Gasshuku 2017 and Beyond: Part 2 – Eat in or take away? (There is more than one way to skin a dead cat!)

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Some of the wonderful souls I trained with last week.

Training in other dojo(s) has the potential to make you feel like a fish out of water. You are the visitor, the other, with your different uniform and your different style. You try not to stand out, but that is easier said than done. There are so many ways to skin a dead cat that people may look at you sideways if you start skinning a dead cat your way when they skin it a different way, so as unsuccessful as it can be, you try to skin it their way and fit in.

Skinning your dead cats the way they skin their cats can be a double edged sword (I guess a double edged sword might skin 2 cats at once!!!) On the one hand they may look at you in a freak moment when you actually do it they way they want you to, and say…..”Wow! she can skin a dead cat the “right” way!” (subtext “our way”)…..or, when you are not skinning it their way, despite having a red hot go they might say “You’re skinning it all “wrong”! I bet your instructor didn’t show you to skin it that way!” (which then makes you question which memo you missed when on the whole skinning cats thing!!). Don’t ask me why a staunch vegan like myself is talking about skinning cats. I know nothing about skinning cats!! What I do know, or at least what I am starting to realise now, is that whilst cross training gets easier, the more you know about your own style, it also gets harder.

When I started cross training as a white / yellow belt, I didn’t know cross training was a thing, I didn’t even know karate styles were a thing…..I mean a dogi is a dogi right?……And noone looks particularly stylish in one: it’s not the point!! When you are still learning a down block, the subtleties of how far out from your body a block ends, how straight your elbow is, where the block starts, etc, just aren’t on your radar. When you start to feel more confident with the basics within your style though, and someone questions it or tries to change it, even just subtly, it can make you question not only if  you are doing it right (specific to your own style), but also why you don’t do it the same way as they do.

When I spent a week intensely cross training, last week, I was essentially cross training in one style, mostly in one dojo (but also attending 2 others of the same style). Even across dojo(s) though, I noticed subtle differences in techniques / style, teaching methods, preferences and priorities. It was absolutely fascinating!

With the exception of my own kata (which are style specific), I tried to follow along as best I could where ever I was. I even followed along with some of the basic kata they were practicing, which gave me even more to think about in terms of the common ancestry of our styles…..(gives more meaning when we affectionately refer to each other as “sister” dojo or our “cousins”). When I trained on my own in between times, I endeavoured to resort back to my own style. That said, I did experiment to a degree with incorporating principles and relevant information and feedback, into my own practice. I took both an eat in AND take away approach. It’s no wonder I came back feeling overfed!! A week on almost and I am still trying to digest it all!

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GASSHUKU 2017 and beyond: Part 1 – Going troppo (without actually going troppo)*

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Just off the plane back home!!!

*’Going Troppo’ is an exclusively Australian slang term for ‘going crazy’. The  popular understanding about it’s origin is that it comes from stories of the tropical heat in the northern parts of Australia driving people crazy.

This afternoon I returned from Queensland having spent a very intensive 10 days focusing on karate. For the last couple of weeks, my life has been a case of: eat, sleep, train, repeat. Sometimes there has definitely been more of the training, than the eating, or sleeping, but mostly it’s been relatively even.

Hard work; it was. Brain stretching; it was. Although there hasn’t been much blood, there has been plenty of sweat…..OMG……that humidity in the tropics is not something someone from a drier climate like me ever really gets used to, but even with sweat streaming into my eyes, there were no tears. Despite the weather, there was no “going troppo”, even when I was led astray to the occasional post-training glass of Japanese or home-brew cider!!!

During my time away, so many Sensei tachi and Senpai tachi, (my own Kyoshi included), have given of their time, freely, and willingly, to watch me, and guide me, to give me feedback, and just to talk karate with me and answer questions.

Statistics-wise, if I total the “in dojo” and/or “with Sensei” hours (ie not including individual practice or informal training / discussion with others) in the last 11 days, I come up with 32 or thereabouts. That’s way more than I would normally train in about a month. During the last 11 days, I’ve trained in five different dojo, on a beach, in the ocean, predawn camp on the grass, accompanied by birdsong. I’ve also trained with 10 different Sensei tachi (instructors), many different Senpai, and probably over 100 Karate-ka from 11 different dojo in Queensland, SA, and USA.

Everyone has their own teaching style. Some very direct, some tactile, some reflective, but all effective in different ways. It could have been a confusing, and overwhelming, or even downright demoralising experience. I am happy to report that it was anything but that. I was expecting to come home a bit battered and bruised if not on the outside, on the inside, but instead, I feel affirmed of my journey, with renewed resolve and enthusiasm. Apart from giving me a whole lot of ideas about how to improve my own practice, the many instructors have also given me ideas about teaching others.

All the people I had the pleasure of training with, are passionate about their art. I know that I am too, and a lot of people can see that in me, but it hasn’t always been easy to convince everyone that a late, (and relatively new) starter like me, is worthy of the kind of respect, and personal attention, I have been afforded.

Five or six months ago, when I started planning this trip, I was somewhat concerned that it was “too early” in my journey, to even ask for the opportunity to attend classes at the Queensland dojo (s), too much of an imposition on my husband and kids, and even too much of an inconvenience on my kohai here, who are preparing for grading (ie I should be around to help them). I was so distracted by what everyone else’s needs were, and what everyone else would make of a request from a first kyu brown belt, with less than four years training under that belt, asking for an experience beyond what even she thought she could be given, let alone handle.

I’m not the first in our dojo, (nor hopefully will I be the last), to visit our sister dojo(s) in Queensland, or to get feedback from Queensland dojo heads, but my Senpai who went last year, was up there for a shorter time, while staying with family, and was in the throes of preparing for his shodan test not long after he returned. I was in Queensland for a whole week after camp, expecting to rent accommodations and a car in order to be able to live out what I wanted to do with the week. Instead I was welcomed into the homes of 2 members of my karate family and transported by various others.

To all of the people who helped me arrange my trip, those who welcomed me into their dojo (s), who patiently taught me, encouraged me. and showed me knew things, to those who transported me, who adopted me into their families (and not just their dojo families), and showered me with love, and support, when I was away from my own family and my own dojo family, you not only made my stay possible but, also extremely enjoyable and highly productive. To all of you, (you know who you are), I am truly grateful.