2012 Annual Camp Story – by Kell Thoburn

2012 Annual ITTA Winter Camp

There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air as over 60 Toogee Taekwondo members from multiple regions arrived for the 2012 ITTA Annual Winter Camp. We rock up at about 5pm on Friday afternoon, after a little shuffling and interpretation of Regional Instructor Michael’s sleeping arrangements we found our beds and met our roommates.

Dinner certainly proved that we were not going to get normally camp food; it was delicious and the portions were extremely generous, a trend that continued all weekend. Soon after dinner we settled down for an all grades open forum. Around the room for brief introductions, then open slather with questions. Many of them for Master Frost about his experiences and one for all the Black Belts, “What was the worst injury you’ve had doing Taekwondo?” It was soon discovered that with nearly 50 Dans in the room there were very few serious TKD related injuries. And almost all of them were due to incorrect technique, reinforcing the importance of listening to your instructors and practising good techniques. The coloured belts were excused and the Black Belts were left to have their open forum. First on the agenda was an ITTA fashion show of all the new ITTA clothing, modelled by none other than Regional Instructor Michael Omay. On display were beanies, jackets, hats, vests and many great new merchandise items and clothing to keep us warm in winter and looking the part through summer.

7am Saturday morning was the first training session of camp for the Black Belts to get in the 1st Dan Patterns with Master Frost before breakfast. Valuable time spent with our Master Instructor, and all Black Belts will tell you, you never stop learning.

After breakfast it was time to warm up, “jogging around the hall” was a call we are all used to but that’s where the normality ended. Soon enough we were tumbling, leopard crawling and dive rolling across the mats on our way around. There were lots of laughs and we were all very warm by the end. Soon after the Black Belts disappeared to continue practising their patterns while Master Frost took the coloured belts through their patterns.

Once everyone had been through their patterns it was time for the first of our “activity” session. No one really knew what we were in for as 1st Dan Kell Thoburn took us through some team work activities. Squeezing through hoola-hoops proved a very amusing spectators sport and piecing together puzzles resulted in team burpees. Rob the nest started out very controlled but once the nest theft began so did the defensive conduct. With a room full of martial art student and black belts, it was never gone to remain non-contact. Regional Instructor Michael had a glint in his eye, which could only mean one thing; we were about to do something crazy. Dive rolling through hoola-hoops and handstand push ups ensured we had lots of laughs and enjoyed our team work and bonding time.

Step sparring was a little different to what we expected. Master Frost gathered us all around speaking at length and demonstrating the importance of distance and timing, in relation to counter attacks. We spent time practising blocks and counter attacks that came naturally, recognising targets and using momentum.

After lunch it was time for self-defence. Regional Instructor Michael Omay and Branch Instructor Michael Tait lead us through a sequence of techniques working our way up in complexity including break-falls and the safest ways to get back to our feet. This rolled into the much anticipated grappling and ground work. Many of us performed very intriguing impersonations of upside down turtles, but we learnt a very valuable lesson about defending ourselves and counterattack from the ground.

Activity session last thing on Saturday afternoon called for more team work and light hearted fun. Moving through invisible mazes silently proved difficult for some. While leaping from large islands through to one tiny island the size of a single floor mat square meant human sacrifices had to be made. Not everyone would fit on the safe island, many smaller students were on shoulders of the adults and others balancing with only one foot on the island. This activity was very popular amongst those who participated, requiring strong team work and communication.

You’d be forgiven for assuming dinner would be the end of a long tiring day. But it was just never going to be that way with Regional Instructor Michael Omay in the lodge and a pile of floor mats. Yep you guessed there was plenty of time for a grappling tournament for bragging rights. Everyone had a great time weather they were having a “roll” or just watching the evening’s entertainment.

Sunday morning and the human alarm clocks went off early in the coloured belts lodge. With Branch Instructor Mark Styles and Instructor Brendan Lees waking everyone up to make sure they’d all be ready for the day ahead. It was unfortunate for the students that it was an hour and a half before they actually had to be at the hall. After they’d finished with the students Branch Instructor Mark Styles and Instructor Brendan Lees set their sights on the Black Belts lodge. With the majority of Black Belts now operating on an average of about 4-5 hours’ sleep, after 10 hours of training the day before, meant they were not greeted kindly at each bedroom door.  Soon enough everyone was up, though not necessarily awake, and ready for the 6:30am meditation session. Learning to breathe properly is extremely important for stamina and focus, and generally sounds easy. But not so much when you introduce fatigue, apparently meditation does mean nap time.

Now that we could all breathe it was time for a run along the lakeside. While Road Runner himself Instructor Grant Robertson took the faster runners for a longer run, the more subdued 1St Dan John Darcy took the slow, old or injured for a light jog. All the while our 2nd, 3rd and 4th Dan’s enjoyed some valuable instruction through their patterns with Master Frost.

After breakfast was a frenzy of kicking bags, high flying, break techniques and most importantly lots and lots of fun in preparation for the afternoon to come. Some learnt they are capable jumping higher and further than they ever thought, others were reminded they are still human. Leaping over a tower of mats and pads made for some amazing photo opportunities, as did some of the less fortunate landings. A little ITTA trivia before lunch meant everyone learnt something new, with the most surprising answer being the number of years Master Frost’s Grandfather went undefeated as a bareknuckle fighter. For those who didn’t know the answer is 40.

After lunch the technical destruction began and almost everyone attempted break. For some it was their first attempt, others it was their first success, while many were trying out a new technique or attempting a personal best. A few of the most memorable were 6 y/o 5th grade Griffin Dunn’s flying sidekick over 3 children, Junior Belt Black Brodyn Hungerford’s flying side kick over 7 children, Brown Belt Kimberley Munro’s elbow strike through two boards, and Regional Instructor Michael Omay smashing 6 boards with a stepping side kick. Of course no technical destruction session would be complete without a couple of good head butt attempts. Apparently because “Regional Instructor Michael Omay said he could” was all the encouragement Green Belt Ben Julien needed to smash two tiles this way. And Regional Instructor Michael Omay couldn’t resist creating a new PB of 5 tiles with his head.

Finally camp was drawing to a close but there was one last memorable moment for 2012 Winter Camp, as Blue Belt Koji Watanabe was presented with his Brown Belt by Master Frost only a few weeks before he returns home to Japan. Congratulations Koji!

Well done to everyone who attended the 2012 ITTA Winter Camp, it will remain a memorable camp for everyone who attended, and many are already excited about doing it all again in 2013.

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Cameron’s eyes were black, blacker than his skin and they seemed to look inside you, on occasions later I’ve seen more than one big tough bad arse ringer look to the ground and do a little shuffle of the feet rather than meet Cameron’s gaze but when we met he looked at me and I looked back, I couldn’t turn my eyes away and then his eyes sort of twinkled and he walked away. We worked together all that week and nothing was said (Cameron rarely spoke anyway), on Friday after work and dinner Cameron was standing in the dark outside the kitchen waiting for me. You come was all he said and I did.

Nothing further was said until we reached his camp, there were several other men there and a couple of women and children, family, they drifted off to another fire after the introductions.

We sat at the fire, Cameron looked at me intently for a minute, I was unsure of what to do, he smiled and took my hand in his. We are brothers you and I he said we are the same dreaming, I tried to tell him I wasn’t and I didn’t have Koori blood but he said no it wasn’t to do with blood, we were from the same spirit place. I just shook my head and laughed, a too loud nervous laugh. He said his people were Kamilaroi but had moved north a long time ago before he was born but twice he had made the journey home to the spirit place, to the cave in the mountains, to the place, he said, we share. I had a lot of trouble absorbing this bit of information, for a young bloke who’s thoughts were either on drinking or women this was a bit of overload. No more was said and we slept.

The next day Cameron talked, and the next and by the time I arrived back at the station late on Sunday night I was ready to begin a new journey, a journey that was to change my life forever. I quit my job and said my goodbyes, it was almost a year before I returned to collect my car and belongings.

Cameron took me bush, we travelled constantly, never stopping more than 3 or 4 days in one place. We walked north following the Leichhardt, living off barramundi and small fresh water crocodile. When we reached the open flood plains closer to the coast we hunted kangaroo, emu and pig. We never saw a white man (or at least I didn’t), Cameron steered our party away from the stations and mustering camps, we occasionally crossed roads but never saw a car, mind you in those days there weren’t too many cars about anyway.

All the while he taught me the ways of his people (my people), how to hunt, what to hunt, when and where to hunt. He taught me how to make and use different weapons for hunting. The different ways to cook kangaroo, emu, barramundi, snake, goanna, how and where to dig for grubs, yams and other editable roots and to find honey and other sweet treats. He taught me how to make shelters, how to find water. I was getting a crash course in how the experts survived in the bush and I was loving it, taking it all in and I think from the pride Cameron showed when he introduced me to others we encountered along the way, I was excelling.

When we reached the Gulf we followed the coast west until I figured we had crossed into the Territory, not that it made any difference.

I had just learnt how to make a bark canoe which was tested on the paddle out to a small island about an hour off the coast, we feasted on turtle eggs at night and hunted dugong and stingray during the day, we climbed for coconuts and dug up huge mud crabs in the mangroves. It was an island paradise that at another time I would have paid thousands for a couple of nights stay. We stayed two weeks, the longest stop since we had begun our journey. It was here that Cameron told me I was ready to start my real training and from here on until my training was finished we would be on our own. The next morning we said farewell to the group and paddled back to the mainland.

to be continued

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I was five weeks into my stay before I thought of the office again and my real reason for being here. As the days and weeks had passed my roaming had taken me further and further afield. I had crossed the range this morning and was about 20-25klms from camp when I first came across fresh horse tracks, they were shod so definitely not brumbies. Two horses, heading west, walking. I followed the tracks back the way they had come for several klms until I toped a ridge that overlooked a small lush valley, I stayed hidden for an hour watching for signs of life. There was nothing so I skirted the ridge staying below the line of sight until I had covered the whole valley. To a casual walker not looking for signs there would have appeared to be nothing there but I knew what to look for and found it in a blind gully at the far side of the valley. A small, concealed yard hidden in a ti-tree thicket, not visible if you were walking up the valley floor nor would it be visible from above. There were no signs of life so I edged my way down for a better look, nothing. I searched the yard and then the campsite; these guys were good, there was nothing outwardly to show someone had been staying there. The earth beneath the carefully concealed fire was only slightly warm indicating they had eaten last night and ridden out in the night.

I worked my way back up the gully and over the ridge and waited for dark. I skirted the ridge again and came back down onto the valley floor following wombat paths until I was well away from the direction that the riders had gone. It was after midnight by the time I had jogged back to the cave. I chewed on some of the dried eel I had saved and contemplated the day’s events while I had a cuppa. No wash in the creek tonight, I crawled into my bed dirty and slept like a baby.

It had been a long time since the office had called on my special skills, mostly they were happy to let me poke about in a corner ‘researching’ or filling the heads of the new recruits with stories of the old days and they never complained when I went bush every so often either. Well I suppose I do own the company so they wouldn’t.

I handed over the day to day to my senior management 3 years ago and sort of slipped into semi retirement, oh I still keep tabs on what’s happening but don’t stick my nose in where it’s not needed.

I started the agency 40 years ago doing consulting work for big rural companies and government departments, doing jobs the others wouldn’t do. I had special skills and so did the people who worked with me, not all the same but each recruited from their specialist fields and utilized as needed and where needed with precision and professionalism and a price tag to go with it.

Most of my skills came the hard way, hands on experience, learning on the job but my ‘special’ skills came about a bit by chance. I was only a young bloke bumming about the country, seeing the land and maybe sowing a few wild oats, I fell into a job ringing on a cattle station in the gulf.

I was only there a week when I first met Cameron, he was an old bloke then, maybe sixty but still a striking man, tall and straight, with thick, curly salt and pepper hair that hung down to his shoulders, he showed his initiation scars and nose piercing proudly and never wore a shirt just his worn out old moleskins held up by a bit of rawhide and a pair of high heeled RM Williams boots with torn elastic sides and big dangly spurs. Cameron worked when he needed food or tobacco, he would stay just long enough to get what he wanted and then just drift back into the bush, nobody knew where he came from or where he went. He was a natural with horses and cattle and did the work of two when he was there; they said he was the best tracker in the Gulf so his comings and goings were accepted.

Cameron was also a Kadaicha man.

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As usual I rose with the sun, a good stretch, sit ups followed by my daily dynamic tension exercises, a great workout and no need to carry around a bag full of weights. I had a cuppa and then settled into my usual spot at the mouth of the cave. Overlooking the small valley with its meandering creek and alpine swamp on the other side it’s a perfect spot for meditation, contemplation and if you want, explanation (that is if like me you talk to yourself when you are alone).

After an hour I stretched again and collected my machete and a few other bits and pieces and headed down to the creek.

First I checked the fish trap, it had always been there, built probably centuries ago and rebuilt and repaired as needed. It was still in good shape, a few rocks replaced here and there and it was ready to use. I wove a yabbie trap from reeds from along the edge of the creek and left it ready to use once I had some bait. The next few hours were spent checking the kangaroo runs, the tracks through the scrub and long grasses that the kangaroos use regularly. I picked a likely spot and then set about stripping the bark off a nearby wattle and making a rope, strong but supple, the colour blends into the scrub and the smell doesn’t alert the kangaroo of danger.

Once the snare was set I took a stroll across the swamp looking for signs of wild pig or any other ‘outside’ animals. Other than some old signs of pig there was nothing unusual about. I dug some waterlilly hearts from a billabong and picked some bracken fern tips on the way back to the cave and also took back some paperbark, some to bake dinner in and some for personal use. After a cuppa I headed back to the kangaroo run to wait. On queue just on dusk the mob headed across to the swamp, third one through got caught, I had learnt long ago how to dispatch game, one blow, quick and I hope fairly painless, it was never something I enjoyed doing but for survival, necessary.

An adolescent male, meaty enough but not old enough to be tough, should be enough for three days.

Back at the cave I skinned the kangaroo and hung out the hide, it will make a good rawhide rope tomorrow, better than the wattle rope snare I used today.  After setting aside what I needed for dinner I portioned the rest and used some of the paperbark to wrap it and bury it in the snow outside the cave.

I was starting to feel at home. A good days work and a good dinner to finish off. Kangaroo fillets wrapped in paperbark with dried bush tomato and bracken fern tips, slowly smoked over the fire so the flavours mingle and the juice of the fillets and tomatoes soak into the fern and make it a bit more palatable.

The days fell into a routine, up with the dawn, stretch, train, meditate, breakfast, and hunt.

Some days I would take the easy road and settle for yabbie, just drop the basket in the creek and wait for enough to crawl inside. Other days I would brave the freezing water and either spear a trout or just thrash about until I drove the fish into the shallow water of the trap where I could choose the trout I wanted and ease the others back into deep water. Occasionally I caught an eel in the yabbie trap, a real treat. Smoked slowly over a fire of lemon myrtle and semi dried, perfect to carry for lunch on the longer days away from camp.

The best days were hunting pig, mind you it took a while for the body to get back into condition for the endurance needed to run down a pig and I did have a few attempts that left me miles from camp and empty-handed. The procedure was simple, get close enough, choose a target, preferably a sucker big enough to feed me for 3 or 4 days but not too big to carry back to camp and then run it until I was either close enough to make a dive for it or until I cornered it in a creek or billabong and could make the catch. I loved these days, pushing my endurance to the limit, testing my agility and speed and most of all reconfirming my ability to push myself mentally and physically past the point where all but a few would throw in the towel.

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It was mid winter, perfect, no heat to distract the thoughts, no flies, no mosquitoes. By the time I walked into camp the snow was thick on the ground, thicker than my previous winter visit four years ago. Not that I minded the snow, it just made it harder to catch game but at least I wouldn’t have to hunt as much as the meat would keep for days in the cold and so what, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been without for a day or so.

I took my time setting up camp, not that I had carried much in and there was no rush, I had 2 months to complete my assignment. Everything was as it was before, as it was when my grandfather first brought me here when I was a boy, as it was each time I returned, as it was the last visit, like coming home. The cave was just deep enough to keep out the weather, the Kamilaroi art on the roof of the cave was still untouched, a days worth of dry firewood stacked in the back corner, the soak at the entrance to the cave was trickling nicely and there hadn’t been too much animal activity so a quick sweep out with a branch had the space spick and span in no time. I dug up my stash of essential dried food collected two years ago when I had spent a month here in the spring. Wattle seed to grind into flour for damper, Lemon Myrtle and Mountain pepper leaf to flavor the meat and some dried Bush Tomato and Quandong to mix with the other bush food that I would collect fresh as needed.

It was too late that first day to hunt so I headed down to the creek for a wash and with luck to catch a feed of yabbies. I found a suitable sapling on the way, 3 prongs, not too thick and reasonably straight. I didn’t have a lot of time before I lost the light so decided to combine the search for dinner with my bath. The initial shock of the freezing water as I eased in to the creek was almost too much for my office softened old body but I gritted my teeth and automatically started a controlled breathing pattern to ward off the cold. After a minute I was numbed enough to get my head under the water and start probing the cracks and crevices for the yabbies. It didn’t take long, there were plenty, I took what I needed and noted where the remaining biggies were for another day. The several fat trout that I disturbed didn’t go unnoticed either.

The sun was setting as I wandered back to the cave. I tingled from the freezing water and felt so alive but also weary from the past days hike in so after the fire had settled and the coals glowed steady I raked out a hole and popped the first of the yabbies in. After dinner I boiled the billy and made a cup of tea (the only luxury I allowed myself) and settled down at the mouth of the cave to enjoy the twilight and watch the stars in all their splendor spread across the sky.

The days were passing pleasantly enough; it had been just over two weeks since the encounter, since I trekked into the National Park. Four days walk from the nearest 4 x 4 track and another day from the gravel. My favorite spot in the world to unwind, to let the fat from too many months sitting in the office drop off and to feel the muscles stretch and tighten from the hunt. A place to re-live the days of my youth when this life was how I chose it to be and the world that was out there wasn’t, except for the occasional plane passing high above. The place to re train the old body for the rigors of what lay ahead, the events of two weeks ago certainly reminded me that I needed to.

to be continued

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I could smell them 300 metres before I slighted them, aftershave, stale sweat and fear. The office had called on the Sat phone this morning to tell me the poachers had been sighted at the turn off to the park and that they knew I was coming in. How they knew I’ll deal with later but for now I have five wanta be heroes hiding ahead, all hoping to be the one to pick up the bonus I’m sure was offered to take me out of the picture.

The first was thirty meters from the camp, just off the track, supposedly a lookout? But he wasn’t, he was standing facing away urinating, I slipped up behind him and waited, no point in getting pissed on. I hit him as his head bent forward either admiring his manhood before putting it away or struggling with the zip, it didn’t matter. The hit was a good one, out for five minutes and another four or five hours before he would get any feeling back in his arms and legs. Long enough lying there wondering if he would ever move again and time to think maybe he had chosen the wrong vocation. He was a kid, maybe 18; at another time I wouldn’t have given him the opportunity.

At this distance I couldn’t tell if they just weren’t expecting me tonight or they were setting a trap. No matter my job was to disable them if possible or more if necessary so I moved forward? I stood outside the perimeter of the firelight and let the shadows engulf me, I waited patiently, my breath slow, rhythmic and silent, my old body rebelled against the forced stillness but it wouldn’t dare complain.

I scanned the campsite, four men, two armed with handguns, one a shotgun and the other a knife. My first thought was right; even though they carried their weapons they weren’t expecting me so my job would be easier. I waited until the shotgun came my way. I slipped to his blind side and grabbed the shotgun at the trigger guard, I spun and felt his wrist break, I continued to spin lifting the butt and then dropping it again to slam the barrel down across the temple. He dropped without a murmur. I dived and rolled forward, the unfortunate number two who was still looking in disbelief at his mate on the ground didn’t know he was dead yet, my fist under his chin snapped his spinal cord as his head whiplashed from the force of the blow.

Number three and four were starting to react now. I sensed number three drawing his handgun as number four pulled his knife and slashed at my neck, I blocked, grabbed and rolled under his attacking arm sweeping it down in a large arc to cut deep into the inside of his thigh severing the Femoral Artery. It didn’t matter that he was going to die from loss of blood because I continued the circle that brought him between me and number three as he squeezed off two shots that struck number four squarely in the chest. The reaction to shooting his mate was all the time I needed, as he turned to run I threw number four’s knife, it struck diagonally in his throat slicing through the windpipe and the carotid artery, number three expired.

Job done I searched their gear, these weren’t the poachers, they were clearly here to stop me going into the park. I sent the co ordinates through by SMS on the Sat phone and left, I still had a few hours walking before sleep.

I was just finishing off a cuppa before nodding off when I heard the chopper come in to clean up, by daylight there would be no sign that the site was anything more than an overnight stop for some four wheel drivers out for a weekends fun. I had already put it from my mind.

to be continued

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Our visit to Kabahut – Papua New Guinea

North Queensland Regional Instructor Kelly Gibson 3rd Dan, his wife Branch Instructor Sabrina 1st Dan and son Tai-Loi Junior Black Belt recently visited Sabrina’s family home on the Island of Kabuhut, New Ireland Province Papua New Guinea.


Had a great time in PNG, we departed from Cairns arriving in Port Moresby and then a connecting 1 ½ flight to Rabaul (New Britain), we stayed one night in Rabaul and the next day we travelled by banana boat for 1 ½ across to Kabahut (New Ireland) where we had a greeting party waiting for us, we stayed for 14 days on the Island.

In the mornings before breakfast we (the boys from the Plantation/village and family) would go for a light jog down on the unsealed single lane highway dogging pigs and PMVs (taxi trucks), after breakfast we all came together for basic self-defence training for a couple of hours, after a few days of basic self-defence we got a bit more involved in advanced self-defence in the use of 30” bush knifes which is the main means of attacks and killings in PNG, this become our main training focus…

Straight behind the Plantation/ Village there is a mountain range so in the afternoons as the Sun came down we would go for a mountain run straight up the track, it was no easy task but we enjoyed it, the scenery was something else and you came down pretty quick.

After a few days we started our sparring, we really got into all over the body contact knees, throat, eyes and more, we had to be very carefully as the hospital was 1 ½ away on the other Island and the Doctors where on strike, most of the boys had done or had some experience in Thai boxing so it made things a little easer with their self-control.

In all we had a great time and the family and local islanders learnt a great deal in the short time that we where there, they are very smart and caught on very quickly, which made it easy for Sabrina, Tai-Loi and me to teach.

Looking forward to my next trip over soon.

Regional Instructor Kelly Gibson

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