Gasshuku in Nahariya / Israel

Report on the Academy Gasshuku in Israel from 31st May to 6th June 2006
Written by Pascal Petrella
Translated by Anne Rasimus (Luxemburg)


While I was travelling by train to the Frankfurt Airport as Gerhard Scheuriker got on board in Karlsruhe. On time, i.e. 2 hours before departure, we arrived to the check-in counter of the ELAL Israeli Airline in terminal 1 C. I had already been warned that the Israeli security checks were harsh, for a compelling reason though. The whole security procedure lasted till we were on the plane, which was something very new to us. First of all, at the check-in counter there were two security officers who questioned Gerhard and me - separately. Apparently, my security officer didn't fancy my passport picture (with a moustache I look like an Arab, says Gerhard) that is probably why he asked me to see present my driving license. There the picture is not even recognisable, due to an incident once, when it had gotten wet. After a brief control, I was given a stick-on label on my identity card, and the security officer circled some letters on it. When the questioning was over he asked me to keep my luggage open during the check-in, because it should be controlled one more time before the take off. Asked and done. Finally, we were on our way to the gate. Again a check up: remove the belt, take off the shoes, body frisked. Finally through. Now to the gate and to the plane.

Until now, Gerhard and I didn't have any seats allocated to us. We were told that the plane was overbooked and the airline needed to upgrade some frequent flyers to the Business Class. Well, we will have to clarify that at the gate, I thought to myself - prematurely. Instantly Gerhard, I and our hand luggage faced another control measure, when they took away our belts and shoes. That was thanks to the circled letters from before. Now, our luggage was controlled thoroughly with a machine. Everything was carefully opened and checked. After 90 minutes we were finally done. However, now we got the next message, we were not allowed to sit next to each other (safety measure???)

Nevertheless, we had a good flight and approx. 3 h 40 min later we landed well in Tel Aviv. Out of the plane, to the passport control, and again the questioning: Where do you come from? Where are you going? What is the motive of your visit? Have you got an invitation in Hebrew? Questions finished finally at 9 pm. Now, we needed to collect our luggage and catch the train to Nahariya. So, I waited by the baggage conveyor, I waited and waited. A suspicion stole into my mind. Breath in, breath out (Kokyo, abdominal breathing). Let's ask the Lost and Found counter. After I had given my flight data, the friendly lady said that my luggage was still in Frankfurt. It would arrive the next day around 11 am in Tel Aviv and brought to my hotel by a courier. Then all is well, at least the suitcase was still in Frankfurt and not in some obscure corner of the world. I got a survival kit e.g. with a tooth brush, T-shirt and a brief (that fit!). Then we got on the train and after two hours we arrived in Nahariya.

View from the hotel over the Mediterranean Sea

Sensei Arie Gliksman and Sensei Dirk Heene

Sensei Arie Gliksman collected us from the railway station and brought us to the hotel. After we freshened up quickly in five minutes we continued promptly to a beach restaurant by the Mediterranean Sea. Mrs Kase and Sachiko Kase gave us a warm welcome. I hadn't seen Mrs Kase and Sachiko since the 1st anniversary of Sensei Kase's death the 24th November 2005. Then we were greeted by Sensei Dirk Heene from the Belgian group, the host Sensei Arie Farkash and his people, Torsten and Frank accompanied by their sons from Berlin, and Frank Schubert with his partner Pilar and Lorenzo from Spain. We spent the evening with "one glass of beer", few snacks and a pleasant conversation.

The following morning (Thursday) Sensei Arie took me to his home and borrowed me some clothes. Luckily, we have the same size, so he could give me a Bermuda short, T-shirts, a pair of slippers and - most importantly a Gi. The day and the training were saved.

Sensei Arie accompanied by Mrs Kase, Sachiko, Gerhard, Loris and others left for a tour to the Lebanese border. Another group Sensei Dirk Heene, Sensei Arie Gliksman and Philip Lehrer, a diamond merchant from Antwerpen, and I went to Akko, the oldest seaport of Israel. Around 2000 years ago, practically all roman trading and war vessels came to this port. The old city was truly fascinating. It is interesting that ever since the various religions e.g. the Jews, Christians and Muslims, live here rather calmly side by side. Also, the Arabian market, shuk, in Akko was very interesting.

Mosque in Akko

Shop of herbs and spices in the shuk (market) in Akko

There were many very small shops in narrow lanes, where cloths and carpets were hanging from the roofs. It had a very Arabic flair to it. By the way, we were told that in Israel approx. 30% of the population are Muslims. I wouldn't have thought that. The castle of the Order of the Knights Templar was impressive both historically and architectonically, and so were the secret underground Templar galleries that were found only 15 years ago. A short while ago, UNESCO declared it a cultural heritage. In case of a siege, the members of the order could bring water and food in without being noticed by the soldiers outside. Before the fortress was opened for tourism, it served as a prison until 20 years ago. 

The Templar fortress

The courtyard of the Templar fortress

Around 3 pm we were back at the hotel, and as the matter of fact my luggage should have been there too, but it had not arrived yet. After a brief nap (to the Americans a power nap) it was time for the first training with Sensei Dirk Heene. It was very humid and hot (35 C). Therefore, we needed to drink a lot of water before training in order not to be dehydrated. 

Sensei Dirk with Sensei Arie Gliksman

Mrs Kase and Sensei Pascal

Mrs Kase and Sachicko were watching our first training. Its subject was Ten-No-Kata. Sensei Dirk let us practice the kata in its habitual form, and then he created variations (henka), e.g. nihon attack with hente techniques and block-counter hentei combinations. 

Group photograph

To Frank Schubert's question, if the attacks should be executed in zenkutsu-dachi or in fudo-dachi, Sensei Dirk replied that it depends on the level of the practitioner. A beginner can execute the technique in ZK, but the senior level practitioner in fudo-dachi. After the training and a shower there was dinner in a beach restaurant, where karatekas from various countries conversed by fish and wine.

On Friday morning we had the first sightseeing tour to the Sea of Galilee. The drive took approx. 2 hours during which we were mostly asleep. The sea lies directly at the foot of the strategically important Golan Heights that Israel seized from Jordan end of the sixties, because grenades were often fired off from there to Israel.

The Sea of Galilee

The Beatification Church on Mount Beatification

The Sea of Galilee is the life line of Israel, ca. 80% of the drinking water of the country is obtained from it. It is also the sea on which Jesus allegedly walked. In Israel, in the Holy Land, you are faced with stories and events from the Bible, if you wanted or not. Then we visited the Beatification Church that is situated directly by the Sea, and after that the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes in Tabgha. Finally, we went to see the place by the River Jordan, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

The church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes

Baptism by the River Jordan

Then we returned to the hotel. Once again, I requested after my luggage that still hadn't arrived. There was however one good news, it had already landed in Tel Aviv airport. Now it was time for the next training session. Due to sun bathing, sightseeing and travelling we were all a little worn out, so now it was up to me to really energize people during the next training unit.

Naturally, the best way to do it is to start with a light randori. When everybody had gotten warm in the heat of ca. 35 C (Gi soaking wet) we started the training with closed hand kihon.

Sensei Pascal in action

The Spanish group with Frank Schubert & Pilar,
Lorenzo and Henrique

Since most of the participants came from Israel and weren't so familiar with Kase Ha, I focused on the basic techniques from the 1st and 2nd dan grading programme. We added to the closed fist techniques tai-sabaki gyaku-uraken and then widened them further with an okuri-ashi /kick combination. During the second training session Sensei Dirk let us practice Heian Sandan omote and ura, then we continued with the kata Jitte and bunkai.

As we were a small group of only 30 participants, Sensei Arie invited us to his home to a tasty barbecue. In this cosy, relaxed atmosphere we were able to chat and get to know each other, in particular our Israeli karateka friends. We exchanged a lot of experiences and life stories. Thanks to the personal conversations with the locals, one gets a very different view on many events than the one given by media. Sensei Arie, his sister Sefi and his students had prepared everything superbly. The evening was very pleasant. Our host Sensei Farkash gave Mrs Kase, Sachiko, Sensei Dirk and me a beautiful souvenir.

The following morning at 10 am it was time to train again. Sensei Dirk took the first session. As a warming up we did old Gi-Gong exercises to stimulate the meridian lines, in order to activate the energy lines in our bodies and to warm up from inside. Sensei Dirk said that warming up doesn't mean just running around the hall and warming up the exterior body but can also be achieved from inside. Then we trained Shi-Ho-kumite (kumite in 4 directions).

Sensei Dirk executing Shi-Ho-kumite

Sensei Gliksman practising Shi-Ho-kumite

After a short break, it was again up to me to give the last training unit. The subject of my second session was the basic techniques of the 2nd and 3rd dan grading programme: open hand techniques with setei and hentei counters, as well as open hand blocks in different kamae positions (o-waza, chu-waza and ko-waza techniques and double blocking techniques with open hands followed by various counters).

Sensei Pascal showing o-waza shuto-barai

Taisho-uke: the attack needs to be
completely broken down doing a big movement

Finally, as an alternative to a hard block that is used to "break the attack", we practised open hand techniques combined with kawashi movement. When executing kawashi, one lets the opponent to attack into nothing and then makes the counter attack from behind. Somehow I was so in my element that I forgot about the time and overrun by 1 hour, ups! Can happen to the best of us.

In the evening we drove to the mountains to visit a Druse village. In Jamila lives the "witch of herbs", who is famous in Israel. She produces soaps and oils from herbs and they allegedly have healing effects. Then we went to a fantastic restaurant with a strong Arabic flair. There we enjoyed fabulous food, great atmosphere and dancing to modern Arabic music.

Sheikh Pascal with Israeli friends

The Belgian group: Felix, Franky, Nicolino and Philip

The whirlwind Loris, a student of Sensei Arie who came third a few weeks ago in individual kumite at the WKF European Championships, invited all the men to the dance floor. A typical dish that is served during every meal in Israel is hummus, paste made of chickpeas that is eaten with pita bread. Before the main meal chicken and skewer, we were served all kinds of vegetarian appetizers, yum, what a tasty experience.

Sensei Dirk enjoying
a traditional dance with Loris

Group photograph with Mrs Kase & Sachiko Kase,
Sensei Heene, Sensei Farkash and Sensei Petrella

The following morning 8 am we left for the Holy City, Jerusalem. The drive took by bus about 2h 30min. Jerusalem is situated on a strategically located mountain, approx. 800 m above sea level.

The scenery was very different to the ocean or the Sea of Galilee. Here everything was full of light and the ground was rocky. Our tour guide Simca guided us to the old city of Jerusalem that is surrounded by great a town wall.

The town wall of Jerusalem

A shopping street in the Muslim district

The first story we heard was that of an architect of the fortress, who was hanged when the fortress was ready so that he could not build a similar one to an enemy. Life is tough! Jerusalem is divided in to 4 quadrants, in a Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian district. Firstly, our path led to the Muslim district, to the narrow lanes (according to our guide they were 2 "donkey's ass" wide) that were filled with small shops. It was a really fantastic scene.

Every where in Jerusalem, there were soldiers with machine guns (naturally with hard ammunitions). Initially, I had a funny feeling, but then I got used to it. The crazy thing about Jerusalem is that when you move from one district to another, you end up in a totally different world. It smells differently, people dress differently, and the shops, buildings and streets look different. What an experience! In the Christian district we visited a huge church, wherein there is supposed to be a special tomb. Unfortunately, I didn't quite understand the story.

The next station was the Jewish district. There we went, of course, to the Wailing Wall. At the entrance the security measures reminded me of those at the airport, everything was scanned and searched for weapons. When you stand in front of the Wailing Wall, it seems really high (ca. 15 m) and wide (ca. 200 m). However, according to our tour guide it is only a small part of a colossal temple that King Herod had built 2000 years ago. In a Jewish house of prayer by the Wailing Wall there are two shafts that are excavated in to the ground alongside the wall, to show the Wall's overall height. The shafts are at least 10-15 m deep.

The Wailing Wall in the Jewish district

When 38C in the shade, you need now and then a short break 

2000 years ago the temple was bit by bit destroyed by Romans. When it is 38C in the shade the sightseeing can be rather exhausting. Later, the early afternoon we continued our journey to the Dead Sea.

The House of Prayer by the Wailing Wall

The excavated shaft in the House of Prayer

Everywhere in Jerusalem there were soldiers with machine guns

Jerusalem from a different perspective

After an hour driving the scenery changed radically again. We drove through a stony desert, with no trees or bushes it looked like a lunar landscape. Finally, at the shore of the Dead Sea it was really bizarre. Here, the stony scenery had been washed away by heavy rains.

Stony desert

The Dead Sea

A bath in the Dead Sea

First, we left our clothes in the Youth Hostel (that was better guarded than Fort Knox) and then we took a bath in the Dead Sea. The water felt a little oily. Nothing but jump in, ups. A tiny splash of water in the nose, and ouch, it burned like fire. Salt content of 33% is pretty high! The normal breaststroke was very hard to do and the lifting effect of the water was surprisingly strong. The most comfortable position was lying on the back without letting your head to sink in the water.

The Massada seen from below

A view on the bizarre stone desert from the Massada

The mountain Massada lies at the eastern foothills of the Judaic desert at the shores of the Dead Sea between Sodom and the Oasis En Gedi. It is a huge piece of rock that rises - isolated - 450 m above the Dead Sea. The mountain top is a plateau, nearly 650 m long and 300 m at its widest.

The King Herod had the strategically important fortress built around 20 BC.

The main roman camp at the east side of Massada

The way to Massada

The plateau of Massada

The metallic reproduction of the Fortress incl. water reservoirs

The fortress achieved tragic fame around in 74 AD, because it was the last piece of resistance in the Judea. At the time approx. 960 people incl. women and children stayed there. The Massada was besieged by ca. 8000 roman soldiers, who wanted to force it to capitulate. They built an enormous stone ramp boosted by wooden beams against a natural mountain slope in order to storm the mountain. The siege lasted few months. Its culmination point was, when the Romans built a siege tower with a battering ram, with which they could make the first breach into the wall of the Fortress. The rebels under siege had anticipated this and had built a provisional wall of wood and debris that was, however, immediately burned down by the Romans.

A drawing of the roman ramp

As the rebels lost all their hope the rebel leader Eleaser Ben-Jair gave a speech to the beleaguered men and women and convinced them that it was better to take their own life than to live in shame and slavery. Ten men were chosen to kill all the others, and that is what they did. Afterwards, the ten drew lots to decide who would kill the other 9, before he takes his own life. (Suicide is not allowed in the Jewish faith.) They all died believing that no soul was left behind to be captured by the Romans.

As the next morning the Romans took over the fortress and discovered all the murdered bodies, they didn't celebrate their victory but admired the noble decision and their intrepid fearlessness in the face of death of the many involved. However, two women and 5 children had been able to hide in a subterranean vault (cistern). They were able to describe in detail the events of the previous night to the Romans.

After the tour in Massada we took the cable car to a valley station in the heat of 40C in shade (oh boy, it was really hot, for the stone ground reflected heat as well). In the station I drank at least one litre freshly pressed orange juice.

After a short snack we continued to the oasis En Gedi that springs from the upper end of a canyon. It was unbelievable, in the middle of stone desert water springs out of a rock. It feeds from the mountain over the Hebron hills. After 20 min long walk in 40C in shade you move clearly slower than normally. Finally, we saw a tiny rivulet and I thought to myself "yeah great, because of this puddle we all have been running up the valley". The rivulet became bigger and bigger though and soon we could even see a small waterfall.

Well, that looks rather promising

This kind of cooling felt really good

Shugyo, Sensei Dirk under the waterfall

Sensei Ben Hadschi Dirk & Philip Lehrer

The water was surprisingly clear, and in that heat after the brutal walk nothing could hold us back. We plunged into the water, ah did that good! Even Torsten Heiber from Berlin dared to jump in with his cast. After a brief break we continued up the canyon, there were some other small waterfalls, and of course we jumped into all of them. In this kind of an oasis it became very clear to me, what water actually means for life. Without water everything is dead.

After the great trip to En Gadi we spent our last moments together on the bus to the Hotel Maale Haachamisha that lies between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As we were already around 6 pm in the hotel, some of us were drawn to the Night Life of Jerusalem. At this point I would like to bestow a special praise on our Gasshuku hosts - our Israeli friends and specially Sensei Arie Farkash who had invested so much of his time and heart into the organisation of the Gasshuku.

As I still had much to talk about with Dirk Sensei we met in the bar. Then we had dinner with Mrs Kase and Sachiko. Also Gerhard Scheuriker and the group from Berlin joined us. We enjoyed a lovely easy-going farewell dinner in this small circle.

The following morning Gerhard and I accompanied the Kase family to the airport in Tel Aviv (our departure times were nearly the same). This time I was stopped even as early as at the entrance of the airport, first passport control, then to check-in and then to baggage check up etc. Our hand luggage was put at least 10 times through the scanning machine before we got on board. However, this time Gerhard and I were allowed to sit next to each other.

After we landed in Frankfurt, Gerhard left immediately to Karlsruhe by train. For me, it was time to check-in again, this time to London. On Wednesday and Thursday I was supposed to attend two lectures.

OSS Pascal

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