Gasshuku and vist report, Japan, Jan 2023

Wow, 2023, it doesn’t quite seem like we are there, but we are. I have to admit that this trip more or less snuck up on me. Work was pretty busy on the run-up to the Christmas and by the time New Year’s Eve came about… well, let us just say that I was in bed by 9pm and missed the entire thing. I’m not that bothered.

Once the shiny new 2023 came about then also came the strikes in London, just in time for my dash to Heathrow. No trains leaving my station and so on the morning of my flight, I was, at 05:00 getting a lift into Paddington Station in the hope that the Heathrow Express was running as per the website. Five hours later and I was boarding the first flight of two, back to Japan for the first time in four years. This time, I was not going as far as Okinawa, but to Yokohama for the Japan Gasshuku.

Sensei Ernie was my travelling companion and we navigated our way through the pretty organised arrival procedures in Haneda airport and feeling very proud of ourselves, boarded the train to Yokohama. We were seated on different parts of the aircraft so once on the train, started chatting and it was after some time I realised we had vastly overshot Yokohama and were headed to the countryside. Now I consider myself to be fairly well travelled so not my finest hour…a quick change and we were on the way back to Yokohama… we’d overshot by 25 minutes!!!

The following day, I stood amongst maybe 70 or 80 others as we tried to organise ourselves for the Gasshuku. The venue, the Yokohama Budokan, I have to say this was an incredible place. I literally felt that I was in the belly of martial arts. All around me, people were preparing for their activity, judo, kendo, karate etc all milling around in the foyer and then heading to their respective halls. For me, this was like a dream, at one point I managed to sneak a peak into the Judo area where a senior grade was working with a young Judoka, he motioned me in to watch and was very curious to understand and learn about what we were doing in the other hall. He moved with such fluidity and grace, whilst at the same time dispatching his very lively partner across the floor.

Our Gasshuku focused a lot on both Kata and Bunkai, with outstanding direction from Nakamura Sensei, Yamashiro Sensei, Sensei Ernie and Sensei Jorge. This report doesn’t aim to go through what exactly we covered, but rather to give a flavour of the tone of the event. One thing I am sorry about though, I trained with a lovely gentleman during the Gasshuku, however, I never fully gained his name or details, which is a shame as we had a great time together and he was a lovely mixture of gentleness and “hard as nails”. The Gasshuku also had a number of other visitors who had travelled to join the training which was lovely to see as I’d only previously seen the details of this Gasshuku from pictures online! I even had a wee boy who came to chat with me, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak much Japanese, but he seemed quite cheeky (in a nice way), somehow we managed. That was the nature of the entire Gasshuku, everyone mucked in, trained hard and was lovely towards each other.

During the Gasshuku a presentation took place at one point when Sensei Toda Yuki was presented with his Hachidan (8th Dan) certificate. I have to take my hat off to this man who was standing in the class given by Sensei Ernie giving it loads at one point!

Each day that I was in Japan I tried to build something into the day that was new or would take me from my comfort zone. I had been to Tokyo many times before but always with the backstop of having a large bunch of folk with me. This time I had divided my time between the things/places I wanted to see, but also with the idea that I would do as much walking as possible. A great idea before the fatigue of training was realised.

Day 1 (don’t worry I’m not going to go through each day) and I was exiting Tokyo Station and was almost taken off my feet by the freezing wind. Another new thing for me, Japan in the cold. I’ve only really been here when it’s on the north side of 25C, a lovely place for me. Cold Japan was a whole new experience. With teeth chattering I walked around the Imperial Palace and vowed never to leave the apartment without my coat again. I had been advised on the use of masks but everyone had masks on in Japan, on the trains, in the street, everywhere. The only exception, running..the Palace grounds a hive of folks working out! But yes, masks were the order of the day everywhere, which I do have to admit, I’m not a fan of.

I visited many places that were memories from many years ago. Yokohama as a base was great as I could easily head South to Kamakura, Enoshima (and see Fuji-San) or head to Tokyo and beyond to the North. I have to admit, I think the colder weather allowed for more time to really drink places and experiences inwards. Once I’d managed to get my thermal situation sorted out, I could pause for coffee looking over the sea/street/shrine etc. and not scurry back to an air conditioned environment every 20 minutes.

After the Gasshuku training continued with the kindness of Ryureikan Dojo in Yokohama who shared their dojo with us. Focus went to our kata and each and every move and intent was placed under a magnifying glass. These situations are, well, “challenging”, especially when surrounded by Karateka who are so much more adept and all looking at you. But that’s more of this finding the uncomfortable in order to grow.

Wednesday was a day that I had looked forward to for a while. It was Sumo day and I had tickets! Sumo is something that we have watched at home for a while now and when I realised that I would be in Tokyo at the same time the Basho is on…well… I couldn’t miss it now could I? I had a cheap ticket and so made my way across town with a belly full of excitement. I guess after going to gigs in Europe and the UK for years you have an expectation of how the experience is going to play out. Well, I was wrong. The ticket checkers were lovely, everything was really well organised and I had an amazing seat. The lady beside me was also alone as was the man to my left and so we kinda all got on with it. I’ve never had an appreciation of the forces generated from watching on TV, my second-floor seat was readily able to feel the impacts. Which, I’m very sure would have killed a “normal” human. Two things stood out to me amongst all this. The first was the accessibility of the Rikishi. An area off to one side of the building had seats and space for the public to clap their favoured Rikishi as they arrived, all respectfully bowing and calling “Gambatte”. The second was after the event. As we emerged from the Ryogoku Kokugikan, everyone headed to the train station but some of the Rikishi were also either getting the train (more junior Rikishi) and/or waiting for their taxi. They were not bothered by fans, no one was asking them for pictures, merely bowing if eyes met and filing by. I boarded a train with one such Rikishi who was in front of me who, at one point asked a lady with a buggy if she needed help.

By the time I flew home, I had a whole batch of new memories and experiences and a great start to 2023. I also learned a lesson. Narita airport is frigging miles from Yokohama and it’s worth paying for the express rather than navigating the 6 changes from Tokyo Station!

Thank you to everyone! It was awesome!

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