The first week of June 2007 saw an exodus of ESA members from the South of England to the Greek resort of Loutraki near Athens. The members, who were from the Oxford, Cheltenham, Toozai and Spalding clubs, joined with karateka from Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, Sweden and Belgium to take part in the annual summer school held by Sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic 6th Dan, one of the senior instructors from the Kase-ha Shotokan-ryu Karate-do Academy.
In warm sunny conditions we trained hard from 9.30 am to 1pm each day for five days. Each day started with exercises designed to improve movement, body control and breathing. These involved what has become Dimitrijevic Sensei’s trade mark, practicing with hands firmly fastened in the back of the belt so as not to distract from feeling and understanding what the legs and body were doing. Later in the week this same methodology was applied to the practice of both basic and advanced kata; it was disturbing to discover, even after many decades of practice, how poorly we understood the contribution our legs and bodies make to the kata without hand techniques to guide us through.
The programme started with quite simple movements on day one and built in complexity and intensity as the week progressed. Movement exercises were developed into Kihon exercises to practice a full range of punching, blocking and kicking techniques. In turn the Kihon became the basis for some very intense pair work.
Kata was practiced just as movement without hands, with one hand then the other and finally the whole kata. We practiced with relaxed movement and hard movement. Performing kata with each alternate combination relaxed or hard was very illuminating and helped us to understand how relax more in order to move faster and to deliver power as a result of the increased speed rather than just muscle contraction.
Another fascinating feature of the week was the use of ibuki breathing techniques not only to allow us to train intensely for long periods but also to enable us to turn up the following day without the traditional muscle stiffness. By breathing correctly and deeply we ensured an adequate supply of oxygen to the muscles, even when working at high intensity; so that they worked aerobically and reduced lactic acid build up in the muscles.
We were joined in the lines on day two and for the rest of the week by Sensei Dirk Heene, 7th Dan; who came to take a break from teaching and enjoy some good hard training.
All of us taking part were sad when the week ended and we had to return to normality. However all of us were inspired to train harder and look forward to doing it all again next year.
Sensei Alan Armstrong