Saturday, July 19, 2008

Black Ships Festival

This weekend is the Black Ships Festival in Newport, RI. It's a celebration of Japan culture, oddly in remembrance of the United States forcing the Japanese to negotiate a treaty back in the mid-1800s due to the arrival of the US "black ships"..

The commodore of the fleet of ships was from Newport, RI, so they hold the festival here.

I spent the day at the festival today, mainly to watch martial arts demonstration put on by various schools. While the festival is supposed to be celebrating Japanese culture, the organizers tend to think any martial arts form is Japanese. This gave a wide range of styles at the festival - some Japanese, some obviously not. In any case, it was a worthwhile opportunity to just see a bunch of different styles of martial arts all at one location.

The first event of the day for me was watching an Aikido school - Newport Aikikai. As can be seen by this first picture, at this school they teach people to levitate!

Now that's learning to fall from a decent height!   It was a great demonstration and was about an hour and a half long in 90+ degree humid weather.   I saw this school's demonstration two years ago and during that one I had no idea what they were doing.  Two years ago (at least the part of the demo I watched) it was more of a silent demo with students practicing techniques with no explanation.   This time around the sensei gave a bit of explanation of some of the techniques. Plus, due to my own martial arts experience I had a better understanding of what I was watching.  

It was interesting to see a lot of similarities in their techniques to what I am learning in Palace Hand at the Kodokai Dojo.   They're definitely different martial arts, but a lot of the joint manipulations were the very similar. 


It was impressive how many students they could fit on a small mat area and have them all practice their techniques at the same time without anyone colliding.


This elderly couple definitely won the "cutest couple" award for the day.   I love the little picnic basket with the red and white checkered cloth.  They stayed the whole day and watched all the martial arts demonstrations.



After the Aikido demonstration, there was a "ninja" demonstration which I had a hard time taking seriously. While it had some realistic techniques displayed, it mainly seemed really goofy and sloppy. Watching the techniques being performed reminded me of kids playing "ninja" - they demonstrated all their techniques in super slow motion. Plus some of the explanations of how various weapons were used seemed a bit far-fetched. Even the physical fitness of the instructor and students gave the impression that they never really exercised very hard. Sorry, I didn't take any pictures. Plus, can you even take a picture of a ninja? Won't there just be a blank spot in the picture where they were?

After the ninja, there were two other martial arts demonstrations that were a bit iffy as far as what I think of regarding traditional martial arts. One was a local kempo school which seemed to have more of an emphasis on building false confidence (by cheering on the students during their demonstration) than having actual good technique. The second school was a chain school that gave a very flashy high-powered acrobatic demonstration set to music. It was great entertainment, but was in no way something I would call martial arts. It had lots of back-flips and spinning kicks and flipping weapons around like batons, but I'd have to call it more of a dance or acrobatic demonstration than martial arts. In the intro to the demo, the speaker even said something along the lines of, "This is the type of martial arts you'll see in the movies." I.e. totally unrealistic stuff that only makes a good show. One of this school's advertised selling points is they build confidence and help you get comfortable with public speaking. I don't even know if they claim you might be able to defend yourself. But, if you're interested in getting into performance art, then it might be a good place to go. Again, no pictures from these two demos. I probably should have taken some of people flying through the air.  It might have made a nice snapshot or two.

Throughout the day, there was a school from New York demonstrating what I can best describe as "historic" martial arts - all sorts of techniques using various types of weapons from the Edo period in Japan. It was interesting to take a break from the other demonstrations and watch this one - it seemed there was always a different weapon or technique being demonstrated.  This group was putting on demonstrations from 10 in the morning 'til 4:00 in the afternoon. Given the heat and humidity, they must have been beat by the end of the day. The following are a few pictures during their demo.

In the picture below, the guy on the left is holding a practice ball and chain (actually made of cloth for safety).  According to the guy presenting the demo, this is what was used within the palace walls for restraining an attacker. Supposedly it was forbidden for the guards to draw blood within the palace walls.



In this final picture, the guy is holding a practice police baton from the Edo period. (Sorry, I forgot the Japanese name of the weapon.)  It's normally made all of metal, but for practice it has wooden parts.  The all metal version is useful for disarming sword wielding attackers.


The final demonstration of the day was by a Rhode Island jiujitsu school - Kuntao Jiujitsu. This school stresses practical self-defense. It was a great demonstration of self-defense techniques and the sensei has a great knack for talking to a crowd. Unfortunately, this late in the day I was a bit tired and didn't take any pictures.

All in all, it was a good time at the festival. It was interesting to be able to see several different martial arts styles and notice a lot of similar themes in techniques throughout the groups as well as some very different approaches to a similar situation. It was definitely a worthwhile trip.

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