My whole life I’ve been lucky enough to see amazing Karateka. As a junior I remember being in weekend gasshukus in the Lee Maltings (Cork, Ireland) with Senseis Steve Cattle, Dirk Heene and Julian Mead. This sparked an interest in me to learn more, to never stop trying to add to my knowledge and to seek out new opportunities. I’m reminded of something that Steve Cattle said in a gasshuku, he said… ‘seek out as much information as you can in your chosen interest practice what you learn so that you fully understand the subject, this will make you one of the most interesting people in the world’.
I had great mentors when I started training, in true Irish fashion they pretty much told me what I needed to do in no uncertain terms and when I was too scared or lazy to get myself to training or gasshukus, well I knew what my options were. They were pretty limited, it was pretty much, get yourself to training and stop making excuses!
We followed Sensei Kase and his lineage and this took us to training with wonderful people such as Sensei Shirai, Sensei Kanazawa and others. I can remember with great fondness and fear the feelings just before a gasshuku of training with these great masters. It was a badly kept secret that Kase Sensei had links to the Nakano School (陸軍中野学校 Rikugun Nakano Gakkō) where very special skills were taught to Japanese operatives in WW2. This was very real history, which came to my doorstep and I honestly couldn’t believe I was even in the same room as such experience, nevermind learning from them.
I wasn’t a confident child, I’m not really a confident adult although I can project as such, (that’s a secret by the way) so the fear before gasshukus with such Karateka made me feel so nervous. There were a load of Senior grades in our dojo and a bit of a gap between them and well… me and a few others.
As a young black belt there was always the danger that you would end up facing someone who was a superduper Dan grade and then there was the horror of the group scenario. I have a distinct memory of a fear that landed on me like the literal tonne of bricks when I ended up in a training group that included Senseis Hastle, Williams (Bermuda), and Susan Dwane. That was upstairs in the Lee Maltings and we were doing the bunkai to Tekki-Shodan with Sensei Steve Cattle. When we had to ‘pair up in groups of 4’ and I was plucked from the back row to join a group of people I had admired for years. I was literally cursing under my breath as I walked from the back of the dojo to the group as directed by the Sensei, who thought he was helping me.
I found a strength that day, not it has to be said during the training, no the training petrified me, but I got through it, when we finished in our little group I got a ‘well done’, from Sensei Cattle who actually used our group to demonstrate some of the bunkai. I think I was physically shaking during the entire gasshuku and it was only afterwards when I was writing up my notes that I realised I had learned much more than I ever had before. So much more!!
I didn’t suddenly become uber confident after this but bit by bit the nerves either improved a little or well, didn’t get any worse. But, I knew if I survived a day like that, well, how bad could it get? I had no idea about the world of teaching at that stage, that terror was still to come along.
But, for a someone who grew up in the middle of fields in Ireland I still find it incredulous that I have been lucky to have so many wonderful experiences, far far from farms and fields. I still pinch myself to this day, my start in Karate was wonderful, it helped me not to settle for second best and to seek out interesting, amazing people.
I’m still faking the confidence but that’s a secret…