Shinsokai Haru Gasshuku 2014
by Víctor López Bondía (2014)

It was nice to fly once again to England in order to gather together for the Spring Gasshuku. Our senpai Mark had been missed for some months and it was great to have him back among us. I enjoyed my time as a guest at the Sessions's residence, a lovely place where I felt once again at home and overwhelmed by their kindness and their hospitality. Mark and his family are very nice people and I see them as a very good example of a happy family living a life of contentment. I see in Mark excellent nature and character, and this always reminds me that it is in fact outside the dojo where the virtue of a true karateka must be felt by those surrounding them. We tend to think a very good karateka is one who can deal with any opponent, but I think a good karateka is one who can more importantly deal with life.

On Saturday training took place at the Uraniwa Dojo. In our first session I was asked to come to the front and lead through the junbi undo exercises. This was unexpected and not something I'm used to these days, but now being familiar with the routine it was more or less just a matter of counting out loud with the exercises, and even though I didn't feel all that confident hopefully my instructions were not too confusing for my fellow karateka to follow.
In the Shinsokai the junbi undo exercises are arranged in three different sets, and we stopped in between each one in order to perform one breathing kata at a time up to three times, with Sensei performing shime. This is always useful to realize flaws in your structure in a more "dynamic" way than working with the tools which tends to make you focus on a single principle or part of the body. Over the past few months I've been focusing mainly on elbows and back muscles, and I now feel I should start to pay more attention to my legs, without forgetting about the tanden and lower back which is what I find more challenging. After junbi undo and breathing kata, Garry Senpai introduced us to the "Taiso Daruma" set of exercises he had learnt from Kayo Ong Sensei. These exercises, similar to our junbi undo but performed in a more ballistic way and focusing more on flexibility, are interesting and I'd like to keep practicing them, at least once a week, along with my junbi undo. I think they can prove to be useful to improve both health and suppleness. Unfortunately I think I failed to commit the whole thing to memory, but Garry Senpai offered his help and provided additional information about it. The exercises which presented more trouble for me were those involving kick-backs as I felt too much pressure when leaning on my bad wrist, but it is getting stronger day after day and I think it won't be limiting me for much longer.

After a break for breakfast we had an unusual session in which Garry Senpai showed us some techniques based on pressure and massage. These techniques don't seem to be very popular among martial artists nowadays, but we know from history that, especially in China, the study of the martial arts usually included the study of medicine, and some Okinawans like Uechi Kanbun were most probably exposed to these methods. Garry Senpai mentioned that martial arts are self-defence, but they are also "health-defence", and this stuck in my mind as I have always held health in high regard. With such a limited exposure and without a partner to deliver the massage, it won't be something I'll be able to replicate in my personal training, I'm afraid, but ideally, if we could do this once a week, it will undoubtedly help the body to loosen the muscles and get rid of much of the tightness gathered from training and daily life. From a more martial point of view, knowing the anatomy of the human body is useful to identify vulnerable targets for Karate techniques. However, I'm not sure how accurate one can be amidst the chaos of a real fight so I think I would tend to aim my techniques to weak parts of the body like the neck or the groin rather than trying to hit tiny (and moving) "pressure points".
We took another break to have some spicy lunch provided by Garry Senpai (which proved to be quite a challenge for me to deal with) and then we got back into the dojo for the third and last session of the day. This time we went over the basic exercises with some hojo-undo tools; chi-ishi, ishi-sashi, and kongoken. Barrett Sensei reminded us that we should know the purpose of every exercise, what technique and/or principle is supposed to enhance, otherwise it will eventually be dropped from the system as we don't have a reason to keep practicing it. Even though I've been trying to apply myself to the practice of Goju-Ryu ever since I became a member of the Shinsokai a couple of years ago, I still don't have much experience and I still feel quite "young" in this school so I enjoyed working on the basic exercises and getting useful advice to better understand each one of them. When we picked up the kongoken, Sensei suggested that we tried to figure out the best way to move around the tool while it was spinning. I thought Sensei was providing another good example of "training with creativity", this time to develop the ability to move around an opponent once we are engaged in some grappling/kakie.

On Sunday we were very lucky; we had great weather and we also had the opportunity to train on location at the very nice Rye Hill House.
After some junbi undo which included some exercises to develop the feeling for ju techniques like uraken and tettsui-uchi, we performed all the kata on the grass and then reviewed each one (up to Shisochin) with Sensei providing corrections and advice. I always enjoy the study of kata as they contain all the information we strive to unravel and figure out through our training. Sensei always encourages us to question every detail to get to understand it, and he reminds us that we are supposed to be hungry for information and study and search for the answers rather than just train and wait to be spoonfed with the answers. I used to think that the "real meaning" of the kata was most probably lost forever, but Sensei seems to be aware of the reasoning behind each movement so this kind of knowledge is still available for those who are willing to dig deep enough.

The second session focused on Kobudo, and I had the chance to both improve my kihon with the kon and also get a taste of the sai and the nunchaku. Playing with the weapons was fun, but they are not toys and one needs to be careful; their capacity to harm is obvious and scary. My very limited experience with the kon had been a bit frustrating as right from the outset I found it much more difficult than I had imagined, but this session boosted my interest in Kobudo and encouraged me to keep practicing with patience. As Sensei says "everything worth learning takes a lot of time".

The third and last training session saw us engaging in kakie, practicing sandan-gi, and applying some techniques from the kata on our training partner. I had the usual problems trying to keep my balance and upright structure so more work is needed to improve this.

With all the junbi-undo exercises, thirteen kata to study, a number of exercises for each hojo-undo tool, different 2-person drills, and now several weapons of Kobudo to practice with, we didn't have enough time to cover everything in detail, but hopefully every time we get together we collect some useful pieces of advice to keep strengthening the foundation upon which every one of us can keep building up our Karate once we get back to our own personal training.

Juanlu and I left early on Monday, after saying goodbye to our hosts whose effort and hospitality, and that of their families, was much appreciated. For me the weekend provided a great opportunity to practice the two things I devote more time to study: Karate and the English language. I still have a very long way ahead of me, but I'm working on it!

Richard Barrett teaching Kobudo
Richard Barrett Sensei teaching Kobudo
Shinsokai Haru Gasshuku
(England, April 13th 2014)

Víctor López Bondía
April 2014

“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.”