||Southampton University Branch, U.K. / December 2008
- Contributor: Branch Master Adrian Foster-Starr
From 10th - 14th December 2008 three members of the Southampton University Branch visited Finland for a Gasshuku where we were hosted by the Jyvaskyla Branch.
This is my diary of events, apologies for anything I've got wrong (particularly the spelling of names!)
The original invite had been from Timo Maki-Kuutti Sensei, assistant branch-master of the Jyvaskyla Branch who knew me, Adrian Foster-Starr; we had met on several occasions before including the BSKF 30th anniversary commemorations in London.
Shorinji Kempo personal connections are also being strengthened and created by use of the internet, particularly Facebook, a social networking site which allows instant transmission of event details to anyone who subscribes to the group.
All of the organising for our Finland trip was done by personal e-mail and on Facebook, mostly by Kati Clements to whom I am forever indebted, (she also took all the pictures shown here.)
My assistants and travel partners for the trip were Juan Pablo Battaner-Moro, 2nd dan assistant instructor Southampton University and Sensei Andrew Garner, 2nd Dan.
My travelling companions abroad are often referred to as crash test dummies because of the impacts and damage they sustain.
Here they are - suffering obviously, they keep on coming back for more though - so it can't be that bad!
Juan and myself travelled out on the Wednesday evening, Sensei Andrew Garner, (known as Sensei Agar) was due to meet us in Jyvaskyla on Saturday morning the day of the Gasshuku.
Juan and I were met at Tempere airport by my friend Timo Sensei and his niece Kati Clements, it was nearly midnight and a two hour journey through snow covered roads in freezing conditions, they were both due to get up for work the next morning but were delighted to see us and took us for our first Finnish treat, a burger in Finnish dark rye bread!
We were informed by them that at present, due to Finland's geographical location there is only about 5 hours daylight a day from about 10am - 3pm.
Juan and I were to be home hosted by Timo Sensei and his beautiful wife Seija, there home is truly lovely, known as a low hill house built on many levels, it backs out into a small Finnish woodland which was all snow covered and very Christmassy.
We awoke on Thursday morning to find Timo Sensei had finished work early and come home to take us for lunch and to show us the visit from a high vantage point whilst the city was in daylight. We lunched at a local horticultural centre, the food was very nice and there wasn't a pickled or salted fish anywhere, our fears about Finnish food were quickly subsiding.
Timo Sensei then took us to a tower restaurant which overlooks the city; we sat and talked about our hopes for the future of European Shorinji and how we could make it happen whilst sipping hot chocolate and watching the light disappear.
The Finns call this the blue moment and there is a mythical dark blue incandescent flash as the sun disappears below the horizon, with the snow and the forest and the ice-covered lake in the background.
It can only be described as beautiful.
That night two more of my friends, Panu and Antti, came and picked Juan and I up to take us training with the head of the Finnish federation Sensei Juha Utriainen, 5th dan, at his Saynatsalo branch.
The training did not disappoint, Juha Sensei taught me sixteen of my 5th dan techniques, (none of which I had seen before!) in 1 hour and allowed me to make written notes. Juan learned how to nage and be nage-d properly, it was stunning technical training which I will have to take my time to digest.
When we got back Timo Sensei was waiting for us to "Sauna."
I should explain that sauna is a National obsession with the Finns, most homes seem to have one and there is real formality and etiquette in their use, including where you sit and who controls the cold water bucket and ladle. After 5 minutes inside it was outside to stand in the snow to cool off, it really is very invigorating.
(It was Juan's first time and he looked very dubious about the outside in the snow bit!)
Afterwards Seija had prepared dinner, she's a home economics teacher who teaches how to make Finnish foods, and we had freshwater fish baked in black bread and wild gathered fresh mushrooms and ham pie, utterly delicious, then I slept like a log!
Mid-morning Juan and I were picked up by Panu and Kati who took us to look around Jyvaskyla town centre, I bought sliced reindeer to take home for my wife and children, (so Rudolph may be walking with a limp!) then I went back to Timo Sensei's house to prepare a lesson plan for the evening's practise at Sensei Kari Maki-Kuutti's Jyvaskyla branch.
I was left alone in Timo Sensei's living room and watched the blue moment again as I sat in contemplation.
The training session was the Christmas fun special session for the branch and Sensei's Kari and Timo invited me to show some stuff that their kenshi would find very different.
I was reminded of something that I had seen Sensei Yamasaki talk about and teach on the hombu DVD set, he describes that the highest form of technique application is "candy-floss" where there appears to be no force used or huge pain caused but the attacker falls over.
I have been experimenting with this throwing down on balance only, and showed some and tried to explain it. You'll have to ask the Finns whether it got across, then for howa I asked them what their 10 year plan was for Shorinji and where they saw themselves in 10 years time.
That conversation carried on over the next 2 days!
Afterwards Juan and I were hosted at a local restaurant where we had reindeer steak (Rudolph may be very late this year!) then back for sauna and sleep like a log.
Gasshuku day, up early for a 10am start (listen to the BSKF kenshi howl!) Juha Sensei emphasised hokei, tan-en and so-tai using Giwaken dai-ichi so tai, (to which he then added keri ten san as the lead into it), this was followed by Byakurenken dai-ichi so-tai to finish the morning session.
In the afternoon session after a 2 hour lunch break and a meal at a Chinese restaurant (listen to the BSKF kenshi howling again!) afterwards we broke into belt grade groups for graded technical work.
Juha Sensei gave me a chance to talk to the Finnish kenshi, I asked them to visit me, and the BSKF, and travel to train anywhere as much as they could.
- The Finns called it the "United Europe moment!"
We talked about how they felt about Shorinji, and what they wanted it to be, and what they were going to do to make it happen.
I was very impressed by their enthusiasm and technical ability, they are good kenshi.
Afterwards the Maki-Kuutti mafia organized a house party (with sauna obviously) and Kari Sensei and I sat and talked about how we could further strengthen the ties between our clubs and our federations, we agreed that we would encourage further visits and promised to meet again soon.
On Sunday the Maki-Kuutti's had organised a visit to a nearby firing range for some pistol target shooting, afterwards we couldn't stop smiling
(Here we look a little intense!)
In the afternoon we packed for the flight home but there was still one more training session to teach at the Jyvaskyla branch, Kari Sensei said "show us some more unusual stuff." So we had some fun with sticks and self defence and candy-floss.
After which the howa was "what have you learned from this visit?" - The discussion for that is still going on via Facebook.
It was an emotional goodbye before Timo Sensei and Panu drove all 3 of us to the airport for the Ryanair flight (bargain at less than 100 pounds return.)
On the way back I asked myself the question - "what have you learned from this visit?"
My answer breaks into 3 parts
They have a mythical reputation for being cold and aloof.
The truth is very different, Finland is truly stunning; the people are friendly and warm (once you get beneath their skin and they trust you!)
They are generous and kind and have a wicked sense of humour constantly poking fun at themselves and their geographical neighbours.
They are strong kenshi with beautiful Shorinji Kempo spirit.
I have re-learned that strong links are formed by travel, not necessarily to huge events with many important visitors but by going to where people live and train, by understanding their viewpoint from their angle, by training together in Shorinji we become closer and stronger.
I have many new friends, to whom I feel exceptionally close, particularly Timo Maki-Kuutti Sensei who treated me like a brother.
I have found kindred spirit in Finland, teaching there is a pure joy; it's like being on fire with the Daruma spirit and passing the flame on to others.
I love Finland and its people and I can't wait to go back there.
I have to thank everyone that looked after me, Timo Sensei, his beautiful wife Seija, his daughter Kirsi, Kari Maki-Kuutti Sensei, Kati, Juha Sensei, Panu, Antti - everyone that was so kind.
The Finns are planning another event at the end of May 2009, I'm going and so are most of my clubs (probably), do you want to come too?
It's easy, all it takes is effort, why not try?