This year’s Gasshuku (camp) was led by Isao Gary Tsutsui Sensei of Colorado Budokan, his wife Sensei Candice, and daughter Sensei Akemi. The last time we were privileged to have Tsutsui Sensei lead Gasshuku (in 2014) I was a very new 9th kyu – in fact, I’d tested at Gasshuku. I remember at that camp one time I found myself without a partner to work with and I was struggling with the material. Tsutsui Sensei came right over and worked with me until I could manage on my own. Five years later I had a better grasp of the material, but most assuredly I needed help from time to time. Sensei Candice and Sensei Akemi were often right there whenever I didn’t quite make the mark. There were recurring themes throughout the weekend. I’d like to touch on some of them.
Usually at Gasshuku we have guests from other styles not just as participants, but also as instructors. As I’ve written before, getting out of our little Shindo Jinen-ryu groove is tremendously beneficial. We spent the weekend immersed in the Shotokan style. Because in our organization we perform kata in accordance with the old shitei standards, I have a rudimentary knowledge of “how things work” in Shotokan as gleaned from the two kata I’ve memorized (Jion and Kanku Dai). As often as I could remember I tried to BE a Shotokan student. Sensei Candice and Sensei Akemi were there to remind me when I lapsed! The body dynamics are a little different, and it was good to add to my tiny little store of knowledge of the Shotokan style.
Speaking of body dynamics, Sensei Candice Tsutsui is a physiotherapist. She has designed warm up routines for karate. Her daughter Sensei Akemi led us through these warm ups. Warm ups have changed over time, and the Tsutsui family is on top of the latest research and principles on exercise, using the same principles that professional athletes employ. I was very glad that my little-old-lady instincts have been correct: there are certain things I like to avoid during warm up and other movements that feel right for me. We learned a few principles and exercises that were new to me. As a result, I’ve expanded my warm-up routine and no longer feel guilty for avoiding the things that are unhelpful. I am, after all, not as young as I once was, so if I’m going to train hard, I must train smart.
Not only do I strive to train smart, I have for decades tried to teach smart. It started when I helped teach karate when I was a teenager and continued through home schooling two “out of the box” children. For most of my second karate journey I have been helping to teach – I’ve come full circle. I’m still learning about teaching. One nugget from this weekend that I gleaned is about teaching kata. First teach a series of drills based on the kata – breaking down the most challenging movements into even as few as one or two steps. I appreciate having another tool in my teaching toolbox!
One of the best things about Gasshuku is there are no cell phone towers nearby. We can’t retreat into our phones. We spend time together. It’s also a little taste of Japanese culture. All of us pitch in for chores. We go the extra mile for our sensei(s) (instructors) – inviting them to “cut in” ahead of us in the food line, refilling their coffee, and taking away their dirty dishes. Of course there’s also time when we can relax and catch up with friends. All this builds camaraderie. I’ve seen the benefits of taking time to build relationships in family life, in professional life, and in Karate life. It helps to smooth out the politics that are a part of every group of two or more human beings. I’ve always been peripherally aware of how heavily we invest in one another, but this weekend solidified my appreciation of the relationships we’re all building.
As usual, the lessons from Gasshuku have gone beyond the spiffy techniques that were taught. Of course I have added things to my repertoire. Yes, I’ve learned about exercise and how to warm up. I’ve even learned another tool for teaching kata. You see how this is going out and out, expanding from the physical techniques to tools and principles? And surrounding everything are the relationships: Inter-dojo, intra-dojo, senpai, kohai, sensei, peers, mentors, mentees… We have etiquette to guide us in all these relationships, but what it all boils down to is respect and friendship. It’s karate at its best.