Sensei Kase Gasshuku 1994

It might seem strange to write about a gasshuku that was so long ago, but much of my karate life was spent following Sensei Kase and his way of thinking about training. To set the scene, of course I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that I was going to follow one particular route… I was basically driven to a Karate school and shoved into the kids class. I’ve written about this in the past so won’t dwell here.

A young Sensei Kase

We moved from our then association to follow Sensei Kase and the rest as they say is history. Of course at the age of 12 I knew no better. For me the basics etc didn’t change but the people we trained with, oh they changed a lot. For starters we had people like Dirk Heene and by association Julian Mead come to teach regular gasshukus. The world went from being a member of a small dojo in Cork to a limitless global playing field.

This gasshuku was special ’cause it was my first where I went on my own. Yes to this point I’d gone to competitions and courses with others and with my teams but this was, in some ways my coming of age. It was also one of the most important things that I ever did… why? Because it told me that I could do this sort of thing… that I could travel on my own and that I had a huge karate family.

Regular readers will know that I am way less confident than I project and at the point that I went to this gasshuku I was working in a pub and waiting to make the move from secondary school to university. I’d left the cushy number I had in an antique shop and was now working late nights in a pub that… back in the day… used to be a jail and before that… a workhouse. So with almost my entire earnings… I was off to Edinburgh.

Now at this point I’d been to gasshukus with my club in the Lee Maltings (venue in Cork)… but this was my first solo gasshuku. Of course there were people from my home club, but they were staying in different places, some were even surprised to see me in the line up. Now, the line up was very intimidating… there were so many senior grades milling around and as soon as Sensei Kase showed up… with one of his senior students the entire hall fell silent and somehow the lines formed.

It was clear that Sensei was keen to get going, he watched as we went through the warm up, I know this because I wrote a diary back then using Lotus Notes (yes, kill me now) and I “noted” how nervous I was in the beginning of this training.

Kase Sensei with Sensei LeCourt

The people who were in the first few rows were incredible, at least to me at that age. Sure I’d been a competitor but they were something else. They remembered so many bunkai and in this class it was Sensei Kase who gave the bunkai and we who had to follow… with maybe one or two views of the actual exercises. These were not grading bunkai. These were gashuku bunkai. I was on the edge of my abilities… no that’s not true. I was struggling to keep up in anyway. Then I ended up with what I was, years later, to learn, some of Sensei Kases most senior students.

We had to work in groups of 5 (I was the “odd one out” and was pushed to the front to join a random group) there was a huge range of options that were available to choose from in order to match the bunkai to the kata. As we worked through the various options in or wee group I was able to watch the seniors and take guidance from them.

I can’t remember exactly but I think I was in a group with Sensei LeCourt and Patrella… maybe… I didn’t take full notes. Then… we were the group that were called out to demonstrate as Sensei Kase gave instructions to the group at large and used us to illustrate. The problem… was mostly, in my case ability and sheer panic. That was Saturday.

On Sunday I thought that I could drift back into the recesses of the gasshuku, but we started where we left off.

The story from Saturday evening was that I had no money so I had to go back to my hotel and hit the hay pretty early… well that was the plan… this was Scotland and as I arrived back to my hotel I met a guy from the course who insisted on buying me a drink… and then another. It turned out there were a few of them and they decided to take a poor student under their wing for the night.

12 hours later I was with the most senior students from Sensei Kase and I wasn’t quite at my best. The lesson learned here was to stay with me my entire life.

Sensei Kase died a mere 10 years later… I attended his funeral in Paris and I remembered a moment from the Sunday training way back in 1994, when my partner asked a question and Sensei demonstrated on me… he was gentle but I remember the power and well… his smile as he saw people understand what he was teaching. The power was immense… I’ve only felt the same from the likes of Higaonna Sensei and Inoue Sensei (RKAGB) to be honest. It would take me years to realise how lucky I was. I sat beside Sensei Dirk Heene during the funeral of Sensei Kase and tried to comfort his grief.

I am forever grateful for the Senseis who decided to leave a given path and follow Sensei Kase… which at the time was not an entirely popular decision… personally, I’ve touched history and that is rare. I can only forever be grateful.

Some references…

-Wiki Sensei Kase

-Interview with Sensei Kase here