Shinsokai Aki Gasshuku 2015
My first gasshuku
by Jordi Muria Gratacós (2015)

On October 24th and 25th the Shinsokai gasshuku took place. Gasshuku literally means "unite together", and the purpose of these get-togethers is to unite our efforts in the practice and understanding of our art and improve ourselves. The training is usually intense, with many sessions, which is something I appreciate as we have limited time to spend with Sensei. The dates for the gasshuku are not chosen randomly, and we pay our small homage to Miyagi Sensei in the dates of his birth and passing. Normally there's always a reason for everything we do in our group, and the challenge is to find the answers by yourself.

I left home on Friday afternoon with my friends and senpai Juanlu and Víctor. I really enjoy their company both in and out of the dojo, I always learn something with them. When we arrived in Albox the group of students of Barrett Sensei coming from England was already there, waiting for us. I was looking forward to meeting Garry Lever Sensei and Katarina Senpai since one of the books by Lever Sensei, "Wondering along a dark path", and an article by Katarina Senpai, "Kai Un and Unkai", are valued pieces in my library and I often find myself rereading them as I find them inspiring for my daily practice. Once introductions were made and after some time catching up, we did soji in the two dojo, the Shinsokan and the Shinsodo, before going to bed. Soji is an excellent way of getting the dojo ready for the next practice. In addition to this, cleaning is an act of gratitude and respect implying some moral lessons. I wonder why I never did soji in the former dojo I've visited and trained at... Soji, Dojo Kun, junbi undo, hojo undo, Sanchin... there are so many good aspects of authentic Karate that I didn't know... It's probably the first time I set foot in an authentic dojo.

Training started on Saturday morning. The first session focused on junbi undo and heishu kata. I think the set of fundamental exercises within junbi undo are useful not only for your health and well-being but also for the proper development of Karate. The greatness of the junbi undo devised by Miyagi Sensei is found in its application to Karate. We then went on to perform Sanchin, Sanchin Dai Ni and Tensho, with shime, a very interesting way of checking for flaws in the structure of the body. I am on the first stage with regard to heishu kata, trying to learn correct alignment.

After the first session we had breakfast and back in the dojo we practiced kakie, sandan-gi and kata applications from kakie. I had the chance to partner Garry Sensei and receive his advice. I was made aware of how subtle you must be when applying strength in kakie as too much strength gives your intention away to the opponent. I usually have a hard time doing bunkai, I think I need much more kata repetition under my belt to absorb both the techniques and the underlying principles and not go blank. This problem might be the result of the kind of Karate I used to practice, based on kihon, kata and kumite; a too rigid system where nobody asked "why", and all that mattered was "faster, stronger". Barrett Sensei constantly encourages us to ask why and challenge our knowledge, and put ourselves out of our comfort zone. It's not uncommon to find in other schools and styles statements such as "we've always done it this way", "that's wrong; I was taught differently" or "you shouldn't do it that way"... but the "sensei" providing this kind of answer don't encourage you to ask why, and what is worse, they don't ask themselves, and they don't really know.

Jordi & Katarina
Kata application
(Shinsodo Dojo, October 24th 2015)

During the next break Sensei told us that, while he was performing soji, he realized that when he sweeps, he moves forward, but when he mops, he moves backwards. This had brought about some reflection and we were assigned the task of doing the same thing and see if we could find any lesson behind the metaphor. Once again, Sensei was putting us to the test, challenging our thoughts. These lessons are very important to me as they take the Karate we practice out of the dojo and into our everyday activities. If we don't approach Karate this way, or any other budo for that matter, and it's just throwing punches in the dojo, what's the point? It's like going to the basketball court, throw a number of shots, and go home.

Later on, Sensei set out another exercise for us; composing our own dojo kun. I found this interesting. In the different "dojo" I've trained at over the years, the Dojo Kun was always missing. The first time I listened to a senpai reciting the Dojo Kun before training at the Shinsokan, I felt many things had been lacking in my Karate up to that point, and when Barrett Sensei asked us to think about one of the lessons in the dojo kun, I did realize that true Karate is not limited to the dojo, and at that point, after many years, I had finally found an authentic Karate dojo, and a real sensei.

In the next session we partnered up and the attacker would throw their techniques in a circular manner, rather than the typical perfectly straight Karate punch we are used to. I think the purpose of this kind of exercise is to achieve an automatic and intuitive response based on the kata. I had the opportunity to train with Katarina Senpai who is a quick and subtle karateka, focused on what she's working on. This kind of exercise always makes me wonder whether Karate really works against a real aggression.

Víctor López - Garry Lever - Richard Barrett
Barrett Sensei explaining
(October 24th 2015)

The last session of the day was a free session. Sensei spent some time in the Shinsodo grading my friend Víctor for nidan. Víctor is passionate about Karate, with a very good progression, and I humbly identify with him in a sense as we share a similar background. I was glad to know he passed his test. I trained in the Shinsokan, where I had the chance to pick up some of Sensei's tools (nigiri-gami, sashi-ishi, makiage-kigu) and compare them to my own. Working with Sensei's tools is a real challenge for me as they are normally heavier than my own tools. I moved on to hand conditioning. Garry Sensei was kind enough to check my kata on the patio dojo, and I performed Saifa. Afterwards, I practiced my kata in the Shinsodo, and Katarina Senpai checked my Seipai. I really appreciate that both of them spent some time helping me improve my kata.

The day was over, an intense day full of training and many concepts to take in. We had dinner, chat for a while, and then went to bed.

Training started at the Shinsodo early on Sunday. Katarina Senpai, who had recently been to Japan, led the junbi undo with some interesting variations she had learnt on her trip. Looking at different points of view enriches our knowledge. After junbi undo, Barrett Sensei handed out some pads and we hit them with haito, uraken and mae-geri. In Goju-Ryu some techniques are go and others are ju, Sensei explained this with a couple of examples. I tend to have some trouble with this, being too tight and tense when delivering ju techniques. It was a good method to realize the identity of each technique.

The second session on the Sunday took place on the patio, with Sensei leading us through a Tai Chi kata. The ju aspect took over and I tried to relax and follow the movements as accurately as possible. Tai Chi kata are not easy to perform, they require a lot of coordination and focus on the movements. After the kata we performed Sanchin in a relaxed way, and the feeling of my bodyweight shifting throughout the kata was interesting.

Tai Chi
Tai Chi
(October 25th 2015)

We reached the last session of the gasshuku. This time we had another free session which Barrett Sensei and Garry Sensei used to take pictures for Vol 3 of "The Essence of Goju-Ryu". Those who were not posing for the pictures would be training by themselves in the Shinsokan. This time I worked on the corrections from Saifa and Seipai I had got the previous day, punched the makiwara, and used Sensei's tou to polish sandan-gi and practice some applications on it. I found the latter a very good and versatile tool.

Shinsokai 2015
Shinsokai 2015
(Shinsodo Dojo, October 25th 2015)

The gasshuku came to an end. We said our goodbyes until next time we can gather together and left with many ideas and concepts to improve in our own dojo. As always, we have to thank Barrett Sensei and his family for their hospitality and kindness over the whole weekend.

Jordi Muria Gratacós
November 2015

“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.”