Aki-Gasshuku in Vxj / Sweden on 8th-10th October 2010

The circle is closed when an instructor teaches new beginners and white belts in your own dojo. Actually, it is the same thing at a Gasshuku when higher graded karatekas share their experience of karate to young instructors and thus the circle is closed again.

Gasshuku in Vxj 8th to 10th October 2010 was such an opportunity again when older and younger black belts could get together and train together. Experience and knowledge provides inspiration and ideas for our own training that you bring home to your dojo again.

In fact, many questions before the Gasshuku in Vxj began, such: Is there snow in Vxj in October? Do you have to have snow chains if you come by car? Do you have polar bears in the streets? Is Vxj located far north of Sweden? And many other issues concerning our country came up. I replied kindly at all anxious questions. No, we have no snow in Vxj in October. No, we are not allowed to have snow chains on the cars in this part of Sweden. Polar bears are in zoos and not wild. Vxj is located in the southern part of Sweden, only 220 km from Copenhagen. By train from Kastrup (Copenhagen Airport), directly to Vxj it takes only 21/2h.

And you who were brave and did came to Sweden you got answers and other questions as well, ranging from new interpretations of the Heian kata and discussion of workouts approach to the Swedish Smrgsbord with the funny chef we ate on Saturday nights dinner and Friday's visit to the Moose Park. Many sprained almost tongue in order to learn how to pronounce our city's name: V x j

This time, I will not write a report of the Gasshuku here in Vxj, I will let two of my youngest black belts describe their impressions of the weekend's camp instead. Josefin and Matilda are sisters and have been training with me since they were children. They graded to Shodan last year. Josephin is 18 and studying sports at high school, Matilda is 19 years old and works as a hairdresser. Here is their story about their first Gasshuku.

I hope we all meet soon again, in some seminar somewhere in Europe. Stay strong and train hard!

Mona Pfaus, 4th dan
Karate-Do Shotokan Akademi Vxj

The organiser Sensei Mona Pfaus

Matildas report

This year the Gasshuku was in Vxj. People from different countries had come here to train together. I was really excited and thrilled about how it would be. I was a bit nervous too, because I realized that my nine years in karate I would be a very young karateka, and not so old with my nineteen years in comparison to many others who were 30+ and above with much more experience. It was a very special feeling to have participated to this and it gave me and my sister very much experience.

Secretary Gerhard Scheuriker and Treasurer Alan Armstrong at the registry

Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic in doing Tachi Kata for Fudo-Dachi

When you get a chance to go on to karate seminars at an early stage I think we can better understand what karate is about and what to do to develop further. The sooner you get rid of bad habits that you might have with regard to breathing, techniques, etc. the easier it is to do the right thing in the future.

Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic shows with Sensei Jani Somppi from Finland
how important rooting can be for a block

The first day we trained with Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic and he talked a lot about breathing. About how we breath and how to use breathing to become stronger, more stable and faster in our techniques and postures. We practiced a lot on breathing in, putting up air into the stomach, and then breathe it out without losing Kime. All this is of course a very important part of karate, because if we do not breathe right, or worse still, not breathing at all, we would never be able to make strong and good techniques. It's about finding strength from inside and then let it out to various body parts. To me it felt incredibly important given that when you don't weigh ninety kilograms being big and heavy. Pure physical strength does not work always. Then you need to have this inner strength that still makes you strong despite being smaller. If I cannot breathe right, use the air correctly and use the right muscles when I block, I would not be able to block when a big and heavy guy attacks. Speed is also something important when clean power is not enough. Again, the breathing is important.

I thought it was interesting to listen and learn from him, though sometimes I found it hard to keep up and not lose focus. But he has trained long and he really knows what he's talking about. You have to concentrate on the energy within and above all, breathe!

Second day's first half of the training was led by Sensei Pascal Petrella. With him, we practiced blocks and that you should go against their opponent to break his attack in time before so the attack is weak and I strong when blocking. We also did a lot of exercises in couples with those blocks and I think it went well. It was fun to train with people from other countries and clubs, even if the first moment I was a bit nervous.

Sensei Petrella demonstrates how to break an opponent with the blocking technique

I think it was a really good workout, even if in the end I felt as if both arms would break in the middle. Some people understood that I was smaller than them and they attacked good, while some did not seem to understand that they had a girl in front of them and not a man of hundred and ninety kilos. Plus, I think that the exercise could have been even better if the techniques and exercises had been varied a bit more and not keep the same form throughout the session. However I liked the session, it feels like I really understand how to block a person who is much larger and stronger than oneself, which included almost everyone at this seminar

During the second half of the day we trained with Sensei Mike Fedyk. The first thing I thought when I saw him standing in front of us was a mixture of Baloo the Bear and Santa Claus. Big and strong, yet incredibly kind and happy. We practiced a lot on open hand techniques and also did Bassai Dai with open hand. Then we worked in couples and did some bunkai. I usually have good focus and love to practice bunkai but I was totally confused.

Sensei Mike Fedyk shows from Hanmi-dachi some open hand combinations

Sensei Mike Fedyk with Gyaku Haito Uchi jodan

Even though the exercise was difficult, it was still fun once you began to understand it. And Sensei Mike went around and checked if you needed help and he did not hesitate to see over and over again what you were doing. He was really nice to train for, he felt very confident in everything he did. Amidst all the confusion, you could just laugh at yourself, take some deep breaths and try again.

Sensei Mike Fedyk shows with Sensei Mike Cowburn from UK
block and prepare (kamae) for the counter attack

I really enjoyed this session, it felt great to get a little confused and feel that you actually cannot do everything the first time right at once because you have a black belt. In addition, it was fun to work out with Sensei Mike and I hope I will get a chance to do train for him soon again.

The third and last day we trained with Sensei Dirk Heene. We also made open hand techniques, but we also worked to make movements with both hands simultaneously. If a hand went up did the other go down for hikite and prepared to do anything else. This felt good, not easy, but natural for me, in that we have done a lot like this before in my club. He also talked about that we challenge ourselves by throwing us into the techniques and make them quickly when we have not really taken the time to go through it piece by piece. He believes that when we are learning a new kata or new techniques you should first make them slowly and correctly and then increased slowly. And he's absolutely right. Because if you start doing something the wrong way - and fast - it is very difficult to go back and change those habits. Therefore, he said that it is important to do right from the beginning and not rush. He also talked about the need to relax in order to make quick and good techniques. We also worked in couples and practiced on open hand techniques and I still felt in my arms after yesterday's intense training with Sensei Sensei Pascal.

Two ladies from Finland during bunkai

Sensei Mona Pfaus from Sweden with Sensei Alan Armstrong from UK

This was probably their fastest two hours of my life. The time flew by and you felt that the pass actually resulted in much. You got a whole new look on how to be safer in the techniques and how to learn them right. Stressing on to learn new things as quickly as possible is not good because then you end up learning the wrong. Go from slow to less slow to faster until you do it with full strength and speed.

In conclusion of the whole, three action-packed, we worked hard but it was fun days. The interesting thing was to train for these four "big" men, for all four are totally different in the way they teach karate and Kase-ha.

Sensei Velibors lesson contained a bit more theory when he talked about how to practice karate, and then we did physical exercises. He was telling us to concentrate more and talked about focus.

Sensei Pascal had a completely different view of it. It was much more physical and intense, but still it was nice to explode and go for it.

Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic shows a student from Poland how Shuto-Uchi works

Sensei Mike's training was quite different from Sensei Velibors and Sensei Pascals. I would describe it more as brain teaser. We got a chance to think and figure out what to do. It was interesting that they often did things that we do but develop them in different ways.

Finally, we had Sensei Dirk as I think "tied the bag" of this Aki-Gasshuku in a very good way. His training was a bit like a little of everything of their other instructors sessions, which meant that he had everything, breathing techniques and thinking. He explained everything very well and it was really fun.

Sensei Dirk Heene shows
the importance of big kamae movements

The jodan kamae must be straight up, the arm should be not bended

I really hope that I will be participate of more Gasshuku in the future because I have learned so much and met a lot of nice, funny and crazy people who love karate just as much as me. It was a really a special feeling to train with people with such high levels and I wanted neither that this weekend should come to an end, nor that people would go back home to their countries. I was able to train the following week, hoping the bruises disappeared quickly. Time pass quickly when you practicing and enjoying the training - and especially this weekend went incredibly fast! But I know this was not the last time. And the next time I go to a Gasshuku I should be a bit wiser. I can hardly wait!


By Matilda Hildenborg, 1st dan
Karate-Do Shotokan Akademi Vxj

Josefins report

Where do I start to tell you when I have a thousand different thoughts from the Gasshuku, which are spinning in my head? But I can tell you that I was a bit nervous the night before. I laid in bed at night and wondered how this weekend would be. Would it be informative, funny, intense, sights worth seeing, and lots more. I've never been in such a seminar before and I laid there thinking about how the feeling will be when you enter the dojo. I thought that the feeling must be a little extra special. And so it was!

Sensei Dirk Heene with members from Belgium

Sensei Pascal Petrella with members from Germany

Sensei Mike Fedyk with members from UK

When I stepped into the dojo on Friday evening there were about 40 people and all those had a black belt. All ages from different backgrounds and countries. You heard people talking in Finnish, Polish, English, German and of course Swedish. I was curious what kind of people they were that we were going to train together in three days!

Members from Finland

Members from Poland

Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevbic from Serbia

And finally the members from Sweden

From our club, there were 8 of us and it felt good to know some, especially to have my sister around. With her, I always feel comfortable and felt good to have her beside me.

Friday 8/10/10 Session 1 with Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic, 7th dan.

Velibor talked a lot about breathing and stability. If you do not first find stability it will not be good techniques. We practiced a lot by breathing down the air to your stomach and contract so that we had a tension in the stomach. This contraction we kept when we were making techniques, to find our inner energy. That energy is not coming from us but from the ground so to speak. One should think that you need some energy, take it from the ground up to your stomach and then out of the body through the technologies that we do.

Senseis Dirk Heene and Velibor Dimitrijevic

Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic in Kamae position

We practiced then the techniques in different directions. Forward, backward and sideways, kae-ashi, jori-ashi and zugi-ashi. We have done a lot in the club so it was not that complicated. At first slowly but with force and then we did it quickly. Very interesting session!

Saturday morning 9/10/10 Session 2 with Sensei Pascal Petrella, 6th dan.

This session was the most intense physical session we had over the weekend. We started with light fighting and then we trained to do large blocks, o-waza. Timing the attack to the block so that the attacker does not have a chance to get close to you.

When you attack oi-tsuki, says Sensei Petrella
your belly bottom must point in the direction of your opponent

That was a bit difficult; I tried to get to the timing of blockings when we worked in pairs. And we would think of blocking the attack from your own body. We worked in pairs about 10 minutes and then we changed our partner. It was fun to train with so many different karatekas, even if it was a bit anxious about how strong or fast they were in the techniques. But it went very well and I think I have got probably the biggest bruises that I have had.

Saturday afternoon 9/10/10 Session 3 with Sensei Mike Fedyk, 6th dan.

Here was the brain tease! He had mixed up all the Heian kata to a new Heian kata which we started with. And I was very confused for a while, I can tell, but we ran it a few times and after a while it went better. Then there was the open hand techniques. Mike wanted to show us that it is possible to make the techniques in many different ways and that we need to find those techniques and combinations that were best for us.

Sensei Mike Fedyk is showing some Bunkai from Bassai-Dai henka

He did not care so much if it was in the wrong order or if we suddenly changed to another blocking. He was very cool that way. Then we did Bassai Dai with open hand techniques. I was happy that he had choosen Bassai Dai since that it's one of my favourite kata, so I could concentrate more on about how to make it with open hands. Then we made it in pairs. Many were confused, but we had fun when we did get it all together!

Sunday morning, 10/10/10 Session 4 with Dirk Heene, 8th dan.

This was the last session of this Gasshuku. I was still stiff and the bruises hurt even when we were slowly warming up. Dirk also talked about the need to find a sense of body and technique, therefore he reminded us that we should always start by learning everything slowly and then increase the tempo when you feel safe.

Sensei Dirk Heene shows the Bunkai to some students

As soon as it feels wrong in the technique you should step back and think about what was wrong and try to improve yourself. We also worked with the open hand techniques with both block and counterattack, first on our own and then in couples. We did not change the couple all the time, which felt good and I was training with my sister most the time. It was a pain to block the techniques when you already had a thousand bruises that hurt, but I did it without complaining. And in the end we did Heian Yodan both omote and ura.

Members of the Shihankai Senseis Dirk Heene, Velibor Dimitrijevic and Pascal Petrella

... with gedan kamae

I see this as a great experience to be involved in this kind of seminar as Gasshuku is. It was great to see that there were so many karatekas from so many different countries that want to come to Sweden and train. The mood was really high and everyone was really nice. It is not easy to describe how it feels to be on this kind of seminar, you get so much inspiration for your own karate training so that your head is bursting with information and thoughts after each session. Plus, of those 50 who were there, 10 were women, four of them from our club. I think you should be extra proud as a girl to have a black belt, because we are not so many. I think that the women there were really brave.

As a conclusion, if I try to sum up this weekend, it has been instructive, inspiring and fun. I would definitely go on more gasshuku in the future and of course on other karate seminars as well.


The two authors of the Gasshuku report and Sensei Mona Pfaus in the middle of them.

Josefin Hildenborg, 1st dan - a karateka in the development...
Karate-Do Shotokan Akademi Vxj

Back to index