The Kyu Grade perspective – 2010 European Gasshuku report

By: Chris Davidson – IOGKF England – EGKA Shinzato Dojo

EGKA yellow belt, Chris Davidson, attended his first Gasshuku recently and what a Gasshuku he chose. Chris documented in detail his 2010 European Gasshuku experience and this article holds a unique perspective on the event, from the eyes of a kyu grade...

It may well have been the second time that Copenhagen has hosted the European Gasshuku; however for me the number was even more auspicious: ‘one’, as in ´first´, as in ´never before´. So was I nervous? Sure. This was new territory and I didn´t want to disappoint those who´d invested so much of their effort and energy in me so far – I was, after all, our dojo´s sole representative. On the flip side, I was keenly aware that I needed a break. Work had recently been very intense. My brain needed to focus on something other than putting a roof over my head and my body needed the endorphin rush that comes from serious exercise. I´m delighted to report that I loved the whole experience – and knew I was going to from the moment I entered the dojo on the first morning.

Seventeen countries had amassed 850 enthusiastic, kind and dedicated people for a week of ´mass education´. This was an interesting – I believe unique – point, as sensei Henrik Larsen reminded us in his brief welcome. His perspective was this; there is no other organisation that gathers so many people under one roof for the pure purpose of improving everyone´s performance. Sure, there are other professional and amateur bodies that hold annual conventions – I should know, I speak at enough of them. All these other conventions are either for entertainment or for competition – to celebrate ´the best´. There isn´t one of them that exist purely to help everyone improve. What a wonderful thought, and very inspirational if you´re one of karate´s neophytes.

The overall timetable

If you´ve yet to attend a Gasshuku and are unfamiliar with the timetable, this is how Copenhagen ran (and I understand they all tend to follow a similar format):
  –   Dan grades gather a hour earlier than everyone else
  –   All grades join in a half hour warm–up at around 10:00
  –   Divide into streams according to ability
  –   Two, one hour sessions, each with a different instructor
  –   All re–assemble for a closing half hour

Broadly speaking, you´re free from around 14:15 each day – so it´s a case of work in the morning and holiday in the afternoon.

The week – day by day

And so to the Karate itself. I was relieved to see so many white, yellow and orange belts. I guess my stream comprised approximately 40 students.

We were honoured to have Higaonna Sensei lead our first session. There are many other tales of this legendary figure, so I´ll not add to them inadequately here, other than to say how generous and humble he is. In terms of teaching, his key messages could all be traced back to the importance of (a) basic moves and (b) timing. For example, the basic idea of completing a move and then punching, as opposed to trying to do punching and footwork all at once. We spent much of the class doing the basic blocks and punches.

Our second session was conducted by Yamashiro sensei and I was utterly dumbfounded by the feline nature of his movements. His entire body flowed effortlessly from one pose to the next, seemingly more ballet than martial art, and truly beautiful to watch. The major learning point for me was hips and shoulders parallel to quote Sensei himself.

Tuesday was shared between Sensei George Andrews and Nakamura Sensei. Sensei George focussed on teaching us some basic self–defence. The major learning point was the extent to which the basic blocks can follow straight into an attack. For example, the raised (blocking) arm of jodan uke can be swiftly converted into an attack as the raised fist is brought down on (for example) the bridge of the attacker´s nose. Nakamura Sensei´s session reviewed the excellent wrist ´grabs and twists´ that we often practice with Sensei Steve in our own dojo.

Wednesday´s sessions were split between Sensei Henrik Larsen and Kuramoto Sensei, and I must say that I regard Kuramoto sensei´s session as the highlight of the week. All we did was Gekisai Dai Ni over and over and over (and over again) and all he said was, Getting better, one more time, while walking between the lines, correcting individual stances by what seemed to be little more than a few millimetres. He knew exactly what he wanted and was determined to get it out of each person in the class – a highly commendable approach for a teacher of any subject, not just Goju-ryu Karate.

Thursday morning began with Masuyama Sensei bravely tackling Kumite for Gekisai Dai Ichi. He showed great determination in getting everyone through it from start to finish, both the attacker´s moves and the matching defender´s moves. Even though the second half was a bit rushed, there´s no doubt that it was of value to the whole stream.

And then came ‘Mr T’. Those who´ve still to experience the light and delicate touch of Terauchi Sensei have a real treat in store – something equivalent to being run over by an express train, while being roared at by an angry bear. He really is a piece of work. He had us doing all manner of kicks, again, and again and again, while he walked between the lines encouraging the slow ones with a carefully placed boot. For all the ‘bluff and bluster’ it was executed with a twinkle in the eye. Although we all enjoyed the workout, I´m not quite sure how much of it found its way into long–term memory.

Friday´s sessions were led by our own Sensei Ernie and Sensei Linda. Unfortunately I had to miss Sensei Linda´s session to catch my flight and so my last session was with Sensei Ernie – and great it was too. The Danes (and other visiting countries) really loved his down to earth ‘street fighting stuff’. He was concerned with getting us more nimble on our feet, so we could better judge (and alter) the distance to our opponent. He also taught us some terrific moves for ‘looking after’ ourselves should the worst happen outside the carefully regimented world of the dojo.

The big learning points

Reflecting on the whole experience – and just from a Karate perspective – several things stand out. These are a mixture of personal observation and specifically taught points:

Observation: Westerners execute Kata too fast. Of course, this is a sweeping generality and I´m sure not true, but nonetheless, it still made a big impression on me as to how much slower the Japanese execute their Kata. This was nothing to do with the low–grade stream I was in – one could observe this just by looking around the hall. It seems to me that many people (Westerners?) confuse power and speed.

Taught point: Great emphasis was placed on the eyes being a primary target. This came up again and again. For example, great stress was laid on aligning the shuto uchi in Gekisai Dai Ichi with a strike to the eyes. Nowhere else on the face was acceptable – it had to be an eye–level strike.

Taught point: Gedan block (as in Gekisai Dai Ichi, for example) has to be (i) a very wide diameter circle and (ii) has to have a very ‘whip–like’ feel to it.

Taught point: Blocks are really attacks. By this I mean the go / hard attacks are capable of inflicting considerable damage in their own right, as well as offering a great set–up for subsequent attacks.

There was one other learning process I observed, almost by stealth really, which had a big impact on me. During one of the breaks I quietly observed Yamashiro Sensei executing a Kata, simply for his own pleasure – he wasn´t responding to a question from a student. His execution was light of touch and – here´s the point – at constant speed. From start to finish there was no pause, just a constant–speed flow from one stance into the next. So what? Well, what a great way of testing how well you know the moves (of any Kata). The normal approach of move–pause–move–pause–move, gives me just a millisecond to think about the next move, so I never really know whether I´m executing it by instinct, or by thought. I went back to my hotel room and lightly went through a couple of Kata, taking care to go at a constant (and slow) pace, with no pause at all. And yes, the process works – I unearthed a couple of moves that I clearly didn´t instinctively know – I was only getting them right by thinking about them in the pause between the moves. To this day, I have no idea what Yamashiro Sensei was doing by going through his Kata at this constant speed, but observing him doing it was the trigger for a great learning tool for my own kitbag.

Overall

It was a wonderful experience – both as Karate and as a holiday. I am glad I went and I would do it again. If you´ve never been, promise yourself the gift of attending. Good for the body. Good for the mind. Uplifting for the spirit.