2012 Aki Gasshuku
by Víctor López Bondía

In October 2012 members of the Shinsokai gathered again in Albox to take part in the Aki (Autumn) Gasshuku.

As usual, training began early on Saturday morning, with the dojo swept and everybody ready to start training at 6am prompt. Before starting the gasshuku, Sensei suggested that we tried to think of Miyagi Chojun Sensei over the weekend, and reminded us we should be thankful for the great gift he left us. It is no coincidence that Shinsokai gasshuku are held in April and October. After bowing, Garry Senpai led us through the junbi undo exercises. Kakie practice followed, and I once again appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to work with a partner, for these days my training is a very lonely activity.

Once the first training session in the dojo was completed, we put our footwear on and were taken to the back of Barrett Sensei's house. Dawn was breaking and very soon we were standing at the bottom of the hill with the dojo beneath us. It was time to do some training outdoors, and we scrambled up and down the hill as fast as we could a number of times, performing Sanchin kata every time as soon as we reached the top. It was a very good workout for the legs and the lungs, but it also provided a great opportunity to get a different feeling for the breathing in Sanchin, as we had to perform it right after the climb without pause to catch our breath, which made Sanchin breathing particularly difficult. Having a job which has me sitting in an office all day long, I thought this was really nice to be in contact with nature and breathe fresh air. Sensei called a halt after the fifth descent, something I didn't expect as I first thought we would probably be doing at least ten climbs. Later on Garry Senpai mentioned he had thought we would be doing eight climbs, thinking of nana korobi ya oki (seven times down, eight times up), and I was impressed by his insightful idea. He is obviously far ahead of me in Karate-do, and that also includes thinking beyond the obvious.

Back in the dojo, we had some very welcome breakfast, and then we were all set for a new Karate-do lesson, only this time it wouldn't be a physical one. Sensei asked us to think about and try to extract the main qualities or attributes contained in each of the precepts which make up the dojo kun. Once we had come up with a list of values such as humbleness, politeness, consideration, honesty, responsibility, patience, and so on, we were invited to reflect upon our own lives and assess whether or not these qualities were actually present. Clearly, these lessons are the ones which actually help you and inspire you to take the values of Karate out of the dojo and apply them to your daily life. When lessons such as this are provided, Karate truly becomes Karate-do and a teacher truly becomes a 'sensei'. Regretfully, even though nowadays many claim Karate is a "budo" and a "way of life", more often than not they are just paying lip service to it, for they are not pursuing the "perfection of character" Karate is supposed to instill in its practitioners as actively as they pursue the perfection of technique. Unfortunately, I have to say that in my many years involved in modern Karate I never found this kind of lessons so, regardless of what they said, the truth is that kind of Karate was just a sport or physical activity, and nothing else.

We moved on to do some work around the new "cave dojo" which was under construction. Sensei had obviously been working at a very good pace and we were all very excited to see all the cementing work done and could imagine it finished and ready to be used very soon.

We got back to the dojo for another training session which focused on conditioning. The taketaba wasn't as frightening as it used to be as I am now more or less used to thrusting my fingers into it, without too much damage to my nails, but I still feel far away from the point where you can strike full force with the confidence of knowing it will result in no harm to your body. Conditioning training never fails to make me particularly aware of my natural weakness, and I wonder whether I will be capable of turning my hands into strong weapons, even after many years of daily practice. Barrett Sensei's makiwara felt as stiff as the first time I hit it, and my wrists and knuckles seemed those of a little child when crashing against the unforgiving board. At least my injured wrist didn't suffer a relapse, something I was worried about.

After driving to town and having a quick meal, it was time for kata practice. We went through a number of kata, and I was able to collect some details and corrections on each of them which would help me make my kata more and more accurate. Over the last year I have been learning many kata, quite quickly, and the next kata usually came before I had had enough time to absorb the previous one to some extent. Therefore, my Goju-Ryu kata are still quite underdeveloped, and every time I am taught and get my kata checked I collect a lot of new valuable information I may have missed up to that point. On that same session, Garry Senpai introduced both my friend Juanlu and I to Suparinpei kata, yet another one, but the last of the Goju-Ryu kata. It's a long kata, but featuring a lot of repetition and being already familiar with the other forms, it wasn't too hard to commit the sequence of movements to memory.

Sensei called it a day and soon afterwards we were all enjoying some lovely and much-needed dinner provided by Mrs. Barrett. Her kind help and support was really appreciated.

Again, our day began early on Sunday. After junbi undo, we paired up to work on different combinations based on sandan gi. I felt slow and clumsy, and thought this should come as no surprise, as this is something I am failing to replicate in my solo training back at home due to the lack of a partner to work with... A lame excuse when we take into account that Barrett Sensei and Garry Senpai are both in the same situation I am and that doesn't prevent them from being quite skillful when they engage in 2-person drills. This is something I find quite mind-blowing.

When the first training session of the day was over, we got changed and put our shoes on, ready for a new outdoors-training experience. We drove up the rambla to a nearby mountain, and then we followed Barrett Sensei up to the top where the remains of an old castle-like construction were to be found. Up there, Sensei asked us to find a suitable spot to perform Tensho kata facing the horizon. We then had some breakfast and drank some water we had taken with us, and started to get ready to leave. This time Barrett Sensei stayed behind, and we were asked to find our own way down to the cars, trying not to follow anybody else.

Mountain Mountain

Back in the dojo, Sensei delivered a little lecture, made us turn our attention to ourselves, and asked us what lessons could be learnt from experiences such as the one we had just had outside the dojo. "What's the point of climbing a mountain? Wouldn't it have been better for our Karate to just stay and train in the dojo?" It was obvious to me that this was training for the mind, and again a way of taking Karate-do beyond the physical training carried out in the dojo. In my mind there was a clear similarity between the climbing and the metaphorical path of Karate-do, where we strive to follow the way, we start by following somebody leading who provides guidance, and we are then left alone to find our own way to the summit.
After giving us some time to think about our experience, Sensei shared with us his own impressions which, not surprisingly, were more profound: The climb up related to taking small steps forward, making progress at a slow but constant pace. We found different levels and terrain which made it easier at some points, and harder at some other points, and this could be likened to a balance between hard and soft (go and ju). Every few meters we would stop for a second and turn around to appreciate the view and take stock. This related to the need to step aside in our Karate every now and then to see the bigger picture and assess whether or not we are on the right track, to reflect on our attitude and behavior and see if we are really practicing what we preach. Reaching the top meant reaching our goal, the reward we get from our efforts: satisfaction and contentment. For every rise there is a fall, and after climbing up we had to walk back down; two different paths, but both of them must be walked parallel in order to find balance, and this was related to bunbu ryodo. Reaching the bottom of the mountain was returning to the beginning, completing the circle, and this could relate to keeping a beginner's mind in Karate (shoshin o wasurezu) and also be likened to the endless circle the way of Karate-do is (kyudo mugen).

Mountain

After the lecture we took some heavy tools (gami, chi-ishi, tetsu-sashi, kongoken and tan) to the land in front of Barrett Sensei's house. We formed a circle and started to train with them with Sensei overseeing our practice and encouraging us to focus on the classical exercises for each tool. I was reminded of a well-known historical picture from the 1920s showing Miyagi Sensei overseeing hojo undo practice, and I felt that we were actually following the same tradition as those who came before us on a faraway island, where Karate was born.

The last training session of the weekend took place in the afternoon, and it was time for kata practice once again. We went through the kata we hadn't had time to cover the previous day, and also practiced bunkai. I collected much more information and really enjoyed training with and learning from Garry Senpai who never fails to share very insightful ideas on kata applications. One of the main things which made me shift from modern/Japanese Karate to classical/Okinawan Karate was the need to understand the kata I was practicing. Even though I am not provided with all the answers now, for a lot is left for the student to discover by themselves, I can see the goal of all the different aspects of the physical training we do is to come to grips with technique and to develop the skill needed to be able to apply it in an efficient and effective way.

A few hours of practice went by and the gasshuku was then brought to an end. We had enjoyed two long days full of training and learning and I had a great time sharing my passion for Karate-do in the company of excellent like-minded people.

Víctor López Bondía

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”