Friday 15th May saw a group of Wantage karateka going south. Well, more south-west, actually, as we made our way to Devon Cliffs for the 6th annual TSKA Residential Karate Training course. Everyone in the group had been many times before and had been looking forward to seeing old friends, making new ones and practising a lot of karate.

 

The journey was uneventful (the best sort of journey, I have found) and very soon we had sorted out our caravans and a few of us started breaking open some beers as an appetizer for some beer. The training started relatively early this year with a tai chi session on the beach led by Sensei Paul Mitchell who is not only a 4th dan in shotokan karate but has also been practising tai chi for nearly 20 years. We did this with him a couple of years ago and I had thoroughly enjoyed that, so I had been looking forward to more of the same. After some warm up exercises we practised the short form; this, I am guessing, meant a short kata though it seemed pretty long to me. As always the flowing movements were relaxing, particularly so next to the rolling ocean as it lapped gently against the shore a few feet away. Having practised this a few times we partnered up for some tai chi pair work; though tai chi is often seen as an effective form of exercise for the elderly, it is also a very efficient means of self defence. The pair work we did was necessarily simple but is demonstrated how tai chi could be used and, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hopefully this will become a TSKA tradition.

 

After an hour or so of this (I confess to losing all track of time, getting lost in the environment) we headed back to our caravans to freshen up before the other main event of the evening: a visit to The Major. As is the norm for the Wantage crew (group? rabble?) we all congregated at the caravan of Brenda, Kay and Kerry for hearty meal (a delicious shepherds pie followed by cake – thank you ladies!!!) followed by the traditional sing-a-long led by Tony ‘the crooner’. I have known The Major (or, as he is sometimes known, Major Beers) for a number of years and have always enjoyed his company: this year was to be no different. Proceedings finished at 3am when, sore of throat and wobbly of leg, those of us who weren’t lucky enough to stay in the ladies plush caravan wandered back to our own for some much needed sleep before the following morning’s proceedings.

 

Saturday dawned as early as ever and we all headed back to the ladies caravan (let’s call it the boudoir for ease of reference) for some breakfast. Then it was straight to the local sport centre for the beginning of our karate training. This years instructor lineup consisted of Senseis Peter Manning, 6th dan, John Eudan, 5th dan and the aforementioned Paul Mitchell.

 

Sensei Manning led us through the warm up and stretching followed by the traditional starting combination (four of each: oi tsuki, age uke, soto uke, uchi uke, shuto uke, mae geri, mawashi geri, yoko geri keage then kekomi and ushiro geri). As usual we did this slowly, then medium speed and then fast. After this I for one could consider myself warmed up! We then split into graded groups (coloured belts, brown belts and black belts) and, as a black belt, I had the pleasure of Sensei Eudan . He started off with some basic combinations (choko tsuki twice, step forward oi tsuki, back foot to front then front back oi tsuki and an equivalent age uke and soto uke combination) followed by partner work practising those, looking for correct timing and above all distance. But this was the aperitif. After a while we stopped this to practise a new kata – Senka. This is an Asai kata that was taught to Sensei Eudan by Sensei Richard Amos. From my experience it is not a kata you would find on a typical shotokan syllabus which, though understandable since it is complex and incredibly difficult to perform correctly, is a shame since its flowing, undulating movements and spinning turns are beautiful to watch. By the end of the session we all had a fairly good grasp of the basics and I determined I would not make the usual mistake of forgetting it! Time will tell… As we left the dojo to grab a shower and some lunch at the boudoir we were each issued with a TSKA residential 2009 t-shirt.

 

Saturday evening provided a departure from the traditional since an association party had been organised. At the duly appointed hour we all headed towards the venue, not quite sure what to expect. Initially, of course, we started to eat and drink but whilst indulging in this, one of my favourite pass times, we were invited to enrol in groups for a quiz, and this of course we duly did. Ten teams in all entered the quiz, that posed questions on general knowledge of 2008, the London Underground (I kid you not) and, of course, karate. The competition was stiff, nerves tingled and the atmosphere was tense. Massive concentration could be seen on everyone’s faces as we strove to diligently answer the questions. Well, ok, it wasn’t quite like that, but I wanted to big up the fact that my team (the Wantage Willburies) won, despite a ribbing at an earlier lesson on our ability to count. The evening continued with dancing, drinking and chatting, followed by more drinking, dancing and chatting. At a little after midnight, the venue closed and the Wantage crew headed back to the boudoir for some more alcohol, chat and general merriment. Again, at a little after three, we headed back to our own beds to rest in preparation for day 2 of the course.

 

Sunday is a rather odd day, I always find, on these courses. It is like Saturday but spelt differently, though it shares many of the same letters in its name. But I digress. After the standard warm up we were treated to the presence of Sensei Mitchell, who took us through some light basics followed by how they could be applied in an effective manner.

 

Next up was the turn of Sensei Eudan who started the lesson by very kindly helped us consolidate our fading memories of Senka with some more of its practise. We then started on a ju ippon exercise with specific block/counter combinations to each attack to help promote timing, tai sabaki (evasion) and distancing. These consisted of the following attacks/counters:

  • Oi tsuki jodan: moving back 45 degrees with shuto uke, mae ashi mawashigeri & gyaku tsuki
  • Oi tsuki chudan: moving in quickly to jam the attack with a chudan ude uchi, gyaku tsuki
  • Mae geri: stepping through past the opponent with gedan barai, kizami tsuki, then throwing the opponent over the forward foot and finishing with a counter
  • Yoko geri: moving back and to the side with nagashi uke, spinning behind to deliver enpi uchi, then spinning back as a reset (boy did that help with the dojo spinning)
  • Mawashi geri: stepping at 45 degrees past the opponent with kizami tsuki, then stepping with the front foot away (now at 90 degrees) throwing shuto uchi to the neck, optionally followed with a throw
  • Ushiro geri: shuffling back (to get the correct distance for the counter) with nagashi uke, then continuing the body round (in the same way as the block) with an ushiro geri counter, after which the kicking leg was returned to its original position without touching the floor on the way back

 

Once we had been able to remember these defences we paired up and, slowly but with increasing speed, went through them again, all the while Sensei Eudan wandering between us making helpful comments and giving the occasional praise.

 

Sensei Manning joined us towards the end of the proceedings and took us through Kankudai. Once we had done this a couple of times we were joined by Sensei Eudan who stood at the opposite side of the class so that those who weren’t sure of it had someone to watch.

 

After training, as any of you who have been on a TSKA residential will know, came the turn of the dreaded beach training. This has always involved some basics and take downs on the sand, sometimes with kata training, followed by some basics standing waist heigh in the freezing sea. I have not yet met anyone who actually enjoys standing in the sea whilst punching, kicking and blocking, though everyone (myself included) always leave with spirits heigh and looking forward to the next year’s sojourn. This time was to be different, however: since the weather had been very blustery and rainy, it had been decided to perhaps just paddle in the waters for the sake of safety. So we duly assembled on the sand, facing the cold, cold waters and started our training – stretching followed by some simple basics and the occasional sprint to the water and back to get the blood flowing. We then practised some takedowns. These involved the opponent throwing oi tsuki whilst the defender blocked soto uke, turning into enpu uchi. After that first strike, the defender was to turn and throw a second enpi with the other elbow and then continue the turn, taking the opponent down and finishing with something suitable. And then we headed into the sea for our “paddle”. After an initial safety briefing “keep the children in sight at all times and keep them shallow”, we proceeded into the iceberg riddled waters (ok, I made that up) to throw some kicks, punches and blocks along with loud kiais that seemed to be drowned out by the crashing waves (though I do find they help in these situations). Finally, after over an hour standing in that cold water (well, alright, 10 minutes but it seemed longer), we headed out to the warm sand and then on to a warm shower.

 

Sunday evening saw the Wantage crew sitting comfortably in the boudoir being entertained by the crooner whilst drinking the final supply of gin, vodka, cider, lager and anything else that came to hand. A fitting end to the day.

 

Monday morning began, as it tends to do, and the TSKA karateka all headed down to the sport centre for the last day of training. After the standard warmup, the dan grades were initially presented with Sensei Mitchell who, as usual, got us thinking and questioning our karate and why we do things the way we do them. We looked at some standard combinations (particularly the soto uki, enpi uchi, ukraken, gyaku tsuki, gedan barai combination) and how they may be used more effectively and in a way that might actually work, rather than the typical applications I have heard so many times before. After practising this with a partner for a while the lesson was (all too quickly) finished and we stood in front of Sensei Manning. We started off with blocking age uke (hidari) gedan barai (migi) from standing. Some of the senior grades could see what was coming and I looked forward to practising Sochin with relish – one of my favourite katas. We then practised sochin dache and then, finally, went on to spending some time with the complete kata. After this we split into groups and were given some bag work, first punching (1 minute punching a bag is a lot harder than it sounds!) and then applying heisa geri. At this stage I thought the lesson must surely be at an end, but Sensei Manning had one further exercise for us. We paired up and did some light freestyle kumite and then, after a few changes of this, continues in groups of three with two against one. Never one to shirk a (controlled) fight, Sensei Manning volunteered myself and Paul Edwards to fight against him by means of a demonstration. Having demolished us he then got us all to continue in a similar vein for a while until, tired but elated, the lesson and thus the course finished for another year.

 

As is usual on these courses, there was a TSKA grading and I am happy to report that Kerry Cross and Ian Jordan were both graded to 1st dan black belt and Karolina Nenca was graded to 4th kyu purple/white belt.

 

So ended another TSKA residential. The enthusiasm of the instructors was, of course, evident, as was their knowledge and approachability. But what struck home for me was how the standard of karate is improving within the TSKA. It is clear that the senior instructors are looking at how karate can be used effectively and efficiently (rather than never questioning things and doing moves by rote, as I have seen before). As you may be able to guess from the above, I enjoyed the course once again and am looking forward to 2010, and the 7th TSKA residential.

 

Dave Paine