In July my friend Sarka and I attended the Czech JKA’s annual summer camp: ‘Gasshuku Czech Republic’. ‘Gasshuku’ 合宿 is a Japanese term meaning ‘a time of lodging together’. In karate, you can think of a gasshuku as a sort of mini-break, where we get together in order to train a little bit harder than usual. Eating, drinking and parties usually form a very important part of the programme too.
The Czech Gasshuku 2010 was held in Sporice, near Chomutov, which is about a 40 minute car journey from Prague airport and in total lasted 6 days. Our commitment to compete in the JKA England Nationals over the 1st weekend of July meant that we could only attend the final 3 days. But what an action packed 3 days they were! The training schedule was divided by grade into groups, with each group scheduled to take part in a morning and afternoon session, each session lasting 90 minutes. Dan grades had the option of participating in all the sessions, so for the super keen there was the opportunity to attend 6 sessions per day. On arrival at the Gasshuku, it was a pleasure to meet Sarka’s first instructor, Michal, and other members of his club. They welcomed us into their group during the Gasshuku, making the experience all the more enjoyable.
Visiting instructors from JKA Headquarters were Naka Tatsuya Sensei 7th Dan JKA, Okuma Koichiro Sensei 5th Dan JKA, and Takahashi Yuko Sensei 3rd Dan JKA. Naka Sensei had visited England earlier in the year for the JKA England Spring International Course. We were excited to have a chance to learn more from this talented instructor and former karate champion. Okuma Sensei and Takahashi Sensei have both had considerable success in international JKA competition in recent years and we were eager to experience their training methods.
There were many memorable lessons. I particularly enjoyed practising kata Nijushiho led by Naka sensei, developing the wave-like rhythm of the opening sequence and the control and coordination needed for the tsukami uke – yoko kekomi – gyaku tsuki sequences.
A kumite footwork session with Takahashi Yuko Sensei was also enjoyable, where the emphasis was on moving naturally and quickly. Sensei also inspired us with a reminder of the importance of positive thinking and self-belief. She urged each of us to treat every new day as an opportunity to improve, remembering that we all have the capacity to get better. Yes, we lose some speed and muscle power as we age, but we can more than make up for this with knowledge, spirit and better application of technique. With this in mind karateka of all ages should view our best days as yet to come!
We practised some drills with Okuma Sensei to give us the courage to execute various ‘de-ai’ attacks in kumite. ‘De-ai’ is a strategy that involves meeting the opponent’s technique as he executes it, by launching a counter-attack to reach him before his attack lands. If you can pick up on your opponent’s intention to attack you at an early stage and are able to respond immediately, you can strike before he has an opportunity to change the course of his initial movement, his psychological commitment to the technique already having been made. These drills involved decisively moving further into the attacker’s path. A bit scary, but what a feeling of exhilaration when one was able to get the timing just right!
This Gasshuku was attended by karateka from all over Europe, including quite a few participants from Germany which is just next door to the Czech Republic. It was a really nice surprise to bump into ‘Mukki’ from Tübingen University Dojo near Stuttgart, who Austin and I had met briefly at JKA HQ in Tokyo during 2009.
On the last day of the course, there were probably a few sore heads and tired feet after the previous night’s end of Gasshuku party, which was most enjoyable but had reportedly finished at 5am. Nevertheless, everyone was in place early the next morning for photographs with the visiting instructors followed by training. The session culminated in a team kata competition, each team made up of a mixture of different grades and performing a Heian kata of choice. Okuma Sensei then took in the votes for an overall winner, after which he congratulated everyone on how well they had worked together.
Once the course had ended, Sarka and I were off to Prague for a couple of days where I enjoyed meeting her family, took in some of the the sights and had the chance to sample the flumes of ‘AquaParc’ as well as some more traditional Czech foods and beer.
The high-calorie content of Czech dumplings seemed the perfect way to recover from the exertion of Gasshuku.