I am writing this on the eve of our departure back to Cape Town from London. Five (5) of our team will be departing from London's Gatwick Airport and the other four (4) from London's Heathrow Airport. We arrived in England on Wednesday, after having spent a month touring the Continent, but let me rather start at the beginning.
It was about a year ago that we received an invitation to participate in the Dutch Ashihara Karate Summer Camp and then soon after that, an invitation to compete in the WOMAA World Martial Arts Games. Since that time, lots of fund raising activities were held which included regular boerewors (BBQ) stands on Saturday mornings and a food stall at the Mardi Gras. Regular training was the keyword for the team who attended extra classes whenever possible. The original team of 19 persons decreased to 9 as some just did not meet the training criteria.
Time quickly flew by and then we had to start the visa application process. Most of the team had obtained their passports in advance, with the exception of Ebrahim Abrahams whose application just disappeared. An emergency passport was procured and then we were left to the mercy of the airlines. Getting outgoing flights was easy, but getting return flights was the nightmare. Our travel agent, Saabira Lagadien of Yasmine’s Travel () really went that extra mile to sort us out, but the day before departure, six tickets had confirmed returns and three we had to take a return in August just to get the tickets as we needed that for the visas. We applied for Schengen visas and I had tried to get as much supporting documentation, but in the end, still had to get some letters from the schools for the students.
The day before departure, I was sitting at the embassy with crossed fingers. Aysha has been ill and we had an appointment with the specialist - unfortunately with waiting for the visa's, Jean-Pierre opted to accompany her. That in itself was good because you know what, she was diagnosed 5 1/2 weeks pregnant - that was splendid news for me and everyone else. As I was not with, I owe Jean Pierre for standing in. That evening, everyone gathered at home and when I broke the news, pandemonium erupted - everyone was so happy. That also brought extra responsibilities - we decided that she would not compete and train as the first trimester is a delicate time period.
On Wednesday 22 June we left Cape Town flying via Doha to London. The flight time was about 20 hours before we arrived in London where we spent a day. On arriving at Heathrow, I had Jean-Pierre and Andrew do all the enquiries as I wanted them to learn how to get around. We took the tube to Victoria Underground Station and then walked over to Victoria Coach Station as we intended travelling around Europe by coach (bus). These bus passes we bought at the Eurolines office at Victoria.
Whilst sitting at Victoria, Aysha said, it is surprising that you haven’t yet run into someone that you know. Her words were scarcely over when she said, but there is "Sheikh" - and on looking, we saw Sheikh Ismail Kieraan and his wife Auntie Aysha. They were walking around as they were visiting England with their son who is a cricketer. Both of them are intrepid Hikers and are party of the Hikers Network () of which the Ashihara Hiking Club is an active member. It was a joyous moment indeed and later we accompanied the two to Buckingham Palace for some sight seeing. Unfortunately HRH the Queen was not in, so we had to be satisfied by just watching a change of guard.
That Thursday, it was very hot, the gauge said it was 33 degrees Celsius. From London we went over to the Netherlands via Dover and Calais to attend the Ashihara Summer Camp held in Etten organised by Harry Gorter, the Dutch representative of the AKI. It took us nearly three days to get to the camp site in Holland. Three days of living on plane food and luxuries, and very little washing. In London you have to pay 20p (in South African money it is R2-50) to use the toilet. In Holland it is around R4,50. So we had to wait until we really had to use the toilet before we could go. Whilst on the coach, we determined that it would be better if we got off the bus in Utrecht to go to Etten. From Utrecht we then took a train to Doetinchem, a town close to Etten where we were met by members of the Dutch organisation.
On hearing that it was Nasiera's birthday, she was given a surprise party with a Barbie doll and other gifts. Harry Gorter had also put up a Jumping Castle for the kids. They really were treated like super kids. On the camp we focussed mostly on combinations and anti grappling techniques. Andrew, our "flying squad" inspector and tough man, got his bull neck tied up in knots. Between Jean Pierre and Josie, they demonstrated kata in application and Nasiera and Thabet did the rest. I couldn't believe at how little I had to do ....;-) Throughout the camp, the organisers went out of their way to ensure that we got the right meals, viz Halaal, etc. At the conclusion of the camp, I issued Henk Riethorst and Franco Tigele their Sandan and Shodan certificates and then promoted Harry Gorter to Godan (5th Dan). It was an emotional moment. The camp was attended by many visiting instructors. One of them Johny Verheyden from Belgium plans on opening a branch school in Belgium later this year. Another was Willem, a Sandan and former dojo mate of Harry when they trained under Franco's Dad who used to be their instructor.
After the camp we spent two days in Amsterdam sleeping over in a camping site which had nice walks in the woods. Whilst there, we took the time to explore Amsterdam for two days and then went to Leiden to spend some time with an old friend, Ino Alberga who teaches Muay Thai () . Our team was put through their paces in a totally different environment. They also enjoyed playing around on the punching bags and other equipment. In Amsterdam and most of Europe, we found that the sun rises at 4am and sets after 11.00 pm. With such long days, our bio-rhythm was seriously altered as most times we would only have supper at 10.00 pm or later as it is still light when the sun sets and the sky looks like the sun is coming up.
The weather has been very finicky - changing from 33 degrees to 11 degrees to sunshine to very rainy, but that is all what makes life exciting. However the downside was that I caught a cold. I've been coughing a lot and it was only due to our pharmacist in the team pumping me full of vitamins and other tabs that it became better.
We left Leiden to go back to Amsterdam where we took another coach, this time to Denmark via Hamburg. We were invited by Shihan Kurt Orum of the Danish Dai Ki Haku Organisation () to spend time with him and his students. I was under the impression that he is in Copenhagen, but he is actually based in the North of Denmark - the Jutland region, close to the town of Viborg. He had arranged a mini bus and one of his students drove the 4 hours to Copenhagen and back to bring us here. They really gave us a warm welcome. On Saturday, we had two sessions, one I taught and the other we practised some of their stuff. Since then we have had quite a few others. I believe in things happening for a reason - there are so many things that I do which is similar to what Shihan Orum does. He runs a program called Pure Humanity - using the Martial Arts to do good. See .
Whilst there, we had a full page article in the local newspaper, the Viborg Folkeblad. We also went around to the local Ashihara dojo at the Viborg Halle, but it was closed and time didn’t permit us to go around again. I also met Takumi Higashidani Shihan, an ex-Kyokushin/Goju Instructor who featured in the movie of the First World Kyokushin Championships. Takumi San also joined Ashihara Karate just prior to Kancho Ashihara's passing and he has an off/on relationship with Ashihara Karate - We spent about 4 hours talking shop - it was good to see the similarities we share and it looks like we will have some get togethers in future. Shihan Orum's dojo is on a farm which was extremely peaceful and quiet. The students could ride horses and see how the Danish students clean the farm, feed the animals, etc. all as part of their training chores. Shihan Orum really went out of his way to make our stay pleasant and everyone was really thankful to him and his students. Kurt is planning a Martial Arts weekend camp in November, and has asked me to invite some like-minded Martial Artist to his farm. More details about that later.
Without people like this, our trip would be rather tough. It has been hectic travelling from place to place. If we didn't have accommodation, we would have been spending lots of money. Just in internal travel, we've spent over R4000 for bus and train fares in the first week alone and that excludes the bus pass for the long distance journeys which on its own cost close to R3000 for the adults and about R2500 for the kids. Denmark is extremely expensive. In Holland, a Magnum ice cream cost about R20 - here it is costing more than R40. The train fare back to Copenhagen will probably hit us for a six. We are really working on a vaporised budget.
It was rather difficult to connect to the Internet as very few people we've been staying with had access which made it difficult to connect or to download mail. Also finding public telephones that uses coins has not always been possible and then many of them don't accept reverse calls, etc. This made it rather difficult to keep in touch with those at home. I had wanted to get a sim card for the mobile, but then I would have to get one for each country otherwise it would be too expensive. Having brought our own food stuff and other luxuries along also makes a huge difference in keeping costs down.
For many of our students, this is their first visit abroad, so they are enjoying everything - from travelling in a plane to a bus to a ferry (crossing the English channel and from Germany to Denmark) to various forms of train, tram and other. Everyone in the group was working like a well oiled team and they were just great. They assisted Aysha without being asked or told. Unfolding or packing away her sleeping bag was done with total ease. When she washed her hair, Nasiera would blow dry for her. Ruqiya saw to the cooking and amongst the team, everyone took turns to share the load of her bag.
Whilst I spent time with Kurt discussing organisational policies, etc., the team made use of the dojo, practising kata and self defence techniques for the tournament.
On Wednesday morning, we took the train to Copenhagen , a journey of close to 3½ hours. Next to the railway station is the Tivoli Amusement Park, but we had very little time before our bus departed to actually have fun. Leaving Copenhagen in the day means that we had good views of the countryside, etc. The roads was extremely full, everyone heading South for their holiday break. We arrived rather late in Hamburg, spent that night and half of the following day there and then left for Paris. On arriving in Paris, we were met by Eric N'soupe - who is one of our Distance Programme members. I had no idea how he looked, but on disembarking, we found this smiling guy walking to us and it had to be him. A bonus to our arrival was that he had along the most delicious croissants which really cheered everyone up. Originally we were going to stay at a camp site, but as there was some hotels just next to the station, we walked around and booked three rooms and within the hour, was ready to go sight seeing.
Eric took us to Mont Matre, Sacre Couer, the Notre Dame, and many other sites before having to run off for an appointment but not before be arranged for another black belt student - Gerard to continue taking us around. We saw the boats sailing pass on the Seine and at Pont Neuf we had a break. We then went to the Quay de Orsay, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Later that evening we got together again for supper and then the inevitable sharing of techniques. Gerard is a black belt in both Kyokushin and World Oyama Karate and has fought in two Kyokushin World Championships. It was our intention to go to Euro Disney, but time simply did not permit that and the team was happy with sights seen thus far and what we still needed to see. Paris was totally different - most people actually spoke English to us unlike the past, but maybe that was because we wore our distinctive South African track suits.
When I woke the next morning, I turned on the TV and was immediately hit with the news of the terrible disaster in London. Terrorists had bombed the public transportation system in the city. My heart goes out to those who were killed or wounded as well as the families and friends of the victims.
This shows how we are never safe no matter where we live. The violence in the world is continuing and can hit at any time. We are all affected either directly or indirectly. Let’s hope peace can be established somehow, although that appears to be an extremely difficult task! Whilst sad, I was also glad that we were no longer in London, as the blasts could easily have affected us as well.
From Paris we went to Madrid. This was a really long journey and Madrid itself was a bit disappointing for most of the team in that it seemed that no one wanted to speak English - even at enquiries. Also, Madrid was on Red Alert due to the London blasts, and cops stopped us everywhere checking passports, etc. Despite that, we managed to do lots of sight seeing and also visited the dojo of Yosuke Yamashita, a 8th Japanese Goju Ryu student of Gogen Yamaguchi. In a park in Madrid, we spent quite some time running through our kata in preparation for the tournament. In Madrid I managed to buy a number of Martial Arts books, also the TaeKwonDo book in which Andrew and I feature in Spanish. Later also got copies in German of that book as well as the Jiu Jitsu book by Erik Petermann.
A downfall of the Euro pass is that one could not book one's whole journey in advance, but must first come to a City to book the departure from that City. That made it rather difficult for us being a group of nine, we couldn't always find place for everyone on the same bus. From Madrid, we departed for Lille via Valletoid in Spain - there we had to change buses. On boarding the bus, we were told that no bags - nothing at all was allowed on board - this was rather abruptly said with no explanation. The toilet on the bus was also closed, later only the driver told us that it was due to the Red Alert Security measures. This bus was the first one that played a movie – “Stuart Little 2” and at least that made up for not having any munchies on boar. On our way there, the bus started overheating - luckily the two chauffeur's could make a plan and an hour later, we were on our way again. We changed buses with no incident and arrived early the next morning in Lille where we had our first problem. We were going to go to Venice, but there was not enough place for the whole group. So after checking out our options, we left for Brussels and thereafter to Frankfurt.
From Frankfurt, we took a train to Regensburg, to visit Bertha Constance-Schwarz - our most senior lady student. Andrew was overjoyed to see her after 9 years. Bertha and her husband Jurgen put together a Braai (BBQ) on the banks of the Danube River - we stayed till late just enjoying being back in her company. We've brought three packets of Chilli Bite with especially for her to make South African Daltjies. Whilst in Regensburg, Bertha took us around as her hubby had to work. The good news is that the two will be returning to South Africa as Jurgen will be managing his company's South African office. On our departure, Bertha arranged a superb breakfast - but after eating, whilst everyone kept her occupied, I made the most of their ADSL connection to catch up with outstanding e-mail.
From Regensburg we left for Rosenheim via Munich. We were going to compete in the WOMAA World Martial Arts Games on July 15 - 17. Our first snag was that we had no idea where the event was going to be held - at the Rosenheim Bahnhoff there was no indication of the venue and on going through correspondence from the organiser, we picked up the venue and then had to ask for directions. The lady at the info booth was the first person in Germany that did not speak English - so I had to rack my brains to bring my University German back and luckily I could get directions - after two buses, we stopped right in front of the venue.
Entering the door of the arena, I asked to speak to Freddy Kleinschwaerzer, the German organiser as well as Bruce Smith, the President. I had corresponded with Bruce for over five years so it was good meeting them both. It looked a bit chaotic and everyone was either registering or sorting themselves out, but that is the norm. We were provided with accommodation in a school gym across the road from the Gabor-Halle which proved pretty convenient. The American team stayed in Munich, and it took them nearly an hour to get to the venue – that means we were rather fortunate and could afford to sleep late.
After making ourselves comfortable, we went back to the tournament hall and pretty soon after that, they had the Opening Ceremony - as we came late, I had not yet registered the team, so I quickly chatted to Mrs Smith, gave her the page with all the details and then went on to take part in the March pass - our flag was pretty prominent and when they called the bearers of the flag onto the stage, we were right in front so, once again, our flag enjoyed the lime-light.
Friday's activities included the Self Defence divisions as well as continuous sparring. Andrew, Jean-Pierre and myself were entered and we opted to do the kata applications as part of our routine. Unfortunately we competed against non-traditional acts, so we did not fare well at all. In the sparring, our kids did not compete as we did not hear their divisions being called out. On Friday, Aysha and Ruqiya volunteered their services as officials, but after losing out on the kids divisions, we opted to utilise them to manage our team. Also, Aysha was not feeling to well and had to take regular naps.
Our first competitor out on Saturday changed our luck it seems. Ebrahim went out and placed, the first of our team to win a medal. Thereafter, it seems as if we were on a lucky streak, eventually obtaining 17 medals in all. Most of those were won for weapons forms or traditional forms. In the point sparring, Thabet and Joseph performed extremely well. For me point sparring was a disaster - being blind in one eye, I fought with a head guard that had wire covering that basically reduced my vision to near zero. However, how glad I was because at least I had good face protection as the couple of shots that landed, would have certainly damaged me. I'm much too slow for point sparring.
We are in essence not a tournament oriented style, but compete as it brings lots of fun and creates interaction. This event certainly demonstrated the Martial Spirit to its fullest. We liberally borrowed equipment from the Americans, the Germans, the Spanish, etc. Not once did anyone say "no" to our request when we needed anything from headgear to groin guards to gloves or safe-t-kicks. The camaraderie and friendship displayed was excellent - we had many nations cheering for us and likewise the other way around. Everyone in our team made many new friends and I look forward to future such events. We had small hand made beaded South African flags and this we gave to all the country delegations and those that we befriended.
At the tournament, I met Cristiano Radicchi, the organiser of the WTKA World Championships to be held in Italy in November. Cristiano has invited me to attend - that event will be held on Sanbon Shobu rules, so time permitting, I will give my support.
The Monday after the tournament, we had a lazy morning exploring Rosenheim’s business centre before going to Munich. We spent the rest of the day walking around before leaving that evening for Amsterdam arriving Tuesday morning. With Joseph and Thabet, I went to Leiden to fetch goods left there and later rejoined the group and that evening we left for London via Calais and Dover. In London, Andrew and I took the tube to Hackney where I hired a 15 seater mini-bus. With Andrew as the navigator, we went into central London, driving over the London bridge, past Big Ben and other sights to pick up the team at Victoria Station. We left for Nottingham after a circuitous journey through London to join the M1 North stopping on Edgeware Road for lunch.
Going to Nottingham was rather easy - I had lived there in 1990, and had visited twice thereafter, so the road was still familiar. In Nottingham, we trained with Grandmaster Vohra, a 7th Dan Kukkiwon Taekwondo instructor. GM Vohra was leaving for Korea the following day, so after class, whilst I helped him sort things out, the team trained in another session of Thai Kick Boxing under one of his instructors. On our return, the instructor complimented me on the team's spirit and attitude. Also awaiting us was John Richards, a former Ashihara UK rep now retired. I had called John earlier to say that we will be arriving and he just came right over. That night, Master Vohra treated us to what was our first really home type meal at a local Indian restaurant. John joined us and afterwards we talked shop until the early hours of the morning. I stayed with John with my visit to the UK in 1990, so we had lots to catch up. John is over 60 and does the occasional class in Judo in which he holds a 6th Dan. His karate dojo has closed down.
How lucky we are - because we heard that another bombing attempt was made in London just after we hit the road for Nottingham. It is sad that people have to resort to such measures and what is even more sadder is that it is the innocent that always gets hurt. Luckily no one was injured in the second attempt.
We have a green belt student living in Nottinghamshire, and being in the area was an opportunity not to be missed, so after some calls, we went off to meet Amien Khan who runs a Dental Practice. We met up with Amien, and the first thing Andrew told him - "Jy is darem vet" (You are really fat) which had everyone bursting out in laughter. The time spent with him was much too short, but it was good catching up with him. We left Mansfield where he runs his practice to go to Manchester as we've been invited to train with Barry Rutter, an Ashihara style instructor.
We took a circuitous route which was very scenic, but extremely slow going. On Arriving in Denton where the Rutter's reside, I parked the bus in a side road and called Karen Rutter - the directions she gave me to the dojo was a pleasure - we were exactly one road away from the dojo. After a few minutes, the Rutter's came and the welcome on their faces really made us feel at home. Barry runs a large school - he had three classes that evening and our 3 juniors trained in all. I was extremely tired from all the driving and initially wanted to take a nap, but then opted not to. Sitting on the side gave me the opportunity to compare what they do to what we do and whilst they follow a different grading structure and format, what was good was that they students knew the Ashihara kata, etc. This was actually good when one considers that they have done so without assistance and guidance.
I met Ian Hutchinson, one of Barry's seniors with whom I had exchanged some mail some five years ago. He drove a considerable distance just to come and meet with us. With the senior class Barry asked me to teach and I started off with Shoshinsha kata, but before that demonstrated the use the koshi and correct breathing. Throughout my session, I explained the 10 elements to be found in kata, viz. zanshin (awareness), kokyu (breathing), waza no kankyu (tempo of technique), etc. I demonstrated my “one inch punch” and one of the lady brown belts wanted to feel it, I demonstrated on her stomach and felt guilty after seeing her rock. I mostly used Brian Potts, one of the senior dan grades as my Uke. He was quite responsive to my demonstrations and two hours quickly passed before I had to call it a day. A pity that we did not have more time. Afterwards, the dojo gave us a treat which we really appreciated. That ended at midnight - during this time we exchanged gifts and then Barry invited us around to his house where he gave me a book that I've long been trying to obtain. We would have loved to spend more time, but unfortunately our schedule was too hectic. I am sure that a good working relationship will be possible between ourselves and the Manchester dojo. To me it has always been important to have associate with good persons and I felt quite at ease with the black belts of the dojo. After chatting for a while we hit the road on the way to Birmingham and then on to Luton.
In Luton we were to meet with Robert Agar-Hutton, but unfortunately he had to leave for Scotland so we missed him. We also called South African friends Rashaad and Shaheen, but their mobiles went onto voice mail so we missed them too. Bought some food in Luton and then went to Kingston Upon Thames to visit Aysha's cousin, Hafeez, himself an ex - brown belt karateka. We spent that day with him which enabled Aysha to catch up since she last saw him more than two years ago. We had wanted to see some of the sight in London Central, but most of the tube stations were closed due to the bombing attempts and with security so tight, we felt is safer not to. On Saturday went to Brighton for the day. Our kids were amazed at the gravel stones on the beach instead of sand. We thought of going to Salisbury to see the Stonehenge, but opted not to after hearing that traffic would make the trip very long.
I had thought of dropping the teams at their respective airports and then take the bus back, but security was so tight that they advised us to come back more closer to when the flight departs. So back we went to Hafeez and the next morning he dropped us at Gatwick, then the others at Heathrow and then took the bus away. It would have been difficult without him other wise I would have had to drop everyone, take the bus away, and then grab a coach to Gatwick.
We left without any hassles and arrived in Doha where an hour later we boarded our flight to South Africa. However, that flight was delayed for almost two hours before we could depart. In Johannesburg we had another brief delay before leaving for Cape Town arriving nearly 90 minutes later than scheduled. However, just being back amongst those loved ones awaiting for us at the Airport made up for that. The next day, the other four also arrived safely. They were given Hotel accommodation in Doha, so had one up on the others. So, with everyone safe at home, our tour ended. I could not have wished for a better team, no one complained when we had to rough it. We grew closer to one another and the kid really matured well and everyone gave their best. Now back into training and preparations for the next trip.