At the end of a very hot week in Cambridge, so hot that we closed the dojo on Tuesday, we surprised our junior members with a grading on Saturday. Many congratulations to Edward and Iden passing to 9th kyu (yellow belt) and to Kim passing to 8th kyu (orange belt).
The first weekend of March was another milestone in the history of our club with five of our regular members successfully passing their grading examinations under Sensei George Andrews at the OTGKA Honbu dojo in London.
Many congratulations to Fabio for passing to yondan, a major accomplishment in any martial art. This further strengthens the instructor team at Cambridge Goju Ryu. Congratulations to Catherine for passing her nidan test and to Martin and Nick for earning the black belts. Especially impressive achievement from all three considering the disruption Covid has caused to normal training. Last but not least, congratulations to Holly for passing her 1st kyu test, one last stepping stone on the path to black belt.
A great way to start 2022, setting us up for a great year of karate.
After living in England for 21 years and occasionally visiting where I grew up in South Africa, I decided to make the most of my most recent trip back and connect with some old karate friends that I haven’t seen for many, many years.
I originally started training at 9 years old in 1981 at a dojo west of Johannesburg called the Kilburn Karate (later Florida Karate Academy) under Sensei Paul Andre’. As a beginner I quickly looked up to a brown belt who was my age and impressed me with his speed, focus and humble demeanour. His name was Mario Sequeira and we soon became friends, even though we were already acquainted at school. Little did I know that this would be the start of a lifelong karate
journey and friendship. Another student at the time was Che’ Jagger, who was younger than us and I remember him being joyful and energetic, as well as skillful.
By the time we were teenagers Mario had a two year break from karate due to health reasons. During this time I had begun to train in another dojo further west in Krugersdorp under Sensei Johan Roets. Eventually both Mario and I ended up grading to our black belts as teenagers under the late Sensei Teruo Chinen. I believe Che’ followed suit rather quickly.
Due to a motorcycle accident in 1989, my own training was halted, although I did return on the odd occasion. By the time I came to the England in 2000, my training had stopped altogether. In 2010 I trained for a while again, but returned full time at Cambridge Goju Ryu in 2014.
Throughout all this time Mario and Che’ never stopped training and Mario recently celebrated 40 years of karate. Sensei Mario (now Godan) has run his dojo at Palm Court Karate (Johannesburg) since 1992 as a full time Sensei with hundreds of students. Sensei Che’ (also Godan) runs his dojo (not far from Mario) at the Goju Ryu Karate Centre.
The Visit and the Training
Although we have kept in touch, I don’t believe we had seen each other since at least 1992. I had recently mentioned wanting to visit but wanted to keep it as much of a surprise as possible. I went to South Africa for personal reasons, but made a point of packing my gi because I thought it was time we met again, in the dojo.
Upon entering Palm Court Karate Centre for the first time on the Tuesday evening, I felt that it was exactly how I imagined it to be. Lots of history on the walls and the dojo well equipped. It spoke of Sensei Mario’s passion for karate and it had a welcoming calmness. Sensei Mario’s wife Zenobia recognised me and welcomed me straight away while he was teaching class. As soon as he noticed I had arrived, he came over and I couldn’t help thinking how that brown belt as a boy had
become quite an imposing figure. It was really nice moment and I felt our past reconnecting. After a brief chat he tended to his students once again and then finished the class. The class that followed was Nidan (2nd Dan) and above and since my Gi was already on, I thought it would have been rude not to join! Sensei gave me a warm welcome to the class. He
explained about our history and said that he was intrigued to see what differences there would be, or that have developed over the years because we no longer train under the same association. Over time some subtle differences become inevitable, especially within the kata. I did find these to be so slight and what was clear is that the essence of Goju Ryu remains intact no matter what. Sensei Mario also made an interesting point, saying that he can tell if somebody
trained karate as a child, or if they started later on in life - irrelevant of grade. In his view, a person’s karate has an “accent” if they start later on, whereas those who trained as children (and are now adults) don’t have an “accent” and that their karate looks similar (even though we have different physiques and statures).
The class focused on Kururunfa kata which we had been speaking about in our distant communications most recently. As expected there were some slight details that differed, but what was immediately apparent was Sensei Mario’s knowledge and understanding of the kata, which one can always learn from. I also noticed how he naturally commanded respect from his students, whilst at the same time wasn’t shy of little humour. One particular comment that made me chuckle whilst demonstrating was “why do you pick up all my bad habits and none of the good ones??” (with a rye smile on his face). The consensus seemed to be to train hard, but be human and kind too, a nice balance of Go (hard) and Ju (soft).
What is also impressive is that some of the adult students have been in the dojo since they were children and are instructors in their own right, one of which has been with Sensei Mario since he was 5 years old and is now Yondan (4th Dan).
In class we focused on aspects of the kata in some ways that were new to me and then moved onto bunkai (practical self-defence applications of the kata). The fluidity and ease with which Sensei Mario demonstrated his bunkai reminded me of how he has dedicated 40 years of his life to karate. He then encouraged us to consider the concepts that he spoke of and formulate our own ideas based on these. I found this to be an interesting approach as it showed his confidence in who he was teaching. It also encouraged students to think “outside the box” and analyse what they are doing.
When class concluded I presented Sensei Mario with a portrait of Miyagi Sensei for his new dojo that he is building - a small token of my appreciation of a lifelong friendship and how he (unwittingly and from afar) inspired me to step back into the dojo again after years of being absent. As many of us know, the hardest part can be walking through that door.
Catching up with Lifelong Friends
After class we spent some time catching up and reliving the old Florida Karate days in the 1980’s. We were surrounded by many skilled karateka at the time, many of whom excelled at national and international tournaments and were highly respected. When smiling about my return to the dojo 8 years ago, Mario pointed out that him, Che and myself are the only ones from those days that are still training now (including our Senseis from that time). I was surprised as well as slightly honoured to be amongst Mario and Che’ in this “category”. I said that I regretted not returning to karate sooner, to which Mario responded “I think it’s all for a reason, maybe if you did carry on, or come back sooner, you might not be training now…”
Two days later I returned to the dojo and we had quite a gruelling yet enjoyable Hojo Undo (supplementary training) class that was based around several of our katas. I was then due to meet both Sensei Mario and Sensei Che’ one morning for a small session and catch up, as well as see first hand the incredible dojo that Sensei Mario is building (which includes a traditional garden dojo with makiwaras in the African sun). Unfortunately, however, this didn’t materialise due to some unforeseen circumstances which forced me to change my plans at the last minute.
Besides the actual karate experience that I could bring back with me from the trip, what I also learned is that karate really does create lifelong friendships (paraphrasing Mario). I often refer to the people I train with in the UK (and on various gasshukus) as my karate family. It brings home that karate is not just about fitness or self-defence, but also about these friendships we make. Upon returning to the UK and teaching my own students, I couldn’t help but think that one day
some of them might be Senseis in their own right and that they might meet up again from afar and reflect upon their time now, as young students in the dojo. Well I hope that they will be as lucky as I feel I have been in this respect.
Sensei Fabio Giovannoni
It was the last class of the year today for the children training in the dojo. Sensei Fabio gave them a challenge to complete 365 strikes on the pads (185 hand techniques and 180 kicks) and 52 burpees, which they all completed. Many thanks to the parents for holding the pads and for their continued support of the club.
Unfortunately, today was also the last class in the dojo until the end of January as the Cass Center has closed again due to Covid restrictions. Classes will resume online.
Classes will remain online on Tuesday evenings during September with training in the dojo at St. Philips Church on Thursday evenings. However, we are planning to return to normal from Tuesday 5th October with training on both evenings back to the Cass Centre at the old time of 6.30-8pm.
The Saturday morning classes will continue online until further notice - but the children's classes re-start next week at the Cass Centre!!
Tonight we held our first non-Zoom class in a such a long time and it felt great. Our usual venue hasn't re-opened yet so we have taken up temporary residence in new facilities.
Our plans are to continue teaching online on Tuesday evenings, 7-8pm and Saturday mornings, 10.30-11.30am, with the addition of classes in the dojo on Thursday evenings, 6.30-8pm. We'll re-evaluate the situation in September with the hope of fully returning to the dojo when the time is right.
So, what did we do on the first class back? Junbi undo followed by kata practice, Gekisai dai ichi and part of Shisochin. We then split the class, Sepai kata for yudansha and socially distanced Gekisai bunkai for kyu grades. Finally, practice of the opening sequence of Seiyunchin kata all together, taking inspiration from the IOGKF world online gasshuku held last weekend.
Martin and Louise
The good old days
Black belt gradings are usually conducted at the OTGKA honbu dojo in London over the course of a weekend under the watchful eye of Sensei George Andrews, 8th Dan. It is also possible to grade at an international gasshuku. The last grading was held at the start of March 2020, a few weeks before the first lock down. On this occasion, two Cambridge Goju Ryu students, David Wilson and Nick Gibbons, passed to 1st kyu (brown belt), the final grade before black belt.
Like many clubs around the world, Cambridge Goju Ryu transitioned from the dojo to training online via Zoom. While we miss the partner work and hitting the heavy pads, the online training format has worked surprisingly well for many people. It doesn't work for everyone unfortunately as it takes a clear demand on the family home and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find a suitable space. We were lucky that several of our students have been able to keep up with the training.
Grading to black belt
In January 2021, with no likelihood of returning to the usual black belt grading format for many month, the OTGKA held it's first online black belt grading. Two Cambridge students were invited to take their tests, Steve Morrell and David Wilson. Both students have trained directly under Sensei George many times over the years so there would be no surprises. In the build up to the grading weekend, the students attended regular classes with Sensei George in addition to the Cambridge classes and some private corrective online training. The usual format was adhered to, with mandatory training on both Saturday and Sunday, followed by the grading after the Sunday training session. It was decided that it would not be appropriate to assess the knowledge of bunkai as this loses meaning without a partner and it obviously wasn't possible to partake in pad work. Anyone that has graded under Sensei George will know however that both students were still put through their paces, black belts are not given away, online training being no exception.
It is our great pleasure to congratulate both candidates, David Wilson to Shodan (1st dan) and Steve Morrell to Sandan (3rd dan). A hopefully unique experience but no less impressive than a "normal" black belt grading.
We would like to make a special commendation to David Wilson on passing his black belt test. At age 77 he is one of older members of the IOGKF and his tenacious commitment to training is remarkable. In 2018, shortly after his 75th birthday, David suffered a heart attack and later under went major surgery. Not only did he return to training before the end of the year, he traveled to Okinawa in 2019 to train at the IOGKF 40th anniversary Gishiki. David has embraced the online training opportunities and can often be found these days at International online gasshuku or training under Bakkies Sensei in South Africa. Nana korobi yaoki.
It was a little sad today as we couldn't properly celebrate the club's 11th anniversary, but we are privileged to have a great group of dedicated students that have supported us through the pandemic. Even though we couldn't share a beer together we still trained online and we'll look forward to getting together in the future.
I wouldn't normally write an end of the year review, but this year obviously hasn't been normal. While we are missing the dojo terribly, there have been plenty of positive moments to look back on.
Ten Year Anniversary
It feels like a lifetime ago, but in February we celebrated the ten year anniversary of Cambridge Goju Ryu. We held a training course with special guests Sensei George Andrews and Sensei Simon Oliver. It was great day and it feels me with great pride to look back at the photos of so many people training with us.
A few weeks later Nick and David traveled to London for a weekend of intensive training, at the end of which they were awarded 1st kyu pass. Little did we know that this would be the last grading weekend of the year. During the year we graded Debasish, Virginia and Cassius online, but nothing compares to a grading in the dojo.
The Move to Online Training
I remember our last class in March, we focused on Sanchin kata and naively thought that we would return to the dojo after the lock down. I had no plans to start teaching online, as surely that wouldn't work. A few weeks later we joined the Zoom revolution and started teaching from our home. We made a couple of changes, switching the Thursday evening classes to Saturday mornings and reducing the length of the classes to just one hour, and as I write this almost 9 months later we're still going strong. Space has always been a major concern of mine so we haven't practiced kata as I would like to and instead we have concentrated on smaller sections of the kata, which could be considered as more important than the full sequence. During this experience we haven't been alone of course. Sensei George soon began teaching the usual OTGKA weekend courses again, although just on a Sunday morning, and the IOGKF and other senior instructors have held online courses.
Demonstration for Japan Matsuri 2020
One of my proudest moments of the year was our involvement in the production of a ten minute demonstration video, which was used by Japan Matsuri Presents 2020.
Karate means different things to different people, although for us, self defense is the core purpose. However, self defense can also be interpreted in different ways. While self defense techniques from physical attack is of course very important, the process in which we obtain these skills should not be overlooked. One aspect that has perhaps been more important than ever this year is mental health, self defense from stress or anxiety. Hopefully this is something that can be achieved during a class, even if only for a short while as you sweat and forget about any issues of the day. With that in mind, for the first time at Cambridge Goju Ryu we celebrated Halloween and this weekend we hosted an online quiz.
Thanks to everyone that has supported the club this year, without you it would have been a much harder time. We look forward to returning to the dojo, but having survived this long we'll wait until it is the right thing to do. Wishing you a Happy Christmas and all the best for 2021.
We have started running two online classes per week. Please see the Classes page for details.