Beginner’s Guide to Surviving a Koryu Uchinadi Gasshuku

At the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku, you will experience 4 – 8 hour days of physical and mentally demanding training. It will be a whirlwind of information covering everything from throws, ground techniques, weaponry, striking, “bunkai”, 2-person flow drills, and of course kata, from some of the world’s most knowledgeable and talented martial artists.

If you’ve never attended the event before, you might not be sure what to expect and you may be a little intimidated. So, I made up a short guide to help those who are new get the most out of their training and the extracurricular activities at this year’s event.

#1 – It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

8 hour long training days over 4 days is guaranteed to take its toll on you mentally and physically, so be careful not to overdo it on the first day.

My first Gasshuku, I most certainly did and I literally had a sleeve of bruises, which affected my ability to make a fist and drink a beer for the rest of the week. . .

It was quite the ordeal, specifically the beer part.

So, don’t make the same mistake I did! Remember, it’s not about showing off, it’s about learning, so take your time and move at a pace you’re comfortable with, both for your safety and the safety of your partner.

#2 – Stay hydrated.

I suppose this should go without saying, but for those who have never trained over an extended period of time before, it’s an important reminder.

The KU Gasshuku will be strenuous, at the least. To help keep you focused and healthy throughout the event, always keep a water bottle handy and try not to overdo it at the bar.

#3 – Listen!

I’ll say it a little bit louder for the people in the back. . .

LISTEN!

I mean really listen! And, by that, I mean close your mouth and open your ears!

For many of us who attend the event, we’re professional martial artists, we’re black belts, we’re teachers and we almost always take on the teaching role. If you’re attending the Gasshuku as a participant, your job, your only job, is to learn.

The key to do that is to. . .

At the Gasshuku, this is your chance to really be a student again. And, to get the full advantage of the lessons, take on the beginner’s mind, “empty your cup” as they say, and remember that in the martial arts, you’re “always a student, sometimes a teacher”.

#4 – Remember your etiquette and your hygiene.

Anytime you attend a martial arts event for the first time, scale your etiquette towards the formal side until someone tells you otherwise. Remember to bow when entering the dojo or greeting a senior student or instructor. It’s always better to lean further towards formality and tone it down when asked than to not show enough formality and be seen as arrogant or disrespectful.

In continuity with etiquette, remember good hygiene! You are going to sweat A LOT, so please make measures to ensure you have a clean gi and fight gear. Also, remember to keep those fingernails and toenails cut short. . . You don’t want to be that guy!

. . .Or, do I?

#5 – Have Fun!

Last, but not the least, have fun! At the event, we train hard and play hard. The sweat, the tears, the hangover — it’s all in good fun. Try not to take yourself too seriously and come in with a child’s mind. Don’t worry about making mistakes; that’s a part of the learning process. We’re just here to play and explore and in doing so have a better understanding of the art we love so much: Karate.

We hope to see you there!

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Gasshuku Interview With Hanshi Patrick McCarthy

With the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku just around the corner, I had a chance to speak with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy (9th Dan) about what the Gasshuku means to him and what we’ll be learning at this year’s event. 

JT: Can you tell me a bit about the meaning and history of the term Gasshuku?

Koryu Uchinadi Gasshuku 2002

McCarthy Sensei: Unlike the Japanese terms Keiko[稽古], which means “training,” Renshu[練習], which means “practice,” Kan-geiko[寒稽古], which means training in [cold/winter] temperature/conditions and/or Shochu-geiko[暑中稽古], which means training in [summer/hot] temperature/conditions, the term Gasshuku[合宿] means “training camp,” but also brings the idea of lodging together while conjuring up a special feeling of camaraderie and learning through austerity. This, of course, coincides exactly with our theme for the international gathering: diligent training, improved understanding and camaraderie between like-minded people supporting common goals. Unlike the open or multi-style training seminars that I often teach around the world, the focus of our symposium is to address curriculum-orientated theory and practices. The express purpose of this effort is purely to broaden and deepen your understanding of Koryu Uchinadi and tighten our bond of friendship in the spirit of Budo.

JT: Can you tell me about the first Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku? What was it like?

2002 Gasshuku

McCarthy Sensei:  Oh yes, the first two things that come to mind are what a remarkable job Sensei Brian & Helen Sakamoto did in arranging the gathering and exactly just how bloody hot it was in Toronto that summer of 2002.  I also remember the special guests who came to visit: Sensei Tsuruoka, Sensei Wally Slocki and Sensei Monty Guest. In spite of the hot weather, we had such a memorable time training together and forming such unshakable bonds of friendship.

JT: What is your favourite part about the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

2015 Gasshuku Go KU

McCarthy Sensei:  Ahhh, that’s easy. Just the feeling I get of being around so many who share my dream and seeing how KU empowers those who embrace it.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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McCarthy Sensei: Well, everything I teach is “Toolbox-orientated” [i.e. the ability to deploy effective practices against the HAPV] in what I refer to as Riai-Tegumi. That said, my focus of attention this year will be on the 48-Bubishi postures, how they are used against the HAPV, and their ritualization into templates, which are exampled in the Kata we embrace.

JT: Could you explain the significance of the 48-Bubishi Postures?

McCarthy Sensei: The 48 2-person postures represent classical HAPV and response applications. They are timeless and hugely significant to the original art as once taught, learned and practiced in old Okinawa.

JT: Could you explain Riai-Tegumi in a bit more detail, for those who are not familiar with this practice?

McCarthy Sensei: Riai-Tegumi[理合手組] is an unscripted/random exchange of HAPV attacks, escapes & counters [using our RRCCR/receive, respond, capture, control & release concept], with varying levels of aggressive resistance, which starts from a stand-up position after, “crossing hands,” and includes the clinch and the ground, and most preferably all three areas.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

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McCarthy Sensei: Don’t be afraid to believe in yourself, follow your heart and enjoy life!

Message from the Director

Sensei McCarthy

“Dear students, instructors & colleagues,

I have long been passionate about the traditional fighting arts but prefer functionality to impractical ritual. By going out on my own, and establishing Koryu UchinadiI not only challenged the existing status quo, I succeeded in ruffling many a feather within our tradition. Nowhere was this sentiment more evident than with the zealots who believe the art is the exclusive domain of the Japanese [i.e. Okinawans]. My knowledge of Japanese language and [Budo] culture, unique experience and technical competency represented the kind of progressive independence, which seemingly threatened the control and insecurity of the powers that be.

17th Century Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho, summed up tradition nicely when he wrote, “Seek not to [blindly] follow in the footsteps of the men of old but rather continue to seek out what they sought.” This timeless concept says so much about keeping tradition alive, rather than blindly adhering to, “Exactly how the master did it 75 years ago!” Citing the wisdom of Thomas Moore, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. The only way to do this effectively, especially in lieu of such widespread ambiguity, is the continual exploration of that which we don’t understand by using any and all means available to us. This is the guiding light of the IRKRS, and I am confident that the direction in which we are currently travelling is much more in line with the teachings left to us by the pioneers than is the conformist mentality that shaped the dysfunctional modern interpretation of this art.

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Koryu Uchinadi represents the culmination of my life’s work. It is a uniquely contemporary tradition meticulously constructed from the remnants of four classical practices [Tegumi手組, Ti’gwa手小, Torite捕り手 & Kata型], once vigorously embraced during Okinawa’s old Ryukyu Kingdom Period. For many years, I dreamed of a way in which to reach out and help other people find their way through the historical, cultural and technical ambiguity, which tends to shroud understanding the essence of this art. The International Ryukyu Karate Research Society has become a worldwide movement bringing together like-minded people in pursuit of common goals. Celebrating empowerment, personal achievement and camaraderie has become the hallmark of our movement.

This Gasshuku is one of the most important annual gatherings of our organisation. To have such dedicated and like-minded people come together in camaraderie and support of common goals is nothing short of wonderful. I would also like to express my appreciation to all local participants and especially those who will travel from out-of-town, the USA and overseas. Some of the supporters here have been with us since our very first Gasshuku in 2002. I am especially grateful to Sensei Helen Sakamoto for her years of unwavering support. I’d also like to say thanks to Renshi Mike Coombes, his team, and the entire Toronto Study Group who do such a great job co-hosting our gathering. Also, a very special thanks to our co-instructors [Renshi Paul Lopresti, Renshi Cody Stewart, & Shidoin Darrin Johnson] for agreeing to deliver our target lessons this year. I am confident that you will be very happy with the experience delivered through their insightful lessons.

Welcome to our 16th annual North American Gasshuku, thank you for sharing my dream and helping to make this annual gathering such a wonderful learning experience.

Patrick McCarthy

Director

Join us for the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

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Martial Art Talks: Renshi Danny Spletter

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer. 

The first person to hit the MAT is Koryu Uchinadi Renshi, Sensei Danny Spletter. In addition to being a 4th dan in KU, Sensei Spletter also holds a 3rd dan in Shoto Kan. 

Renshi Danny Spletter

In our talk he shares what he feels are the most rewarding and sometimes frustrating aspects of being an instructor and gives us a taste of what he will be teaching at the 2017 North American Gasshuku! Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

JT: How did you get introduced to Koryu Uchinadi and Hanshi Patrick McCarthy?

Hanshi And Renshi Spletter

DS: I was a part of the Australian Karate Federation in Brisbane; they would bring him over every year for a seminar. He would explain, in depth, katas we were doing and until then I had no idea that they had applications—or had asked and never received an answer.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

Renshi Spletter Teaching

DS: I fall back on the JKA style of teaching, which is more Kihon oriented, in the KU sense. I still very much like that formality. I roll out with that more traditional style karate. I like things to be fairly disciplined and orderly.

JT: Take me through the step-by-step process you go through teaching or assessing your students.

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DS: That’s hard. It depends on the student. The way my curriculum is set up is we have the solo first and then the two person. I think that gets some muscle memory about where the body should be moving. But, sometimes it’s very difficult for people to imagine that other person there, so there’s some fusion.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part of teaching? In KU and/or just generally.

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DS: I’ve thought about this the last few years: KU really requires a good partner and it’s very difficult when you have mismatched students. It occurs to me that’s probably what happened with the evolution of Karate from Okinawa to Japan. You originally have these small classes with individual attention, possibly two to three people, then moving to larger classes, it would be a very difficult task to make that transition and teach two person drills to a mass amount of students. I find it works better for us to have smaller groups, more individual attention and to limit the ratio of students to instructors. It certainly works out and I find the students progress much faster when they have a evenly matched partner.

JT: What’s your greatest strength as an instructor?

Sensei Darrin Johnson, Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, Renshi Danny Spletter

DS: I try to be pretty organized. I’m a chef by profession and the culinary term is mise en place, which means “to put everything in its place.” That’s why I’ve set the curriculum up to be very orderly. That works for me in my personal life. The students that we have seem to be very comfortable with that. They know where they’re headed and there are no mysteries.

JT: What is your greatest strength as a student?

Renshi Spletter Kaishu Waza

DS: The stand up from JKA. The stand up impacting is where I probably feel the most comfortable.

JT: What’s the most frustrating part for you as a learner? 

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DS: As KU has progressed, it’s gathered a lot of drills. With the limited amount of time I have, its sometimes difficult to practice those drills and I really have trouble keeping up with them. We have a group of black belts now that are learning those drills and we’ll be able to work them together. Like the old adage says “karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.”

JT: What will you be teaching at the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

DS: I’ve volunteered to do the Kihon section at the start. We call it the Kihon Kickoff, with “old school” Volume 9 (Basic KU Curriculum) and REALLY work those drills. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of a sweat up to start the Gasshuku!

JT: What do you think is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

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DS: The thing I love about the Gasshuku is the networking and the people. Sensei McCarthy always says it attracts like-minded people, but I guess its not just like-minded in the martial arts, it’s a group of people I genuinely enjoy spending time with. I’ve been all over the world and it really seems to attract a similar group. They’re all pretty good people to get along with. I always have fun.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

DS: Follow your passion. Do what you want to do because life is short!

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Danny Spletter for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to working with  you at the Gasshuku!

Want to learn more? Check out the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku Facebook Page!KU_IRKRS