The term Gasshuku has the meaning of ‘coming together under one roof’ and carries a feeling of everyone supporting each other and contributing towards a common goal. At the opening of this year’s event, Chris Denwood reminded us all that it’s important to respect that everyone has their own goals and are in different places on their own karate journey and the weekend was a great opportunity for everyone to push themselves a little further along that journey.
The event, as usual, covered a long weekend starting at lunchtime on Friday and consisted of 14 separate sessions totalling nearly 19 hours of training punctuated by some sociable free-time to enjoy the hotel’s excellent restaurants, leisure facilities and bar.
The training sessions covered new aspects of old favourites including Kundalini yoga and Taiji from Catherine Roll and our very own Kerry Wright respectively. Both of these early morning sessions provided enough scope for beginners and the more experienced to challenge themselves in a fun and supportive environment and, as ever, we could always find wonderful synergy with the deeper aspects of the karate we practice.
That synergy was brought into focus (literally) as, under Sensei Chris Denwood’s guidance, we explored the “Five Tibetan Rites” and “Zhan Zhuang Qigong” as a means to link mind and body and explore deep within ourselves through moving and stationary meditation techniques that could not have been further from the common misconception and confusion of meditation with relaxation! It was a hugely challenging exercise that proved a little overwhelming for some. Growth comes from pushing beyond our comfort zones and those that found their limits find the best growth opportunities of all!
Obviously, Karate was at the centre of the event and it’s become a tradition to learn and practice a new kata. After the opening salutation and photos we had the opportunity to exploit the fabulous hotel grounds and less than typical sunny weather by taking the first class outside! Sensei Chris Denwood taught us the Uechi Ryu kata, Kanshiwa; a wonderful insight into a basic form for that style and the similarities and common body dynamics to our own Toku Sei Kan.
It was apt that Sensei also led the closing session where we explored some of the fantastic developments to be incorporated into the grading syllabus very soon. The exciting new drills were as much a challenge for the mind as body and represent the wonderful evolutionary nature of the club. We can never be accused of stagnation, that’s for sure!
Making the most of the experience in the club, we also had the chance to explore the common body dynamics found in traditional Kung Fu. Our very own Stuart Rigg, the most recent addition to the club’s closed dojo, brought to the Gasshuku some learning from his recent month long immersive trip to China. Despite his nerves, Stuart delivered a fantastic session as he taught us a short form based on 5 fundamental “stances” at the heart of the Kung Fu style Meihua Quan (part of the Kunlun school of Kung Fu) he studied on his adventure. We all found the form utterly stunning in its difficult but beautiful, flowing movements which were demonstrated so elegantly by “Grasshopper” Rigg (those of a certain age will understand; for the rest there’s Google).
The deeper circular body dynamics that weave through the form were not unfamiliar to some of us and we all got a chance to explore those later under Sensei’s advanced body dynamics session using short wooden sticks to extend and draw out the circular movements externally to help us find them within. It linked the Kung Fu session really well and the historical common links between the Chinese and Okinawan martial arts that have evolved through to Toku Sei Kan were plain to see, or rather “feel”!
There were plenty of sessions to work on strength and fitness too. In karate we call this “hojo undo”, the supplementary functional training to help to develop the right mental and physical attributes to get the best from our karate. This year, there was no space in the timetable to try out the traditional chi-ishi (strength stone) but it was more than made up for by the fantastic kettlebell session delivered by Jon Roll and Peter Hinde which helped beginners and experienced "kettlebellers" alike to experience the link between the core strength and structural alignment needed to work the kettlebell and the body dynamics found in our karate techniques.
Jon and Peter know how to make their session’s fun as well as effective, and the great atmosphere of camaraderie that it brings served to raise everyone’s performance. We trained hard and laughed just as hard.
The same spirit was alive and kicking (see what I did there?) in Jenny Ling’s fantastic fitness class, based on the club’s “Enduro-strike” classes. It was Sunday morning, we were all tired, we all had aches and bruises and in other circumstances, we’d all just want a lie in. Well not on Gasshuku weekend! If you could harness the energy in the room into the national grid, we could end global warming!
As is the spirit of the Gasshuku, our karate instructors, John Smallman and Lewis Cullen got us putting into practice our karate body dynamics in a series of aerobic and anaerobic drills where the partner’s focus mitts were the target. Reminiscent of the club’s earlier years’ Friday “attributes” sessions, the session was fun, hard, fast and exhilarating.
It’s also become a tradition to explore the practical application of the art at the Gasshuku in self-protection. This year I joined the closed dojo’s Tom Duggan in an interactive exploration of self-defence law. We looked at what’s written on the books, what judges have said in case law, some good advice, some thoughts from an actual lawyer and a practical look at how the law sees “weapons” on self-defence. It proved to be a great group discussion and reminded us of the importance of the wider aspects of self-protection that enable us to avoid ever having to deal with a potentially violent altercation and its aftermath. Keeping safe is always the priority!
It’s easy here to describe all the things we did but less easy to portray how the Gasshuku made us all feel.
There has to be “down” time in such an intensive training weekend. We enjoy fantastic meals together and the, as I call it, “campfire spirit” always emerges as we tell stories and just have a good laugh, one or two at my expense!!! We also have some time to try out the pool and Jacuzzi to just chill, reflect and ease aching muscles.
A good portion of that down time is also spent getting to know fellow karateka as we prepare student demonstrations for Saturday evening. Sensei leads with a demonstration of his own. This year we were all captivated by a stunning display of Iaido forms. To absolute silence and everyone’s absolute fixed gaze, the grace and beauty of the traditional Samurai weapon was brought to life before us. The student demonstrations that followed brought the usual mix of serious messages and brilliant fun.
Some of what happens at the Gasshuku just has to stay at the Gasshuku but let’s just say that in the spirit of fun there were some good sports and no one was immune from a bit of leg pulling. The “bear” from Kanshiwa form even made an appearance at one point as we took a fun look at kata application, the development of the traditional gi, the “closed dojo characters” and the “Five E.S.K.K Rites”. By the time we reached the closing salutation on Sunday evening we were all pretty much spent. Our muscles though, ached as much from the laughter we’d had as they did from the training!
I’ll leave the final words to some of those who were experiencing an E.S.K.K Gasshuku for the first time. Here's what they said...
We'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who worked to help make this weekend an absolute success. All the instructors, participants, organisers and of course, the wonderful hotel staff at The Crown, who always go the 'extra mile' to make sure that all our needs are catered for.
I found the whole weekend brilliant! It was especially good to become 'isolated' from the outside world and just immerse in the training. The level of support from fellow delegates was awesome, it's a long time since I have pushed myself so far, but I have shown myself what I can do, so I just need to keep it up. Even if I was walking like an old man for two days afterwards :-)