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IOGKF WORLD UBUNTU GASSHUKU – Stellenbosch, South Africa

By: Sensei Bakkies Laubscher & Lenelle Forster

A world 1st! In one week, the IOGKF World Chief instructors and general Gasshuku, along with the International Friendship tournament was all held in the one location. A massive success would be an understatement for what Sensei Bakkies Laubscher and his team managed to pull off at the Ubuntu event…

Chief Instructors Gasshuku report

The most senior activity of the Ubuntu event was the leadership cadre’s training – the Country Chief Instructor Gasshuku conducted by Higaonna Sensei and attended by 41 country chief instructors, Kambukai members and senior members of 5th Dan and higher rank.

The event was launched with a dinner at a historical brandy distilling cellar dating back to 1845, named after its original Dutch owner, Van Ryn, situated outside of Stellenbosch in the countryside, a beautiful setting with a warm natural ambiance – the ideal opportunity for members to ‘catch up’ with each other over a glass of 20 year old brandy and the famous wines of the region.

The official welcome was done by the host Sensei Bakkies, who expressed his appreciation for the honor to host this event. He made a special welcome to his teacher Higaonna Sensei, Terauchi Sensei and Nakamura Sensei and concluded by emphasizing the importance of the forum as the backbone of the organization with certain exclusive privileges but also responsibilities.

In his address as Chief Instructor, Higaonna Sensei welcomed everyone from his heart and expressed his gratitude to South Africa for organizing this event and elaborated a little on the country’s involvement in the development of the IOGKF since its establishment.  South Africa was only the second western country in which Higaonna Sensei taught outside Japan and he expressed his appreciation for the loyalty and support of the South Africans through the years.

What followed the next week was an unbelievable, unforgettable experience of exclusive and unique training with Higaonna Sensei in a very ‘close’ and confidential environment.  Higaonna Sensei covered the ‘progress line’ or development road from the basic to some advanced objectives of the various fundamentals of Goju Ryu in such a way that each individual could digest, adapt and apply it, depending on one’s own point in time and level on the Goju Ryu ‘Way’ or development curve.

It is impossible to even attempt to explain the depth of revelation from Sensei’s side at these training sessions – every moment of training, every movement, every word he spoke, contained some kind of message or ‘direction pointing’ for each individual!  Like a true Teacher, he presented the knowledge in such a way that, the higher one’s own level, the more substance you would have experienced.  One focus point was to take the various breathing techniques in the Haishughata and illustrated how to incorporate it in the execution of the Kaishughata for the various levels of expertise, enough food for thought to keep any serious student of Karate Do focused for a long, long time!

General Gasshuku report

The general Ubuntu Gasshuku, the actual main activity of the week, kicked off on Monday morning, 25 October, with a total of 323 members of which 202 were Black Belts.  It started with a joint warming up session led by Higaonna Sensei, after which individual group training was done.

Monday evening saw everyone cutting loose at the traditional ‘Welcome’ party at an old historical Cape Dutch style wine estate, Nooitgedacht, with the local cuisine and fruits of viticulture in barrels presented in ‘bottomless’ mode!  A good thing that the busses had to leave back to the village at a certain time – it saved a lot of medicinal requirements the next day!!

One of the highlights was a performance by Basson Laubscher, youngest son of Sensei Bakkies, and his band playing some foot stomping music – it was great to see people dancing and enjoying themselves in such a beautiful location, with even Sensei Bakkies getting on stage with a guitar and joining Basson in a rendition of some real oldies! 

When Sensei Bakkies originally planned the Gasshuku, an important conviction was that every member attending should spend maximum time with Higaonna Sensei to expose as many local members as possible to Higaonna Sensei’s teachings, as South Africa, as many non-European countries, are pretty much ‘isolated’ as far as regular contact with Higaonna Sensei is concerned because of financial and distance factors, so every opportunity had to be optimally utilized.   Therefore it was Higaonna Sensei’s prerogative to decide on the duration and nature of the combined sessions.

It is suicide (and boring!) to plan a technical schedule for such an event in a precise, clinical way – there always has to be some flexibility for improvisation and spontaneity in synergy with the energy and mood of the Teacher and students, but general training objectives were to be in line with classical, traditional Goju Ryu and the World Friendship tournament:

  • Kata teaching by Higaonna Sensei – the ‘absolute fundamental’ of Okinawan Goju Ryu.
  • Hojo Undo. It is very seldom that Gasshukus of this magnitude has enough or any suitable Hojo Undo apparatus available, so a special effort was made to ensure enough Chi’shi and Makiwara (punching pads) to be available.
  • Kumite.  The end goal is after all, self defense in a civilian environment, so the focus was on various simulated Kumite forms – from kakie, basic sparring to self defense, with movement/body shifting a focal point.  Specialized training would be done such as actual defense against a short club, basics of falling as well as ippon, nihon and sanbon Kumite drills.

For the first three days, the mass group training focused mainly on Junbi Undo and Kihon , thereafter followed by various group trainings.

Higaonna Sensei focused on the Kata for the various levels of the groups, from hand and legs/feet training to combining the sequences from the Kata as only a true Master like himself could do!  He spent considerable time to explain the ‘madness behind the method’ and why certain things were done in a certain way for all levels to have in deeper insight and understanding of the system.

Sensei Bakkies did Hojo Undo and sabaki type movement training for the various levels, explaining the relation and application of the different breathing in Haishughata to Chi’shi training and then applying it in ‘power’ Kakie, with the emphasis on when to breathe in and out. He also touched a little on body positioning and strategy for various kakie scenarios. For the Makiwara training, he demonstrated the various ways to approach Makiwara or punching pads training to reach different objectives such as power, stamina and speed.  In the movement training, he focused on side and circular movements – the essential nature of Goju Ryu fighting!

Terauchi Sensei concentrated on the various yakusoku Kumite – attack/counter attack forms, from ippon Kumite through to variation such as nihon and sanbon jiyu Kumite, demonstrating his own agility and speed with his remarkable power in execution!

Sensei Vincent February did the various aspects of club fighting and defense against an opponent armed with a club such as distance and strategy, with Sensei Gawie du Bois teaching some basics of falling with Sensei’s Jorge Monteiro, Tetsuji Nakamura, Luis Nunes and Linda Marchant covering various aspects of their own choice, all receiving huge accolades of appreciation and admiration from the groups they taught.

During the last two days, an additional junior group of 202 members, from yellow to junior Black Belt joined the Gasshuku, bringing the total to 524!

For these two days, Higaonna Sensei stuck to the ‘old school’ of training in a mass class and covering the wide spectrum of Junbi Undo, Kihon, Kata as well as some basic Kumite forms, such as Sandangi.

It was truly mind blowing to experience the energy and atmosphere created by the synergy between a true Master of the art and 500 plus devoted students who literally drank in every single moment with him!

During the Masters Demonstrations before the tournament, it was again an unforgettable and historical experience to watch Higaonna Sensei perform Suparinpei or Pechurin Kata, illustrating the manifestation of 60 years of Goju Ryu training in one being!

The week was concluded with the Sayonara Party at the unique Moyo African cultural style outdoor restaurant (you can actually sit at tables in trees!), with many traditional dishes as well as some imported cuisine in abundance.

Moyo is impossible to describe on paper – you need to have been there or converse with someone who actually was there!

Everybody had their faces painted in the traditional way upon arrival and the entertainment was local traditional artists with their welcoming and happy rhythmic tribal dances and songs, getting everyone on their feet, especially when they concluded with the 2010 FIFA Football World Cup song Waka Waka by Shakira!

The ultimate highlight was when Higaonna Sensei was called on stage as a guest of the local tribal ‘King’ and was invited to perform a welcome dance with him, consisting of rhythmic high kicks and stomps with a traditional animal skin draped around his shoulders - did the ‘King’ get the surprise of his lifetime! 

Higaonna Sensei showed his absolute zest for life and his respect and understanding of different cultures and made this one of the most memorable moments in IOGKF history!