Once again it seems like only yesterday since we were last in Ogwen and preparing for Alex and Hayley to take their next grades. The year has sped by; this would be my 21st year in Ogwen which now makes me feel old as I first attended when I was 20.
This year we had 7 lunatics 5 down from the previous year; this is mainly due to people’s workloads and exams. Other than our one Ogwen Virgin Iain “Take Away” Watford, we had a full compliment of high grades and Ogwen Veterans, Dave”Mank Tank” Blagg, Hayley “Dimples” Blagg, Simon” Penfold” Mills, John”The Bosh” Hurley, Jeff” Trojan” Archer and Alex “Sharkey” Buxton.
Jeff and I arrived on the Saturday to organise the vans as the rest of the Lunatics would be arriving the Sunday afternoon. Needless to say that a few drinks were had and the less said about Jeff’s facial injury the better.
The Monday morning came around very quickly and before we knew it we setting off to the battlefield looking forward to a good session of exercise and kumite. After a brief stretch we heard the command to partner up and it was time to test our skills against other experience karate ka. I quite often think that to someone who has no idea what we are doing and just passing it looks like a load of ramblers that have gone nuts and decided to try and kill one another. Anyway after an hour so the session was over and we made our way back to out caravans to have some breakfast and some rest before jumping into our Gi’s for the next 2 sessions which consisted of good strong basics and some very long combination with Sensei Spanton trying to give the senior grades a mental meltdown.
Then onto Kata and advanced bunkai, which puts a whole new slant on the Kata’s that we do. This was something we could really get our teeth into. Then to finish the sessions off it was time for another mind bender with instant Kata change, finish a kata in 10secs or Kata’s to the right with added kicks, punches and blocks. Needless to say a lot of press ups were being done by all.
Then it was 4pm and then end of the first day, time for a well earned rest and food, and then it was over to the club house to catch up with all our old friends.
Day two zipped by and before we knew it we were at the end of day three assembled to support Lee Mullan who was attempting his Sandan (3rd dan) grading in which is probably one of the hardest grading anyone can take. Lee put on a sterling show of skill and determination which we all hoped would be enough to impress the panel and gain his promotion, his fate would not be told until later that evening in the club house.
We all gathered in the club house eagerly awaiting the results of the grading, with a chinking of glass silence ensued in the club house and it was announced “Lee Mullan…Sandan”, everyone cheered and congratulated Lee on his promotion. Then it was back to socialising and resting.
Final day, everyone was concerned that the morning session would be cancelled due to bad weather which had happened the previous year, but fortunately the weather held and we had the final mornings kumite session and then it was time to dunk the Ogwen Virgins, some went in willingly rather than take the more painful option of being “convinced” to take a dip from the senior grades. When all the dunking’s were over it was time to dry off and get some breakfast.
The final day’s sessions were split up over the day each session was lasting just over and hour as the weather was horrendous. It was then time for the last blast with all giving the last bit of strength, energy and determination they had left. Then all too quickly it was over and we were making our way back to the caravans to pack and head home.
I think all that remains is for me to thank Sensei Spanton on behalf of myself and the Luton Lunatics for another fantastic time in Ogwen and we hope for a 42nd Ogwen course.
Simon Mills’s Report.
My overwhelming memory of the week has got to be the bunkai practice for Chinto. Not just because we did so much of it, but because it made the Kata come alive for me. It has long been my favourite Kata, but to break it down like that has certainly cemented it in my mind. As always, the brain was suitably scrambled by instant Kata changes and the mirror image Katas with added blocks, kicks on forward steps, etc. But again, it made me think about the Kata instead of just repeating moves like a robot. I think I even did some moves correctly without thinking too much, which tells me that it’s all starting to sink in, at last! Watching Lee Mullan’s 3rd dan grading was awe-inspiring – such determination, endurance and spirit. Of course, I can’t finish my report without mentioning the battlefield sessions… The rapid change session was especially enjoyable. But of course all the fights were great fun for different reasons! It’s good looking back over all the photos I’ve seen so far and seeing all the big smiles on everyone’s faces. Happy, happy times! Thank you, Sensei Spanton, and thank you to everyone for making it a special four days!
Jeff Archer’s Report
There were 7 from Luton heading to Ogwen Bank this year, 6 veterans and 1 virgin on what was supposed to be the last course. I was looking forward to training with highly experienced karate-ka as well as meet up with old friends and was not disappointed. The morning sessions on the battlefield involved plenty of fighting and a chance to get tutored by higher grades. The bunkai and Kata over the day sessions was fascinating and gave a new twist for people to think about. As always it was a great course and I hope to be there for the next one.
Once again we found ourselves setting off, from Luton and heading up to North Wales for the Snowdonia course – this time round for the 41st, excited at the fact that the legacy was continuing.
We travelled on Sunday 5th May and the sun followed us all the way (until Wednesday anyway!). We made good time and stopped at Oswestry for some lunch, as had two of our fellow ‘Lunatics’ – a quick chat and we left with “last one there, gets the sofa”, ringing in our ears!
Snowdonia looks beautiful at any time of year, but, the sunshine highlighted some fantastic sights and every bend in the road revealed another. We arrived at Ogwen Bank mid – afternoon and having dropped our bags in our caravan, introduced our latest ‘virgin’ to the wonders of the ‘dojo’ and ‘battlefield’. I think Iain was left with a certain amount of trepidation as, in true Ogwen style, we continued to regale him with stories of times gone by and what he could expect over the next 4 days, all backed up (and embellished) by John, Alex and Jeff.
As most people slept in on Bank Holiday Monday, we coated ourselves in deep heat and headed for the first battlefield session of the week. We had spent several weeks preparing for this and had learnt some new close combat techniques – I was eager to try these out. We started with some stretching and exercises and then the cry of “partner up”, was heard and so it begins! Once again, I had set myself a goal of making sure I sparred with all the higher grades, over the week and set about this challenge with relish. The first session was going well and I had managed to use a few of the newly learned techniques, towards the end I came up against Brian, one of the most senior grades, at the course and one of the most challenging opponents you can come across – due to his unique fighting style. The sparring was progressing and Brian was as elusive as usual, while lunging forward with a reverse punch I managed to crack my eye on Brian’s elbow and gashed my brow – lots of blood and potentially the end of the session! Thankfully, once I cooled down and had held the cut together for a few minutes, the bleeding stopped – it left a nice Ogwen souvenir though!
The first battlefield over and our video diaries done – including Iain’s references to mystery ‘guests’, that he had fought, we headed back to our van for breakfast and preparation for the dojo sessions to follow. The sun was shining and all was well with the world, Sensei Spanton kicked off with some basics and then the combinations, always a good brain exercise to complement the physical challenges. We did Kata and bunkai and finished off with the challenge of Kata to the right, including extra techniques and lots of press-ups!
The afternoon dojo session continued with more kata and bunkai; a great first day and there was a real buzz as we headed back to the van, our first day done and great expectations of the week ahead. Showers and dinner out of the way, we headed over to the clubhouse to meet up with the other half of the Luton crew. General reflections on the day and it appeared that everyone was a little tired – must be the sun (we are not used to it!)
Tuesday arrived and the sun was still with us. The battlefield called and we headed down for the 0730 rendezvous. More sparring and lessons from higher grades, including some good ground work with Steve Gibbs, which we both enjoyed. The session progressed and I sparred with a couple of people that I had missed on the previous two years. Hayley wasn’t sparring this morning and she took some really good photos of Luton in action, both ‘scoring points’ and being on the receiving end!
Dojo sessions were about perfecting our kata – Kushanku for the brown belts and then more bunkai. We were learning more and more how the bunkai really helps you understand how and why the kata works. Also, something which is consistent every year, there is always someone available to help and guide you when you are unsure of a technique or an attack – this is one of the best things about the course. Tuesday evening we gave the clubhouse a miss and Luton watched a really good film (martial arts based, of course).
We woke up on Wednesday to gloomy skies but not gloomy moods. Battlefield time and for me, the best one of the week – quick change sparring! You literally spar with the person nearest you when the call for “change” is heard. It doesn’t matter whether you can see the person or not, you soon feel them. A great deal of fun was had and the video diaries, for Wednesday, will make for good viewing – more mystery guests from Iain.
Unfortunately, we needed waterproofs for the two dojo sessions as the weather had really changed. However, there was no way it could dampen the enthusiasm displayed by the students. Chinto bunkai was the order of the day, a new one for me; the most recent Kata I had learnt became clearer as the bunkai was learnt. The bunkai sessions, we had been through all week, were made even more interesting and realistic by Sensei Spanton varying the options for attack and this really made you think about what you were doing.
The weather cleared towards the end of the afternoon, which meant that the grading could take place – Lee Mullan was going for his 3rd dan, made all the more daunting as he was grading on his own. The whole course and a few others, all congregated at the dojo to support Lee. Through the basics, combinations, Kata, Kumite and back to Kata, Lee showed great spirit and determination and was promoted to Sandan.
A good night was had by all in the club house, some people even came in fancy dress; the sight of the night either had to be ‘Brother Dave’ (Collins), great conviction to the cause or Steve Gibbs spanking his monkey!!
So, here we are, final day and as per last year, final battlefield in danger of being cancelled due to extreme weather conditions. However, Higashi are a hardy lot and we decided that wind and rain would not defeat us for a consecutive year. Everyone gave it their all, in what turned out to be a quick session – there was time enough though, for the traditional dunking of the virgins. Some tried to put up a fight, soon realised this was in vain and like ‘lemmings’, threw themselves into the icy waters. We spent the rest of the day fitting in dojo sessions around the rain; physically we were soaked, mentally we were buzzing. The final session arrived and we finished our opponents with one last punch and kiai!
Well done to all those that graded and Sensei Spanton left us with hope that we will be back for the 42nd Snowdonia Course!
Ogwen was here again and with my bags packed I was ready for the journey to North Wales. After a quick stop for some food, we arrived in Ogwen, a familiar sight for many and like a second home. After getting our bags sorted and claiming our beds, we showed our ‘virgin’ around what he would be living and breathing for the next four days. We showed Iain the famous battlefield and made him aware of the pains he would be feeling for the next few days. We then made our way to the clubhouse to meet up with old friends and see some new faces (picking out victims for the mornings session.)
The morning session came around and the usual battles began, the hardest part for me was remembering who I was fighting, ready for my diary entry. Having had a few kumite lessons before coming to Ogwen, I thought I would try a few of the techniques out and soon found they worked, much to the dismay of my opponents. Over the course of the week I tried to get in as many fights with new people as possible, to help me with fighting against varied fighters. On the second morning I took a break from fighting to get some nice photos of the rest of the ‘Lunatics’ making their presence known, including a lovely shot of John throwing Andy from Swindon across the battlefield. A technique he had shown us in the lesson before Ogwen.
The dojo sessions were as enjoyable as ever and this year was a new experience for me as I was in the black belt line. New Katas and their bunkai became ingrained into my brain, with the help of the odd punch here and there from John and Alex. Sensei Spanton confused even the senior dan grades with his famous Ogwen combinations, seeing many of the 4th and 5th dans doing press-ups. The dojo sessions ran in the same fashion for most of the week. This included bunkai with varied attacks and defences, Katas starting the opposite direction with alternating punches and kicks on forward steps and it is safe to say I did my fair share of press-ups when it came to these Katas.
On the Wednesday after all the sessions were over we gathered around the dojo carpark to watch Lee Mullan undertake his 3rd dan grading, on his own. I sat on the sideline cheering him on, knowing how nervous he must be feeling. We were all gathered in the clubhouse that evening awaiting the news that he had passed. Sensei Spanton calmly sat sipping his beverage, a slight smile inked on his face, whilst Lee sat nervously awaiting the news. Sensei Spanton then stood up and the whole clubhouse cheered as Lee was presented with his 3rd dan.
The final battlefield came around too quick but a last blast of fighting was had by all, though the session was cut short due to the weather. After the final diary entries were made we all went back to our caravans to reflect on what we had learnt in the past 3 days and looking forward to the last day of learning. Waterproofs were needed for the final dojo sessions which were broken down into 3 short sessions and although we were soaked, our spirits were never dampened. The final dojo session saw a last blast with an echoing kiai to end the week. Sensei Spanton left us with the hope of a Snowdonia 2014 and with this we said goodbye to old and new friends.