Decadal Gashuku Part 4: The Aftermath

So what was the Decadal Gashuku all about? In 10 days we had run more than 150 km, performed close to 10 000 kicks and an equal number of punches, strikes and blocks. We had trained for 10 hours per day, sweated buckets of water, used up litres of sunscreen and eaten gallons of maltabela porridge. We had lifted chi shis, pressed the kongo ken, done thousands of knuckle push-ups, sit-ups, squat kicks and fireman lifts up steep hills.

Certainly the gashuku was, to a large extent, an exercise in spirit training. But there was much more to it than that, and it would be unfair to ignore these other aspects in the face of "more exciting" events like fractured vertebra, dislocated shoulders and dehydration-induced delirium.

The Decadal Gashuku is where I learned (and inculcated) some very useful (and in fact fundamental) martial material that in the pre-internet era was particularly hard to come by.

In weapons alone I learned Hamahiga no tonfa, Tsukenshitahaku sai kata (a trident form), Sakagawa no kon (an Okinawan 6 ft staff form), the 20 aiki jo suburi (4 ft staff basics), sanjuichi jo kata (31 count 4 ft staff form) and the 7 bokken suburi (basic sword cuts and thrusts).

The Decadal Gashuku is where I cemented my knowledge of the goju kata seipai and its applications, and it is where I first learned the kata seisan.

The goju kata seisan which I learned at the Decadal Gashuku (this video shows me performing it in 1993)

It is also the time where I learned Da Peng Zhan Chi or "Shaolin Peng" - one of the "bridging" internal forms of Hong Yi Xiang of Taipei (who died only a year or 2 later).

Da Peng Zhan Chi - one of the "bridging" forms I learned at the Decadal Gashuku

The Decadal Gashuku also marks the time that I first began my study of the art of taijiquan (Yang style) - every day we went through the first section until I had (at the very least) absorbed the sequence.

Add to the this the myriad fascinating 2-person drills that we practised, many of which are still rarely seen today.

Tensho kakie - a push hands exercise we practised at the Decadal Gashuku

Apart from the training, I also got the opportunity to practice at least an hour of zen breath counting meditation each day - an experience in itself.

Then there were the many people I met and friendships that I forged. I remember fondly our 2 nights of revelry (one mid-way through and the other at the end) where our teams put on humorous sketches followed by fireside sing-alongs led by a female student with a remarkable folk voice and a beat-up steel string guitar.

So what became of those people? Some of them I never heard from again and there are others whose names I no longer even recall.

There was young Brian who was taught to swim by my sister-in-law and fellow black belt Marie-Therese. I wonder what became of him?

Young Damien carried on training with Bob for another couple of years after the Decadal Gashuku, but abruptly quit. Bob told me once that he'd seen him in Johannesburg; he'd gained a lot of weight and had become a business executive. I still remember him as the little boy who slept leaning on my shoulder during the 22 hour drive across South Africa to our gashuku destination at Stilbaai in the southeastern Cape back in December 1984.

Big Rod and the ex-special forces troops are mere faces in photographs now (see the last 2 pictures in this post).

Bob recounted how Deshi Wyatt was still under his apprenticeship contract when he simply packed his bags one night and slipped off into the darkness never to be heard of again. As I recall, Wyatt was a law student like myself and had one or 2 years left to go. He sported a long scar down one cheek. When I asked how he'd got it, he said it was from a "live knife" demo with Bob. "I ducked when I should have weaved," he said simply.

Deshi Tony trained with Bob until around 1995/6, running a branch of Bob's college in a place called Pinetown. He eventually went his own way, calling his school something "Tony's Self Defence Academy". He really was a pleasant chap and I regret that we never hit it off. I won't lie; there have been times over the years when I have quietly cursed him for my aching back. But I'm fairly sure he didn't injure me maliciously and I rather suspect that if we were to meet again I'd be happy to see him.

I'm sorry that I don't remember the name of the rather generous person I've called "Mr Ho Chi". When we were packing up to leave it transpired that no one could give us a lift back to Durban. Mr Ho Chi was going the opposite way, but once again volunteered his services. This involved driving several hours out of his way to assist us. I might have forgotten his name, but I shall never forget his generosity.

Greg Seymour and Tim Hull returned with us to Australia and both carried on training for some time.

Greg (right, back) recovered from his dehydration and subsequent illness and gallantly continued with the gashuku. He trained with us on and off for many years until he moved to Japan where he realised his life's ambition of becoming a missionary. I last saw him in the late 90s but heard from him a few years ago.

Tim (centre front with shirt off) eventually moved to the town of Margaret River, having put enough money aside to go into semi-retirement at a very young age. He married a lovely girl and has a teenage boy named Oliver. I haven't spoken to him in years but believe he is in good health.

Nenad and I went back to Durban where we trained with Bob for another week or 2. During this time we were still in the "pressure cooker", acquiring more and more knowledge, for example muk yan chong or the wooden dummy form from wing chun. Unfortunately it was also the time I got my thumping as part of my nidan (second dan) assessment (fractured vertebra and all).

After that we came back to Perth and resumed our own lives and training, although it took many months for the injuries to heal. I tried to go for a run a couple of weeks after we got back, but had to give up after a few steps. Without the adrenaline the pain was simply too severe. There was probably some further damage from my last week of training in the dojo in Durban.

Against all expectations we held our own gashuku (our 3rd) in that same year at the Shannon National Park in Western Australia's southwest. It was to be an astounding success, fondly remembered by all. It marked the beginning of a love affair with that part of the State (we held 6 more gashukus at the same spot - the last being another "infamous" gashuku held by Lao shi Bob - fondly remembered as the "Pine Cone Gashuku").

We still hold an annual 6 day gashuku every year, although the venue of choice is now the Stirling Ranges in the far south. Our gashukus have their share of challenges which, in addition to all the kicks and punches, include overnight hikes up to the top of mountains, however I like to think that no one is ever overwhelmed. We strive to have everyone emerge from the gashuku with both pertinent knowledge/skill enhancement and an enormous sense of achievement. I am proud to say that Nenad (who leads the camps) manages to provide such an experience every year. We don't serve maltabela porridge, and Chinese tea has replaced rooibos tea.

I've said previously that if I were to do the Decadal Gashuku all again, I would do some things differently. In answer to my good friend Jorge's question "How?" I say the following:

First of all, I wouldn't stress about it. I've learned the lesson of the 10 blind masseuses very well since that time, having handled all manner of challenging events.

I'd not bother to do do things that I didn't need to do (like carry on running with a fractured vertebra).

I would have been pleasant, but not too "kind"; some people on the camp took my accommodating nature as a weakness. The footsweep that factured my vertebra was a case in point; I was far too accommodating and didn't really assert myself with Tony who was clearly used to a bit more "resistance". By the time I realised my mistake, it was too late. I certainly wouldn't have let myself get into a situation where he could grab my leg in sparring.

I would have prepared for the gashuku far better than I did. For starters, I'd have made sure I was as fit as possible. I would never have tagged the event onto the end of a 4 week European "relaxing" holiday. I would have done things the other way around. I would also have ensured we were properly equipped. I never again want to be looking through bins for water bottles or relying on the kindness of strangers for things that I can arrange myself.

Above all, I would have been far more protective of my wife.

And I would have done everything with a smile.

But I wouldn't have done any of this on my honeymoon. ;)

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Wow that's amazing. I think I'd like to do something like this, but I don't think I'd survive it. It's a scary thought to me.

  2. Of course you'd survive it Elias! I did, after all (I wouldn't be writing this now, would I?) ;)

    You're always welcome to come to our gashuku next April. It won't be quite as tough, but it'll be a good challenge!

  3. This was definitely my favourite Gashuku, and I remember poor Greg! I saw Brent about 14/15 years ago in Cape Town, very briefly. Other than that, I lost touch with everyone when I also left about a year later.

  4. I'm glad someone remembers the gashuku fondly! We tend to have some mixed feelings!

  5. The Japanese often have training camps like this for almost everything. From martial arts to national competitive sports like karate/judo/kendo.

    The old shounen shows always talked about how the protagonist gets beat and must go off to a training camp.

    It also cements social relationships, which is a big thing in the Japanese hierarchy.

    I figured out pretty early that while I had been taught various shoulder dislocation and destruction methods, I had no idea how to repair one. That knowledge came about from my own experiences, rather than at anyone else's expense while experimenting on them.

    At one time in aikibujutsu training, when I was new, we were supposed to do a tenkan step when someone is sticking a gun in our back, step to the outside, and use the forearm to tilt and control the chin and throw them. The first time I just did it smoothly without hesitation, at a relaxed normal pace and power. Everything came natural. Until I realized she was falling, and I automatically held her up. Later on I wondered if I did so because it was a woman, then realized I did the same thing to a brown belt 15 year old teenager that looked like he was 18 and tall/big to boot (baby fat though). After I realized why I did this, I started worrying about things like impacting their throat and having them die of suffocation, without me knowing how to do a trachio octomy. I tried to slow it down, but that just segmented my movements into unfamiliar territory and caused me to push one of the black belts back, but not simultaneous with my body tenkan. No fall. In hindsight, I could have assumed my partner knew ukemi and the instructor wouldn't have paired us together unless the mats and the people were good enough, but I decided to trust only my own judgment. And my own judgment was that the only time I see people fall away from me is when I have done crippling damage and are now in the process of slamming their head into the earth to shatter it. Since I didn't want that, my instincts naturally acted to prevent that. Without consideration, thought, or planning.

    So you may not think it was a malicious sweep, but I do. There was no mat to cushion that fall. To me, it never did matter. It was not a matter of safety. It was a matter of personal standards and judgment. I don't necessary espouse "prioritize your partner's safety over your own", but I do understand it when other people put it in their rule set.

    Asking around other martial artists, they don't have this perspective or instinct.

    Btw, Dan, what did you first think about the Yang Taiji form? Most people I've asked tell me their Taiji was boring and so they quit, because it was slow and nothing seemed to happen (physically or mentally). I had different thoughts with my first Taiji session, but what about you?

    Now a days in Aikibujutsu, I've learned to be familiar with how people like to roll or fall. One guy in his 40s or 50s even launches himself into a roll before I've applied power, and I can definitely feel it now when before I might not have. Now I just need to remind myself that "this isn't how it looks in reality", so I don't get confused by wrong visual signals. I try to just ignore it, because one time I found myself doing a move and then got surprised that the uke didn't move the way I expected. That was from seeing all those falls before, giving me the wrong expectation. For me, constantly switching up partners in the beginning delayed my growth. For most people, it cuts them out of bad habits. For me, it delayed my ability to feel the natural movements of the person I was working with. After 10-50 repetitions of one technique with one partner, things got a lot easier to analyze. And that's why a gashuku works. Nothing to do but train, if only to stay off boredom.

  6. Ymar, I very much appreciated the Yang form when I first learned it. I continued practicing and teaching it until 2005 when I switched to CPL.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Karate punches vs. boxing punches

"Combat tai chi"? Seriously?

Zhan zhuang: grounding, structure, intention and qi