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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The 25th Annual Cape Town “Gambate Gashuku”

 By Nigel Jackson

Clouds over the twelve Apostel mountains and Camps Bay beach


 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, South Africa 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 same.

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 this onslaught.

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. 

Dan grading panel

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 time.

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 Bay.

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 great achievement. 

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.

floor cleaning