From February 13th-15th, 2015, Vale Karate hosted its first International Gasshuku. A “Gasshuku” is, in essence, an extended training session, or training outside normal dojo hours, and as such we already do an annual one after Christmas on Dragon Hill (see other posts about some of these). This one was different – not to mention much larger! A little history might set the context…

It all started in 2008. Luca Zabeo from Italy was training with us. He arranged with the then club instructor, Paul Edwards, for Luca’s old instructor to visit for a course. The instructor in question was Sensei Italo Castellaro, a 7th dan black belt and holder of many karate titles, among them several World, European and Italian championships. In 2011, I was staying on the Belgian coast and whilst there decided to contact the local karate club for some extra training (you can read about that here). The instructors I met and trained with on that visit included Senseis Stephanie Bogaert, herself holder of numerous titles including several World, European and Belgian championships, Peter Daenekynt (a former Belgian national squad member) and Wim Vandeweghe. I was impressed with the quality and dedication of all of them!

In 2013, Tim and Wende Blowfield informed me that they were heading to Venice for a holiday. I remembered that Sensei Italo lived in that area and suggested they train with him. To cut a long story short, I arranged this with Luca and Sensei Italo very kindly opened his dojo especially for Tim and Wende to train with him. They were hugely impressed with the quality of his karate (and that of his class, more and more of who turned up to train as the weeks went on) and the welcome they received. Upon their return, they told me that Sensei Italo was pen to the idea of returning to England to teach again. I remembered my training in Belgian and an idea was born.

Over 20 years ago, I first met Sensei John Parnell (who is now 5th dan) and was hugely impressed by his skill and humility in karate. I had trained with him many times and kept in touch with him (indeed – I had introduced him to our club in 2005 and he had taught us several times since). He has also won many championships including a world title with Sensei Richard Amos’ WTKO. I figured: why not have three world champions teaching together?

The event was set in motion, Tim and Wende liaising with the Italians, me with the Belgians. Now as I have said, I was already hugely impressed with the five instructors mentioned, but there were others that also always inspire me and I was thus utterly thrilled when Senseis Paul Mitchell and Andi Kidd also said they would be happy to participate at the event!

I won’t bore you with the details. A massive effort went in to organising the event, agreeing suitable times, arranging for the main hall in Wantage Leisure Centre to be available for us (sorry, footballers), booking the entire Court Hill youth hostel for visitors accommodation, organising a realistic timetable where the instructors who also wanted to train could do so and yet everyone got the chance to teach everyone (that was no mean feat I can tell you!) and arranging party/social venues for the Friday and Saturday evenings, arranging food and organising the logistics of transport with a minibus and cars. In fact massive is a bit of an understatement and I have to thank everyone who helped, either physically or simply with their enthusiasm – particularly Tim and Wende without whom this event would not have happened.

Due to the numbers that had expressed an interest in the event, four groups were to be formed: white to blue/purple belt (group 1), brown belt, 1st dan black belt and 2nd dan and above (group 4).

Friday 13th

Training on Friday was given by Senseis Italo, John, Peter, Stephanie, Wim and me. It was split in to two sessions (with a warm up by Rick Smith from Wantage – thank you Rick!). I was down to teach group 1. I wanted to give my classes something they would not know and, if possible, something their seniors would also not know so I went with Junro Shodan. I started by explaining the benefits of the kata and a little of its history and then provided some drills to help the students learn the kata. By the end of the session I was pretty happy that most students were able to get at least most of the way through the kata.

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During the second session I was with the brown belts. Again, I wanted to give the class something they would not know and, if possible, something their seniors would also not know so I went with Junro Nidan. The group picked the kata up pretty quickly, enabling me the luxury of spending some time with them on some ashi waza to help cement some of the Junro Nidan combinations.

All too soon, the class had finished and we were heading off to prepare for the evening’s entertainment. This was a simple pub visit – the Shoulder of Mutton – which was inappropriately named since it serves vegetarian food. But the food is of exceptionally high quality and the ales there, both in quality and selection, is second to none. The evening was spent happily recollecting the evenings courses and getting to know each other better.

Saturday 14th

At 7am I found myself at the Court Hill accommodation to collect Stephanie (sorry, Gill!). We were to visit the studios of BBC Radio Oxford where we were to be interviewed about the course and karate in general, me in my capacity of course organiser and instructor of the club, Stephanie in her capacity of visiting instructor and karate champion.

IMG_20150214_083547The interview was surprisingly relaxing. We both sat in a lovely and comfortable studio answering questions about our passion (I’ll try to get a recording of the interview on iPlayer to post …). Afterwards, as my penance for dragging Stephanie out of bed so early, I took her to the local Costa for breakfast.

The afternoon saw us all standing in the main hall once again ready for more karate. We were joined by Senseis Andi and Paul. This time the warm up was performed by Sensei Stephanie herself. After the warm up, we split off in to the usual groups – this time I was able to train for most of the classes. The time went in a blur of activity. Sensei Italo took us through kata Enpi, and after a while split us in to groups of three where we focussed on key aspects of bunkai for the kata. It was refreshing and I loved it!

During session four I was to teach the 1st dans (group three) though I had just found out that Sensei Italo would need to leave his group of brown belts half way through the lesson to help prepare for the Italian demonstration, so I decided to have his class join me at that point. I took the dan grades through some kizami zuki/gyaku zuki techniques, emphasising specific details and advantages of yori ashi and sugi ashi and, whilst they practised that, worked to ensure that no technique telegraphing was going on (so easy to do when you are concentrating on which foot is supposed to move when). Once the brown belts joined, I switches the session to a kata based on kihon kata – but one that the students had evidently not come across before (apart from mine, who had seen this sort of thing from me before). We finished by doing kihon kata three times in succession with no pause, so that the students could see that just one kata practised three times can be very, very tiring, even though it doesn’t sound like much! All through this part of the lesson, the emphasis was on digging deep and not giving in to fatigue – quality to the end!

As the lessons drew to a close we were joined by the Italian team who were to provide a karate demonstration, and what a demonstration it was! Firstly, Erika, Veronica and Denise demonstrated Jiin as a team kata, producing a remarkably well times performance. The three of them then proceeded to show kata bunkai, first slowly and then full speed: a very polished and skilful performance!

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Next came some of the Italian children, brown belts all, giving fantastic kata demonstrations. Fabio andEleonora performed Jion and Nicola performed Kanku Dai. They were so sharp and clearly very skilled. Sensei Italo then took to the stage to demonstrate some self defence as he was attacked by Denise and Jacopo. Needless to say, it didn’t end well (for them)! We then got to see two of the child brown belts perform jiu ippon kumite before Sensei Italo took to the floor again, this time to demonstrate some jiu kumite with Fabio.

Finally came the climax of the demonstration. Sensei Italo has created his own kata – Sensei Kata – and we were treated to a performance of this as he moved, surrounded by his senior students who joined in at perfectly times moments. The demonstration was a real treat for anyone interested in karate.

That evening, we all met at the Royal British Legion for an evening of drinking, music and general partying. Wende took to the stage for part of it to sing some of her favourite songs. It was lovely to see everyone getting along so well, language difficulties no barrier to the new friendships that were being formed.

Sunday 15th

Unfortunately, Sunday’s training was to take place from 9am in order to give the visitors who had travelled far time to return home. The training started with a warm up from the Italians’ Erika and Denise and this was quickly followed by four sessions. I was not scheduled to teach this day so I prepared myself for four lessons by some of the best karateka I know. Sadly, I am still recovering from a couple of operations, meaning that I felt it wise to bow out of Sensei Italo’s class where he had essentially devised a kicking kata. I would have loved that (having always enjoyed my kicks) but this time it was not to be. Sensei John worked on Unsu and, again, I had difficulties with parts of this (notably the drop to the floor near the beginning, though obviously the spin at the end was always going to cause me trouble – injuries or no), though I persevered since I knew it was only a relatively small part of the kata. Sensei Peter took us through some excellent kumite practise, focussing on finding the correct timing to counter an attack while Sensei Paul gave us a really personal set of drills based on spinning techniques.

And that was it! Months of planning culminated in an intense weekend of superb karate with wonderful people. At this point I would like to thank all the instructors who gave up their time and travelled to attend the event and make it such a huge success. Also to Saemus, Gill, Joe and Darren who, though not club members, came from their respective homes to train with us. I’ve thanked Wende and Tim already – so all that remains is to give a huge THANK YOU to everyone who turned up, making the event such a massive success! The time was over too quickly but I have memories, photos, new friends and the thought of the Vale Karate Gasshuku 2016 to look forward to.

If you would like to see current goings-on and more photos of the Gasshuku, check out the Facebook page where photos are currently being posted (or will have been posted, if you are reading this at a much later date).

Oss

Dave