2004 Gashuku - "The Windy Gashuku"

The 2004 Gashuku was held from Sunday 10 October to Saturday 16 October at the Stirling Range Retreat.

Sunday 10 October
The week long event began with a 7.30am meeting at the dojo, packing of the cars and then the long drive south. Arriving in Kojonup we discovered that we had lost a few cars and their occupants. Mobile phone calls were made but no contact could be made with the missing group. Just when we had started to think that they had vanished like the legendary Flight 19 (five US torpedo bombers that mysteriously vanished in the Bermuda Triangle in1945), we received a garbled mobile phonecall that explained that the first car had taken the wrong highway south and the others had blindly followed until their arrival in Bunbury had made them realise their mistake. When the miscreants finally were reunited with the rest of the group in Kojonup they paid for their carelessness by having to forgo burgers, etc in favour of an "off-the-shelf" lunch to so that we could resume our journey immediately.

The route from Perth to the Stirling Range (note well for next year!).

For this reason we arrived at the Stirling Range Retreat later than expected at about 3.00pm. Although we were unpacked and the camp was set up in only an hour-and-a-half there was not much daylight left for a hiking in the nearby mountains. Nevertheless, Kancho Nenad reckoned that there was just enough time to make a reconnaisance of the southern ridge of Toolbrunup peak in preparation for the planned ascent later in the week of the 1052m mountain via its rarely visited southern ridge.

Map of the Stirling Range National Park.

Now, at this point the wind was gusty but not particularly fierce in the campground. An hour or two later and a few hundred metres higher, it was blowing up a gale. We had to shout to each other just to make ourselves heard over the din of the wind. Forcing ourselves upward through often thick scrub and fighting to keep our balance against the wind, we climbed steadily upwards only to find that the ridge didn't seem to be getting any closer. With night quickly approaching, it was clear that a decision had to be made whether to continue upwards or decend. As everyone had been instructed to bring torches for just such an eventuality, and the terrain seemed fairly straightforward, Kancho Nenad took some compass readings and instructed the group to continue the ascent. At last light, tired and windblown, we crested the ridge after a vertical ascent of about 400m with Kancho's altimeter registering an altitude of about 800m. The sun had set behind Mt Toolbrunup some time ago but the sky was still glowing pink to the west. Having ceased our exertions the wind suddenly started to bite and so, we did not tarry but switched on our torches and headed back downhill.

Later, back at the retreat, the exercise and mountain air not unsurprisingly, 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 curry dish that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday 11 October
The next day started with the usual 5.30am wake-up call. The wind had picked up in the campground but among the tall trees of the campsite we were relatively sheltered. After downing a piece of fruit, we assembled for first class of the day which involved warm-up exercises, Chi Gung and taiji practise. We were fortunate to be able to learn and practise 'new' Chi Gung exercises that Sempai Tim brought back from mainland China just a few weeks before. After that, Sempai Trev taught taiji and we practised the 2nd section of the Yang Style long form.

Chi Gung exercises.

Warmed up and energised, the next session saw us 'fat-burning' our way up Bluff Knoll Road. Once again, as with last year, it was hard to hold back the fit guys who were energised not only by the previous session, but by the fresh air and magnificent views of the mountains.

The morning run (next year we have vowed to make it all the way to Bluff knoll!).

Returning to the campsite, we moved straight into more vigorous Chi Gung exercises and the practice of Sanchin kata in its various forms.

Sanchin kata.

Finally after some cooldown stretches we took a break for breakfast followed by the traditional morning discussion over a cup of Chinese tea. Once again we covered many martial arts related topics centred around the the concepts of Budo and the philosophy of Wu-Wei.

After the breakfast it was back into karate training. As the wind showed no sign of letting up we trained in the campground rather than on the airstrip and began with the practise of basics associated with the fundamental kata of Fukyugata ichi. Kancho Nenad emphasised that basics are the foundation of karate ability and that as such, it is important to keep them sharp no matter what your level/rank.

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)! Note to next year's gashuku participants "Guys, it's not a competition to see how much you can eat! And don't worry - there WILL be enough food for everyone!"

All this time the wind blew incessantly and the gusts had taken their toll on our camp. The Lau brothers' dome tent, which was in one of the less sheltered spots, had actually snapped a fibreglass pole (the first time any of us had ever seen this happen!) and the tent was in danger of collapsing altogether and blowing away. Amidst clouds of wind-borne dust, the group struggled to take down and move the tent to a more sheltered spot. The pole was spliced with a flattened tent-peg and gaffer tape and the tent was relocated to a safer spot where it remained for the duration of the gashuku. At the same time, the kitchen tent was tied down securely and the campsite generally windproofed as best as possible.

After lunch the group shook off any lethagy induced by the post-lunch afternoon break with a bit of Hojo undo (ie exercise!) involving both bodyweight exercises and chi-shi (strength stones) training, as well as some more sanchin kata training. The second half of the session was spent learning and practising jo (4ft staff) techniques - a weapon that offers something for everyone, whether beginner or advanced. Training on the airstrip was an experience in itself: the wind was so strong that one could lean into it and not fall over! But it did keep the heat and flies away and for that we were happy to put up with it. Probably the only "problem" with the wind was having to dispense a lot of antihistamine tablets to the hayfever sufferers.

Hojo Undo class: Chishi training.

After the long afternoon training the day concluded with a Yoga session taken by Sempai Tim who had also trained in Ashtanga Yoga in India on his recent Asian sojourn. The stretching was a great way to finish off the day - great for those sore muscles and mentally and physically relaxing after a day of intense activity.

After the final bow of the day the the duty team distributed a muesli bar, piece of fruit and and made up some fruit cordial to boost our blood sugar levels while we waited for dinner to be prepared. (I am still not sure whether it was necessary to chill the cool drink water given that the persistant wind grew rather chilly by day's end - but I am sure Clement meant well!).

After everyone had their showers we gathered at the kitchen area to await dinner which invariably was very much enjoyed by everyone. "Iron Chef" Trev never disappointed us with the delicious and filling meals he produced over the week!

Tuesday 12 October - Wednesday 13 October

The second day and third training days followed essentially the same programme as Monday. The wind gusts continued unabated and the constant roar of the wind became surprisingly wearisome on the ears. Our routine of course, suffered no disruption and it was "business as usual". Some variation was introduced into the morning runs in the form of short sprints (known in Sport Science circles as "fartlek" runs - much to some peoples amusement) and other surprises not least of which was the introduction of cold showers straight after the run. The quick but bracing cold showers not only cooled the joints and muscles but also re-energised us for the training to come! Lest the cold showers seem like no big deal - let me just point out that on this gashuku we experienced coldest morning ever at a Stirling Range gashuku when we shook ice off our tent flaps on Wednesday morning.

Another morning run ("Are we having fun yet?").

Breakfast Time.

Post breakfast slump sets in!

This year, there was only time for one punchball game all week as groups were kept busy with the task of trying to light fires by rubbing sticks together. Once again, there was plenty of smoke but no fire. It seems that one has be at least 3rd Dan or above to light a fire this way judging by previous attempts at earlier gashukus. Better luck next time! I did get the impression that if people's lives (or a hot meal) depended upon it there would have been more success!

Fire making (note the beanies - it was pretty cool some days).

Kata and bunkai continued with Fukyugata ni, Gekisai dai ichi and Gekisaidai ni being next to be dissected and analysed by the group. These kata, and the basics they contain truly are the foundation of good karate.

Kata bunkai practised as Ippon kumite.

The grappling aspects of karate were however not neglected and in this regard tuide drills and kakie were practised over and over until they could be performed as a reflex action.

Above left, right and below: Tuide drills and kakie.

Hojo undo exercises proved to be a staple all week with no concession to weariness or muscle soreness - whether real or imagined!

Afternoon Hojo Undo class.

Weapons training continued with more jo techniques but was further enlivened by the introduction of Arnis knife and stick (single and double stick) techniques - another weapons system that challenges both senior and junior levels alike.

Knife defences.

Arnis Sinawali drills.

Some of the group pose for a photo after a training session.

Thursday 14 October

This day started like any other but the run was made just a little harder by the inclusion of 800 kicks, numerous punches, blocks and strikes in deep stances as well as road-side pushups and situps.

Above left, right and below: Yet another morning run but this time with a difference!

Training after breakfast followed the same routine but after lunch everyone packed their rucksacks for an overnight hike in the mountains. The wind finally died away and the weather report forcast good weather with no rain for the next 24 hours so we had the all clear for our adventure. Our task was to climb Toolbrunup Peak via the normal tourist track and then descend via the Southern Ridge than we had reconnoitred on the Sunday afternoon. We left at 2.30pm cramming into Lau brothers' and Tim's 4WDs. It's lucky the Lau's 4WD has a roof rack or some packs would have had to be left behind! On this note it's gratifying to see these recreational vehicles actually being used for their intended purpose instead of cruising the cappucino strips of the City!

Toolbrunup Peak (1052m) at right of photo (South ridge to left of peak).

On the way to Mt Toolbrunup.

Mt. Toolbrunup which at 1052m is the third highest peak after Bluff Knoll. The guide book describes Mt Toolbrunup as:

"a singular mountain of great height and distinction, that towers above the other western peaks like an undisputed champion. Unlike the other giants it stands alone, supported only by its own tenuous ridges and slender spires. Its summit, a pointed rocky steeple surround by steep tumbling crags, offers uninterrupted view in all directions."

The total distance from the car park to the summit was only about 2 kilometres but involved an ascent of about 630m. Walking upwards through the forest, we came across the occasional group of hikers or tourists. One person, upon taking in our heavily equipped group with our large packs, and especially the "camo" gear of our army reserve students, asked if we were "an army group or something?"
"Something like that!" we answered.

Upon emerging from the woods to where the scree begins we were faced with the following sign sign warning us to turn back:

The famous: "Turn Back Now" sign.

As we were all of the above - we proceeded to climb up the scree and later, after an final scramble to the top, we reached the summit. The wind, which we thought had blown itself out, was still very strong on the summit, but after all the sweat we had shed climbing up it was quite refreshing. However after about 20 minutes on the summit during which we had a snack and a rest it started to bite and we were happy to start down. This is where our adventure really began!

Above left, right and below: On the summit of Toolbrunup peak.

Snacktime on the summit.

Climbing Toolbrunup peak, while physically challenging is, at the end of the day, simply a case of following the "tourist track" despite the sign warning those weak in spirit to "Turn Back Now". Once we left the summit however we had to put our thinking caps on and find a way to down via Toolbrunup's southern ridge. This is not necessarily an easy task as, looking across to the southern ridge from the summit, the various routes are barred either by steep drops, dense bush, or both. No paths exist and as a result of the difficulty of the terrain it's likely that the last time anyone visited the southern ridge was many years ago.

The adventure begins: decending from the summit the group ponder on how to get onto the southern ridge.

Following the tourist track downwards for a short way we studied the various potential routes and sent scouts off to recce likely "paths". Eventually, with the end of the day near we bit the bullet and set off along a kangaroo trail through through the dense and brambly undergrowth. Incidentally, this is where a largish group comes in handy. For an individual, forging a path through such dense bush is a very exhausting, slow and painstaking process. A group of people however can simultaneously try different routes in order to find the path of least resistance (Wu-Wei in action!) and thus make fairly fast progress in such conditions.

Bashing our way through the impenetrable bush of the Stirling Range to reach the southern ridge.

Beating our way along the kangaroo tracks in this way we eventually broke out of the thick undergrowth onto the southern ridge. Ahead of us was a final obstacle, a rocky promontory with nearly vertical sides on its north, east and west faces. We would have to climb up and over it in order to continue along the ridge. The guide book refers to this formidable rocky outcrop as "The Sudden Drop" because it assumes the climber would be heading toward Toolbrunup Peak rather than away from it (and would thus have to descend the "sudden drop").

The "Sudden Drop" viewed from below - an obstacle we had to climb over on the southern ridge.

Fortunately for us there is a chink in the arour of this crag in the form of a climbable route. The guide book states: "It is a little precarious in places and involves some awkward rock scrambling, so great care is required." With sunset only minutes away, Asley Lau asked anxiously: "When you say awkward, do you mean Vinyasa awkward," (referring to one of Tim's yoga poses) "or something else?".

Fortunately many of us have done this sort of thing before and we had come prepared with ropes to ensure everyone's safety. The experienced climbers made their way up first and fixed ropes for everyone else. As it turned out it wasn't that awkward after all (probably easier than Vinyasa actually) and before long we had hauled everyone and their packs to the summit of this little obstacle. By now the sun had set and darkness was not far away - but our timing had been perfect. From here, the way down the ridge was clear and, from our reconnaissance hike on the Sunday, we knew that if we failed to find a suitable campsite we could reach our cars in about 4 hours - even if we had to descend at night.

Setting up ropes to climb and cart our gear over the "Sudden Drop".

The sun set as we summited the "sudden drop".

All that was left to do was to find a suitable campsite that would get us out of the incessant wind which, by now with darkness falling, was getting decidedly chilly. This turned out to be no easy task on the exposed ridge and before long we were forced to stop in order to get our jumpers and torches out of our packs in order to be able to continue moving safely and comfortably.

After a concerted search along the ridge during which time a somewhat alarming rock avalanche was started by Daniel (henceforth to be known as "Avalanche Dan"), one spot was chosen over the other contenders. This was a small clearing nestled in a forested saddle on the ridge. The clearing was was a little cramped, and despite being sheltered by thick bush on all sides, the wind still whistled through it. It was our best bet though, and, given that it was about 8.00pm by now, we were all in favour of settling down for the night. The boys swung into action and it wasn't long before we had put up a structure that defies description. It was made up of a variety of "hoochies" and tarps fastened to small trees and undergrowth of doubtful stability and strength and held down and together by our climbing ropes, string, rubber bands and gaffer tape. It worked though - and even strong gusts of wind overnight were unable to uproot and dismember it. This is not to say that many of us were not kept awake all night worrying whether it would hold together as it often flapped and shook alarmingly over the course of the night! On the other hand, some slept very well, notably the younger members of our expedition - in particular Eddie, who scored the nickname "Sandman".

Inside our makeshift camp shelter (note the various tarps that were put to use!).

Dinner-time on the mountain.

After a much anticipated and surprisingly good hot meal it was time to find such comfort as we could among the embedded stones and tree roots. Warmth was not necessarily easy to achieve with draughts blowing seemingly from every direction. Even though not designed for use as sleeping bags, most of the group unpacked their survival bags and crawled into them in the hope of keeping warm. Judging by the snoring - it must have worked. In fact, some people fell asleep literally seconds after saying "Goodnight" and did not wake up until breakfast was served the following morning. Sadly, sleep did not come so easily for some of the gashuku veterans who, I like to think, stayed up to watch over the younger ones and ensure our flimsy shelter stayed together!

Tim gives up on trying to sleep in the cold but others seemed to have no problem!

Luckily our shelter did hold together - with the help of a number of modifications and repairs made during the night by the sleepless ones. I'm not sure how we would have gone had it rained though (not that we expected rain - but you just never know in the mountains). While on the subject of getting wet - we were fortunate that it was windy. The wind, while annoying, kept the dew from forming and, considering how wet we and our belongings would have got - camped as we were amongst the undergrowth - it was well worth the inconveniece.

Friday 15 October

Finally, after what was for some of us a long, cold and uncomfortable night, morning broke. We boiled the billys to make hot tea and shook the cold from our bodies. Breakfast followed and then the somewhat sad task of dismantling and packing up our trusty and sturdy shelter.

Dawn on the mountain: "Iron Chef Trev" brews up the morning tea.

Even the sleepyheads are up waiting for their breakfast.

A view of our makeshift but rather effective shelter from the rear (note gaffer tape and string!).

All packed up and ready to go home with Jeremy looking a little worse for wear.

The last leg of the hike: Descending the southern ridge.

The triumphant group pose on the southern ridge with the highest point on the ridge and Mt Toolbrunup behind.

Upon our return to the camp at about 10.30am we streched out our sore legs and backs with a 45min yoga session before taking a well earned break to allow everyone to clean up for lunch. After lunch,we returned to our normal outine for the rest of the final day.

The boys still had the energy to work on some personal skills s between training sessions.

That evening, after a barbecue dinner the groups enthusiastically performed their comedy skits which provided the usual "you had to have been there" laughs. In retrospect we should have filmed the talking Chi-shi skit as it was a classic!

Saturday 16 October

The morning started as usual with Chi Gung and Tai-Chi but this was to be the last training session of the 2004 gashuku. It was time to dismantle and pack away our campsite. Of course, things don't necessarily always go to plan and it started to rain. It had to happen sooner or later and fortunately it was only light rain. It certainly didn't stop us from filming the "intros" for each of the gashuku participants (for the excellent gashuku dvd that was later edited and produced by Shihan Dan) while we waited for the Trev's team to cook up a bacon and eggs breakfast.

I know we say this every year, but the 2004 gashuku was very enjoyable and a great success. Congratulations to all of the participants:

Paul "The New Guy" Riley
"Avalanche Dan" Heath
Elliot "Gortex" Bannan
Eddie "Sandman" Chan
Jono "Little John" Lau
Clement "Kleenheat" Chan
Sam "Blinky" Lau
Ashley "Foghorn" Lau
"Iron Chef" Trev Aung Than
"Tantric" Tim Brown
Jeremy "Tishi" Clark
and Kancho Nenad "The Nomad" Djurdjevic

Roll on the 2005 Gashuku!