We continue our dialogue with our friend and famous athlete, Alexander Eremenko. This time, the topic of conversation will be his trip to Japan, where he stayed for one month.
We remind you that on July 2, 2019, Alexander‘s 30-day stay at the Kawaguchi Dojo ended up, where he lived as Uchi-Deshi. Details of the trip and his activities there, read in our interview.
Alexandr, we would like to congratulate you on the occasion that one more of your dreams came true. How long have you been going to this, and did you even hope that this particular dream would come true?
Thank you, my dear Roman, for your congratulations.
I do not remember how many years I have been going to this. I remember that this dream lighted up in my childhood. At a certain period of my life, this dream has stepped aside, but it wasn’t forgotten. Probably, with age an understanding of what I want from life and what I like came to me. I like Karate! Kyokushin! And I must develop, move and grow in this direction.
About dreams I can say the following: yes it is cool when dreams come true. But this doesn’t always happen, regardless of how much you are waiting for it. And this is more like a bonus to your efforts. Recently, the realization that we are the masters of our lives has come to me. We have to fulfill our dreams ourselves. Do not hope for chance and do not wait for manna from heaven. You just need to set a goal and to achieve it, to have a dream and to fulfill it yourself.
This case is exactly like that. I just made my dream come true myself.
Let’s start with telling to those, who do not know, what a course “Uchi-Deshi” is?
“Uchi-Deshi” translates from Japanese as “Inner student.” Such course implies training and living in the Dojo for full immersion in the world of karate. Thus, the student is not distracted by everyday household routine; he is throughout the course at the Dojo, where he sleeps, eats, trains hard, and does the usual things, but everything within the Dojo.
For some period, Honbu did not organize this course, how was it revived, and by whom?
The period of the great uplift of Uchi-Deshi in the main IKO Honbu in Ikebukuro is approximately 2004. In those days, there were the following students: Shihan Artur Hovhannisyan, Max Dedik, Alejandro Navarro, Darmen Sadvakasov, Igor Peplov, Mikhail Kozlov, Lucian Gogonel, Alexander Pichkunov, Lechi Kurbanov and many other stars of those years. In those years, Shihan Fukuda was the curator of Uchi-Deshi. It is about him there are legends (and it is not fiction) that during the training “Uchi-Deshi Geiko” he closed the windows and turned on the air conditioner for heat mode. And it was summer. As far as I understand, now the organization is growing, and there is simply no ability and time to hold it for internal students.
I myself am well aware that this process is costly for the receiving side. Even I, conducting courses of Uchi-Deshi in my dojo, understand that it is not easy. And now, when guys from other countries want to come to my dojo for training, first of all, I tell them: “You can come if I am not preparing for any event and have free time.”
As for the rebirth, a few years ago, Shihan Artur Hovhannisyan opened his dojo in Japan in the Kawaguchi area. It is called Kawaguchi Dojo. Once Shihan himself was Uchi-Deshi and knows firsthand all the ins and outs of this matter. It was Shihan Hovhannisyan who revived the tradition of Uchi-Deshi. And it seems to me, it was not in vain. There is a demand; people are interested in Japanese culture and training in Japan. Now dojo is visited by many athletes and coaches from around the World, including leading fighters from Russia.
We recently had a conversation with Shihan. I said that the peak of Uchi-Deshi turned out to be in 2004, and at this period many titled athletes came through it. He corrected me and said that now in Kawaguchi Dojo, fighters, who are not less famous, including me, are coming. So our time can also be attributed to a certain peak of Uchi-Deshi in Japan. Just imagine, the calendar of arrival in Kawaguchi and training in it is scheduled for six months in advance.
Since it was your dream, you probably were interested in everything connected with it. Is there any difference between today’s course and the one, which was before?
If readers follow my social networks, I already wrote there that it was a film about Oyama’s “Uchi Deshi” that encouraged me to take part in this course. Then I was very inspired by this film and really wanted to go to Japan. Speaking about Kawaguchi Dojo, to be honest, I thought that was not so serious. It seemed to me that only training was waiting for me there, and that’s all. Moreover, I remember how Uchi-Deshi under Oyama trained on the video. But after a few days I realized that I was wrong. Shihan completely revived the idea of Uchi-Deshi. And it can be seen not only in training. There was a ritual at the beginning and at the end of each workout, even if we just run a cross, we first had Chorei (formation) and we read Dojo-Kun, at the end there was a mandatory cleaning of the hall. Moreover, both the highest belts and the younger ones clean it. I would say that this grows discipline. Makes you forget about your Ego, your position in society and helps you to stand on the same level with all students. And this practice is present in every dojo in Japan. For me, it was a shock when Shihan Fukuda stood next to me and started to clean the floor just like I did.
In the first week we visited Mount Mitsumine, where Sosai trained himself.
Interesting information: on the mountain itself there are many Shinto-type temples and many memorials to various Japanese leaders of all the years. Memorials in this place are put not to ordinary people, but to those, who made a huge contribution to the life of Japan. So it is exactly where, by my opinion, the largest and most beautiful memorial to Sosai Masutatsu Oyama stands. For me it was a great pride to know this information.
Let’s go back to Uchi-Deshi. I strongly recommend to people who really do not see their life without karate, to take a course at the Kawaguchi Dojo. This is the real Kyokushin immersion.
How much time took the organization of the trip, who took part in this process, with whom were discussed those matters, and most importantly thanks to whom this became possible?
I remember the day when my coach, Max Dedik, and I were sitting tired in the ring after training, and he told me: “Alexander, you have to go to Japan!” “Spit on money and other details! You should be there!” For me, the words of my mentor served as a signal to action. I respect my Sensei very much and I know that he respects me as well. This person will never advise me something bad. He wants only good for me. After these words, all I was thinking about is how to go to Japan.
We planned the trip a long time ago. Initially, we thought about visiting winter camp in Mitsumine with the Japanese team, which is approximately at the beginning of January. But it is not so easy to get to Shihan Artur, as a schedule is planned for half a year ahead. And plus to everything, we had a slightly different task of the trip. Besides the Uchi-Deshi course, we wanted me to travel around the Japanese dojos, and to train with the Japanese team members. I wanted to learn from their experience and so to speak to immerse into the training process of the best Japanese fighters. It was not easy, because before me, this practice did not exist; it was new and not usual for Japan. But we insisted on this format of the visit. With the help of Shihan Alexander Ipatov (President of the Russian National Karate Kyokushinkai Federation), we managed to talk with Shihan Artur and explain the whole situation to him. And he, in his turn, spoke with the leadership of IKO, who eventually agreed to such a step. The time was chosen exactly for June, as there are no large events or holidays and all the Japanese team members are in their places.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Shihan Artur Hovhannisyan, for the help, all his work and the contribution he makes. He was able to negotiate with the Japanese side and organized everything exactly as we requested. We understand that it was not easy, and because of this we thank Shihan even more.
Unlike other Uchi-Deshi, you had a different course. Why is that so?
At some point, I realized that, without being in Japan, and without feeling everything on myself, there would be no understanding of what the Japanese want to convey to us. In other words, if I would not stand side by side with the Japanese fighters. It was interesting for us to live in Japan, to get to know it, to train with the Japanese guys, to breathe the same air with them.
I won’t be unfounded and don’t want to brag, but I personally haven’t heard that the visiting foreigner “Gaijin” would visit the leading Japanese brunches and dojos on a regular basis, even for one month. The Japanese themselves, the coaches and the fighters were surprised, but were pleased with the fact that I came especially for training in their halls.
I think this is because of respect and confidence in me as a person of the Japanese side. More than once, the leaders of various great brunches invited us to dinner. And it is a great honor for me. I see their attitude and I understand that they didn’t allow me to go there for my ‘beautiful eyes’, but more than that, I was even invited for dinner. For example, after each training session with Mikio Ueda, his team, Shihan and Senseis took us to a restaurant.
Upon learning that I was leaving soon, we were invited by Shihan Yamada personally for dinner. It is a very influential person in the organization and the head of the Josai club, in which such world champions as Shohei Kamada, Zenzhiro Mori and many other titled fighters of the Japanese national team are training.
Not all the people in Honbu immediately believed that the Shihan invited us. Knowing from the head coach of the national team, with what dedication I train, Shihan Yamada, on the day of my last training session, came to watch and wish good luck.
Every Tuesday I attended a training session in the new Dojo Daykayama under the guidance of the Goju-Ryu Master. And I was allowed to be present in the same hall, along with the first people of the organization, including Kancho Matsui himself. At the last training session, they interviewed me, made a photo session and shot a video for the Japanese media and the famous magazine WorldKarate. On Fridays, we attended the black belt class at the main IKO Honbu, under the guidance of Shihan Fukuda. To my surprise, Shihan called me “Sasha”, spoke Russian, put me in front of the formation to demonstrate the technique, and at the end said a farewell word. He also told Japanese students how they should cheer for me at the World Championships and what to scream.
At the last training session in the Josai Dojo, a professional sumo fighter was invited, aka Japanese wrestling star in the past. The master showed various sumo tricks. After learning who I am, and that I came specifically from Russia to Japan for training, the “big sensei” did not leave me. It seemed to me that he was training only me. He explained to me a lot, showed, corrected. It was both hard and pleasant.
Is this all not a respect? Seeing how the first persons of our organization treat you, you understand that tons of sweat and blood have been shed for all the years of training not in vain, and this all is appreciated.
Tell me more about your training sessions, what did you do?
I was based in the Kawaguchi Dojo. I had training sessions with leading Japanese fighters in their dojos three times a week. One time a week I had training in the main Honbu IKO, and also once a week I had Goju-Ryu training. In the other time I trained in Shihan Artur’s Dojo.
Besides me, other karatekas were trained there. On my arrival there were five of us. Gradually, some of us were leaving. Sensei Bashlykov was the first to leave. He gave me a briefing on living there and small household instruction.
Yotam Naor. Cool guy. He was getting ready for the championship of America, and in this period I was able to work with him in a pair.
And two guys from the Urals arrived and left with me. Senpais Dmitry Kutyavin and Ilya Zuev. We became friends and got used to each other. They are very nice and positive guys. I wish them not to stop on such big step, which they overcame, but to only go up.
The guys, who trained in Kavaguchi had a little different schedule and trainings. And also, sometimes before difficult training sessions with the Japanese team, Shihan gave me rest.
In addition to training, did you have any duties and spare time?
In addition to these training sessions, the obligatory task of Uchi-Deshi is a certain number of pull-ups and push-ups on the rings throughout the day. I calculated that in a month I made about 2,000 pull-ups and the same amount of push-ups on the rings. But in general, there were no special duties. To clean up after ourselves, do not litter, do not interfere with living and training of others.
I had one day off – on Sundays. Honestly, there was no power to go anywhere or travel. At the weekend I had a bath and a long-awaited sleep. Oh, and I also ate ice cream.
Did you have any accompanying person and translator?
Coincidentally, for the period of my stay in Japan, Konstantin Kovalenko also did an internship. And besides, our friend from Israel Matan Eliakim lives and works in Honbu for the third year. Konstantin studies Japanese a little in Honbu, and Matan already speaks a little. They both accompanied me to training sessions in other halls, trained with me, translated as best they could, from Japanese into Russian and English.
But by the end of the month, I began to understand the main words. And even being in the training process without the guys, I could understand the basic meaning. My favorite phrase, for example, was “Lasto Ipn” – the last minute. And the less favorite was “Moy Kai” – once again.
Big thanks to the guys for their moral and physical support. Laughter, talk, stories distracted from hard training. We used to meet with guys near the subway. All have frowned faces in anticipation of a hard workout. And after 5 minutes of conversation, everyone had a smile on their face and the training was a pleasure. Thank you guys, you are cool!
How to overcome the language barrier? Were there any difficulties in communication when there was no translator nearby?
I didn’t worry about this at all. Many people know that the Japanese do not know English. But at the same time, the coaches and the guys explained very clearly, literally on the fingers. For example, in the Josai brunch there was a guy from Denmark who could help with translation in training. In the same Dojo there was a guy from France, Fabio, who helped with translation during a meeting with Shihan Yamada. Although Shihan knows English well. Mori, Kamada, Takeoka, Kaga know English a little. I did not feel any discomfort without knowing the language.
In Dojo Daykayama, there are the lessons of Japanese and the guys learn the alphabet and words. But I wasn’t there for so long to give it proper attention. I decided to focus on trainings. That is what I came for.
Over the entire period of your stay in Japan, which Dojos did you visit, with whom did you train and by whose guidance?
Shihan Artur did a great job and agreed that I could train with almost the entire national team of Japan, Shohei Kamada, Yuta Takahashi, Mikio Ueda. I could not meet only with Shohei Arato. We just physically didn’t have time to go to his dojo in the Chiba city. He planned to come to the dojo of Mikio Ueda for a joint training session, but something didn’t work out. But anyway, I managed to train with almost the entire Japanese team.
In which Dojo did you like training most and who gave you the most valuable experience?
Unfortunately, I cannot give preference to someone alone. Honestly, for me it’s like one big practice. Everyone made a contribution and each of them taught me something. I really liked to train with all of them.
I took a little from everyone and tested on myself. After one workout, Shihan Imanishi, the coach of Mikio Ueda wrote on his Facebook that we learn very quickly and literally in a week we come to him completely different. Everybody helped me, without exception.
Were all the Dojos, which you visited in the same region, or did you have to travel around the cities?
All the Dojos were in different places. I had to get to each of them for about an hour. As they explained to me, some of them were even in the neighboring town. So, for example, the Dojo of Mikio Ueda was located in the Yokohama city. By Moscow standards, I made the same journey, which I make every day to get to Mad Max Dojo, but in Japanese reality, I actually traveled to another city.
And the famous champion of Japan Kehei Ajima, when he learned that I came to train in Japan, specially traveled to us from the Chiba city. As I was later told, Chiba is about an hour away by the subway.
In general, the subway in Japan is an amazing thing. I used to think that the largest subway is in Moscow, but now I realized that it is not like that. In Japan, there is a very large and intricate subway. Well, this is in my opinion. But at the same time, you can go by it, in my opinion, anywhere.
How open were the Japanese instructors and athletes with you in terms of advice and exchange of experience? Were they in any way closed, especially before the World Open Championship?
Firstly I assumed that they would be secretive. The first surprise for me was that I was allowed to go to other dojos. Then maybe they saw that I was not hiding anything and was absolutely open in terms of technique and communication, and the coaches and athletes advised something and corrected my mistakes. We can say that I became the center of attention at the time of training. They approached me, stood beside me, prompted me, corrected me, kept their paws for me and advised me something in battles. I was very impressed. I was told a lot that the Japanese are closed in terms of information. But having been in the heart of the Japanese Kyokushin, I realized that these people are absolutely open and respect people who honestly work hard along with them. I tried to give them all the best and not to hide anything. Seeing this, both the guys and the coaches opened up. People see attitude and relate accordingly. For me, this means only one thing: we all do a common thing and do not pull the blanket over ourselves!
The most sensitive issue in any trip is finance. Who financed the road, accommodation, and local transport?
I will return to the question of a dream. If you have a dream, you do not need to sit and wait for it to happen itself. You need to fulfill your own dream. I paid for my entire course myself. It was expensive and I had to give all my savings, but you can sacrifice it for the sake of a dream. In life, money is not the main thing, and we do not live for them. I would also like to express my gratitude to Shihan Alexander Ipatov, the main office of the RNFKK and Shihan Artur for processing the necessary documents and a visa.
You are not for the first time in Japan, and I suppose there are not many things, which can surprise you. Now you have been there for much longer than usual, and for such a period, have you changed your view on some issues and things, which constantly surrounded you?
Yes, now I saw from the inside how the Japanese live, what their values and priorities are. For example, in Japan, order and law are paramount. If the red light is on, people will not move, even if the road is empty. If there’s a queue for the bus, subway or in the store, then everybody lines up in a single line, and no one runs forward. Honesty and decency are all around. You can take food on the street and go to the store to pay. And no one can even imagine that you can take it and leave without paying. Order is in everything. For example, there was cleaning of the hall after each training session and were many other things, which we can learn from them. That’s cool of course. It was like being on another planet.
All this time, you were surrounded by talented and famous people in Kyokushin, masters of their craft. After this practice, did your view on the training process and preparation for tournaments and the training of your students change? Anyway, was there some kind of rethinking of what you do?
Yes, of course. The entire month I greedily swallowed information. Fortunately, there was enough of it. I made records after each training session. I understood much and rethought much as well. And I think it takes time for everything to settle down and fall into its place. That is to say to adjust to our consciousness. Without a doubt, I took a huge store of knowledge from Japan. Now I need to properly use them. In any case, my knowledge will be reflected in my training process and in my work with students.
What are your plans for the summer and when will you begin your preparation for the World Championship?
At the beginning of July, there will be the Summer Camp of the RNFKK under the guidance of Shihan Alexander Ipatov in Alushta. After my return from Japan, I will immediately fly there. And after my arrival from the Crimea, I will begin a two-week camp of my dojo in the Moscow region. After this, I will slowly begin to prepare.
We will be supporting you in the World Championship and we hope that everything will work out well for you.
Thank you very much! And thank you for supporting. The support of the fans is very important to me.
📸Roman Odessky @roman.odessky
Photographing kyokushin events (tournament, camp, seminar)