ITA Taekwon-Do Summer Camp…Was it Hard?

Summer camps, a regular feature of many Taekwon-Do Associations, vary in intensity and are very popular as students can improve their training over an extended weekend or longer. Having organised a few such camps in a previous lifetime and forever curious to leapfrog my learning, I signed up for the annual Irish Taekwon-Do Association Summer Camp this July in

Can't get enough of Taekwon-Do

Can’t get enough of Taekwon-Do

Limerick, which was an extended long weekend from Friday afternoon up until Monday morning. I did so with a mild degree of trepidation because I didn’t know what to expect. Notification of this camp first appeared on the ITA website at the beginning of the year, allowing doubtful fence sitters pondering time before committing.

Then around the beginning of February, in a fit of courageous excitement and partial madness, I took the plunge as July seemed a long way off back then. Few opportunities present themselves for older black belts so this July camp was an event that I could train towards and stay focused. That goal was to meet, train and exchange training experiences with other students, summer camp completion and survival, I kid you not.

Running a few Taekwon-Do Schools can be very demanding and July signals the only time for a well deserved break. By the end of June my energy levels were nearing depletion and our groaning kids couldn’t wait for their academic school term to finish. I ran my Taekwon-Do classes until the end of June and then it was off to Portugal for ten days holiday. As an athlete and especially as an Instructor, getting away on a decent holiday once or twice a year is vital for an overall body and mind recharge. After ten glorious days, I left my family in good Portuguese hands, flew from Faro to Farrenfore in County Kerry and then on to Villiers school on Limerick’s North Circular Road where the camp was based.

 

The Venue

This boarding school, which is well over one hundred years old, emitted an eerie atmosphere of regimentation that seemed to seep through the walls from past generations, despite the fact that it had been recently modernized. Just before noon, on Friday 22nd of July the large courtyard in front of the main building was bustling with activity and began filling up with cars ferrying Taekwon-Do students from all over the country. It signaled that the 2016 Summer Camp was about to get underway. I was delighted to see that there were a lot of adult students attending, some seasoned campers, those confident athletic types had that knowing swagger, teased each other with well practiced banter, while the easily identifiable anxious newcomers were reassured by their equally anxious parents, not to fret and that everything would be fine. Parting parental hugs soon dissolved apprehension and just before 12 noon, over 140 track-suited Taekwon-Do students, laden with their training kit and sleeping bags shuffled their towards the main assembly hall to register.

One of the camp organisers, national secretary, and multi award winning European and world champion, Mr Stephen Ryan 6th Degree addressed the group.

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Master Jerzy Jedut welcoming the Black Belts

He welcomed us all and introduced us to some of Ireland’s top Instructors who were present. Then he announced that our first session would be at 2.15pm and would be taken by the special guest Instructor who was none other than Master Jerzy Jedut, 8th Degree, from Poland. He then went into a bit more detail of what was expected of each of us during our stay.

He stressed punctuality was a requirement for every class, by arriving 10 minutes before the starting time, the same applying for meal times. Help was expected in supervision of the juniors and nobody was allowed off campus without permission for the duration of the four days. Evening consultations were by appointment only, no alcoholic drinks and no smoking or illegal substances allowed. In general this was for everyone to be on their best behaviour during camp, as it was a reflection on us and Taekwon-Do.

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Summer Camps are a great way to make new friendships and strengthen old ones

Miss Aoife O Mahony, who did a lot of work to ensure the smooth running of the camp issued all present with a detailed timetable and all students were then divided up into age and grade, and assigned to a group best suited to their ability and level of advancement. He concluded by thanking us for attending and wished us the best of luck in our learning and training during our stay in Limerick.

As we made our way towards our designated dormitories, I had a quick look over the timetable and sensed the first pang of reality creep in. My group was Group One or G1, the Black Belt group and were down for a total of nine sessions over the weekend, with each session being one and a half hours duration. I made a mental note to give it more scrutiny once I was in a position to compose myself better. The four person dormitory that I was assigned to was, of all numbers, number thirteen which I hoped lady luck would overlook. I shared this room with three other gents, Master Pat Barry, Mr. Colin Fennessy and Mr. Brendan Dennehy.

The four of us immediately realised that, although it was a reasonably comfortable and functional room for our requirements we would have our living quarters curtailed for a few days. Apart from our bed space we each had the use of a small slim wardrobe and two shelves, and also shared the communal showers and toilets. I thought myself lucky as I had a window by my bed which also had the added advantage of having a window still. Happy days or what?!

These restrictions were mini lessons. Apart from having the “Craic” (Irish for good times) which disguised our apprehension of what was to come, we appreciated these limited comforts, a gentle reminder of how blessed we all are in our everyday lives and how much we casually take for granted. Once settled in, agreed on shelf space and exchanged pleasantries, we navigated our way through a labyrinth of passageways, exchanging boisterous banter with other campers. Eventually we went down a very winding old fashioned wooden staircase, on towards the large canteen area, where we tucked into a very decent meal. These mealtimes at summer camps present a fantastic opportunity to meet other students from around the country to develop and strengthen friendships and share Taekwon-Do experiences.

 

Friday Afternoon  Beginning Session.

Summer camp 1d

Black belt class lines up ready for action

A little over one hour later our first session started bang on the button at 2.15pm sharp. The large training hall was entirely matted and students from master grade to red belts lined up eight deep across the do-jang, the July humidity adding to the atmosphere. Advancing age has some advantages, as being most likely the oldest student present, I was honoured on some occasions, to stand in the top right hand corner with respected peers and calling students to line up and perform the “Bowing In”.

Our guest of honour brought thunderous applause as he entered the Do-Jang. It was none other than world famous instructor and Coach Master Jerzy Jedut, 8th Degree from Poland. Master Jedut is revered in ITF Taekwon-Do circles for his long standing contributions in consistently producing many world champions in all disciplines of Taekwon-Do throughout many decades of his illustrious career. His greeting in broken English was brief and he immediately set to work.

 

Was the training hard?

Black belt class in action

Black belt class in action

I found the warm-up games hard to understand, but once I got the gist of them they really worked you out. Master Jedut does this kind of semi jog around the do-jang checking each individual. Once you get what he requires he really pushes students through their paces. At times when we would make an error, he would let out tiny gasps of frustration, but push us he did.  It was like playing tag games with an element of competition and fun, but always had an underlying motive of getting you to twist, torque and contort your frame similar to sparring movements.

A large circular clock dominated the space on the wall at the top of the do-jang facing us all and while this was great to keep track of the schedule it was sad to be checking the time when the pressure was on, and noticing that we had time left, a lot of time left!!

Mr Luke Laffan teaching the Junior members valuable lessons

Mr Luke Laffan teaching the Junior members valuable lessons

These warm ups took you by surprise like quick sprinting and counter punching, some of the fitter black belts like Mr. Hong Looi just laughed and shouted as we leapt about and Mr. Looi was just playing when most of us were trying to keep up the drills. The double kicking drills were intense at times. All of our different body types allow us to have some kicking combinations that suit us well, while others are hard. I found some of the drills of the “holding up the extended side kicks for a long time” variety quite difficult, but any kicks of the back reverse and back side-kick variety were reasonably fine for me.

So was the training hard?  My dobuk was drenched in sweat at 3.45pm when this first session finished and we had the next due to start in at 6.30pm, so I headed for the showers and to gather my thoughts, take what notes I remembered and get some rest…

 

Friday Evening  (second session)

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Patterns and fundamental movements training

 This second session was taken by Mr. Niall Jones, Mr. Stephen Ryan and Mr. Adrian Byrne. They had us kicking, jumping and doing an assorted amount of isometric drills on air shields. Sliding double kicking, leg raises in various contortions, sliding forward and backward while kicking, these drills made my feet sore with all this spinning but fortunately they didn’t blister. I wondered if these three lads were staying for the rest of the weekend because they pulled out all the stops, almost having a competition to see who could push us most and this was only the second session. I prayed.

This session finished at 8pm on the Friday evening. By now the first signs of tired legs were apparent. I did not hang around, went straight for the shower and only when I had changed, did Mr. Colin Fennessy, a red belt, and myself discuss the possibility of getting a late evening cuppa tea just to finish off the night. Home comforts are hard to let go. I made sure I got the head down at curfew time on Friday night at 11pm. I wasn’t alone, most campers followed suit.

 

Saturday Morning (third session)

After breakfast next morning we started at 9am again with Master Jedut, who concentrated on more technical techniques, many taken from the Dan Grade patterns. While that word “patterns” reads easy on paper believe me, Master Jedut’s command of the English language unfortunately does not stretch towards anything remotely easy or soft. There were times, I was out of breath, but this was down to a combination of the humidity and not knowing the degree of intensity and duration of each drill. I cursed myself for sneaking a look at that large clock that faced us. Its slowness matched my fitness and I vowed, while in this river of pain to improve my overall fitness level, once I got home and survived.

It was around here that Master Jedut picked out some of the senior grades to demonstrate some advanced drills. Mr Looi, Mr Adrian Byrne and Mr Ryan, never reluctant volunteers, stepped up. He worked these guys a lot over the course of the weekend, many times close enough to exhaustion and it was inspiring to see what you can achieve if you were totally focused on getting to a serious standard of training like these lads.

Master Jedut always worked it so we were moving and thinking. This was definitely intense and at times I was hanging on to what reserves I had, and leaned ( literally) on my 40 years of experience just to stay in the game. Master Jedut sought , not just a primary drill but was also including secondary skills plus of course, his standard added dimension of fitness thrown in. It was either an emphasis on your technique or your tactic used when practising your combinations or a combination of both.

 

Saturday afternoon (fourth session)

The Smullen brothers giving a self defense seminar

The Smullen brothers giving a self defense seminar

Saturday afternoon’s session was taken by the two Smullen brothers Carl and Steven from Dublin, both excellent professionals. Their self defence seminar was a first class presentation. Meaty warm up games to get the blood and brain cells into gear quickly were all new to me. Those primal movements they teach I found very different and interesting. They drilled on different aspects of vision and spatial awareness in relation to self defence and while a lot of their material was straightforward attacks their tactical use of such simplicity made for realistic situations. If anything I thought they perhaps squeezed in too much in the short amount of time they had to cover such an important issue. As a side note I was honoured to address a small part of their recent promotion where their collective answers to some of my theory questions proved a reciprocal learning experience.

 

Saturday Evening Sparring (fifth session)

Intense Junior sparring

Intense Junior sparring

The third and final session of Saturday came at 6.30pm with a sparring seminar by Master Jedut. Again we faced into these quick-fire warm ups, where auditory and visual faculties were tested. Everything was done in circles. For example about eight to ten students would form a circle, so we could all see how fast each of us adapted to getting tagged and counter chasing around the circle. These lighting fast tag games allowed little or no room to hide, or bluff if you had thought of coasting through the warm up. Chasing your partner around that circle, interspersed with a squat, burpee or push-up. Then the objective would suddenly change to where the game involved quick changes in momentum and here your body weight had to be in such a way so your intention would be hidden.

 

Was the training hard!!

I was glad of times where Master Judet would have to get the aid of an interpreter to explain when it did get a bit tough. I was delighted that my body held out for those first five sessions. We all groaned as we made our way up that old creaking wooden staircase. Roommate Mr. Brendan Dennehy. a blue belt and experienced runner, gave me interesting tips on one of the foam rollers we had in our room, which was now doubling as an infirmary as the weekend progressed. I stayed longer in the shower to try and ease my aches and pains but also I was thrilled to be here at the coalface of training, sharing the sessions with some world class people many who were on the cusp of the competitive careers. I had reached a new level of intimacy with my quads and hamstrings. That Saturday, I again kept to the curfew of lights out at 11pm, as most others did, grateful to have my lovely sleeping bag, drifting off into a deep well earned sleep.

 

Sunday morning (sixth session).. Mental Training Irish Style..

A grueling opening session with Master Jerzy Jedut on advanced techniques was held on Sunday morning which only God and my training partners, Masters Pat Barry and Mark Buckley and the ITA President, Master Kenneth Wheatley really know how I managed to get through. This regime of three sessions a day was now telling on body and mind and I dug deep for automatic pilot mode. When you whack into training for 5 consecutive sessions at that pace obviously a serious amount of stiffness builds up, but what’s funny is when you start up the body again, in a summer camp atmosphere, it’s like an old lawn mower that fires into life again if it’s cranked up enough. This is where the humidity came in handy, a massive sweat builds up that warms the joints internally and you’re off again. It’s crazy. no matter how much I workout on my own I just can’t ever get anywhere near this experience. Harsh put-downs, unkind slagging and winding each other up, on how rubbish our attempts were during this session was where Irish mental motivating techniques, thinly disguised as encouragement, came to the fore. I’m indebted to the above mentioned training partners whose expertise in these mental training techniques, kept my spirits high.

 

More Sparring Techniques Sunday afternoon ( seventh session )

Black Belts practising counter attacks

Black Belts practising counter attacks

Here we had a marvellous session with Mr Hong Looi assisted by Mr. Stephen Ryan. Mr. Looi has a flamboyant and passionate style and this is infectious. When I first saw him a few years ago I mistook this for arrogance but again throughout my career I have found that an experience, a real life experience is far greater than a belief, or a preconceived notion of someone, when you really get to know them. His track record as a competitor at European and world level is top drawer material. His quick fire instruction, presented with clear diction made sense of complicated drills and tactics. His seminar focused on getting off the line of attack, without compromising your defence and maximizing any tactical advantageous technique. His description and demonstration of skilled counter-attacks where students were drilled in lined order were tough. Then, just when he felt students had a kicking drill down he would suddenly up the ante. For example, he would have you hold a target a little just out of reach then too near you, so thereby working body weight shifting of forward and backwards but never in the order you thought it was going.

 

More Sparring (session eight)

Children enjoying sparring in the safe hand of the I.T.A. instructors

Children enjoying sparring in the safe hand of the I.T.A. instructors

After the last training session on Sunday evening Master Jedut put paid to my walking normally back to the dormitory, I envied younger students who still had the energy to go for an arranged game of bowling in which they were allowed for a late curfew of 11.30pm. This Irish Master was well tucked away at 11pm, not for being a goody two shoes but from the sheer exhaustion of the training. My legs and back were now aching really badly and that menacing winding staircase haunted my dreams and was becoming more of a challenge than the training itself.

On Monday morning I was gutted not to make that last session. Instead I sat watched and compared notes with Master Pat Barry who by this time had a painful neck injury. There are times when you must push yourself but times when experience and some hard earned common sense dictate otherwise. Aches and pains I can suffer, but an injury when you’re a professional instructor is a risk, so I played it safe and opted out.

 

Looking back it was an honour to stand in line with these world class performers, master trainers and students. I found that I have tremendously improved in my discipline towards training. I teach students that you are largely influenced by those you hang around with most. The ITA board is one heck of a disciplined crew. That word, “association” has been hackneyed to death during my time but the ITA is truckloads more than just an association. There were many more folks working hard behind the scenes not mentioned here who looked after the junior members who were amazing to have kept going. There was injuries, a few near fights and some shouting here and there but when it was all over many new friends were made and older ones strengthened making for a stronger grassroots association.  For any student or instructor of any age or experience wishing to benefit from a truly challenging and fun weekend of training, you would be doing yourself a giant favour by signing up for the next one. It is on the weekend of 14th  and 17th  of July 2017 at the same venue.

Writing this report serves as a cathartic marker to continue my journey and reminder to committing to training smarter and more consistently than I have done previously. Master Jedut’s final words were that we should practise all disciplines of the Taekwon-Do “Cake” and not just pick out the raisins. His final “test” had us all holding out extended side knife hand strikes while sat in a lotus position, for a minute…I don’t know much about Poland but their minutes are way way longer than ours ..

So, was the training hard?…Well, as we Irish say when we risk being misunderstood…. ‘Ah now, would ye ever Feic off!!’(…and for those of you who still don’t get it…YES, it was!).

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