Review: Luca Valdesi Summer Camp 2010

Look up the word ‘Karate Globetrotter’ in the dictionary, and chances are big that you won’t find it.

However, if you would find it, I’m pretty sure that it would be divided into two parts: One for the people who get paid for being a ‘Karate Globetrotter’… And one for the people who don’t.

"When I work, I always work 110%" - Luca Valdesi

And sadly, next to that last part there would most likely be a huge picture of me sitting on a plane with my laptop and gi (backpack full of books!) headed to some far away country to explore the hidden depths of Karate in some bizarre way.

So, as self-appointed king of backpacking Karate vagabonds, this weekend I decided to travel a bit.

Today, yesterday, and the day before, I went to Finland to attend my first seminar ever with the one and only Luca Valdesi, a man who needs no introduction if you know anything about the world of Sport Karate.

(And no, I don’t do Shotokan Karate, but does it really matter?!)

For those of you who don’t know, his merits include:

Place Tournament Discipline Date
1. European Championship 2010 kata male 07.05.2010
1. Italian Open 2010 kata male 09.04.2010
1. World Games 2009 kata male 25.07.2009
1. European Championship 2009 kata male 08.05.2009
1. Italian Open 2009 kata male 03.04.2009
1. World Championship 2008 kata male 13.11.2008
1. German Open 2008 kata male 27.09.2008
1. European Championship 2008 kata male 02.05.2008
1. Italian Open 2008 kata male 04.04.2008
1. Podgorica Open 2007 kata male 15.12.2007
1. German Open 2007 kata male 15.09.2007
1. European Championships 2007 kata male 04.05.2007
1. Italian Open 2007 kata male 31.03.2007
1. World Championship 2006 kata male 12.10.2006
1. Austrian Open 2006 kata male 30.09.2006
1. German Open 2006 kata male 23.09.2006
1. European Championships 2006 kata male 05.05.2006
2. Italian Open 2006 kata male 25.03.2006
1. Dutch Open 2006 kata male 10.03.2006
1. French Open 2006 kata male 14.01.2006
1. German Open 2005 kata male 17.09.2005
2. World Games 2005 kata male 23.07.2005
1. European Championships 2005 kata male 13.05.2005
1. Italian Open 2005 kata male 09.04.2005
2. Dutch Open 2005 kata male 12.03.2005
1. World Championship 2004 kata male 18.11.2004
1. European Championships 2004 kata male 07.05.2004
1. European Championships 2003 kata male 09.05.2003
1. European Championships 2002 kata male 03.05.2002
2. World Games 2001 kata male 18.08.2001
1. European Championships 2001 kata male 11.05.2001
3. World Championship 2000 kata male 12.10.2000
1. European Championships 2000 kata male 05.05.2000
3. European Championships 1997 kata male 02.05.1997
Warm up was not taken lightly

Pretty impressive, to say the least. And the seminar was almost equally impressive.

Let’s see what I remember now…

To begin with, Mr. Valdesi is tall. Taller than most other competitors in kata, who tend to have the more short and stocky build, compared to kumite people.

As he says himself, this has led him to work harder than most other athletes, making him develop more specialized methods that suit his body.

We were about to learn these methods.

"Okay, do you understand the work?"

Surprisingly enough there were relatively few participants in the seminar (for a Karate superstar of Luca’s calibre), which consequently meant that much time and attention was paid to the finer details of things like anatomy, ergonomy, motor skills and so on, of which Valdesi sensei is a master.

Too bad I can’t say the same about his historical knowledge though. To give you one example, the name Heian Godan “supposedly” derives from the Heian period (794 to 1185) in Japanese history, which in this kata means “Five years of peace, a peaceful time in history” according to Valdesi sensei.

But never mind – as we know, there are other people who are more qualified to teach us history. Valdesi sensei, on the other hand, is here to teach us what those people probably can’t:

How to become a kata champion.

The seminar focused on the kata Heian Yondan and Heian Godan for the beginners, with Empi and Kanku Dai (Shitei version) for the advanced group (blue belt and above). In a few places some basic ‘Sport Karate style’ bunkai were also introduced along the way, but these were not really to my liking, and as Valdesi sensei at one point himself pointed out:

“This bunkai is defense against mae-geri. The idea is to move forward and block before the opponent kicks. I know, it sounds crazy, but you have to be very fast!”

Needless to say, every bunkai was a defense against one of the following classical attacks:

  1. Straight punch.
  2. Straight kick.
"Why you have never used muscle power? This is a problem."

Heavy focus was also laid on correct kihon, including deep stances and many high kicks, in all possible forms and shapes, just as you would expect.

Especially important was the training of some key muscles, like the ankles, hamstrings, latissimus dorsi, and iliopsoas.

The kihon was what stood out the most, to me. Ingeniously crafted together by Valdesi along with his team of evil Italian scientists (at least that’s my theory!), the kihon covered basically the whole typical Shotokan syllabus (from a Sport Karate point of view) with his brilliant set of five special hip rotation exercises as the icing on the cake.

I loved it.

Big attention was paid to the position of the feet, knees and hips, with the words “My speed comes from correct rotation of the feet. This is very important.” just making everyone work even harder.

“Don’t eat your techniques” was another quote that I especially remember during these kihon exercises, which I thought sounded pretty catchy.

But maybe I was just hungry…

"Feel the floor"

Oh, and do you remember that article I wrote about kime? Well, Valdesi sensei seemed to agree with me, repeating many times during the camp that “Kime means: stop the movement in the least time possible!”

Though most participants seemed to be at too low a level to understand this concept very well.

Japanese terms aside though, what really characterized Valdesi sensei’s approach to Karate was science.

Or at least the application of scientific principles.

The constant use of words like “anterior foot” or “posterior chain”, coupled with his easy-to-follow explanations of body mechanics was quite refreshing, especially when the teacher not only ‘talks the talk’, but also ‘walks the walk’. Even with a cold, and a runny nose.

You could definitely tell that every technique had a well-defined purpose, and nothing was to be wasted.

Not even brain power.

"Always control the balance"

The constant reminders that Karate was first and foremost to be done with the mind totally focused was made clear every ten minutes or so, and even clearer when Valdesi sensei pointed at his head while he said it.

To train year after year only by doing what everybody else does, or just by looking at everyone else is a waste of time, and feeling your own body – “feeling your feet on the floor” – was especially important at all times.

Not to mention “feeling the pain”.

“If you feel the pain, you will understand which muscle is correct, and you will feel how to do the correct work”.

And perhaps that last word best symbolizes what the whole seminar was really about:


To Valdesi sensei everything was “work”. I never heard “technique”, “skill”, “movement” or even “exercise” being mentioned during the entire seminar. Everything was categorized under the term “work”, and maybe that is not too strange considering who he is.

When you are 8 times World Champion and 14 times European Champion, Karate is probably nothing but pure work.

And for Luca Valdesi, conducting this summer camp was simply another “day at the office”.

Bunkai for Heian Godan."Give your opponent a sex change" was the phrase that accompanied this move (guess what he's symbolically holding in his hand?)
No stone was left unturned. If you've got your name on your back, you've got to turn them all!
All kinds of people were present. Even with pink hair!
Patience was something Valdesi sensei had lots of. Luckily.
The sports center
This was a mikazuki-geri. Seriously!

Thank you to Tapanilan Erä for organizing a great camp.


  • Diego Romero
    nice! martial arts + scientific thinking = awesome by the way, did he bite anyone's neck?
    • No, but he turned into a bat and flew away after the seminar was over :)
  • Saxon_Thor
    What is mikazuki geri? Is that akin to kansetsu geri?
    • It is a "crescent kick" or "half moon kick" with the sole of the foot, from the side.
      • Or you can call it "mawashi-geri for gawks" :-) You can see it e.g. in Suparinpei, the kick-to-the-hand before the turn at the end of the kata.
  • Igor
    Write or video about the hip rotation exercises please? Pritty please? ::)
  • Nick
    was the training with Valdesi a different experience from all the japanese sensei's you have trained before? if so, in what way? xD @ the girl with the pink ponytail...
    • Well, it was different in a couple of ways. For instance, he pointed out his own technical shortcomings on several occasions, which is something a Japanese Karate student would find very strange, coming from a sensei with the skills and merits of Mr. Valdesi. He also encouraged discussion and questioning, throughout the whole seminar, which sometimes even led to some arguments. This "transparency" and general openness is rarely seen in a Japanese sensei, due to the often inflexible "traditional" mindset and cultural ambiguity surrounding the Japanese sensei, who of course is a product of his/her environment like the rest of us. On a side note, an Okinawan sensei would probably be somewhere in between. But more to the Japanese way. At least this has been my experience.
      • Diego Romero
        my respect for mr. valdesi has just gone up 5 points
      • Pablo
        What are the technical shortcomings that he pointed, i mean, like Antonio Diaz seems to take a few steps from him this time, and in the wkf web he isn´t participating in karate1 league this year,what do you think about that ?
        • Well, it seems like somebody is preparing for a big comeback... ;)
          • Pablo
            Yeah, i wanna see that. but i have to say, by looking your videos Antonio made a big step in his technic, and, beside valdesi, i don't see someone who be able to take competition with them. well, this will going to be fun :D greetings my friend
  • Jack Brown
    There's no way that can be true. Can it?
  • Oh, and did I mention that his shiko-dachi (!) was flawless?
    • Diego Romero
  • Nick
    thank you for the info.. i think that way of approach to teaching karate is much more easy to accept and understand. Off course i respect the preference of the japanese to tradition but sometimes a little bit controversy woudlnt hurt anyone. btw i read almost all of your blog in one night, my head is spinning.. how come i didnt know of this place before
  • Nitin
    Y didnt he give much time 2 kumite...??i hav nvr seen any of his kumite vids n wid such rocking speed he will be bruce lee hier & that is 4 sure
  • Trey
    Would you happen to have more pics of the pink haird girl. I think I know her.
    • Sorry Trey, I have mostly close-ups of Mr. Valdesi...
      • Trey
        Oh, Ok thanks, I guess I will have to ask her next time I see her lol.
  • Qi
    Amazing Sommer Camp Feelings It feel too good to be there. Very nice Fotos as well, great job
  • Brian
    Did he (Valdesi) mention, during the camp, something about flexibility and how he works it?
    • Hmm... no I don't think so, although we did do a lot of different stretching exercises. Mostly dynamic though, (standing, with a partner) but some static too.
  • Fleur
    Hi Jesse, I just want to thank you. I read this article a couple of weeks ago, and it has inspired me to step outside the box, buy a ticket and jump on a plane to go to a weekend karate workshop at the end other end of the country. Not my style but with an awesome instructor - Andre Bertel. Through the new club I joined 3months ago (Matsubayashi Ryu) and your blog I have opened my eyes and my mind to the endless possibilities of learning that is out there. Thanks again - love your blog. Fleur.
  • Francis Duguay
    I am the real backpacking Karate vagabonds King! I challenge you in a hånd-til- hånd Duel! Thou shall come barefoot, at midnigth in Montreal and by tomorow, and the gods shall choose who his heir to the throne of Karate Vagabonding! Arrr! - Francis Duguay
    • Francis-san: First of all, is that Danish? Wtf? Secondly, the venue of battle shall be the sunny shores of Okinawa, and nowhere else. Barefoot (or five finger shoes). Remember to bring your backpack, see you there! ;)
      • diego romero
        fools! you shall duel in true okinawan apparel... BREAK OUT THE MAN-THONGS!
  • warrioress
    @ the last 3 comments: O.o @ the blog post: Cool! I wish I could have gone. Was there actually a woman wearing hijab at the seminar? ( u know, that scarf thingy muslim women wear) I think I saw her in one of the pics. I'm quite interested because I'm a Muslim myself. Oh and I'm in complete sympathy with the pink haired girl. I dyed my hair purple (dark violet to be more precise) quite recently :D
  • Cinzia
    I so love to train with him, i wish i could do it everyday. Not mentioning Sensei Maurino, I love the way they teach.

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