Japan Gasshuku with Sensei’s Higaonna, Terauchi & Yamashiro

By: Sensei Helmut Leitner – IOGKF Australia

Regular visitor to Higaonna Dojo, Sensei Helmut Leitner, took the up the opportunity to travel to Aichi in mainland Japan participate in the National summer Gasshuku. Over 100 participants took the time to travel to event and receive tuition from Higaonna Sensei, Terauchi Sensei and Yamashiro Sensei...

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During my recent visits to Okinawa in February 2010 I heard of the Japan Gasshuku while I had a few well-earned drinks with Kuramoto Sensei after another hard session. I decided then to participate at this Gasshuku and also take the opportunity to visit Kyoto with my wife after the event, something which was long overdue on my list of holiday destinations.

We arrived at Osaka – Kansai Airport quite late on Wednesday evening and therefore spent the night at the Kansai airport hotel, being not sure where to go next. The first thing we noticed was the high heat and humidity, something that continued until we left Japan - quite a shock to the system after escaping the Australian Winter.

In the morning I made a quick call to Kuramoto Sensei in Okinawa, he instructed me to take the train to Nagoya where he would then organise to pick us up. So off we went the next day, taking the bullet train from Kansai airport to Shin Osaka and then on to Nagoya station. It was quite overwhelming to see so many people everywhere, compared to coming from our comparatively laid back town in the far north of New South Wales.

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As we arrived early we decided to have some lunch and then call Kuramoto Sensei again to let him know that we have arrived and were ready to be picked up. After a short wait Kuramoto Sensei arrived with two members from Sensei Sasaki’s dojo to take us the Gasshuku venue - Aichi Health Plaza in Higashiura Town, Aichi Prefecture. It was really nice to see Kuramoto Sensei again after the German Gasshuku in Halle 2 month earlier, at the end of June.

The drive seemed to be never ending and we lost all sense of direction, all of a sudden we stopped and I noticed a large Kenkon on the wall. We got out of the car not knowing what to expect or where we were.

We were told to get out of the car and entered the building and realized it was a Sensei Sasaki’s dojo. In true Japanese tradition we were welcomed by a group of dojo members, all black belts, with a lot of bowing going on, a somewhat strange experience for my wife who is not too familiar with Japanese customs.

Still not knowing what was going on, we assumed this place must be close to the Gasshuku venue - wrong again.

All of a sudden to our surprise, Higaonna Sensei entered the dojo dressed in his gi. After the usual greeting I was told by Kuramoto Sensei that Higaonna Sensei would be teaching Sesan kata and then would come back with us to the Gasshuku venue.

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This was quite a treat, since Sensei taught the black belts Sesan Kata virtually from scratch for around 2 hours, something I had not seen him do before. I picked up many details as a result.

Finally after the class ended we all moved on to the Aichi Plaza. After again what seemed to be an endless drive we arrived at this huge complex and health resort with great facilities, large gardens for morning walks or jogging etc.

After settling in and a quick refresh, Higaonna Sensei, Kuramoto Sensei, Yamamoto San (our driver from Sasaki Sensei’s dojo) and I went out for a quick evening meal to a local noodle house and returned back to the hotel where Kuramoto Sensei and I had a few social drinks and caught up with some news. Kuramoto Sensei finally decided to become a professional Karate teacher and is opening a dojo for kids in Naha shortly, as well as continuing to practice and teach at the Okinawa honbu dojo every evening!

Friday 1pm we finally registered and an hour later the Gasshuku officially started with well over 100 students attending.

I was also happy to see the only other Westerner there, Thwhiti, originally from New Zealand but now residing in Okinawa for the last few years. The Gasshuku started with the usual junbi undo and kihon for the first  hour,  then we had to split up in various groups with Terauchi Sensei, Yamashiro Sensei  and Kuramoto Sensei taking the lower grades.

Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to watch what the other groups where practicing,

Higaonna Sensei taught us the higher grades (Yondan and above) and concentrated almost the entire Gasshuku on Kata.

This was really a dream come true for me, as this was what I was hoping for. We covered Shisochin (go and ju), Sanseru including bunkai, Sanchin, Sepai in lots of detail and Suparinpei also in lot of detail ( and both go and ju) over the two days.

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Saturday was much the same for my group, lots of Kata training, both mornings and afternoon.

Saturday evening we had our Sayonara party with lots of good food and drinks. Everyone also received a Bingo card with many good prizes to be won - both Thwhiti and I were lucky enough to have a win.

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After the party Kuramoto Sensei, Thwhiti and I went to Kuramoto Sensei’s room for a few more farewell drinks - a decision I learned to regret at Sunday mornings Suparinpei session, however it seemed to helped me with the Ju aspect!

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Sunday the last day we continued with Suparinpei, with the last hour a large group of children joining the class, finishing up with Gekisai dai ichi and lots of kihon (Okinawa honbu dojo style).

The Gasshuku finished with the customary group photo session and goodbye’s.

Unfortunately we had to check out of our rooms prior to the end of the Gasshuku, barely having time to change before departing, even without having a chance to have a shower.

As we were just preparing to sort out our bus to the nearest train station, Yamamoto San and Kuramoto Sensei came again to our rescue and offered us a ride to the Nagoya main station. Before our own departure from the Aichi Plaza, all Gasshuku members waited outside to see Sensei Higaonna and Yamashiro Sensei off, Sensei still wished us a good holiday in Kyoto from the car window before driving off.

Finally we also left for Nagoya station; Yamamoto San still treated us with a traditional Japanese lunch half way there before heading for the station and on to Kyoto.

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My sincere thanks to Kuramoto Sensei for assisting us all the way and in fact organising basically everything for us, we could not have done this without him.

Also many thanks to Sasaki Sensei, Yamamoto San and all his dojo members for their hospitality, transport, Sasaki Sensei’s presents he presented us with on Friday evening at our room and in general looking so well after us.

It was a fantastic experience and pleasure to have been part of it all.