Summer gasshuku 夏強化合宿

As the majority of kendo practitioners here in Japan are students (ranging from primary to university age) it follows that summer holidays tend to be pretty busy kendo-wise. This busyness is not just due an increase of keiko-time and sessions, but it also includes shiai (the largest competitions of the year are held during this time), visiting other schools for a spot of renshu-jiai or godogeiko, and summer strengthening gasshuku. Today I will briefly discuss the last one.


Gasshuku

There are many styles of gasshuku, and although not all run during the summer period, practising hard for a few days on end in the intense heat and humidity of the Japanese summer is considered a particularly gruelling challenge, and thus they hold a type of special status. I’ve attended many gasshuku over the years, including ones aimed at adults (where large quantities of alcohol are the mainstay), but what I want to describe briefly here is my experience at running and teaching high school level summer training sessions, which I have done for quite a few years now. In fact, I just came back from this years gasshuku yesterday!

School gasshuku tend to be of two broad types: godo-gasshuku, where a number of schools train together, or tandoku-gasshuku, where a school club practises by itself. I have participated in both, but prefer individual gasshuku over group ones, because the latter tend to spend too much time doing practise competition (something that could easily be done at another time). I’d rather use that time to do extended periods of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, and kakarigeiko.

A gasshuku is not a gasshuku unless you travel somewhere as a group and stay together for at least a couple of nights (the further the better.. although some shonen kendo clubs that have a privately owned dojo may sleep there rather than travel). Although not always possible, I much prefer to hold gasshuku in a proper dojo rather than in some modern sports hall or centre of some sort, preferably sleeping in the dojo. Also, the less people there are around, the more isolated the location is, the better.

The purpose and the content of a George-styled gasshuku (and many other kendo teachers too I suspect) is pretty simple:

Through multiple challenging keiko sessions students will become motivated (even inspired) to work hard not only as individuals (which is important), but as part of a team. By battling through physically and mentally demanding keiko together the students can build stronger bonds of friendship which will, hopefully, last their entire lives. They should also learn that working to overcome difficulty (i.e. not quitting when things are hard) is not only worthwhile, but highly rewarding as well. The gasshuku experience is thus much more than kendo itself.

Needless to say, the students stamina, endurance, and technical kendo ability should also benefit from a hard gasshuku, but these are – at least for me – secondary goals.

Gasshuku

Example gasshuku training menu

As an example of what I am talking about here is a rough sketch of the menu that my students just went though with me:

Day 1.

– Travel to the dojo (approx. 2.5 hrs).

– Short morning session (approx. 1.5 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 20 mins; ashisabaki 15 mins; extended kihon 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Afternoon session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 20 mins; uchikomi 20 mins; break; waza geiko 40 mins; break; uchikomi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Evening: kendo lecture (history/culture).

Day 2.

– Before breakfast: up at 6am for a 2km running session up and down a steep hill.

– Morning session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; bokuto ni yoru kihon keiko-ho 20 mins; suburi 30 mins; ashisabaki 15 mins; kirikaeshi 25 mins; uchikomi 25 mins; break; oikomi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Afternoon session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 30 mins; kata 90 mins; break; kihon 20 mins; uchikomi 20 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Evening: kendo discussion (aims).

Day 3.

– Before breakfast: up at 6am for a 2km running session up and down a steep hill.

– Morning session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 20 mins; up and down kirikaeshi 20 mins; up and down oikomi 20 mins; break; circular kirikaeshi 15 mins; diagonal oikomi 15 mins; break; suri-ashi game 15 mins; break; mini kihon 10 mins; 5-person consecutive kakarigeiko 15 mins; aikagarigeiko 15 mins; kirkaeshi 10 mins. Haya-suburi 5 mins.

– Short afternoon session (approx. 2 hrs): kachinuki shiai 60 mins; jigeiko 30 mins; uchikomi and kirikaeshi 20 mins; award giving; clean the dojo.

– Pack and go home!

Yours truly at this years gasshuku
Yours truly at this years gasshuku

Gasshuku are demanding for the students but at the same time they can be tough to organise and teach as well. One of the most difficult things is to ensure that you balance the hard sessions with enough breaks for rehydration, and to ensure that nobody gets injured or collapses due to heat stroke. On top of this, every year I also take on the job of making sure that the students eat enough (especially the girls), get to bed early, and get up in time to go running…. none of which falls within the usual realm of “kendo teacher.” This year I had the added bonus of dealing with the fallout of a bet gone wrong: one of my students ate a whole tube of wasabi and got sick !

Although this years gasshuku is finished, I’m already looking forward to the next one… though I may ban wasabi.


Gallery

Lastly, here are a handful of snaps from summer gasshuku I’ve taught over the years. Enjoy!

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George

I'm the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net. Amongst other things I am a high school kendo club coach, an avid practitioner of classical swordsmanship, a history student, and a vegetarian.

4 thoughts on “Summer gasshuku 夏強化合宿

  1. I had the good fortune of attending Summer Gasshuku with the Nagoya University Kendo Club many years ago. I was a young fella then, which helped greatly as honestly I’ve never come across such fierce Kendo. It was one of my earliest forays into practicing with university students, and wow, beasty to say the least. I still recall the heat, the humidity, but overall the “arete” of it at the end of each day.

    (As a side-note,I think the Greek concept of “arete” is a transcendent one for all cultures. You might be interested in checking it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arete_(moral_virtue)

    Anyway, wow, back to Gasshuku. I really did feel pushed to the limits, but in the best of possible ways. Even though I was a visiting Kenshi to the club I was made to feel welcome and join in on the camaraderie.

    However, it was also the first time I saw someone vomit straight through their mengane.

    Ah summer gasshuku, it ain’t for the faint of heart.

  2. @Mark: yeah, something like that … except tougher!!

    @Scott: I know my students limits pretty well and so usually stop them before they fall over, pass out, collapse, or are sick. Very occasionally one will surprise me though. During the toughest sessions I am sure to look at every students movement and call on them if they look like they are having trouble. The hallmark of a good teacher is not having your students vomit in their men.
    p.s. I think I’ve mentioned Arete a couple of times before in kenshi 24/7 articles.

  3. Ah, such benevolence did not extend to the Nagoya Daigaku Kendo club! It was quite a sight.

    My bad, you’ve already touched on that “Arete” concept. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’d be interested in reading those previous articles of yours then. Let the trawling begin.

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