2003 Gashuku Report

The 2003 Gashuku was held from Sunday 5 October to Saturday 11 October at the Stirling Range Retreat.

The theme of this year's gashuku once again centered around the Lost Techniques of Okinawan Karate namely Tenshin (evasive body movements based on kata bunkai), Embu (2 person kata practise) and Tuide (grappling lock flows based on kata).

Sunday 5 October
The week long event began with a 7.00am meeting at the dojo, packing of the cars and then the long drive south. After a rendezvous in Williams we continued southwards in 'convoy' with a stop for lunch in Kojonup. During this stop we discovered to our alarm that no one could remember packing the ration packs that had been put together for the 'big hike'. A sneaking suspicion that they had been left behind at the dojo was confirmed after few telephone calls later by the Lau brother's parents (who live across the road from the dojo). After some investigations into the possibilities of having them mailed to Stirling Range Retreat and discussions with Trevor (who was in charge of the food supplies) we decided that we could improvise new ration packs from our stores and thus do without them. As it happens neither the original ration packs nor our improvised replacements would have been enough to fully replace the vast amount of energy we were to expend on the 'big hike' (more later!).

For one reason or another we arrived at the Stirling Range Retreat a bit later than expected at about 3.00pm. Although we were unpacked and the camp was set up only an hour and a half later there was not as much daylight left to explore the nearby mountains as we would have liked. Nevertheless, Kancho Nenad reckoned that there was just enough time to scale the nearby peak of Mt Trio via the Climbers' Track before dark and decided it would be quite reasonable to descend by torchlight via the clear path of the Walkers' Track.

Above Left: The group studies the Mt Trio 'Climbers Route' from the carpark.
Above Right: Happy climbers at the rock band near the top of Mt Trio.

True enough, just over 2 hours later with a challenging climb behind us, we were posing for a group photo on the summit of Mt Trio (856m). The sun had set behind Mt Toolbrunup some time ago but the sky was still glowing pink to the west.

Group Photo on the summit with Mt Toolbrunup in the background.

With the summit conquered and photos taken we made our way back down the Walkers' Track as planned. Torches however, were unneeded with a nearly full moon and a clear sky. Later, back at the retreat, the exercise and mountain air ensured that everyone was looking forward to dinner In this regard, Trevor's kitchen duty team did not disappoint and served up a tasty and filling meal that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday 6 October
The next day we started with the usual 5.30am wake-up call. After everyone had got dressed and ready and had eaten a piece of fruit we assembled for first class of the day which involved warm-up exercises and taiji practise. Unlike last year the taiji practised was the 1st section of the Yang Style long form (with the Short form version being reserved for the eveing "Tai-ga" session).

A little later with jumpers and beanies shed the Sempais were leading the group on the 2nd session of the day - a 'fat-burning' jog up Bluff Knoll Road. Everybody knows that running is great exercise but at gashuku the spectacular scenery, the cool, clean mountain air and the camaraderie makes you forget that you're exercising. One thing that struck Kancho Nenad was how much certain individuals had improved their fitness, indeed the group as a whole was one of the fittest in gashuku history.

Sempai(s) Mal and Jeremy lead the morning run.

Returning to the campsite, after a drink and a pause to catch the breath we resumed training with the 3rd session of the day - Tenshin practise. Tenshin are body shifting exercises that utilise footwork to both evade an attack and provide the basis for a counterattack. Tenshin, as practised in Wu-Wei Dao are an excellent low impact exercise suitable for everyone and in fact we often refer to them as Tenshin aerobics!

Morning 'Tenshin' session.

Following this training we took a break for breakfast which led into the 4th session morning discussion over a cup of Chinese tea - as is the tradition. This year we covered many martial arts related topics centring around the ancient but very relevant (to modern life) philosophy of Wu-Wei.

Paul poses with taiji broadswords

After the breakfast break the 5th session began with Junbi Undo (warmup and preparatory exercises) and then Hojo Undo (conditioning and strength training exercises) followed by Embu - two person kata practise.

Hojo Undo class: Sanchin kata practise.

After lunch and a restful afternoon break the group eased their way back into training with a game of 'punchball' This is a gaining grounds and goal scoring game similar to netball. The game has a direct application to martial arts however as it requires a correct kosa zuki punching technique in order for it to be played well.

After punchball, the class was split into two groups for grade specific training. Those below brown belt were taken through a lesson by Sempai Malcolm while the remaining brown and black belts were taught kata, embu and tuide by Kancho Nenad. With a different senior taking the lower levels every day and the seniors getting special attention from Kancho Nenad this ensured that everyone was able to benefit optimally from the grade-specific training.

David and Trevor perfroming Sanseiru kata.

The next training session, which flowed straight on from the previous session (after a 5 minute water and sunscreen break), was weapons training. This began with Arnis - Espada I Daga (knife and stick) drills and moved on to jo (4 foot staff) techniques.

Ash and Trev perform jo (4ft staff) Juroku Embu. Click here for a video of Juroku Embu

The long afternoon period of training and in fact the day's training concluded with a Tai-ga session. Tai-ga, as the name would suggest, is a combination of taiji and Yoga that provides most of the benefits of both forms of exercise. It was a great way to finish off the day as it was sufficiently strenuous to keep us warm as the day cooled, provided a great stretch-down for those sore muscles and was simultaneously mentally and physically relaxing after a day of intense activity.

Before everyone ran off to shower and change, the duty team distributed an afternoon snack to everyone consisting of a muesli bar and a fruit drink. A simple but much appreciated snack that 'filled the gap' before dinner. The evening meal which came later was very satisfying and brought forth many calls of 'compliments to the chef' which were graciously and modestly received by Trevor and his duty team.

Tuesday 7 October - Wednesday 8 October

The second day and third days followed essentially the same routine, beginning with taiji and a run, and concluding with Tai-ga at the end of the day. During the Hojo Undo class after breakfast Kancho Nenad introduced new partner assisted exercises to keep things interesting so that the time passed quickly and the exercise was fun. Felicity and Sylvia made their own fun with a quick trip up and down Bluff Knoll (1073m) - just 'across the road' from the Retreat.

Bluff Knoll - just across the road from Stirling Range Retreat!

Lunchtime was always one of the highlights of the day and it never ceases to amaze me how many weird and wonderful combinations of sandwiches can be made (or how many sandwiches one person can eat)!

Lunchtime: "make your own sandwiches".

After lunch, the routine continued firstly with with a 'punchball' game to displace any post-lunch lethargy, followed by a training session in which the junior group was taught by Sempai(s) Jeremy and Trevor on the respective days while Kancho Nenad worked with the other seniors on their grade-specific material.

Thursday 9 October

On the 4th day the comfortable routine was shattered with a 2am (!) wake up call as the group was assembled for a climb of Ellen Peak (1012m).

A chilly 2.00am start - note the full moon in the background.

Ellen Peak is a remote peak at the eastern end of the range and provides the highest ascent in the range (800m from the plain to the summit). It also requires a long lead in walk along fire trails followed by a rugged 'bush bash' and finally a challenging scramble to the top.

All up it took us 2 hours to get ready, pack into the cars, drive the 20km along dirt roads to the eastern end of the National Park and divide into 2 groups in order to assault the mountain from the North-East and South-East directions. Thus it was 4am when the two groups, in UHF radio contact with each other, set off on their respective fire trails.

One group (the larger if the two) led by Sempai Malcolm set off with the goal of reaching the summit from the regular (but far from easy) North-East route while the other group, led by Kancho Nenad, were to approach from the rarely attempted South-East route.

According to "Bully" (Brian) of the Stirling Range Retreat, the South-East route had not been attempted since he had climbed it some 20 years ago. Consequently Kancho Nenad felt it would be an excellent challenge for those students who had previously walked the regular route during the 2001 gashuku (namely Jeremy Clark, Trevor Aung Than, Tim Brown and David Zimmermann). Joining these 'veteran' mountain walkers was Ashley Lau who insisted on attempting the 'tougher' challenge.

Above Left: Kancho Nenad's group set off down a firetrail for the South-East Ridge.
Above Right: Ash poses during the ascent of the South-East Ridge: heavy cloud obscured Ellen Peak.

The two groups made their way along the fire trails in the dark but under a full moon until just after dawn their broke off into the bush toward the North-East and South-East approach ridges respectively. Sempai Malcolm's group suffered some delay when they encountered uncharacteristically swampy ground (a result of the heavy rains of the last few weeks) but continued on to 'heartbreak ridge' where they paused for breakfast such as it was (considering that we had had to improvise ration packs - the original ones having been forgotten -see above). The ration packs for the day included 2 muesli bars, an apple, an orange and a snickers bar, a piece of pitta bread and we had stoves and billys so that we could have a hot Milo on the summit. The difficulty was in keeping the larger, hungrier members of the group from eating all of their rations at once!

Above Left: Kancho Nenad and Ashley with the firetrail now far below them.
Above Right: The South-East group look back at how far they've climbed so far.

Kancho Nenad's group found the going surprisingly easy although both groups found that the cool spring morning conditions gave way to fierce, biting winds as they climbed higher. In fact the temperature dropped from about 10 degrees on the plain to about 5 degrees at altitude - not including the effect of wind chill. Luckily we were moving and in fact it was a relief to be able to climb in jumpers and gloves without the profuse sweating that usually accompanies walking up steep hills.

Above Left: Kancho Nenad's group rest in the shelter of a rock outcrop on the South-East Ridge.
Above Right: Trevor poses on the rocky outcrop. The cloud made for damp, cold conditions.

5 degrees and a fierce wind meant we didn't want to stop for long! (note the curvature of the earth!)

The heavy cloud cover kept the rocky summit outcrop of Ellen peak out of view from the climbers until, just as both groups thought they were almost there, the clouds parted for a moment to reveal the massive bulk of the mountain still impossibly far away! In fact, the climbers had to make their way through cloud for much of the climb - one person had thought it would be fun to be in the clouds but found that the reality was a lot colder and damper than he had imagined! One thing is for sure though and that is that no-one should ever attempt a mountain hike without a map and a compass.

Above Left: Ashley pauses before making a last push for the summit.
Above Right: Tim poses for a photo - the last short, sharp and steep pitch is above him.

Eventually at about 10.30am Kancho Nenad's group reached the summit followed about 20 minutes later by Sempai Mal's group. It was with great satisfaction that everybody signed the visitors' book on the summit (Ellen Peak is the only peak to have such a feature - perhaps because it is the most challenging peak in the range) and posed for photos on the craggy summit. Luckily the cloud had thinned away just before we reached the summit making for great views and photo opportunities.

Above Left: A moment he was waiting for: David signs the visitors' book atop Ellen Peak.
Above Right: Sempai Mal with some of his group members on the summit).

Above Left: Photo session on the craggy summit of Ellen Peak - views were excellent.
Above Right: Trying to stay warm while waiting for their hot Milos in the Ellen Peak 'cave'.

During a rest on the rock shelf just below the summit, we got the Billys on the boil in the shallow camping 'cave' in order to prepare the much anticipated hot Milos (for the wind was still gusty and it was bitingly cold). After enjoying our hot drink and a meal of pitta bread, muesli bars and chocolate (snickers) we started down with all members returning via the North-East ridge. This trip will be forever etched into everybody's memory. As we descended the burning sun came out and the temperature steadily increased until we felt we were walking back across a desert. The 10km walk back to our cars seemed so much further than it had been on the way in especially as our ration packs were but a distant memory and energy reserves were now somewhat low. It was 4.00pm when we got back to the cars and David Zimmermann, Ashley Lau and Tim Brown were surely hallucinating when they claimed they saw an animal cross the fire trail that they described as a feral cat the size of kelpie dog. Of course there was much debate about what it could have been - suggestions included a kangaroo, dog, fox, sheep, or Tasmanian Tiger.

Above Left: Trevor makes his feelings known after conquering Ellen Peak.
Above Right: View from a car window as we drove away (Ellen Peak is left-hand most peak).

Back at camp at 5.00pm we tucked ravenously into a 'breakfast' of cereal that was to be followed only about 2 hours later with a dinner that was undoubtedly one of the best meals we have ever enjoyed. Oh and everyone slept very well that night!

Friday 10 October

The last training day of gashuku, Friday, returned to the same routine as Monday - Wednesday. The day started with the usual run after taiji and, unusually, everyone ran pretty much as well as they did earlier in the week despite the tremendous physical effort of the previous day. It just goes to show how much can be achieved if one does not limit oneself mentally and develops a "Can Do" attitude to life - a subject that was covered in some detail during this morning's after breakfast discussion.

In the after breakfast 'Hojo Undo' class Kancho Nenad improvised some new exercises using concrete cinder blocks which were conveniently stacked near by the airstrip and which proved to have a number of applications as weight training devices. As we had been talking about how some Okinawan and Chinese martial arts masters used to beat their hands on stones to toughen them up we also had ago at this as well - although I suspect that some people were only pretending to beat the cinder block strongly!

Above Left: Improvised Hojo Undo exercises with building blocks.
Above Right: Trevor forges his hands into steel (he claims to also do this at home).

Later in the afternoon the whole group first continued practising the jo embu (2-person prearranged sparring drill) and then moved on to the bokken (wood sword) for the balance of the lesson.

Paul and Sam cross bokkens with Mt Trio in the background.

By sunset everyone was well and truly exercised out. Having said that, Felicity Zimmermann was overheard to say that she and David were considering staying at the Retreat indefinitely - so much were they enjoying the gashuku life!

Sunset in the Stirling Range on the final day.

That evening, after a massive barbecue dinner the groups enthusiastically performed their skits which were fortunately not video taped as no-one should have to be subjected to them twice! In the defence of the actors and script writers some talent shone through and there were some genuine sparks of brilliance - an example being the excellent Chinese kung-fu movie 'dubbing' as performed by Clement and Sam.

Saturday 11 October

Our happy group just before leaving for home.

Next morning dawned sunny and dry providing perfect weather for breaking camp. On the way home we stopped at "The Lily" - an incongruous but authentic Dutch Mill - for coffee and a last look at the Stirling Mountain Range. Other than that the trip home was uneventful and everyone was glad to be home after a long but enjoyable week.

"The Lily" Dutch Windmill at the edge of the Stirling Range National Park.

The 2003 gashuku was a great success and it is a testament to everyone's fitness, good humour and mental strength that they performed at such a high level and without flagging all week. In addition to covering a lot of ground, this gashuku's record breaking 'big hike' was a true test of the our martial arts spirit - a test which everybody passed with flying colours! Well done!