"It is always a pleasure to host our annual Gasshuku. Of course, getting to spend a weekend in a nice hotel, training hard and teaching what I love is an absolute no-brainer. But without doubt, the cherry on the cake is always the pleasure of having such fantastic company. I always leave on Sunday evening feeling so proud to be part of such a wonderful budo family. Well done everyone and long may it continue!"
Our Gasshuku is a weekend training camp held annually where members and long-term supporters of our dojo are invited to 'come together under one roof' for a weekend of intense training.
During this time, participants support each other in their work towards both group and individual goals. We are also provided with the opportunity to get to know our fellow karate-ka better by laughing, chatting and spending time together as a family.
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn a new advanced kata, Seisan, but to pin point one activity is difficult because of the variety of sessions that we covered throughout the weekend. But despite the diversity, every session was connected and had a purpose and I genuinely feel that my understanding and attitude towards karate and what we train as a club for has changed for the better."
After checking in to the Crown Hotel on the Friday afternoon, we began with a warm up to prepare us for a physically and mentally demanding weekend to follow. First up was kata intervals - ten forms combined with ten intervals of ten reps of our favourite exercise - burpees!!
This was followed by a pad-work session where we practiced combinations on focus mitts, the main aim of this was to work on maintaining a rhythm, polishing technique and generating impact. We finished off with some close range sparring, with the goal of capitalising on available openings.
Our next session was a new experience for some - hojo undo using chi-ishi. The chi-ishi (strength or power stone) is a concrete weight attached to a wooden pole designed to develop integrated functional strength, muscle coordination and the maintenance of efficient structure. The session focussed on our five core movements, with some time towards the end to try out some supplementary exercises for upper arms and forearms.
To round off what had been a very physical day, we finished with some Mokuso (meditation) to allow us the opportunity to relax, concentrate and reflect upon what we had covered throughout the last few hours.
"The Gasshuku was brilliant as always! Three days of hard work and lots of laughs with good friends is a great way to spend a weekend!"
We were up at 6am on Saturday for some Kundalini Yoga with Catherine Roll. During this we practiced a very energising 'Kriya', with a session that certainly puts mind, body and spirit to the test! There are so many connections between Yoga and Karate, including specialist breathing techniques, building internal pressure to direct energy and efficient postural alignment.
For our next session, sensei provided us with the opportunity to learn one of our more advanced kata - Koryu (old style). In our dojo, this kata isn't usually taught until Shodan level and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were all impressed by the effort put in by everyone to learn and retain as much as possible.
"I had no idea what to expect from Gasshuku, but it was an unforgettable experience. The training was tough but after each session I always felt fulfilled, and didn't even mind the early mornings. Although I enjoyed every session, my favourite would have to be the Kiko (energy work) session on the Sunday morning and the following fitness and conditioning session. The weekend gave me the opportunity to try so many new things and to network with other like-minded karate practitioners from the dojo, who all made me feel so welcome. I would certainly recommend this event to any of our members."
We then moved on to looking at a comparison of styles with Alison and Warren Grice who demonstrated that, even though different styles of karate, and even martial arts, may differ slightly, the underlying principles are usually inherently the same and this allowed us to think outside the box when it come to practicing bunkai for a selection of movements.
After some time relaxing in the pool and Jacuzzi (or in the case of some, training in the gym or doing five mile runs) we moved on to Peter Hinde's kettlebell session which, as always, wasn't lacking in laughter, good music and lots of hard work. As had become the norm - everyone put in 100% and by the end, we were all pouring with sweat.
We then moved on to another session with sensei, looking at a selection of close-range applications (including parries, small surface striking, joint attacks, predictable response options and takedowns) that took influence from a number of kata. These provided us all with an insight into the importance of tactile awareness and meotode (the positive use of both upper limbs during an altercation).
As is our tradition, we had our participants demos on the Saturday night which covered many different aspects of our training. One group looked at situations where you may be at a disadvantage and provided sound advice on how these may be handled. Another group looked at the different stages of training and how our teachings may vary as students progress through the ranks. My own group even looked at the comparison of the New Zealand haka to a specially designed karate haka!
Participants again woke early on Sunday morning - this time for Kiko (energy work) with Jon Roll. The session involved the practice of Zhan Zhuang, standing completely still in four different positions for seven minutes each, whilst concentrating on your breath, alignment and body sensations. Although this may sound easy, it's actually extremely hard work to accomplish and certainly helped to prepare us all for our last day of training!
After breakfast, Jenny Ling lead us through a demanding fitness and conditioning session. This is always hard work (especially after already covering so much training), however, the energy in the room was electrifying. Jenny even commented that we all looked as fresh as we did on Friday - we still don't know whether these words were down to kindness or bad eyesight :-) We finished the session off with another E.S.K.K tradition - six minutes of high energy drills to music incorporating loads of enthusiasm!
We had some more free time following lunch so some of us decided to take that opportunity to go for a stroll around the surrounding while others experienced the magical healing properties of the Jacuzzi and some continued to train in the gym.
"It's hard to choose a favourite session because they were all so different, yet all united in their camaraderie. All had interesting subjects whether it was physical, spiritual or informative. It was simply a pleasure to spend time with such amazing and like-minded individuals who know the meaning of friendship, support and of course, fun!"
When we walked into Tom Duggan's self defence session, we were promptly asked to split into groups with people of varying ages, karate experience, etc. which provided us with another opportunity to learn more about each other and why we began studying karate.
To start the session we discussed the definition of karate and self-defence and the relationship between them both, before exploring the aspects of the Cooper Colour Codes, target hardening, situational and environmental awareness, which we coupled with the principles we are taught in our dojo syllabus. We also analysed a number of video clips showing real-life altercations, some of which were pretty scary! We had so much to discuss that we ran out of time, so Tom promised to pick up again next year from where we left off!
The finale of what had been a fantastic weekend, were presentations delivered by John Smallman and Lewis Cullen, as a formal requirement for their shodan grading requirements. John discussed the history of karate and the development of the art from Okinawa, how it was influenced and spread across the world. Lewis looked at the development and history of Kushanku Kata, exploring different versions, lineages, techniques and applications. Both presentations were extremely informative and provided those watching with even more ideas and theories for our own personal studies.
I've had the honour of attending all eleven of our Gasshaku's and I've loved every one! Many have brought me a level of discomfort due to the physicality of the training, but this is how we grow. I've been pushed and motivated along the way by my fellow karate-ka and indeed, we've laughed, and over the years got to know each other like a family. We have opened our hearts when distressed and sought advice from good, trusted friends. There is no ego - just lots of hard work, focus, and the genuine enjoyment of each others company.
So here's to next year - Bring it on!