My name is Mervyn Nelis the founder and director of Zenshin Karate in Geelong, Victoria. For this first blog I would like to describe Zenshin’s  Martial Arts  recent beach training session at Torquay . I hope to be publishing martial arts related articles monthly. I was born in Geelong and have been involved in martial arts for over 55 years. I teach full-time with my son Jai and we have a branch in Leopold. I have been very fortunate to have made a career in martial arts and it has been my life-long passion. In my formative years of training I travelled overseas and trained under Grandmasters of the arts particularly in Japan, U.S.A, Israel and New Zealand.



Zenshin karate at Torquay.


                                                                                                                             Traditional Ceremonial Training Session

This is a traditional Japanese training session to welcome in the New Year and is referred to as “Kagami Biraki” – meaning “open mirror”. In Japanese culture, the New Year is the most important time of the year, more important than birthdays and anniversaries. It is a fifteen-day celebration whose importance over-rides  any demands of ordinary business and commerce. My first experience of this traditional session was whilst I was undergoing intense training under Grandmaster Tadashi Nakamura in New York, U.S.A. in 1983.

On Sunday 5th February at 8.30am Zenshin Geelong students arrived at Torquay beach in their gis (uniforms) eager and excited to participate in this special group training session. Participants ranged from our Kids Karate Program through to our Adults Program (which included Leopold and Ballarat students). We had many senior Black Belts setting the example for all students to follow. The day started with stretching before practising basic techniques with everyone sweating and becoming enveloped within the energy and spirit of the atmosphere.


                                                                                                                                         Explanation of “Kagami Biraki” 





Midway through the session the significance of this special training session was explained to the students. At the front of the class was a representation of two round rice cakes (kagami mochi) stacked on top of each other, interspersed with pine boughs and topped with an orange. It was explained that this still-life image had great meaning. Sometimes in Japanese homes, seaweed was also mingled with the pine boughs around the rice cakes. Taken as a whole, the decorated rice cakes represented abundance, health and plenty throughout the seasons of the year. The idea was to have something from the fields (rice), from the mountains (pine boughs), from the sea (seaweed) and from the orchards (orange) – to symbolise the whole range of natural sustenance on which our health and survival depends. The rice cakes were made in a round shape. Kagami means an old-fashioned hand-held mirror that was always round – like a circle, round and smooth. The message from this image is to keep things round and smooth, always striving for the harmony symbolised by the rice cakes. Be happy, enjoy and appreciate our real abundant blessings!



                                                                                                                             Motivational Messages for Life


This was an ideal time to reflect on every student’s attitude and commitment as we begin this New Year. The term Kokoro (spirit) reminds us that we should endeavour to maintain a strong spirit throughout each and every class we undertake throughout this year and beyond. A memorable quote that Zenshin students are familiar with – “Nana-Korobi-Ya-Oki” – translates…no matter how many times you get knocked down, whether physically or emotionally, you must always program it into your mind that you will get up that number of times and even one more – Never give up!

The term “RenMa” ie. Ren – train or cultivation, Ma – drill or refine. Hence this term means in relation to the martial arts – to cultivate and attain perfection one must continually polish and practice technique over and over  (repetition). Students are reminded that basic techniques must always be practised with strong spirit and determination.

The themes for 2023 are  Organisation and Flexibility in our lives. Plan your coming week beforehand. Set time aside for important duties. We should all strive for balance within our life and be open to change and not be overwhelmed by problems that may arise. We will always experience change; nothing remains constant indefinitely. View these new challenges as opportunities to grow, evolve and progress – Be flexible! A quote from Dr. Stephen Covey – “It’s not what happens to us…it’s our response to what happens to us that makes us what we are” should be our mantra for experiencing life to the full. Another quote which I like – “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” (anonymous).






The senior belts participated in sparring in the water and this was engaged in enthusiastically, and with fun, as many students were unceremoniously dumped into the water to the delight of everyone around! Afterwards we finished the session with many basic punches – the energy was high and motivational. We meditated on the sand facing towards the ocean – contemplating and reflecting on our personal goals for the year ahead. Thank you to all who attended and made it such a successful and uplifting morning. I hope you, the reader, enjoyed this  synopsis of Zenshin Karate Geelong’s celebration of Kagami Biraki for 2023.

Written by Mervyn Nelis Feb 2023.