With karate now included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, we check out a new complex dedicated to the martial art on Japan’s most southerly islands

Spinning, hissing, arms and legs pistoning: the 12 men are like steam locomotives. Karate master Morio Higaonna is supervising their training session. His attention turns to me. “It’s no good just watching,” he says. “You have to take part.” Higaonna takes one of my hands and interlaces his fingers with mine in what would be, in other contexts, an intimate clasp. There is a pause before, with shocking rapidity, he pulls my fingers up and back. I swear loudly and flap my hand to relieve the pain.

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