After a bad year health wise I didn’t know if I was going to make this Tai Kai, but my body was getting better and we all had been looking forward to seeing Nagato in action ..and it was slightly cheaper than going to Japan so when the 17th of October rolled around we were excited.
Barcelona day 1
We all met at Newcastle airport, a four man team from the AFC consisting of myself , Dave Alan (or big Al for some reason lol) and Rufus. We checked in and went through to the departure lounge after Alan got frisked (he looked dodgy) and we headed for Burger king. We ate the first of many burger kings of the weekend and then boarded the plane and off we went.
The flight was uneventful and we landed after two and a half hours to be greeted by wonderful sunshine. We collected our bags and hopped in a taxi to the apartment. On first impressions Barcelona is a beautiful old city with amazing buildings and architecture. When we got out of the taxi Dave phoned the landlady of the apartment we were going to stay in and after a few minutes she appeared and we went into one of the old buildings we had been admiring. The apartment was beautiful and after settling in Rufus and I went on the search for supplies (beer).
We took the first left from the corner of our street and as if Barcelona knew four ninjas were coming to play and a huge shop across the road had a massive Japanese display of up to 8 sets of Samurai Armour …. All we needed was a brick and a quick get away.
We found a very posh shop that turned out to be a health food shop complete with cold sprayed vegetables and plantain (which Rufus bought thinking it was posh banana) we eventually found a supermarket and stocked up on the essentials, crisps and lager!
The landlady had told us there had been some disruption near the apartment and not to go to the street to the right of our apartment so we decided to listen to her good advice and went left down the street in search of food. We found a lovely tapas style restaurant and went in and ordered some world famous tapas. I opted for the burger but when it came out instead of being tapas style to share with people it was the world’s smallest burger! and the waiter laughing his face off didn’t help ! The burger was not much bigger than the tortilla chip that was on the tables I was hoping I had getting the portion order right for my main meal or I was going to find a Mcdonalds. If the tension wasn’t bad enough on the table all of a sudden the waiters started rushing outside to pull the shutters down, so when we looked outside there was a full scale riot happening including fighting, things being set alight and also a kick about with a football (only in Barcelona you would take a football to a riot!) We waited until it looked like it had moved down the street and we ventured outside. The rioters were very professional and had cut off the intersection by blocking streets with bins set alight, so the police and emergency response vehicles could not get passed, at this point I thought it was a good time to head home. We made it home and drank a little more in true one more for the road until we had run out of beer, then went to bed .
Barcelona day 2
Not too many hours later we got up and went to the coffee shop to try and pull ourselves around and then got a taxi to the sports centre, on discussion with the taxi driver he said most trains, taxis and transport would not be on when we finished training but we thought light of this and never gave it a thought because we were about to train with Nagato.
The Tai Kai was set in a huge sports hall with a balcony with seating fulling circling the training area and there was a lot of people in attendance (close to 600 people trained that weekend)
We got changed and dumped our kit at the side and awaited Nagato’s arrival.
If you have never been on one of these it has the feeling of being at a rock concert waiting for the main act to come on stage but instead of Guns N Roses we had Nagato performing his greatest hits (pun intended). He arrived and we all tried to sit to get a photo all together but this was easier said than done. The training was amazing with a Dia-Shihan showing a technique then Nagato polishing and going into the finer details and then we all muddled through it and Nagato tried to keep a pace up by shouting “3 minutes” so we could get through a wide array of techniques. We then had a short break then continued on at quite a pace, my heart monitor alarm kept beeping but I was fine and so glad to be training like I used to. A call to end the session was shouted, Nagato and his wife strolled off for lunch and we got changed. We had a plan to walk so far, get food then get a taxi home but there seemed to be a lot of people on the streets all waving flags of Catalonia. We used google maps to find a Burger king and it said it was not far and we were on the main street called Avinguda Diagonal which cuts diagonally across the city. After much walking we found food then set off to walk back home. After 2 hours we made it just in time to have a coffee a nap and get our gear together for training. As we hit the streets there seemed to be a lot more people on the streets and as we walked we kept coming across thousands of people walking the other way to the way we needed to go. After cutting back up to Avinguda Diagonal we made it to a Costa coffee shop next to a large roundabout that was closed to traffic it seemed to be the whole world was on the streets. It turned out to be ½ million people on the protest march so we had to give up, get a coffee and watch the thousands upon thousands walk passed, but where were they going ? we finished our coffee and headed back along the street to our apartment only to find out the epicentre for the rally was 500 metres from our front door! We fought through the crowds and got into our apartment and watched from the beautiful ornate balcony at this sea of people full of passion but non-violent with whistles and drums going and people dancing and yes a few footballs were getting kicked around (football mad).
The night came and the crowds began to disperse and it seemed all quiet on the western front, so we decided to venture out in the search of Chinese food. After googling food we walked around but some restaurants were closed, we found ourselves in a very up market Chinese were we order the food but it wasn’t a lot to eat but was lovely (small portions were becoming a theme) and we had a gentle stroll back to the apartment thinking it was amazingly calm compared to last night and today. We had just settled down drinking and building our beer tower as we had stocked up supplies, when we heard a siren outside as we looked out we saw riot vans rushing past but also we had just turned on the TV to see the same vans on the news, so the riots were happening further down our street. So out with google maps to see which roads were closed and as we looked a large portion of the city was blocked and we could see the riot move from street to street from the TV and good old google maps, we tried to get some sleep but we came to the conclusion that the rioters went home for some tapas and a siesta then had a good night of rioting.
Barcelona day 3
We were up and out quite early and ended up having a breakfast baguette and coffee before we flagged down a taxi to go to training. The training was quick paced so I had to keep an eye on my blood pressure, but we were having fun so I kept training. We took a taxi back to the restaurant next to our apartment and had a light lunch and then we sunbathed on our balcony watching the world go by while our gi’s aired in the sun from coat hangers hung up from the shutters of this lovely building. We enjoyed being part of Barcelona for a weekend in this lovely old apartment with its tiny gold lift like something out of willy wonka’s chocolate factory; which could fit 2 people in with kit so most times we went up the 80 odd stairs to the 3rd floor (for a bit more extra training). We headed back over for more training, where we witnessed the Saaki test performed by Nagato, were the 4th Dan hoping to go for 5th Dan would sit on floor were Nagato would place a leather clad shinai on the person’s head, then raise the sword and then without warning bring the sword down if you felt the intention you should move or roll out the path of the sword if you fail you get hit!
Ultimately some passed and some failed but those who failed would have another chance the next day. We carried on training then Nagato called a halt and did a Q&A session about training subjects and life in general. We then got changed and back in a taxi to the apartment and showered and prepared for a Saturday night out in Barcelona!
Saturday night in Barcelona is like any other major city, vibrant with people all drinking and the cafes and restaurants were busy, it seemed like a totally different place compared to the previous evenings riots. We found a steak restaurant and ordered food to be surprised again by getting what looked liked a beef burger without bun and chips (I really need to learn how to order food) We left there and had a stroll along the street and walked slap bang in the middle of a forming riot complete with kids in masks, riot police and riot vans. Not to miss out on a life experience we walked along on the fringe of the rioters, when I noticed a group of rioters that seemed more professional or militant than the mainstream flag waving rioters. As we walked along with these hard core rioters to our left I then noticed another group of baseball cap clad masked rioters on our right hand side with us in the middle, like a scene from the warriors minus the baseball bats. The baseball cap group seemed to be wearing earpieces which I thought were very professional of them then the extendable coshes appeared, but just before myself and Dave hit them they signalled they were not after us they were after the other group. At this point they passed through us and surrounded the other group then the riot police made a cordon around the whole lot not unlike the roman legions would interlock their shields in battle to defend themselves. We found this highly entertaining so we found a bar nearby to have a drink and watch the night unfold. We watched as the police snatch squad went through the bags and frisked the rioters checking their IDs and then waited for police vans to take them away. This seemed to be enough for the poor bar owners as they tried to get all their lovely tables and chairs off the streets and into the bar so they could not be used as weapons. At this point we thought we should find another bar as the night was still young. We walked along and heard music coming from a pub called Obama English pub, so we went in, the atmosphere was great and they served Guinness. The night was going swimmingly well as myself, Dave and Alan chatted as we watched Rufus try and chat to every lady within earshot, we were just happy singing badly to the music and watching the entertaining sights. Just then the doorman pulled everyone inside that were smoking and pulled the shutters down and we were told we couldn’t leave yet as there was a riot going on outside ……awesome a lock in, in a pub ..with Guinness .. we didn’t complain. After quite a bit of singing and drinking the shutters came up and the all clear sign was given we thought it would be a good time to go home as it was 3am and we were up at 8am. As we wander through the streets of Barcelona thinking of the past few days it was not just the training we enjoyed, it was the strange things that had happened to us,and the food (the small tapas) and everything else that goes with trips like this, the whole weekend was filled with memories not just techniques and training.
We travelled with tender heads as we headed back to training for the final session with Nagato, we were sore, tired and a little dehydrated but we made the most of the training, then all too soon a halt was called and we said our goodbyes to Nagato and the other people training and headed for the train station to the 24 hr luggage storage.
We dropped off the bags and headed for yet another Burger king then split up as Alan wanted to go to FC Barcelona ground that is called Nou camp that has an amazing 100,000 seater stadium.
Myself, Dave and Rufus boarded a bus for the 2 hour city tour taking all the amazing sights that Barcelona has to offer, when it hasn’t got burning roadblocks, protests and rioting, all with an audio guide with Freddie Mercury singing his amazing song about the city that was used for the Olympic 1992 games; it gave me goosebumps. As we went around from historic place to place and area to area you can but wonder why people would want to destroy this lovely place, but I don’t want to get into a political debate, everyone has their reasons to fight for what they believe in. We picked up our things from the train station (including Alan) and went on a quick train ride to the airport and found a place to eat a sandwich then realised we were in the wrong terminal. After looking like the family from home alone after they realised they were going to miss their flight we got through security and headed for the plane. We rested our tired heads and after landing and collecting our bags we said our goodbyes and headed home after a trip that was truly a riot!
Big love from the AFC