The day class yesterday was huge. It felt lovely, people are now starting to arrive for the Gasshuku. Though, not Tooting’s own Sensei Felix. Known for his incredible smile and levels of fitness, Sensei Felix now resides in Jamaica. When booking this event I completely forgot that in fact, for Sensei Felix getting to Canada from a logistical point of view was actually rather straightforward. Kind of…there were a few things that I hadn’t taken into account however. 😳
It turns out, Sensei Felix has no winter clothes in Jamaica. I mean why would you? I remembered this when I arrived and seeing the snow on the ground decided to give him a heads up. He was far from impressed. That’s the thing about Gasshukus, you never really know what the lie of the land is before you arrive…
My first overseas karate trip was to a place called Lilleshall. It was an annual event put on my the ESA, the English Shotokan Academy. These guys also followed Sensei Kase and so we had a commonality of interest. I’d heard people talking about this Gasshuku for years. As a student, I couldn’t afford to go, but once I’d graduated and got a “real job” I was very tempted to join! All I knew was this course was in a place called Lilleshall. Where that was and how to get there, I had no idea. Luckily, there was a group going and more importantly, there was space for me in the car. OK, so I had no idea a car was needed. In fact, it was only on googling that I figured out that this Lillehsall place was kind of, but not really, close to Birmingham. The aforementioned car journey was a mess as we got lost many times only to arrive at a foreboding gate that led to a long and winding drive. I needn’t have worried. At the top was a huge stately looking house, lions stood guard by the archway to the courtyard and already I could see people milling around.
Built in 1831, Lilleshall is the former home and hunting lodge of the Duke of Sutherland and stands in beautiful grounds overlooking stunning gardens. It was Lilleshall’s connection with Association Football that brought the centre to the attention of the Nation however. The England team trained for two weeks at Lilleshall prior to their success in World Cup of 1966. In 1967, when Sir Alfred Ramsey returned to the centre to unveil a plaque to commemorate his team’s stay and endorse the view that Lilleshall could justly claim some credit for England’s famous victory. In fact elite sport had for years taken place and been nurtured on site with the Queen opening the facilities in 1951.
Now this was miles away from the experience I had of training in freezing halls with no heating and/or aircon depending on the time of year. I had my own room and then came the food. The GB gymnastics team uses Lilleshall as a training ground before competitions and so on my first visit, I queued with everyone else, tray in hand waiting for the kitchen to open. Amongst the queue were a load of gymnasts all chatting and giggling. This stopped as soon as the kitchen doors opened and their trays were pilled high with all sorts of foods, check off against the lists each one held in their hands. The chatting continued as they worked their way through the lines of food and then everyone sat down. The chatting stopped. It was only then that it became clear to me that in fact. For these guys, eating was as much a part of training as well… training.
The lovely thing about coming back to this Gasshuku is the familiarity, familiarity of both the local geography but mostly the people. Yesterday I saw so many friendly faces, faces I haven’t seen in person for ages… in fact, when I was packing, I noticed that my last trip was in fact to this Gasshuku, the last international one before the lockdown. So it feels right to be back. It’s really cold and so I will have to try and get some clothes together for Sensei Felix but am sure people will share..!
In less that 3 hours we start the weekend training with the Black Belt session. Now, it’s time for a quick snooze and then I’ll strike-out on the 2km hike to the dojo. Can’t wait to see everyone!