The Second Vale Karate International Gasshuku
From Friday 12th February and Sunday 14th February 2016 the second International Gasshuku took place. In 2015 the venue was Wantage, Hombu to the Vale Karate clubs. This year it was to be hosted by the Belgian contingent and so karateka from Italy and England travelled to Bruges in Belgium.
The proceedings started at 18:00 on the Friday with an instructor’s gathering where we could meet each other and introduce ourselves. The aim of the Gasshuku has always been to be an inclusive and truly non political event, provided for the sole aim to pass on the love of karate by some exceptionally skilled karate instructors. So many groups claim to be non political but the Gasshuku demonstrably is: instructors and students from various JKA groups, the KUGB, the TSKA and SKIF joined together with no airs or graces and no feeling of superiority. When not teaching, the instructors took to the lines to train, acknowledging that we are all students of karate, no matter how much experience we may have. Last year one of the Gasshuku instructors, Sensei Paul Mitchell, said to me that we either learn or die. This is also my belief and it was evident that the instructors at this Gasshuku were certainly not dying!
Many of the instructors from last year were present this year:
- Sensei Italo Castellaro from Italy
- Sensei John Parnell from England
- Sensei Dave Paine from England
- Sensei Peter Daenekynt from Belgium
- Sensei Stephanie Bogaert from Belgium
- Sensei Wim Vandeweghe from Belgium
This year we were to welcome five new instructors to the Gasshuku
- Sensei Denise Biasiolo from Italy
- Sensei Neil Jerome from England
- Sensei Danny De Cloedt from Belgium
- Sensei Alexander Verwilst from Belgium
- Sensei Alain Van De Walle from Belgium
It was an incredible mix. Each instructor had between 20 and 50 years experience. Some had a traditional focus, others a more practical approach and many had a strong competition background with World, European and National championship titles in kata and kumite (as well as a winner of the prestigious Nakayama Cup)!
The classes were split into four groups: black belts, brown belts, colored belts and children, so that instruction could be aimed appropriately, and the lessons started. After the initial warm-up, the Dan grades were treated to an initial session by Castellaro Sensei. We started off with some brown belt level basics, but of course performing them as Dan grades, so excellent focus, speed and timing were required. After just a few minutes of this I started to ache but then heard the inevitable word “faster”. You can soon get to hate that word! After a drilling in this we moved on to some kata practise – Heian Shodan first. But obviously, being the senior class, Castellaro Sensei wasn’t about to allow us an easy ride of things (as if – no kata is ever an easy ride if performed with the correct attitude), so we then proceeded to perform this kata ‘ura’, I.e. Mirror image. I personally practise that a lot so it wasn’t too much of a problem, but we were then required to do the same with Bassai Dai – now there’s a kata I don’t practise ura much. We finished the session looking at some more advanced applications of shuto uke, Castellaro Sensei demonstrating them with typical panache.
There are two key elements to the Gasshuku. The first, obviously, is to foster international cooperation between karate groups and to share training techniques, ideas, and inspiration. The second is to make new friends and renew old friendships and so after training, a large group of us visited an all you can eat Asian restaurant. We ate, drank, talked, laughed and socialized for the rest of the evening.
Training on Saturday consisted of lessons by the English instructors (at least for the Dan grades) and first up was Jerome Sensei. The focus of this lesson was to use a “relaxed heaviness” to speed up our techniques without losing any power, and we did this with partners using various combinations, all seemingly simply but with many subtleties that differentiate a good practitioner from an excellent one. On each technique it was emphasised we should strike “through” the target, rather than merely at it.
During the second session, Parnell Sensei took the black belts through Kata Senka while I took the brown belt group through Kata Jion. We practised it a few times to make sure everyone knew it well enough, examining some of the detail in the kata before looking in more detail at its bunkai. I have long felt that the standard bunkai offered to many kata is actually worse than useless and counterproductive so I try to teach something that I feel would actually work or at least provide ideas that would work in practise.
I was to take the third senior session of the day. I started with neko ashi dachi, looking at the transition to the stance and correct body posture and alignment. I then went on to get the class performing more advanced defence to the standard jodan and chudan punches we begin to learn as karateka: I like that, because it ties in what we practise as beginners with what we should be practicing as advanced karateka, reminding us of our beginnings. Finally, I finished with an advanced kata – Junro Yondan – showing how the previous elements of the lesson were intertwined closely with the kata itself.
That afternoon, a group of us took a walk to Bruges where we felt we had to consume some of the things Belgium is famous for – chips, waffles, and Belgian beer. There have to be some vitamins in there somewhere, eh? The evening’s socialization was at the bar attached to the leisure centre where a barbecue had been arranged. We ate, drank, laughed, sang, danced (yes, danced) and made merry until one by one we staggered to our beds ready for the final days training.
The senior grades started with a session from De Cloedt Sensei. I had hoped he would be (and indeed asked him to be) gentle on us, but it was not to be. We started with kumite drills as a warm up, and after several iterations of those we were fully warmed up! We then proceeded to work on tai sabaki, again changing partners frequently, building up some seemingly simple sparring techniques into those that though they seemed simple were actually very complicated. With each new drill we were treated to De Clout Sensei demonstrating what he wanted with an enviable grace. How does he move so well?
The final senior session was with Van De Walle Sensei. For the last ten years he has been coach to the Belgian national team and it showed. He had a knack of keeping everything light and exceptionally friendly but with a background feeling of knowing you needed to perform for this man. We practised more kumite techniques. When he demonstrated, the speed with which he moved was so blazingly quick it was almost dream like. I have trained with a few who possessed that speed – like Brennan Sensei. Enough said.
All too soon the second International Gasshuku was over. Once again, the standard shown by the instructors was incredible, the enthusiasm of the participants exceptional and the welcome by the host nation humbling. I personally want to thank everyone who taught, trained and helped organize the event. It really demonstrated karate at its best, with plenty of international cooperation and no egos at all.
The third International Gasshuku is already being planned. Personally, I can’t wait!
There is a Facebook page for the Gasshuku – click here