Well after selection onto the British Squad it wasn't long before Andrew Armstrong from our neighbouring Dojo Ojika and myself (Jon Meikle) had to pack our bags and jump on a plane over to Andorra to compete against the best Europe has to offer.
The British squad met up at two airports, Luton and Gatwick, on the morning of 5th October, with great excitement/apprehension in order to catch the flight to Barcelona. Probably more apprehension on Andrew's behalf as this was his first time on a plane! Of course plenty of jibes thus followed about the likelihood of wings/engines falling off during the flight just to reassure him :-p.
Arriving at Barcelona was a refreshing change as there was sun! and it was really quite warm, good job that I left my coat at home. The transfer over to Andorra by coach took us about 2 1/2 hours with a 'beer stop' along the way ... 'coffee stop' sorry, slip of the tongue.
Once we finally arrived at the hotel we were all pleasantly surprised, a very luxurious 5 star hotel with all the trimmings. The Andorra Plaza served us very well throughout our stay and offered us full board and plenty of free wine at every meal!!
So the next morning the seminar began, first two days for seitei practice with not one but three 8th Dan Hanshi from Japan. Kawaguchi Sensei, Kusama Sensei and Kamikokuryo Sensei headed the Japanese delegation.
Groups were split into Mudan/Shodan, Nidan/Sandan/Yondan and Godan/Rokudan. Where we all got to practice without having an on/off system, however it was getting a little tight on Shiho Giri and Sou Giri. Look before you cut mantra was taken on board tot he nth degree!!! The afternoon of the second day had us all performing an embu in our groups for the Japanese delegation, to show how much we had improved?? No pressure then!
Day three: Individual Taikai Event ... Let battle commence!!! Well of course not before the opening ceremony and being entertained by some traditional Andorran dancers.
Some with very short Jo staffs which they liked to bash together quite gaily! Actually they were very good and it was a great start to the forthcoming events.
So the taikai commenced ... unfortunately Andrew and myself had difficult pools with stiff competition and we were eliminated sharpish :-(. The UK team did do better in the higher Dan divisions and came away with a Gold and Bronze in the Yondan division, Gold in the Godan division and Gold and Bronze in the Rokudan division. So not all lost!!! The experience alone was a reward in itself.
Day 4 was to see the team taikai event in the morning. Go UK!!! Team UK easliy got through the pools and were making good progress in the knock outs. Unfortunately this wasn't to last and a dubious decision was to leave us without a team trophy. So near, yet so far!
That afternoon was allocated to the European gradings from Shodan - Nanadan. It is not very often you get to see these high end gradings so this was to be a good afternoon.
Bill Davison, David Collins and Andy Watson were to take their 6th Dan and Greg Drew to take his 7th Dan. So all eyes were on our guys with anticipation.
Hmmmmm so what went wrong?? Out of seven 4th Dans, one 5th Dan, eighteen 6th Dans and five 7th Dans only one of the 4th Dans passed! Well there is always next time guys, let's hope those who deserve to pass do so then.
So I'd better sum up ... great hotel, cheap food and beer, great company. But to finish on a serious note, the Europeans has certainly been an eye opener and it has been a great honour to be part of the 2011 Championships and the British Team. Despite not progressing through the Taikai it has been a huge learning curve and I have learned a great deal. This experience I'm sure will be embedded in my memory for many years to come. Better start training hard now for another bash next year.