Annual Cape Town
By Nigel Jackson
Twenty five years ago Allan Strates had just returned from
an eighteen month training stay at the Hosei University Karate Club and the SKI
dojo in Tokyo.
He had earned his 3rd Dan in Japan after months of gruelling training under
Hitoshi Kasuya Sensei, at the SKI and the Hosei University Karate Club in Tokyo.
Until then only Nigel Jackson from the Cape Town Dojo had
experience of training in Japan
and now Allan Strates, from the Cape Town Dojo had experienced this as well.
Nigel, Allan, Mary Ann Landers and Gary Mann came up with
the idea of doing a week long “Japanese University Karate club” type training in
order to give everyone a small taste of what it was like doing unrelenting, high
powered, fast paced and very tense training for five consecutives days.
Little did those few who lined up in the Cape Town Dojo for
the traditional bow twenty five years ago realise that this was the beginning
of a lasting tradition in Cape Town,
when this unique and special training Gashuku takes place.
One has to understand what the word ‘Gambate’ means and what
the Gashuku was all about in order to appreciate the rationale behind this
event. The Japanese word “Gambate” loosely translated means “train hard” or
“don’t give up”. “Gashuku” means “special training sessions”. The Gambate Gashuku’s
concept is to move fast and relentlessly whilst always displaying one’s best
techniques. No quarter is asked for or given!
The format for the “Gambate Gashuku” has always remained the
Only Dan grades and the 1st Kyus who would be
attempting the Dan grading at the end of the Gashuku could participate.
Dropping out or quitting is not an option! Once you have
taken the first bow there is no going back or giving up! Only total commitment
and a 100% effort are acceptable.
By the third day exhaustion from having to be ready on the
Dojo floor every morning at day break, the different type of training from that
which one normally does, the bumps and bruises, blackened eyes and split lips
on those who failed to block properly, and blistered feet and above all the
fear factor begins to take its toll.
The training sessions always start with basic Kihon
techniques, both stationary and fast moving. This quickly progresses to
combination techniques of varying levels of difficulty and complexity. The
senior Dan grades on the floor shout technical corrections to the participants
especially to those who will be attempting the Dan gradings at the completion
of the gashuku. These are always called whilst on the move in order to avoid
breaking the training rhythm. After 45 minutes ‘yame” is called. One has only a
short break to regain one’s breathing rhythm and a get a quick drink of water,
before training restarts. This is to combat any effects of dehydration that may
occur due to the intense summer heat experienced during the month of December
in Cape Town.
Emphasis now switches from Kihon to Ju Kumite, and later to Kata.
In Kumite, one is expected to attack the opponent correctly with
vigour, total commitment and intent in order to effectively deliver a blow on
the selected target. Injury has to be accepted if one does not block effectively.
It is made very clear that should one go down to the floor
and still be conscious during Kumite and not quickly get to one’s feet, the
fight would continue. Staying down is not an option as an escape route!
This rule has the effect of adding more of the fear element
into the training, which is vital in an actual combat situation. This is
something that many Black Belts never experience until or if ever they find
themselves in dangerous situations.
Should any one begin to weaken during Kumite or be dropped
to the floor by an attack immediate recovery is expected. To this end “Gambate”
and “fight on” is called by the seniors to support and encourage one to
maintain fighting spirit.
Close observation to insure that the felled person is not in
trauma is maintained.
Our South African / Afrikaans expression of “vas byte”,
loosely translated means grit your teeth,
bite the bullet , keep going, don’t give up or face the danger, is also
used along with calls of the similar meaning “Gambate” to encourage
participants to keep going or to improve their techniques.
At that first gashuku Allan Strates attacked every one with
his rapier like punches and kicks (mae geri and mawashi geri) which he had
perfected in Japan. All of these were executed at extremely high speed. This
caused the level of nervous energy in the dojo to increase exponentially as
everyone was afraid of not being able to defend themselves properly against
Other senior grades followed and kept to his example.
No quarter can be asked for or given!
In Kata training, the grading candidates are given an
opportunity to present their favourite Kata to their peers and senior
instructors in order to have minor aspects of their Kata tweaked. Those who are
not grading move to the other end of the dojo floor to practise the different
Black Belt Kata.
The 25th annual Gambate Gashuku event has been
completed, where forty senior black belts ranging in rank from 8th
Dan to Sho Dan and some 1st Kyu Brown Belts, from all over South
Africa lined up to begin the Gambate Gashuku.
Fourteen of those present would be going even further at the
end of the week’s Gashuku by attempting Dan examinations and evaluation, hoping
to up grade to higher Dan grades.
Grading candidates know that at all times throughout the Gashuku the 14
senior Black Belts who would comprise the grading evaluation panel would be on
the Dojo floor with them, observing and already evaluating them before the Dan
examination begins. The pressure on everyone, especially on the grading
candidates who have their up grading foremost in their minds.
Participants, not familiar with this kind of Karate-do soon
realised that their Sport/ tournament type of “no contact” and “over control” training
wasn’t effective enough in an actual combat situation and therefore had to face
their own fears and find a solution for them quickly, often for the very first
The pace of the Gashuku heated up and peaked on the fourth
day which was devoted mostly to hard Ju Kumite. Then on the fifth day those who
were going to attempt their Dan grading examination on the Saturday presented
their Kata to the whole group where others and not only the senior instructors
watched for technical errors.
After training every morning everyone gathered at a nearby
beach-side restaurant for a well deserved breakfast, to relax in the sun and
discuss the hard training that every one had endured and “enjoyed”. Jokes and
encouragement were offered to those sporting bruises, bumps, cuts and blistered
feet. Relax now they are told because
surely tomorrow it will be worse!
There is something spiritual about sitting out in the open
air enjoying a hearty breakfast with your fellow hard training Karate-ka,
surrounded by the summer tranquillity and stunning summer beach-side beauty of
Camps Bay on the Cape Peninsular. Just across the road, in front of the
restaurant, stretches the beautiful white sands and emerald coloured Atlantic
ocean that fronts Camps
Table Mountain recently voted one of the “seven natural wonders
of the world” flanked by the Lions Head mountain and the twelve apostles range mountain
chain that stretches to the South to form the Cape Peninsular.
Only after a visit to this part of South Africa can one
claim to have seen the most stunningly beautiful places on earth.
Immediately following the end of the Saturday training the
Dan grading candidates lined up and prepared to “dig deep” to complete the
nerve wracking Dan evaluation in front of the fourteen most senior Dan grades
from 8th Dan to 4th Dan’s that comprised the official
Shotokan Karate South Africa Dan grading examination panel.
All participants who completed the week long Gashuku (there
has never been a drop out in twenty five years) experience a sense of
accomplishment, motivation and self worth, especially the Dan grading
candidates who all presented special performances because of the extra lift
that they had gained from the tough Gashuku and having to dig deeper in order
to successfully complete the hard yards of the examination / evaluation at the
end of the tiring Gashuku.
The end of the Gambate Gashuku is marked by the Black Belt
dinner on the Saturday evening where all participants, together with their
partners, spouses and parents, celebrated and relaxed at another of Cape Town’s good
restaurants. The magnificent 20:30 red sunset over the Bay in Camp Bay
officially signalled the close of the annual Gambate event.
Completing and surviving the tough, week long Gashuku is a
The young first timers felt very motivated with a feeling of
self worth and achievement. This most recent Gambate Gashuku, while being the
25th successive event in Cape Town, was the first one held under the banner of
the newly constituted Shotokan Karate
organisation in South Africa.