Martial arts and misadventure in Japan
‘Pain is the best instructor, but no one wants to go to his class.’ – General Choi
For any aspiring martial artist having a real-life, hard-drinking, humorous version of Mr Miyagi turn up on your doorstep offering to teach the secrets of the Samurai would be a dream come true. So when Toby's best friend Bryan returns from travelling in Japan, along with Suzuki Sensei, an enigmatic fencing master, they jump at the opportunity to move to the foothills of Mt Fuji to study Kendo (The Way of the Sword), and embark upon the ultimate martial arts adventure. But from the very beginning, life as a modern-day migrant ninja, particularly one required to work in a stifling sweat shop turns out to be anything but romantic.
Dealing with authentic medieval living conditions, sadistic factory supervisors, breaking bones up mist-shrouded mountains, proving their manhood on the world’s biggest rollercoaster, whilst all the while plotting to escape the “Factory of Dreams”; Toby and Bryan desperately attempt to emulate Suzuki Sensei’s apparent imperviousness to pain and hardship.
Toby arrives in the rural town of Yoshiwara in the fierce heat of summer armed only with the ability to say ‘this is a pen’ in Japanese. Suzuki Sensei’s ancient family home resembles a faded Kurosawa movie, with sliding wooden screens, worn tatami mats and little else. By the time Toby has been painfully initiated into the joys of full-contact martial arts and succumbed to the constant pressure to drink Saki and cultivate ‘fighting spirit’ he is unsure if his teachers are traditional or just sadistic.
If the Kendo is challenging, then working at the paper factory turns out to be soul destroying. The “Factory of Dreams” as Bryan calls it resembles a Dickensian sweat shop inhabited by a bizarre mixture of brain-dead co-workers, mulleted disco-dancing Iraqi refugees, mini-bosses with all the people skills of concentration camp guards, and a saintly old box packer who’s transformed her menial labour into a meditation. The work is torturous and to make matters worse, Toby’s arrival is reawakening Bryan’s rebellious British identity.
Suzuki Sensei and an array of colourful Kendo teachers try in vain to instruct Toby and Bryan in the true spirit of combat, dishing out advice, alcohol and trying increasingly unorthodox teaching methods, such as riding the world’s highest roller coaster, experimenting with different martial arts and getting naked in the public bath-houses.
A crushing sense of frustration and exhaustion, and a near-fatal run in with the Yakuza pushes Toby and Bryan’s friendship to breaking point and life working at the paper factory begins to eclipse the challenges of kendo mastery in unexpected ways. Despite a toe-curling disregard for Japanese rules and social etiquette, they are drawn kicking, screaming, and laughing into the rare and fascinating no-nonsense world of Bushido – The Way of the Warrior.
The dojo, despite its size was softly lit and stuffy. At the head of the hall hung a large draped banner bearing the calligraphy and emblem of the Yoshiwara Kendo School. The place was rapidly filling up with people now. Around the edge of the room along a thin marked off area spectators and parents were sitting chatting and directing children to get changed, whilst the majority of the adults were stretching, carefully checking equipment and warming up with slow purposeful sword swings.
As we walked through the sliding doorway I felt the eyes of the entire hall look me up and down. I tried to act casual yet respectful, which no doubt just came across as alarmingly confused and self-conscious. Suzukisan marched us resolutely towards the head teacher Takagi Sensei who was standing in the middle of the hall dressed in full battle gear. He was grey haired, stern yet serene and, as I had imagined, appeared to be the living embodiment of a powerful ancient samurai master.
As if to order, thunder rolled in the distance and for a split second I felt as if I was being led to my execution. We bowed in formation then Suzukisan introduced me. I re-bowed and prematurely blurted out my embarrassing half coughed attempt at “Onegai shimasu” (Please teach me). Takagi Sensei gave me a bemused look. He turned to Suzukisan and said a few words in a deep gravelly voice which I guessed were along the lines of “What the hell did he just say?” then motioned me to take a seat. Bryan escorted me to the edge of the class and explained that Takagi Sensei had said “I was welcome at the dojo and to please train hard.” He told me I should sit in seiza (formal kneeling position), then gave me an encouraging nod and disappeared to get changed.
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Monday, 27 June 2016
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After one final emotional read through, I took a deep breath, and submitted the full manuscript. Things have now moved into the production process. This will include a structural edit, a copy edit stage and a proofing…
Paper Tigers; martial arts and misadventure in Japan, coming soon...
Wednesday, 11 May 2016
Stop the press! Somebody alert Richard & Judy. Paper Tigers has finally reached its crowdfunding target and is now 101% funded!
This is incredibly exciting, fantastic news and I cannot wait to get the ball rolling and begin the next stage. Specifically, the editing process, cover design, more writing, posing for black and white photos in front of bookshelves, staring into the distance meaningfully…
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Tuesday, 3 May 2016
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I know many of you have helped to spread the word, some of you have gone way beyond this and I am truly appreciative and grateful to every single one of you.
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Friday, 22 April 2016
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Thursday, 14 April 2016
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Sunday, 27 March 2016
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Sunday, 21 February 2016
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Thursday, 18 February 2016
(Bokken and Tenagui from the Yoshiwara Kendo School)
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Sunday, 14 February 2016
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Friday, 12 February 2016
I’d just like to say a hugely heartfelt thank you to everyone who has made a pledge so early in this journey to getting published. I am genuinely humbled by your generosity. You guys rock!
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These people are helping to fund Paper Tigers.