Friday, July 06, 2007

Uchi Deshi in America

When I was a child, I trained under the South Eastern head of Kyokushin karate, a full contact style founded in Japan in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama, who, among other things, could kill a bull with his bare hands and trained Sean Connery for his martial arts combat in the film You Only Live Twice. I got to be a brown belt-black stripe before leaving home for college, and have always regretted not taking a year first and getting that full black belt.

Roll the clock forward two decades. Masatatsu Oyama died, and the Kyokushin organization fractured. Somewhere in there, my instructor and his older brother founded their own style, then older brother eventually retires, and the result is that my instructor is now the head of World Oyama Karate, a globally renowned school of martial arts with branches in the United States, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Georgia, Greece, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Trinidad. In the world of martial arts, he is a Big Deal, and he runs the operation out of the very same dojo I worked out in as a child, right in my hometown. (And we are VERY lucky to have him.)

Meanwhile, after 21 years of moving around the US (and the UK), Yours Truly comes back to the same dojo a fat old man and starts over again from white belt - it goes white, blue, yellow, orange, green, brown, black. I've made it back to green so far, and it's once again become an important part of my life, but that's not what this post is about. This isn't a martial arts blog after all - it's a book and media blog. Which brings us to...

My instructor, Saiko Shihan Yasuhiko Oyama, is the author of quite a few best-selling texts on martial arts, but he's just published his first book of fiction, translated into English with the assistance of a black belt named Sempie Karl, and put through a few rounds of story structure notes and a light editing from Yours Truly.

Uchi Deshi in America is the tale of a young man who comes from Tokyo to Alabama to find his life's direction, training under a fictionalized version of Saiko Shihan, enrolling in the time honored program of being an Uchi Deshi - someone who dedicates themselves to full time martial arts training. Although the book is a work of fiction, it's based on the personal experience of a score of Uchi Deshi's that Saiko Shihan has trained over the years, as well as his own experience of traveling from the Far East to the Deep South (one alien world to another!).

You can read an online sample here. Don't expect Shakespeare, but what you will find is a very accurate and insightful look at the martial arts mindset and the Uchi Deshi program, as well as a fun examination of what it's like to travel between two distinct cultures. I'd say the story is comparable to the original Karate Kid - which is higher praise than it might sound; that's one of the few films that actually gets it right - with a little bit of Rocky thrown in, and there is even a nice romantic subplot that plays out between our hero and a young college student. The story would make a nice film (and might - plans are afoot!). I'm very proud of my small contribution to the finished product, and I learned a great deal from the experience, both about my instructor and about the martial arts in general. What's more, I was training for a tournament at the same time that I was editing the manuscript, and the book definitely helped me to find the inner strength to fight. All in all, it was an honor to be involved with the project. Or as we say in the dojo, "Osu!"


Irene Gallo said...

Lou - It's great to read this. I'm thinking about going back to my Aikido dojo after a 12 year absence. I think I'll take the plunge in August. Maybe we can share out-of-shape stories and ice packs at World Fantasy.

Lou Anders said...

I have always wanted to study Aikido! In another life, I got that black belt and then went on to study other styles. But yes - go back, go back! We can trade war stories at WFC!