Greetings from Auckland & Taupo New Zealand (28 Nov – 8 Dec 2018)!
It has been a while since I last posted about my travels, a lot has been going on here now that I’m back home and have a full time job. I’ll have to make a concerted effort to write more often and get these adventures out to you sooner as it’s already been over a year since these stories have taken place. Just have patience and faith I will not quit on this blog and leave you hanging. Now, on to our next adventure!
Since I had always planned to visit Australia it was of course natural to follow that up with visiting New Zealand as well. I was hoping to spend more time there and be able to hit up both North and South Island but I was unable to find any contacts for the South Island and with other visit dates (Singapore at the end of Dec and Cambodia for the holidays) I needed to make sacrifices so this visit was only to the North Island. I will have to return and explore the South Island one day.
All my visits in New Zealand were because of the kindness of the people there. I was invited into their homes and their gyms and shown the greatness at is New Zealand all because they liked what I was doing. I’ll be forever grateful for experiences like this I have had while on this Odyssey. With that let me first describe to you how and ended up in these visits and where I was staying before I tell you about my training experiences. One spoiler though, my pictures just don’t do any justice to conveying the beauty I was surround in and the fun I had visiting New Zealand.
Arriving in Auckland
Early on in my planning of the Odyssey a student of the traditional art of Kokodo Jujutsu contacted me. As I had practiced this art a little in Canada I was naturally looking forward to meeting others in this small circle. Sensai Jules Robson is a student of my friend Hanshi Michael Seamark, who is plainly put the right hand of the head of the entire Kokodo Jujutsu Organization, Soke Irie. Sensai Robson had seen my early posts about my intention to travel and train in different arts around the world and so contacted me with the offer that his dojo is open any time to visit and I am even welcome stay if I need a place. Almost 2 years later I was finally in Auckland ready to meet Sensai Robson and his dojo and take him up on his offer.
Sensai Robson and I spoke online and arranged to meet at the airport when my flight arrived. After a quick tour while driving through the city we arrived on the other end of town, or rather in the small community of Laingholm, outside of Auckland but easy enough to travel to and from by car or by taking the bus. Sensai Robson has a nice cozy place that seriously reminds me of Mr. Myagi’s home in Karate Kid. I don’t know if he moved his dojo into Auckland more as there was talk about moving to another place when I was visiting but the dojo I stayed in was next to his house, far back from the road almost right into the forest surrounding the area. It was a small place and the shower and toilet were separate, inside in a fully plumbed outhouse, but with all the dojo floor space padded in tatami except for the little kitchenette it was all they needed to train. Sensai Robson had some extra mats and a sleeping bag and pillows for me to use on the tatami as the spare room in his house was occupied with another guest. It was more than enough for me and I was comfortable in this my own training house. Staying in the dojo actually made me think of all the old 80’s and 90’s action movies and their training montages.
The Addition of Taupo
Originally I had only two stops planned for New Zealand, with no contacts coming up for the South Island and me not knowing much else of New Zealand it was just going to be a short visit. I had an invitation to Auckland and an old friend in Wellington to see so those were my planned stops. I was always planning up to three months ahead and posting my projected itinerary online. I posted my plans to visit New Zealand after Australia and I got a message from Mark about making time to come visit Taupo. I checked the map and bus routes and just as Mark said Taupo was right in the middle of the two places and I’d be traveling through there anyways. Really this was a great addition as the bus from Auckland to Wellington is 9-10 hours in one go so a break to enjoy the beautiful lake, waterfall and scenery of Taupo was greatly welcomed.
As it is happens Mark and his family have a spare bedroom in their house and Mark likes to invite traveling Jiujitseros to come visit. Given that there’s only one gym in the small town they don’t have a big group to train with or get much for seminars coming their way unless they take off to Auckland or Wellington for a visit. I arranged visiting Mark for a few days and made my way down on the bus from Auckland. It was a 4 or 5 hour bus ride but it felt longer, it was boring driving down the single road the whole way and you get tired of the green field scenery pretty fast. I got dropped off in the middle of town at the tourist center and met with Mark’s wife who brought me to their house. Taupo is amazing and I am honoured that Mark invited me in and let me visit for a few days and showed me around to the beauty of New Zealand.
Although Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand there’s not a lot of sights inside the city other than the harbour (it is called the City of Sails after all), the Sky Tower and museums. The true gems to see are outside the city and unfortunately I was limited in my methods of traveling around town. Here’s some of the pics of the little I did get to see.
Taupo is a small town built on lake Taupo which basically in the middle of North Island. The scenery of the town wrapped around the lake is absolutely beautiful, I was told there’s a volcanic fault line that runs under the lake from Taupo Volcano in the center of New Zealand that keeps the lake warm. In fact, Mark and I jumped in the lake a few times during my stay and one of the things he loves to do is slowly drag his feet around to find a hot pocket, where you can feel the hot water shooting up from the sand, to stand in and warm up.
There’s also the Huka Falls along Waikato River which is the big attraction of the area, with the water so clear and sky blue the likes I’ve never seen in a natural setting. It also runs at a terrifying speed that is very deceptive of the calm river itself, which has claimed lives in the past.
As always you can see more pictures from this and all my other stops throughout the Odyssey on my Flickr Account.
And finally what I’m sure you have been waiting for, my review of training at the few gyms I visited in New Zealand. With the three I cover in this post there is a big difference between each one, one being a traditional art school, one being a big competition team and them gym in Taupo being a small isolated gym. Again it’s this kind of experience getting to visit different gyms in different settings and seeing all that’s out there that is why I did this trek.
Auckland Kokodo Jujutsu Dojo
Training with Sensai Robson and his small Kokodo study group was a spiritually satisfying experience. There was no challenge of strength or athleticism that comes with rolling at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling classes, instead we dove into the aspects of balance and control of posture and stance. This might seem like something completely far fetched or not related to grappling but when you understand the movement of your and your opponents body and how to control or restrict that movement you have both a weapon to attack your opponent with and a tool for defense of their attacks. I always look to refine how to move and control the body and I’m interested in new and different ways.
Since it’s been a long time since I spoke of this style let me remind you, Kokodo is an art of control and studies on the refinement of the methods of controlling and disarming the opponent. Kokodo’s use of control and manipulation is virtually all done, or begins with, the wrists. That’s right, it’s a martial art based solely on the study of the dark arts of wristlocks. This art can be very tranquil and educational as you learn more about the human body, how it moves and how to control it without relying on strength or it can be blindingly painful as pressure is applied to joints and nerves at different angles causing you to become painfully incapacitated. I have experienced some of the more painful locks in this art and I was instantly moving involuntarily, mostly jumping or falling in pain, and suddenly sweating profusely from the shock to the nervous system. Luckily Sensai Robson is not as evil as Hanshi Seamark and was more interested in the study of the former description of art.
In between classes with Sensai Robson’s dojo I enjoyed sharing different theologies of the grappling arts with him and his students. Sensai has a very insightful and intriguing description of the history of Jiu-Jitsu and what is now one of the most popular martial art, BJJ (spoiler alert, it’s all Judo). Over food and drink we would quite regularly talk of the different styles of martial arts and grappling arts and the cultures that they come from. One common theme was that in the traditional arts there is a big focus on being a proper person, training in etiquette, something that seems lost or of a lesser importance on in the styles of modern sport. It was a visit that trained the mind while letting the body rest, at least from the thrashing the city would give me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you so much for inviting me out and hosting Sensai Jules Robson, I hope we meet again!
Tu Kaha BJJ
I managed to make it to one class in the city, I was hoping to visit another gym or two in the area but was unable to make it out to their classes because of conflicting scheduling with the class times and bus routes. It was difficult to get to classes unless they were midday as evening bus routes heading into and out of the city were scarce. I did however make it to Tu Kaha BJJ which holds their classes in a massive fitness community made of several buildings connected together, hosting a series of large training rooms. I was shown around and where to go for the class and get changed but I was on my own leaving and I made a few wrong turns before finally making it out, amazing place. I don’t know if Tu Kaha is still there now, they may now have their own gym so contact them on Facebook for proper details.
Anyways, I made it out to the no-gi class and had a great time training with the crew. The place was packed, the mats were surrounded in a low fence with squat and cross-fit racks bordering all around on the other side, with how busy the place was you would figure every person in Auckland was training at this gym. There were all sorts of people hanging around the fence watching class as well so it was a bit of an overwhelming experience walking into this at first, luckily I’m not shy although I have met many people who might not have been comfortable enough to train in this sort of environment. The funny thing is though once you’re on the mats, anywhere in the world that may be, everything else melts away and it’s just you and the class drilling, rolling and having good times. Tu Kaha BJJ was no exception.
Like I said the class was no-gi, working various positions and submissions, lots of movement and control. The drilling during class made you work but not in a kill you in reps sort of way, more the make you work for the dominant position and submission, lots of sequences and chains to get to the final point rather than just rep out one technique. Good stuff with great students. I can’t fully remember exactly what we worked on but I do remember rolling the partner over from turtle to attack from the back, but then again I also remember being in a crucifix, which was drilling and which was rolling is hard to distinguish now. After drilling we got to rolling for a while and I pretty much just got killed by everyone. I think I had one good roll of being the aggressor and attacking but mostly I was in survival mode. All good though, no one there was interested in destroying the new visitor, everyone just wanted to roll and work their own game. I would gladly come back next time I visit Auckland.
ROC Taupo BJJ
There’s just the one gym in Taupo as I mentioned earlier and you won’t even find it online as it’s actually a kickboxing place that had no advertising of BJJ when I was there, which is why I never thought of stopping there to begin with. Without Mark inviting me and introducing me to ROC Taupo I would have totally skipped this place and missed out on the beauty of Taupo and the great training with these guys. Mark works online for some American businesses so he holds some different working hours from the usual 9 to 5, this of course means he has to get in his training in when ever he can. Lucky for him the club owner is accommodating and he has some teammates who are always up to train so he’s able to get some impromptu noon time classes or open mat sessions through the week.
One day between showing me around to the beauty of Taupo Mark set up a class with one of his teammates who’s a very game grappler and always up to roll. It was just the three of us at the gym, we drilled for a while then started having matches, Mark and I taking turns rolling against his teammate who’s name I totally forget. I think he sat out one round for Mark and I to have a roll but took us both on two or three times each before we finally called it quits. This man had quite the stamina, rolling twice as long as me and still having more energy than Mark and I combined while also beating us each round. This would be the only time I was able to train with either man as their scheduling kept them from the usual class time that I attended. Mark also had relatives showing up so I ended up switching to a hostel in so really this was the last hang out for the three of us.
The next time I returned to the gym was for the evening class, where I met with the rest of the guys training there. Mark had passed on word of me being around so I didn’t have much to do for introducing myself and really everyone was so chill they just gladly accepted me in. During the day session there was nothing else going on at the gym so we were on the main floor, you see the gym is set up with a front desk and weights in the front with puzzle matted floor for a big mat space in the back and a smaller matted space upstairs. When I showed up for the evening class there was also a boxing class going on so the main floor was taken up and the BJJ class was upstairs until they finished. So I’m stretching out and chatting with the class about my travels and then one of them just asks “So what are you teaching us tonight?” um, what? Well apparently as soon as I walked in they had all silently decided to have me teach that night. As I have said before the gym is quite isolated from the Jiu-Jitsu scenes of Auckland or Wellington so they are very receptive of visitors. They were also a very new club so everyone was young to BJJ so any chance they get to learn from visitors they jump at the chance. So I guess I was teaching now.
On the fly I decided I would work my half guard game I call my own version of the Bear-Trap only this class was no-gi, which I wasn’t as confident in teaching. It was a learning experience for sure, I probably learned just as much dealing with their questions about what I was showing them as they were watching me teach. As they say you really don’t fully understand the technique until to teach it. It was a great class, everyone was very attentive and asking all sorts of questions to dive deeper into the half guard game and in the end I think we put together one very strong sequence. In fact I’m sure we did as not only did they put my half guard game to the test but also put my skills trying to shut down my own game to the test as they used it against me. After drilling for a good hour or more the main floor was open to us and we went down for rolling. I don’t know how long we were rolling for but we were all tired by the time it was over. I thanked everyone for the awesome time and was on my way back to the hostel for one last night in Taupo. Little did I know how much making one step outside the gym would impact my future of traveling and training…
I had one last stop in Wellington with an old friend but before I get to that I have a story about an injury that nagged me from this point on to fill you in on: The Dreaded Knee injury.
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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