Part 2: Japan

Sensei Julian Mead Part 2: Japan

In April 1980 Sensei Mead arrived in Tokyo, unable to speak any Japanese and with enough money for about 6 months existence. He still recalls the first visit to the Honbu dojo with Sensei Sullivan and the feelings of trepidation. The most obvious impact was the smell of sweat and the disciplined lines of students who all looked the same. The noise of an instructor shouting commands and the unified response of the students, intense and focused.

To one end of the hall was Sensei Inoue, a man of great presence and sparkling attentive eyes who never seemed to miss anything. He approached and from a hard watchful face broke into a boyish smile and greeted them both with great warmth.

It was obvious that he held Sensei Sullivan in high regard, something Sensei Mead found out later to be due to Sensei Sullivan’s attitude and approach. They were then invited to sit and watch the lesson, very different from that of England, an impression that would last to this present day.

They were then taken out to dinner where the itinerary was explained and Sensei Sullivan asked Sensei Mead to train as hard as he could with the right attitude. He had stated he would be at the Honbu dojo for a week and requested that Sensei Mead be in the dojo at 8:00 am the next morning with Sensei Inoue. He arrived early and changed and waited for his first lesson, only to be greeted by a taxi outside the dojo with Sullivan waiving from the window saying “I have to go now but you will be alright!” before driving away. This was the start of the training for independence and individualism.

The dojo apartment was attached to the dojo so there was no escape from the training, the noise, and the atmosphere. The dojo was run in a strict format with everyone knowing exactly what they had to do and what was expected of them. Students had to be seated in seiza prior to the arrival of Sensei Inoue and respect and manners were paramount. Quickly the young Sensei Mead began to make progress along with the immersion into the Japanese etiquette and culture.

Sensei Inoue who believed that you had to understand the roots, the culture, the why and how’s in order to understand Japanese Budo, encouraged this. There was no rest from training, 7 days a week, working on kihon, kata, and kumite both in Karate and Kobujutsu. It was important that kobujutsu students had attained the level of Black belt in karate and inclusion into Kobujutsu was by only by invitation.

The combined training in Yui Shin Kai Karate and Ryukyu Kobujutsu opened Sensei Mead’s eyes to the importance of bridging the gap between open hand and weapons. The body had to move in the same fashion and the importance of Tai Sabaki (body movement) and Yoko Sabaki (side movement) were paramount in order to achieve effectiveness.

The time spent by Sensei Inoue and his seniors in preparatory training and the sheer quality of the demonstrations was amazing. All the Ryukyu Kobujutsu weapons would be shown demonstrating kata and Bunkai.

During Sensei Mead’s stay in Japan, which lasted for nearly 6 years, the relationship grew and Sensei Mead joined the seniors in doing Kobujutsu demonstrations around Japan. This proved to be a useful teaching ground in the aspects of zanshin (awareness) and Heiho (tactics). )

In time he accompanied Sensei Inoue to places such as Australia and South Africa to assist in teaching and learning much more about presentation. It was always emphasised that doing it is one thing but teaching it and getting effective results is another.

Julian Mead receiving his Black Belt from Sensei Inoue in 1980.
Sensei Julian Mead at the Honbu Dojo. Grandmaster Inoue’s teacher, Yashuro Konishi is seated front left.
In Kyoto Sensei Yasuhiro Konishi would always come to watch the demonstrations and give constructive criticism to Sensei Mead concerning his inability to move efficiently and with grace. Prior to his death his words of advice to Sensei Mead had progressed from moving like an elephant to moving like a horse!