Greece Summer Camp

Greece Summer Camp

Mr. Leonard Coughlan, 3rd Dan from Cork recently attended a Taekwon-Do Summer Camp in Greece under Master Vasilis Alexandris, 8th degree black belt. for the full report click more.

Let me take you to Hellas and back. We thought we were going to a Taekwon-Do camp called Hellas, but it turns out that the Greeks call their country Hellas; it is the English language that insists on the title ‘Greece’.  For the 3rd year in a row, we are off to Olympas Zeus for a Greek Taekwon-Do summer camp, under the expert guidance of Master Vasilis Alexandris, 8th degree black belt, who has run this TaeKwon-Do camp for the past sixteen years. 

 

We arrive Monday 6th August for the start of this top class training camp, which also offers its students a dream holiday perfectly slotted around their training. The course is arranged to include some amazing sightseeing excursions such as a visit to the incredible Meteora Monasteries. The word Meteora means ‘hovering in the air’ and this is how one experiences these extraordinary architectural wonders. You might expect to see something like this in a blockbuster fantasy movie, or read about it in a fairytale, but to witness this architectural reality is nothing short of mind-blowing. It is believed monks lived in caves in these cliffs, settled around the sandstone pillars on the northwestern edge of The Plain of Thessaly, as early as the 11th century AD. Climbing higher and higher up the inaccessible pillars was the only way to preserve the old Hellenic culture, during times of invasion; they used ladders and primitive rope systems to bring people and building materials to the top. Our visit was made possible by the steps carved in the rocks since the 1920s. Visiting all the cliff-top monasteries of Meteora requires a lot of climbing, but it is truly amazing to behold such a sight.  These fantastic buildings should be one of the wonders of the world, they are a marvel of ancient Greek architecture, ingenuity and determination and a testament to this civilisation which has been immensely influential on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and the arts.

 Our second excursion took us to the natural pools of Mount Olympas, the highest mountain in Greece after which the camp itself is named. We visited picturesque waterfalls and took a refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters of the natural pools. The camp, Olympas Zeus,  is a wonderful place to stay. Students share fully equipped and air conditioned bungalows less than 50 meters from beach; where the water temperature makes it feel like you are walking into a warm bath when you take a dip in the sea. This all inclusive training camp includes a daily offering of 4 hours of training, 2 meals, excellent accommodation, and excursions for only €360 for the week. It is no surprise that the appeal of the camp has grown worldwide; it has become necessary to translate Master Vasilis’ words into Belgian, Italian, English, French, Albanian and many more languages. Tuesday morning class starts with a welcome speech and introduction to the course by Master Vasilis. Training is arranged to allow students to train in the outdoors, while avoiding the strong daytime sunshine, therefore class times are 8-10am and 7-9pm each day. This free time in the middle of the day allows the student time to take in the full delights of this beach resort venue. Just before the start of training the head coach of the Belgian team Pascal Raeijmaekers, 4th degree, presents the master with a professionally printed book of photos from last year’s camp. With a handshake and a smile of thanks, Master Vasilis called ‘cheryot’ signalling the start of training for the weeklong camp.

Session 1 covers fundamental movements, full body stretching and dynamic kicking; all perfectly displayed by the master. A number of things must strike a student of Vasilis, about the master’s way of teaching; firstly every single technique is quickly displayed by the master himself, leaving you in no doubt, as to how to perform the movement, and secondly, that each of the daily two hour sessions are structured to suit the development of each student. The different focus of each session also allows the perfect recovery time in between. Session 2 covers kicking drills showcasing the highest level of Taekwon-Do kicking techniques and again the master led from the front. He displays a kicking prowess that the highly skilled competitors in attendance, some of them world and European champions themselves, categorise as world class and flawless. It really is not such a great leap for me to go from thinking, wow, this teacher is great to, yes, this man must be a descendant of Alexander the great. Some might say that it is no wonder that Greek king, Alexander, ruled the largest empire of the ancient world and remained undefeated in battle,  because his greatness was tutored by another great man, Aristotle. Now how many ‘greats’ can I fit in this paragraph, possibly one or two more, because it is all about Master Alexandris the great, and as his student I can vouch for the fact that he is a master, in all senses of that title, and his process and practise of teaching is great. Behind every great student is a great teacher.

The next session is sparring hand techniques, working from a boxing guard. Master Vasilis takes his students through a boxing master class, which is thoroughly enjoyable to all. Some of the practitioners have never focussed solely on boxing, and so they gain quite an insight. In concluding the class he stresses that all students of Taekwon-Do must be able to use their hands, as well as their legs, and further explains that ‘if you want to know about hands we should look to boxing and take from it what we can and make it our own, as boxers are the best in the world with their hands, and if you want to know something always go to the master of the discipline.’ Another session covers all colour belt patterns; every pattern from beginner to black belt, with time spent on the individual aspects or the more intricate movements. Thursday morning is black belt  1st and 2nd degree patterns; this class is also tutored by  5th degree Giannis Kamberis, who takes all coloured belts through patterns, while Master Vasilis concentrates on all black belts. This session ends and after a light breakfast, forty or so students take their places on a comfortable air conditioned bus for the scheduled day. The week is flying by, and Monday seems all too close already, but the students are making the most of this idyllic setting, and more than satisfied with the high degree of skill that they are being trained in. All too soon however, it is Saturday night, and in true student fashion, this marks the unofficial going away party. After another delicious dinner at the camp resort, the students go to a disco bar, which is very conveniently located only 200 yards down the beach; another great memory to add to the list of this sensational week. I wonder how this impromptu party affects the Sunday morning class, where a special ‘instructors only’ class is facilitated by Master Vasilis; he covers all patterns for instructors, as well as many aspects of the teaching philosophies of Taekwon-Do.

Sunday is our last day, and the camp organisers made sure to make it especially memorable. A photo shoot is arranged at the beach with all students, suited and lined up along the shore; much to the amusement of other sunbathing holiday makers. The students are happy to participate in this moment of marking the occasion, as it ensures that they capture these lifelong memories on film. On this last day all participants are also presented with a personalised certificate to mark their participation at the camp. Finally the ‘official’ going away party on Sunday night, organised by Mike Mouratidis, 4th degree, and all students happily chat around the camp fire, as they enjoy their final night on the beach soaking up the music, and, with no class in the morning, free to appreciate a few more drinks.

I write this review less than a week later, back on Irish soil, and I am not alone among my colleagues in having considered moving to Greece for good. This is an experience of a lifetime, to have had the pleasure of this camp three years in a row is an honour I am very grateful for. I’m going back, and I would urge anyone thinking about it, to stop thinking and start planning. Hellas is heaven.

 

 Mr. Leonard Coughlan 3rd degree  

Posted by Stephen Ryan