European Summer Camp, Bosön, Sweden

July, 24th to 31st 2014

This year Gasshuku for the second time came to Sweden. All participants from four corners of the world came to Stockholm the city of Abba and Alfred Nobel. We stayed during those few days as a guests of our Swedish hosts on the island of Lidingö, part of the Stockholm archipelago known as Stockholms skärgård. There are approximately 30 000 islands and islets and the archipelago extends from Stockholm roughly 60 km to the east. The bungalows of Royal Swedish Sports Center in Bosön were our home. Many of us expected some snow covered streets in this far north country but Stockholm welcomed us with sunshine and warm pleasant weather. An afternoon rain was a delightful change not a nuisance. We had chance to train in Vinnarhallen on a full-size football field under roof.

As every year 6 o’clock in the morning is time for kihon. In the morning mist long rows of jodo adepts head in the same direction. Early morning sun looks down through the light fog when morning training starts. The seagulls are surprised by what they hear. The powerful kiai sounds over green meadow and wooden jo rattle against bokens. The breakfast tastes better after morning exercises when we all return to dining hall. A new day starts, time for perfection of our known skills and time to learn new from our generous teachers. Pascal as always is a great help for the omote group. He generously shares his vast jodo knowledge with his students and uses his superior martial skills to show us the techniques and explain their covered secrets. A great help comes from other teachers who help us to train correctly and often show us tips and tricks of the jodo kata. Soon comes time for lunch and time for some afternoon rest. Later in the afternoon we gather again on the green grass of training field by the seaside. Sometime in the afternoon students of all levels come together to watch Pascal with one of the teachers showing elements of kenjutsu. Elegant flowing sword techniques look so easy to follow. But when we try to repeat them, suddenly we realize how much hard work is hidden behind ostensibly effortless movements. A lonely white seagull sits on a flag pole and looks down at the training people. It suddenly bursts with loud cry which sounds little like laughter to our ears. This makes Pascal response and he shouts –“Please do not laugh at us!” The bird looks to understand his humble request.

But one cannot live by jodo alone. Evenings were devoted to free time activities. It was time to show that samurai culture means more than sword alone. On the terrace with spectacular view of distant sea and hills Pascal prepared his evening of Japanese calligraphy. Although the source of brush calligraphy is in China, the Japanese variant has its own distinctive features. The calligraphy itself is the art of brush and ink. But the Japanese thought that it also shows the power of the martial spirit. This the reason why when samurai clans seized power in Kamakura period (1192 – 1333) the Japanese calligraphy has also changed. Early subtle strokes of the imperial court poets became more vigorous and full of energy. The world of the Prince Genji yielded to the world of shoguns. Also the zen philosophy which was in high esteem of the samurai had great influence on the visual variants of calligraphy. Now we can see with our own eyes how Pascal covers sheets of paper with numerous kanji characters. Shows us different styles of calligraphy. We can see the characters written in seal style (tensho) of the old Chinese sages, the clerical style characters (reisho) can be seen on our Gasshuku T-shirts. The more complicated styles of running (gyoosho) and grass (soosho) script can also be seen. The evening of the lingering splendor of Japanese calligraphy demonstrates us that the spiritual values were most important in the samurai world.

But we should not forget that in the times of the Japanese warriors military intelligence was as important as it is nowadays. The great armies of the feudal lords fought their battles on the plains of Japan and often the secret information about enemy turned the scales in favour for the winning side and decided of the life and death. The clans of ninja were responsible for the intelligence gathering in the medieval times. In the twentieth century military intelligence could be collected in more sophisticated ways. In one of the white villas near our training field were headquarters, code name Krybo, of the Swedish secret signal intelligence corps. Arne Beurling (1905 – 1986) was professor of mathematics at Uppsala university. During the war he directed the work of codebreakers which resulted in cracking the telegraph variant of German Enigma code. There is a small tablet in front of the villa with this information but unfortunately only in Swedish.

The year is 720. Japan. The Japanese Chronicles (Nihon shoki) is compiled. When we read this ancient text we can find term “samurai”. But it is not the samurai we know. Also other old manuscripts confirm that the samurai was a carer for the old people. Every person over eighty years old had right to one samurai, those over ninety years old had two samurai and centenarians (not too many I suppose) were entitled to five samurai carers. For some time the word “samurai” disappears from official documents and has its comeback in tenth century but in quite different meaning. Meanwhile in a distant part of the world an another warrior tradition was born. In ninth century Vikings roamed seas in Europe and Mediterranean world. Their long boats reached North America and Iceland. Viking warriors were well known in Rome and Byzantine Empire. Swedish Vikings established royal dynasty in Old Russian Kiev and visited foggy coasts of Greenland. Thanks to our hosts we all had chance to meet genuine Viking warriors. On the last evening after farewell dinner all Gasshuku participants went to the edge of the nearby park. Sitting on the grass and talking suddenly we heard loud cries behind the trees. From opposite directions emerged two warriors. One in light armor and bare head the other hid his face behind helmet mask. Both shouted commands in Old Norse, language of the Vikings. Arrows reached the fair haired warrior and he swiftly deflected them with his shield. Soon a fierce fight started before our eyes. A small axe on long wooden handle against a short sword. The duel lasted for a few minutes. Everybody enjoyed this demonstration of Viking martial skills. Later the two Vikings (one of them was very worried about his cat), members of Viking reconstruction group “Svea” talked about martial skills of the Scandinavian warriors. I think that all of us enjoyed surprise on our last summer evening of Gasshuku 2014.

We hope that we can all meet next year in Malaysia, the place of Gasshuku 2015.

Pictures: Luca Boschian