Shinsokai Haru Gasshuku 2015
by Víctor López Bondía (2015)

Once again spring came around, and with it another opportunity for the karateka in our very small group to gather together and enjoy a couple of days of training. Normally the Shinsokai holds their spring gasshuku in April, since Miyagi Chojun Sensei was born in April, but this year we decided to make an exception. Michael Clarke Sensei would be spending some time in England, and he kindly agreed to meet us and share some training with us, so this year's gasshuku would be an early one with a special guest from Tasmania. Clarke Sensei and Barrett Sensei were both long term students under Miyazato Eiichi Sensei and they are a very good example of a lifelong friendship forged through Karate.

Clarke Sensei and Barrett Sensei
Good friends training together
Shinsokai Haru Gasshuku
(England, March 24th 2015)

Juanlu and I arrived in England on Sunday and we were picked up at the airport by Garry Senpai who not only took care of all the arrangements for the gasshuku but was also a wonderful host. The efforts made by him and his lovely family didn't go unnoticed and were much appreciated.

The gasshuku would officially start early on Monday, but the three of us had a short training session on Sunday afternoon. We performed the three breathing kata of Goju-Ryu and Garry Senpai explained how the open hand should be engaged during the kata to strengthen the tendons and turn it into an effective weapon. The open hand has more possibilities than the clenched fist and it is favored in the Chinese martial arts which Garry Senpai has been studying in order to enhance and better understand his own art. The hand must become strong and "heavy", and each finger has to be turned into a spike; Garry Senpai showed us a small bag filled with shotgut he is using to condition his hands.
Not many karateka are as devoted as Garry Senpai and that's why authentic Karate is always in danger of extinction for very few are willing to try to go deeper and carry out the kind of training and research required to achieve further skill and knowledge.

The next morning training began at 7 am. After going through the complete junbi undo set of exercises, we had a tough session with lots of kihon and a good deal of push-ups and sit-ups too. Okinawan Karate does not emphasize kihon as much as Japanese Karate does; it's always preferable to practice your techniques within the context provided by the kata or assisted by either a live or inanimate partner. Nevertheless, every once in a while kihon can prove to be useful to hone your technique and give a boost to your spirit through a high number of repetitions. Our kihon involved the practice of basic techniques but it was mainly based on sequences taken from the kata.

We took a break after the first training session and Garry Senpai left to pick Clarke Sensei up. Some of us had never met Clarke Sensei in the flesh, but we had been corresponding with him for a few years, and of course we had also been reading his books and following his blog (which I happen to translate into Spanish), so we were very excited about it.
As a writer, Michael Clarke is quite direct and never afraid to speak out about the state of Karate today and the behaviour of those involved. He is particularly critical when it comes to point out that business and sport are taking over and the underlying values and principles of Budo are constantly compromised. Through his blog, he provides a wake-up call, with statements that not always sit well with everybody, and because of this, he is sometimes perceived as a kind of harsh, controversial and even grumpy person. I had to laugh to myself when we finally met him and he turned out to be such a close, friendly and warm-hearted person right from the very first second, not to mention his excellent sense of humor. If those who read his blog got to meet him in person, they would probably ask themselves "who is this guy and what did he do to Michael Clarke?!", hahaha! However, if you think about it, if you ended up as a bitter grouch after decades walking the path of Karate-do, it could be argued that it hasn't been a very productive quest? Michael Clarke is an unassuming karateka who enjoys a simple life, and I get the impression the only reason he bothers to write a blog is because he's taken it upon himself to speak up for Budo Karate.

Before sitting down to catch up over a drink, Clarke Sensei handed out some books from his library he had brought as presents. Very thoughtful of him, especially if we take into account that those books had to take much useful space out of his limited luggage. In martial arts we often think about zanshin and how to prevent negative events, but how about bringing good into being? Tempering a shield against evil is sound self-defence, but that's not enough; being a good karateka is also about having a positive impact on your environment and those you come into contact with. Awareness is an important attribute for the budoka, but we should try to be aware of not only the danger we can avoid but also the opportunities to do good we should not miss.

In the afternoon we had a 3-hour training session in a hall Garry Senpai had hired so that we could have more room to practice our kata and Kobudo. Following the Jundokan way, everybody practiced on their own with seniors providing advice to those with less experience. We know that even Miyagi Chojun Sensei felt like he was "wandering along a dark path"; the guidance of knowledgeable seniors is something Karate students should appreciate and never take for granted.

Barrett Sensei helping one of his students Clarke Sensei helping a student
Barrett Sensei and Clarke Sensei helping students
Shinsokai Haru Gasshuku
(England, March 23rd 2015)

In the evening we had more time for conversation while enjoying a very nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant.
Later on, at Garry Senpai's home, he shared with Junalu and me his concern about the difficulty of passing on authentic Karate these days. In the past, Karate was only made available by experienced practitioners who were sought after by those who wanted to learn. The classical approach was the only one there was. In this day and age however, with all the organizations and clubs, private dojos are probably perceived as nonprofessional and even shady, and very few dare to knock at their door. Well, indeed, they are not "professional", since Karate was never meant to be a profession. The modern approach provides what most people want, a hobby, but let's hope the more people are exposed to Karate, of any kind, the higher the chances some of them will eventually look for a deeper approach.

The next day our training began with Garry Senpai taking us through the Taiso Daruma set of exercises. Then Barrett Sensei took over and we did some more strong kihon based on sandan gi. Following that we partnered up to practice tachi sandan gi and kakie, and we finished with Sanchin.

For the second session of the day, Garry Senpai led most of the training which was based on some strengthening and conditioning drills with a partner he's picked up from his Praying Mantis studies. I found them quite interesting and useful to enhance our Karate and I thought they should be added to our syllabus right away. With obvious similarities to kakie, shime, and some gripping exercises we usually practice, there were overlaps, of course, but the approach was slightly different and worth preserving.
This kind of training not only makes you stronger but also teaches you how to deal with the resistance provided by a real opponent. Modern Karate schools tend to overlook and even ignore these methods, which is all right if all you are interested in is sport, but Karate is supposed to be something else? From a martial point of view, they are essential; training in thin air, no matter how intense, is not enough if your goal is to maximize your chances in an actual confrontation. Conditioning is unpleasant and it pushes most people away, maybe this is why commercial Karate is happy to avoid it? Anyone can make any hand form (nukite, shoken, etc.) on the spot, but having the ability and confidence to use it for real is a completely different matter, and a skill which takes a lot of time and effort to develop. You may feel fast and powerful but, is your weapon equivalent to an iron bar or a rolled-up newspaper? If you were to use your techniques, would you hurt your opponent or would you hurt yourself? The answer to these questions might give you an idea of your actual level in Karate.

Michael Clarke Sensei training at the Uraniwa Dojo
Michael Clarke Sensei; special guest at the Uraniwa Dojo
Shinsokai Haru Gasshuku
(England, March 24th 2015)

In the afternoon Garry Senpai took us to the dojo and he shared with us a recipe for dit da jow, the liniment traditionally used to ease the effects of conditioning on the body during martial arts training, and some massage methods. We then performed Sanchin together to bring the gasshuku to an end.

We all have to thank Clarke Sensei for being so generous with his time, with his presence the spirit of friendship was felt stronger than ever.

Víctor López Bondía
April 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.”