sat with Arakaki Sensei watching the class, sensei was very helpful in communicating what was happening during the class.