SSK Karate

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Warrington, Cheshire, WA3 5AZ
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27 Sep

The sun truly shines on the SSK! Nobody dared to hope that we would have a repeat of last year’s beautiful weather – no one can be that lucky 2 years running, well not in England. However, despite a dismal forecast for the weekend it turned out to be every bit as sunny as last year. The rain stopped on Friday evening just as people were arriving and we barely saw another cloud in the sky all weekend. I expect the campers breathed a sigh of relief over that!

Friday evening kicked off with Hazel’s famous curry in the marquee. However, this was not without its problems as the cooker was not working properly – the hob was on a go-slow and the oven went on strike completely. But Hazel is not easily fazed by such setbacks and with a team effort the Indian snacks were cooked in the oven of one bunkhouse and the naan breads micro waved in the other. The meal finally came together to feed the gathering hungry masses at 9.00pm. And it was well worth the wait!

We awoke Saturday morning to clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Breakfast was an informal affair in the bunkhouse kitchens – basically that meant get it yourself! At 9.30am we amassed outside the marquee in our gi’s ready for the first training session.

This started with the now familiar run to get the blood pumping. I don’t know if the instructors were a little hung-over or something because they only asked us to do one lap of the circuit – perhaps the thought of watching us go round twice was a little exhausting? (Just kidding!)

We then grabbed our nunchukus for a session of kobudo with Steve Hegarty (he’s been to Okinawa you know – twice!). We spent the next hour twisting and twirling our nunchuku around attempting to follow Sensei as he took us through a kata. It was such a nice feeling being able to do this in the open air on the grass. Goodness knows what other campers thought of us as we twirled our sticks on chains around dressed in white pyjamas!

After a drink we then moved onto learning a bo kata. Those without a bo went with Steve Nelson to learn the zillion bunkai he knows from the kata Shihozuki. What? You didn’t think there was much to learn from that kata? Think again – you could train an army in un-armed combat from what Sensei can teach you from a simple ‘block and punch’ kata!

Meanwhile we bojutsukas were trying not to knock each other out with our 6 ft bo staffs. Sensei patiently took us through two bo kata and taught us some bunkai as well. Everyone finished with their bo intact – oh, except sensei who inexplicably decided to turn his bo into a jo by hitting the ground! Any excuse sensei to buy yourself that new bamboo bo that you’ve been after ;)

It was now time for lunch in the marquee, beautifully prepared by Hazel and her army of parent helpers.

Saturday afternoon was activity time! We all split off into our various groups to do a range of activities – raft building, kayaking, archery, climbing/abseiling and water boarding – or should that be body boarding – no, it definitely looked like torture! Several people opted for the chill out activity – you know, feet up with a good book.

Late afternoon it was time for our second training session, this time it was all about sparring. Led by Sarah, we started with some sparring techniques against the pads. This was followed by free-sparring with a variety of partners and then ended with having to pull out the white tag from each other’s belts. It all got a bit competitive at this stage and some of us ended up grappling on the ground to get the tag from our opponent (sorry about that Chris!).

Saturday evening was BBQ time! We weren’t dependent on the cookers this time since we created our own blazing furnaces to cook the food on! This was a chance to unwind under the stars on a barmy summer's evening and socialise together, imbibing much needed alcoholic refreshment. The children had the freedom to run around and play together and remained fascinated for most of the evening with keeping the fires alive, which we were using to keep warm after dark.

On Sunday we rose to yet another glorious morning! After breakfast we went down to the marquee to start our morning run. This time we had to do 2 laps except I have a sneaky feeling that many people only did one (you know who you are!).

Steve Nelson then led a session on kata, basically everyone worked on their own grading kata – except the kata squad who went off to practice for their forthcoming European competition – good luck to you all!

Finally it was time to de-camp and we all went off to pack and clean and tidy the bunkhouses. We then met in the marquee for the final speeches and awards. Steve Nelson was awarded his 6th dan – congratulations!

Mike Sheffield (not from Sheffield) received 2 awards – one for gaining his instructors certificate and the other for being the most entertaining person at the gashaku, well I think that’s what it was for (I was laughing!).

This motley crew got the award for best helpers at gashaku 


What? Your wives don’t believe you? Here’s the evidence….

Finally Matt Knight, father of student Luke Knight (sorry Luke but dad’s can be embarrassing) received the Wooden Spoon award for being unable to pronounce the word gashaku correctly, though he swears that he’s the one saying it right!

Now there was just time to eat our packed lunches (lovingly prepared by Hazel’s Army Inc.) before setting off into the afternoon sun……

The Gashaku would not be possible without the tireless efforts of both Steve Hegarty (for organising it and persuading us all to go) and his partner Hazel Wilkinson (for planning, shopping and preparing/cooking all the food for about 70 people). So a big thank you to you both for enabling us to have such a great weekend.

Steve and Hazel getting a thank you gift from Sarah

Until next year!



28 Apr


In general terms reishiki refers to the demonstration of good etiquette or ‘correct behaviours’ in a traditional martial art dojo or club. This can be anything from knowing the correct way to enter or leave the training area, how to address your sensei, knowing where and how to stand in line, to showing good manners and respect to your fellow students. Each club will have its own variation on reishiki but at the heart of all reishiki is the concept of respect (for your club, for your sensei and for each other).

In more specific terms reishiki refers to the opening and closing ceremonies that most traditional martial art clubs observe and this is the definition of reishiki that I want to discuss in this post. The word reishiki is made up of rei (bow or respect) and shiki (ceremony) and is all about setting the right tone for the class and preparing the students mentally for the training ahead. I have been involved in seminars or classes where reishiki has consisted of nothing more than a quick standing bow to sensei at the beginning and ending of class to a rather elaborate and prolonged standing , walking, kneeling, presenting the sword, bowing, more standing, walking backwards, more kneeling, bowing, standing etc. etc .etc - like a rather complicated and precisely executed kata. I had the feeling my head would be cut off if I got it wrong!

These, of course, are two extremes of the bowing ceremony.  A ceremony that is too short does not adequately prepare the students mentally for the training to come. One that is too complicated is just unnecessary and time consuming (in my opinion).

So, what should a reishiki ceremony help the student to achieve?

When we enter a dojo or training hall we are entering a world that is different to the one outside. Our roles and responsibilities inside the dojo are often very different to the ones we have outside. You may be very senior in your career and be in charge of many staff but in the dojo you may be the new white belt. On the other hand you may be an unskilled manual worker outside but a senior black belt inside the dojo. It is important to be able to leave your external roles and responsibilities outside the dojo and assume your ‘internal’ ones. A reishiki ceremony is one way of helping you to make this separation of external and internal roles. The wearing of a gi is another.

Participating in a martial art requires us to learn about and practice violence towards other human beings. Though the mindset of the martial artist should be purely about defending oneself, the techniques often needed to do that are inherently dangerous and violent. It is imperative that training is done is a controlled and mutually respectful environment that is free from ego and machismo. Reishiki helps to create this respectful environment.

When practising a martial art we are benefiting from the skill and teachings of our martial arts forebears, people who devoted most of their time to developing and perfecting techniques and encoding them in ways that we can remember today. Reishiki is a way in which we remember and honour the founders of our system and also honour the sensei that teaches us that system today.

How does reishiki achieve these things?

A typical reishiki ceremony:

Sensei gives the following commands:

  1. Seiretsu. The students are called to line up in grade order. This is the time when you have to address your position in the dojo and let go of external roles which become unimportant in this context.
  2. Seiza.  The students sit in a formal kneeling position. In some clubs the students may be sitting opposite the shomen or shinzen (shrine). In clubs that meet in a school gym or other temporary ‘dojo’ the students may face a symbolic shomen i.e. face a direction that sensei points to. Other clubs may miss this stage out altogether and just face sensei.
  3. Mokuso. The students close their eyes and observe a few moments of meditation. The idea of this is to let the students clear their minds of distracting (outside) thoughts and prepare for the training ahead. 
  4. Mokuso yame. The students stop meditating and open their eyes.

 The senior student (or a student chosen by sensei) will then give the commands:

          a.   Shomen ni rei. The students bow to the shomen in order to remember and show respect to their founder.  In clubs where there is no longer any connection or communication with their Japanese origins this step may be omitted altogether.

          b.  Sensei ni rei.  The students bow to sensei to show their respect to him/her and show that they are ready to listen and learn.

          c.   Otaga ni rei. The students and sensei bow to each other in a mutual display of respect and courtesy. Remember, in martial arts bowing is about showing respect not subservience.

At this point the students may say words such as onegaishimasu or osu (note that osu is a contraction of the word onegaishimasu). This basically means "please let me train with you." It's an entreaty often used in asking the other person to teach you, and that you are ready to accept the other person's teaching.

 Sensei then gives the following commands:

     5.   Kiritsu. The students stand up with feet together and arms by their side.

     6.   Rei. The students perform a small standing bow to end the ceremony.

The whole ceremony is then repeated at the end of the lesson with the gesture Arigatou gazaimashita which means thank you.

Though each class begins and ends with reishiki it must be remembered that good manners, courtesy and respect must permeate throughout the class. This keeps the class civilised, controlled and safe at all times and keeps big egos in check.

Do you have any particular reishiki rules or behaviours to share?

01 Mar

 We often talk about the practice of budo but what exactly is budo and what is its purpose? My current understanding of budo is this:

At the heart of budo is the premise that the biggest battle we face in our lives is not with the enemy outside but that which resides within ourselves – the ego. Through hard physical training we come to know our true selves and become more able to defeat the ego. The reduction or control of ego is essential to allow our true selves to be nurtured and developed. This developing of the true self allows us to reach our full potential in our daily lives: at work, home, relationships, friendships and other activities we are involved in.

Ego is an interesting concept; it has several definitions related to the human psyche and I think that only one of them is relevant to the subject of budo. Ego is defined as:  The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves. Clearly budo is not about trying to lose one’s sense of self. Ego is also defined as: an appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem. We can all agree that self-esteem is important to our sense of self-worth and happiness and an appropriate level of pride in oneself keeps us clean and sociable, provides a desire to keep healthy and gives us motivation to do things well. So budo is not about ridding ourselves of this type of ego either. Thus it must be about the third definition: An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.

So, some ego is necessary for normal human functioning and good mental and physical health but a surfeit of ego tips over into self-importance, conceit and perhaps an unwarranted sense of entitlement – this is what the budo practitioner is trying to rid themselves of.  But why? What’s wrong with egotism? We need to answer this question because if you don’t see a problem with excess pride, vanity or an exaggerated sense of self-worth or entitlement then you’re not ready to take on the challenges of budo.

Excess ego damages both yourself and others. It damages others because ego is inherently selfish; the egotist puts his/her needs before others. The need to acquire wealth and status may be overwhelming and the egotist may become ready to lie, cheat or just display shear ruthlessness to get what they want (or think they deserve) in life. The egotist may neglect family and relationships in pursuit of personal goals leaving a trail of unhappiness behind him/her.  The egotist may also think nothing wrong with acquiring a surfeit of the world’s resources (property, money, land etc) without concern for how this may affect other people. In essence the egotist’s sense of entitlement can impact negatively on other people.

Ego is also damaging to the self because it limits the opportunity for real self-development – development of the true self. Ego lets the true self hide behind bluster and boasting; it stops you from learning new things because you already think you know them; it makes you compete with people in environments where you should be cooperating (e.g. work colleagues or even with your neighbours – got to have a better car on the drive than they do?) While your ego is busy controlling your behaviour your true self is just languishing in the background, unloved and un-nurtured.

How do we tell the difference between what is ego and what is truly us? Well, one tell-tale sign is the way we focus on tasks. Ego tends to be driven by outcomes – reaching the goal is more important than how we get there. You got the big car, big house, pots of money, pile of trophies or whatever it is you wanted and you didn’t really care what you had to do, or who you hurt to get it – that’s ego.

On the other hand the true self is driven by process – the need to do a good job regardless of reward. You do your job to the best of your ability because that is what you expect of yourself and that is what you contracted to do with your employer – seeing your company thrive or your clients happy with your service is its own reward. Working hard at your relationships – each partner giving selflessly to the other (and therefore each partner also receiving) builds a strong, happy environment in which both partners can thrive. Training hard in the dojo for the pleasure and challenge of getting better and better, revealing the courage, persistence, determination and focus needed to improve will lead to its own intrinsic rewards.

If you focus on the process the outcomes will reach themselves but more importantly your true self will have developed as you strive to learn the skills needed to do your job well, showed compassion, trust and integrity in your relationships and revealed the positive aspects of your character through hard physical training.

Does this mean that every man or woman who has a fast car, big house, well paid job or lots of trophies is an egotist? Of course not, many altruistic people who have worked hard to develop themselves and do an excellent job, showed honesty and integrity in all they do have been rewarded with good salaries that can buy some of the luxuries of life. Many of these people give back to society through philanthropic acts of generosity. For these people the process of how they lived and developed themselves was more important than achieving outcomes – the outcomes just followed.

Budo teaches you to focus on the process of training rather than the outcomes. Your ego wants the outcome (black belt, trophy, fame, recognition, money); your true-self wants simply to be the best it can in your chosen martial art and in every aspect of your life.  If positive outcomes follow then great but your true-self should not desire the outcome at any cost!

There isn’t room in your body for both the inflated ego and your true self – one of them has to go. Which will you choose?


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163 Glazebrook Lane, Glazebrook, Warrington, Cheshire, WA3 5AZ

01925 228898