Christmas 2008 came and went, as it has been doing for many years. Nothing new there. We find ourselves midway between that, let’s face it – joyous – occasion and the beginning of the New Year. We’ve been there before. Thus it was time for the special Dragon Hill Christmas training session – where we’ve been before (every year, in fact, for the last … errr … lots of years.

 

At eleven am on a very cold, very crisp morning, members of the Wantage Karate Club congregated in the car park of Dragon Hill, having made the trek all the way from their nice, warm beds (separately, you understand), dressed warmly (though warmly enough? Only time and frost bite would tell) and understandably excited by the thought of the traditional Christmas excursion.

 

At this stage I looked around at the assembled karateka, who now deserve an honourable mention. Sensei Paul was there, of course, flanked by Baz Knight who, through sheer unadulterated passion, had arrived a whole hour early (sorry for getting the times wrong, Baz). Brenda Longmuir, Kay Savage and Kerry Cross were there with Alison Franklin and Andrew Piggot. We duly made our way across a large field towards Dragon hill, on our way being joined by Ian Jordan. One of the best turnouts we have had!

 

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Did I mention it was cold?

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As we climbed the steps to Dragon Hill I started to wonder just what would be in store for us this year. This is my 5th Dragon Hill experience (I have attended every year since joining the club in 2004) and they have always been memorable, partly for the karate, partly for the weather (we have not yet had a heat wave at the end of December, though I live in hope) and partly for the scenery. It is such a joy to be outside with beautiful views over the Oxfordshire countryside, especially on a crisp winter’s day.

 

As I arrived on the top of the hill, the group duly assembled in a circle and then began to run around the top of the hill, to initiate the warm-up. Though the official temperature was about one degree Centigrade, wind chill made it feel much colder than this, so the warm-up was a most welcome start to the session. After a jog we did some basic stretching and then lined up ready for the lesson to begin, facing away from the White Horse (since the Hill of that name is adjacent to Dragon hill – for anyone not sure of the local geography). I gazed towards the horizon and saw, soaring close to the Hill, a red kite, blissfully unaware of the lesson unfolding below.

 

Everyone assembled was a capable karateka since the lowest grade present was brown belt so there was no need for any preliminaries. Sensei Paul started us off by all performing Kihon Kata (though his “special” version of it looked more like Heian Shodan) followed by Heian Shodan and Nidan. We then turned ninety degrees clockwise and performed Heian Sandan, then another ninety degrees befoe performing Heian Yondan. We turned again, practised Heian Godan and then turned again to go through Tekki Shodan.

 

This, I felt, was an interesting start to the special lesson. Previous Dragon Hill bouts have involved advanced traditional Shotokan kata (Chinte, Jitte, etc), other advanced kata (Ten no Kata and Sanchin), associated bunkai and strike shield work. I idly wondered why the lesson was starting off so “basic”. I was soon to find out.

 

Having performed these katas, we were instructed to perform a left oi tsuki. From there we had to step backwards with gedan baai and then, yes, you guessed it (well maybe you didn’t) continue performing Kihon Kata in reverse. After this we moved on to Heian Shodan, again in reverse, and continued with each kata, performing them backwards. I vaguely know Heian Nidan backwards and I even, in a perverse way, quite enjoy it, but there is a marked difference between performing kata backwards in the relative comfort of a dojo with regular walls to help direct you and doing so on the top of a cold, windswept hill with nothing to help but a group of other equally confused karateka.

 

Somehow we eventually managed to fumble our way through Heian Godan, each of us furiously concentrating on the kata at hand to try to predict the next move – I mean the previous move, which was the next move – oh, you know what I mean. Fortunately there was a brief respite then since our next kata was “only” a mirror image of Tekki Shodan, which I find a little easier than some of the Heians backwards.

 

Once we had performed this, we have a brief break. I had brought along some hot, milky, sugary coffee which a few of us drank before returning to a traditional line for the second half of the session.

 

Did I mention it was cold? Though the wind was biting like a rabid dog, I had to take my hat off to Alison. She recently achieved her black belt and must have decided that she was therefore invincible, since throughout all this she wore no gloves at all. No gloves. I must remember this immunity to pain the next time we spar!

 

The second half of the lesson involved Hangetsu. We performed this a few times, though using zenkutsu dache in place of hangetsu dache. After a few iterations,

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we split into groups of three (luckily there were nine of us): one of each group would perform zenkutsu dache while the other two used spare white belts Sensei Paul had brought along,

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wrapped around the ankles of the third, to pull their ankles inward (the idea being a strong stance would not falter under this pressure).

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We then practised Hangetsu using hangetsu dache where appropriate, for a few more times, before returning to our groups of three. A similar exercise ensured only this time the belt holders tried to pull the ankles outward, again with the implicit idea the a good hangetsu dache would not falter under this abnormal force.

 

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After a final few iterations of the kata (it is amazing how warm my legs were feeling by this stage, even if my

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body was starting to spasm) we paired up and practised some bunkai for this kata. We started off by having our partner attack right hand oi tsuki.

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The kata can tell us to block nagashi uke left hand feeding the attack through to the right hand, following up with a grab and pull down / punch combination.

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We then moved on to the mae geri gedan barai / gyaku tsuki / age uchi combination, this time with the attacker using a pad to help with aim and the “feeling” of the technique, and ended up with a block / mikizuki geri / punch combination.

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Finally, two hours were up and, after a brief photo shoot, we left the Hill and headed back to my house where my wife Barbara had prepared a nice, hot stew to help us warm up again.

 

And so here I am once again, sitting in my nice warm house and thinking back to another stunning day on the Hill. Training in 2009 will be starting in just one week’s time (with the traditional 2009 techniques – who ever thought that one up??) though I, for one, am glad that I filled in some of the time between Christmas and that baptism of fire by braving the elements (I did mention it was cold, right?) and joining friends for some benign torture.

 

The attending karateka ...

Left to right, Ian, Brenda, Kay, Kerry, Alison, Paul, Baz, Andrew and Dave
Dave Paine