Twelve years! That’s now twelve year in a row I’ve attended the Sensei Ticky Donovan Open Summer course and guess what… I’m still a new boy on the course compared to many of the other karateka I was training with. This was a landmark course for Sensei Donovan, he’s been holding this amazing event for 30 years now so you often heard the question “how many have you done?” when people were talking about the course. My mere 12 years were soon put in their place as the answers came back as 14, 18, 26, 28 and even 30. So how is it these people who have been attending every year for so long still have the same enthusiasm and excitement as those who were arriving for the very first time? Unlike the first timers, they know it’s going to be hard work, they know it’s going to be difficult and they know it’s almost definitely going to hurt in a variety of ways before the week is over. What you have to remember is they also know they are privileged to be attending a truly unique event in the world of karate. I’ve been on different courses over the years for karate and other martial arts some of which have been fantastic, but nothing has ever offered the entire package you get from Sensei Donovan’s summer course
If it wasn’t enough for you to have Ticky Donovan heading the instructors just take a look at the list of highly respected instructors who were available this year to guide you through the week, Dave Hazard, Wayne Otto, Jonathan Mottram, Phil Francis, Greg Francis, Moira Barber, Richard Condon, Helen Raye, Eddie Gillespie, Pepe Suarez and Tony Hails. Not enough? Take a look around you in the line up, you’re training with some of the best the UK and indeed the world has to offer. Those who may be a little older or have moved on from winning trophies themselves are long term dedicated martial artist with a wealth of experience to pass on if you’re willing to learn. Not enough yet? (you really are hard to please) Now add an after training family atmosphere where people from all over the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world mix together regardless of grade and back ground, all with a common goal to party hard, dance into the night and have fun. Still not enough… there really must be something very wrong with you.
This year the weather was near to perfect for me, bright and sunny most of the time, without being hot enough to get too badly sunburnt when the sweat washed away the sun cream. Although the cloud did close in on the odd occasion the only rain we had was during a rest period so didn’t have any effect on the outdoor training.
Having been a dan grade since 1998 I was privileged to start the week off on Sunday morning at 7.30am with Sensei Condon and Sensei Hails taking my group. Although they obviously know each other well I doubt that with Sensei Condon living in the UK and Sensei Hails being based in Australia they get to train much together and yet it was an excellent partnership. There was no confusing chopping and changing of teaching styles as the Sensei’s repeatedly handed the class over to each other. Yes there was a different emphasis on the free fighting combinations we were shown, but the handovers were smooth. So smooth in fact that I’d have a great deal of trouble telling you who showed us which combination, whose set of techniques ended with a devastating kick to the head or front leg sweep that left your training partner reeling on the floor. We changed partners regularly and were told a few time to slow it down a little as we had a whole week to get through. That was the only guidance no one seemed to be listening to, how could we slow down? We loved it!
12 O’clock Sunday my group were told to pick a class between three instructors, God I hate that! I normally stand around looking like a right lemon, confused at the choice before me. This time however I was under strict instructions from my own Sensei who had to miss Sunday due to work commitments “If Gojushiho Sho comes up before I get there, study it hard and bring it back to the dojo”. I headed for the group forming in front of Sensei Dave Hazard and took my place in the line. As with some previous courses Sensei Hazard had been given this and the next session to take us right through a kata. With Gojushiho Sho on offer Sensei wasted no time and within the first 10 or so moves he had us partnered up and into the bunkai showing us the traditional ways to perform the techniques rather than the competition ways that sometimes are done with a shorter movement or with a little less purpose. We ploughed through the next two lessons with Sensei Hazard giving us some extremely memorable demos before we partnered up and tried it out ourselves. His “Whoosh!” explanation of many of the timing elements really got the point across as we ran through the kata repeatedly. If you had a blank moment where the next move evaded you all you needed to do was think about which of your new bruises was hurting the most from the bunkai and you were instantly reminded which way to step or turn. I might not have reached a standard suitable for any competition but the lessons learned through Sensei Hazards explanations have sunk right in and should prove invaluable both now and into the future.
Sensei Donovan took the dan grade group during Mondays first session and gave us some free style combinations to work with both in the line and on each other. Some were small fast moves that took advantage of a fighting styles your opponent my be using, while others built up into mid length combinations that had you covering bigger distances to force your way inside the guard for a finishing sweep or take down. We ended up back in line work performing an ever building set of fighting competition moves that combined attacks, defences, evasions, sweeps and finishes. I was really enjoying the long final combination and felt I was flying along and had it nailed… that is until Sensei Donovan stood right in front of me and I kicked with the wrong foot, blocked with the wrong arm and finish on the opposite leg to everyone else. I tried looking around as if it was everyone else that was wrong but I couldn’t blag it and the look of mild disgust on Sensei’s face meant I had to pull out all the stops and prove myself after the next turn… I got it wrong yet again. I soon got it back on the next turn and a couple of minutes later the lesson ended so I managed to finish on a high. Mind you, mistakes or not you couldn’t help being on a high after a morning wake-up lesson like that.
At midday we lined up in front of Sensei Phil Francis. Sensei called Yoi and only counted for one technique before we were all down in the press-up position. I couldn’t quite hear what was said when he explained the reason as I was at the opposite end of the line and had already hit the deck. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t hear, all I needed to know was Sensei Phil Francis wasn’t happy so this lesson was going to be a real “beasting” and that meant I was going to love it! The press-up were given at a slow count and simply continued until Sensei got bored watching us bobbing up and down. When he let us back to our feet everybody was in no doubt we had to go mental. We were reformed into 4 lines and screamed our way through various combinations in zenkutsu dachi. The first and third lines were told to turn around and we faced the partner we would have for the rest of the session. I was in luck, I was opposite a guy I’d trained with on some previous courses, we were at the back on the end of the line so had loads of room and the look on his face showed he was ready to go for it. He’s younger than me, fitter than me, more skilled and can even kiai louder… we had a great time. We smashed our way through the punches kicks and takedowns, before Sensei lined us all up for heavier contact conditioning of the stomach. We squared up and thumped into each other with big grins on our faces, neither of us willing to back off no matter what. I’ve still got one or two of the bruises six days later but I’ll never actually tell him to his face how much it was hurting at the time. The lesson ended all too soon and everyone clapped and cheered after Sensei Francis called Yame for the final time.
4pm Monday saw another different tacked as Sensei Moira Barber and Sensei Helen Raye took over. They had obviously seen some stances they didn’t like during that morning and on Sunday so they took us right back to the basics. We were shown exactly how the stances should look when performed by these high class practitioners and were set a task to “glide” slowly and seamlessly between stances without the bouncing or jerkiness they had observed. Once they were a little happier with us they added some hand techniques that would make it more difficult to hold your hips and line in the right places. If your thinking “that sounds a bit easier than the last few lessons” think again. Weak stances were stamped out, you had to be low down and moving slowly, that meant you could feel every muscle as it burnt under the pressure to stay constant. The pace was only upped once Sensei’s Barber and Raye thought we may have finally got the idea drummed into us. Combinations from basics were added in the last quarter of the lesson and we were flying along again but by then I was so paranoid that my stance might be off that a mere quarter inch shift of my front foot from perfect felt like I’d failed a grading. I’ll be remembering that lesson for some considerable time.
Tuesday morning at 7am is the traditional time for the course “Fun Run”. What can I say about it, we ran, but they lied in the description because it wasn’t really that much “fun”. I knew that Steve (another Westminster club member) was much quicker than me so there was little point in trying to stick with him. I spotted two of the lads from Ireland moving at a good pace as they shifted their way passed the masses so decided to tag along a few yards behind and maybe I could ride off the slip-stream. It worked pretty well till they shifted up a gear towards the very end and opened up a bit of extra distance. I still finished in a relatively good position, nowhere near the prizes but not as far behind Steve as I thought I’d be.
Tuesday’s 12 O’clock session saw the normal drop in numbers as many people opted to attend the referees course instead of training on the field. I know it’s important to keep your licence up to date and indeed an essential for some people who my be grading, but it is always a little disappointing to find your half of the group has dropped down to only just into double digits. Once the starting rei was over and the two dan grade groups were mixed together again it felt much better to be in a group of around 30 or so people and as Sensei Donovan was heading towards us with a big bag of focus mitts, things were certainly looking up. Sensei Donovan started us off with “very” light contact hands only sparring. We changed partners repeatedly and added legs till we were back to almost normal but light sparring. We then split into groups and worked on the focus mitts with a combination that Sensei had built up. This was a shorter session and it wasn’t about a fast pace. The idea was accurate use of the pads, good kime, loud kiais and a whack in the head by the pad holder if you dropped your guard at any point during the attacks.
Tuesday afternoon was allotted as either free time or some optional indoor karate to music. I’d heard nothing but good things about this optional session from last year as it’s based on strictly correct karate moves done to a beat rather than just aerobics with a few kicks and punches thrown in for good measure and I really wanted to go. However I’d promised to drive into town for some seriously needed shopping and a trip to find a fancy dress shop. I suddenly had memories of last year but it was too late to change things and once again we didn’t make it back in time for the start. Speaking to people who attended only made it worse when you could hear the enthusiasm in their voices for what they’d just been to.
Wednesday’s early session had classic written all over it from the start. We all vied for a good place in the line as Sensei Greg Francis strode towards us with a purposeful look already set on his face. He started us off in line work with a single gyaku, then the familiar distracting tap to your opponents hand follow by the same gyaku, then a dummy sweep before the distracting tap, then more and more and more. Once the combinations were drummed in we were told to partner with whoever was nearest. My nearest partner was a girl of about 10 or 12 and we set about going through the combinations. I did my set of combinations first, as fast as I could but light without any power behind it so as not to upset her. It was her go now and as I watched her hip pull fully back for the first gyaku that I wasn’t allowed to block I had a sudden flash back to one of my first courses as a kyu grade. Back then we’d been told to partner in threes and I’d found myself with two really pretty women from Sensei Suarez’s club in Upminster. The naive little bloke inside my head had said “Wow! You lucky sod, you’re with two top babes” but he shut up after about 40 seconds when they set about knocking me all around the field. It taught me a valuable lesson - never think you can relax in front of anyone in the dojo no matter what their size or how they may look. It is a lesson that has served me well to this day and I tensed my stomach muscles just as the young girls bony little knuckles sunk in with a near perfect shot at my already bruised solar plexus. It was never going to be a devastating punch against someone who was expecting it, but it was a fantastic example of how correct use of body positioning and accuracy can multiply the power behind even the smallest person’s technique. We changed partners repeatedly so the same combinations could be tried and adapted to suit partners of any size or shape before moving on. Next Sensei Francis had us performing the classic four point kata at high speed but he’d added extra moves at the end to really make sure your hips were working to the full. Breaking off at forty five degrees to the normal finish point he’d added an extra element and although we still needed to eventually finish facing the front the new angles really added to the whole training exercise when we were made to do it all in the opposite directions. We were next treated to a street scenario simulating a possible way to deal with four attackers in an effective and down right nasty manner. We made quality use of the many real strikes never permitted in any competition work to devastate the would be aggressors. When the lesson was over I ran back to my chalet and wrote every turn, kick and strike down on a huge sheet of paper. I could put it all here in my review... but it’s mine and I’m keeping it.
The kata competition started at 11am so the next chance of Wednesday training came as an optional extra indoor pad work session at 1pm. My brain said “let’s ave it” my body said “we could sneak a few hours sleep till official training at 4 O’clock”. The argument was pretty much a tie till 12.45 when the Westminster Ishinryu spirit jumped in and I dragged my still complaining body, kicking and screaming into the hall. Sensei Wayne Otto was hosting the session. There were only twenty five nutters who turned up and Steve and I were among them. Style, Grade and belt colour had no place in that room we were all there to work hard because we loved it and that made us equals. We warmed up by sparring with random people around the room until Sensei Otto split us into four even groups based loosely on size. We started with a straight reverse punch on the focus pads but no time was wasted in building from that to a long focus pad work out. We quickly found ourselves building up a great sweat as we hammered into the pads with jabs, punches, multiple kicks off either leg, stance switches, blocks and a sweep. Holding the pads was just as hard as being the attacker, a momentary misplacement of the pads could easily have got you a good smack as the attackers kiai’d through the set. My group of six was joined by Sensei Tony Hails and it was a pleasure to watch him smash into the pads, his example boosted my whole group up into a frenzy and it was easy to why Sensei Donovan promoted him later in the week to a well deserved 6th Dan. Like all good things it seemed to end way too soon and we head back to the chalets for a quick wash and some food before the next official session at 4pm
By 4pm I was still knackered, my body was saying “I told you so” and my brain had started to agree. Sensei Hazard was taking my class and he was going to teach the whole of the Gankaku kata in one short lesson. The thing with Sensei Hazard is that he can inspire your performance just by being nearby, but put him at the head of a class and you end up striving to meet his high standards even if your body had previously said enough is enough. We sped through the kata stopping regularly to thump each other with the bunkai moves we needed to under stand with greater depth. I enjoyed it immensely especial the one section of bunkai where Sensei Hazard showed us an adaptation that he’d been forced to use against a “nasty person”. After demonstrating the delivery of devastating blows to the guy who had volunteered to help, Sensei turned to us with a huge genuine grin across his face and said “I love this stuff”. That one statement summed up the whole week.
Wednesday night is fancy dress night in the club house. So after a good rest and a decent dinner we donned our costumes and with newly revived vigour headed into the club. We’d gone as The Three Musketeers which was quite feat considering we’d now dropped down to only two people (most people seemed to have no problem accepting that Porthos had a bad toe) and as normal had a great night dancing and laugh with all the other fancy dress wearers into the early hours. There was however a slight problem that needed sorting out. Our stick on moustaches and beards just didn’t want to stick and this was making it increasingly difficult to drink, a solution had to be found and quick. We asked various people but no one would admit to having an eyebrow pencil or similar about their person so we had to hassle the bar staff. Eventually they found the best they could offer us was a big thick black felt tip pen. We headed for the toilets to update our costumes but hesitated a little when we notice the pen had nothing written on it to determine whether it was permanent or not. The options were, a riskily drawn on moustaches that we’d possibly be wearing for weeks or nasty tasting glue on moustaches that would heavily limit the intake of liquid. We pulled off the sticky muck and drew some curly beauties on (note for parents. Should you find the need to remove permanent marker from human skin. I find that Fairy liquid and the green scouring back of a washing up sponge works a treat. Just remember to apply plenty of E45 cream to the bits where the skin comes off). We made it back to the chalets in one piece and by the time we’d finished topping up the liquids lost through dancing it was gone 3am so we turn off the music and let the neighbours get some sleep.
I had made a promise to help some people with a bit of guidance and extra training on Thursday morning. Luckily I remembered to set my alarm clock before leaving for the fancy dress or I never would have made it out of bed. I’m still not quite sure as to exactly why I woke up wearing my underpants on my head, but I’m guessing it just seemed like a good idea at the time. I kept my appointment and helped people out with a couple of hours extra training but I’m afraid I had to miss watching the juniors kumite competition this year, I just don’t think I could have taken all that shouting.
4pm Thursday still felt like morning as I headed out onto the field for the next session but I’d recovered enough by then to be feeling pretty good and keen to get training again. There were options once again and I chose to stay on the field with Sensei Donovan teaching the class. We used partner work once again to try out what Sensei Donovan was showing us. He took us through attacks and counter attacks that he’d used to guide the England and Great Britain teams with and ones he’d used himself in competition. We stuck with one partner this time and worked our way through every thing Sensei was showing us till he had us combining it all together. Taking it in turns we ran through each set of scenarios adapting the original if our opponent switched stance or appeared to be wise to what was coming. We finished back in line work with a basic set. Chudan reverse punch, heel step gedan barai, step jodan reverse punch, mae gedan barai. Maybe not a hard or complicated set I know, but once Sensei got us back out of zenkutsu dachi and into fighting stance he wanted it faster and faster until there was very little gap between his count and we were a blur of rapid movements.
As I wasn’t grading the 7.30am lesson on Friday was the final session of the course for me so I was delighted to find it was a class jointly run by Sensei Otto and Sensei Hazard. How could you ask for a better way to end the week! Sensei Otto started the lesson and we were straight into partner work. He showed us how to line up and execute some of his favourite sweeps and take downs. Sensei Otto explained how for him sweeping someone was not just about taking their legs from under them. He explained that you must be totally committed to the techniques you are about to perform in competition fighting, that you can win the fight before you even make the move by deciding 100% that it will work and you will defeat your opponent with it. He made the moves look effortless and easy but we soon found out they weren’t as we tested them on each other. Half way through the session Sensei Hazard took over and without altering the flow of the class he changed things around to a close quarter street fight. Time was short but he managed to cram in defences and counters to some of the most common attacks. He built in little distraction strikes to help us “make time” after you have deflected an aggressors initial move so giving you a moments space to apply a finishing strike or kick. At the end of the lesson I had to run back to the chalet again to find my pen and another very big piece of paper.
Friday night was the last night disco, an event not to be missed if you can in anyway help it. Everyone can let their hair down and go for it because no ones got training in the morning. The DJ-ing was a little rough to say the least but there were still enough top tunes to get everybody on the dance floor. Everyone I spoke to agreed it had been another top course both on and off the field and a huge percentage had already booked accommodation for next year. The evening whizzed past as we danced or chatted with various people and also talked at length to the lads from County Clare about some of the truly amazing sites we’d seen through the week. All of a sudden it was 1am again and the club was closing. We’d been invited along for a night cap with the members of a well respected overseas club so I grabbed what was left of our supplies from the chalet and join half of them in one of the caravans. Despite sending out a search party around 2am the other half of the group didn’t quite make it back and by 2.40 team Westminster had pretty much had it and we sloped off for some well needed sleep. We caught up with the missing people next morning and it seem that guided by the Ninja like instincts of one individual they’d spent a good ten minutes beating on the caravan door wondering why we weren’t letting them in before making there own way back. It hadn’t been the same caravan we were in… I can only feel sorry for any people inside that caravan who may have been hiding somewhere with the lights off.
It really was a GREAT summer course.
Some photos are attached below.
The joy Permanent felt tip Moustaches
Steve spots some fine ladies in short skirts only to later realise with
horror that it was the Gentlemen from Jersey in a cunning disguise
At the final bow Team Westminster pose for photos
with all their friends on the course
Team Westminster enjoy the company of everyone that
liked being with them during the last night disco
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