Last weekend I went to Gasshuku – Karate camp. About sixty of us pitched tents along the perimeter of a big, grassy lawn. We came from two states and perhaps ten dojos to train barefoot in the grass under the hot summer sun. There was training Friday night followed by a belt test (no, I wasn’t a candidate but I do have friends who earned their next belts). Saturday there were four training sessions, each 90 minutes to 2 hours long. Sunday morning before breakfast found us training one last time together. We also had a good bit of free time and plentiful food.
I think the biggest lesson I learned is I take it for granted we have our own way of doing things. Even when something I haven’t encountered before is thrown my way by one of our organization’s instructors I might think it’s new or different but chances are it still fits within the style or art I study. When a guest instructor from outside our organization, style, or art comes along with a different way of doing things, I learn that really and truly, I’ve been in a groove. Learning a different style’s way of doing a particular block isn’t all that difficult but, “Time that block to land at the same time your kick hits its target,” is utterly foreign to me. But yet for that guest instructor’s students back in his home city, that’s probably the “normal” way of doing things.
More fascinating to me are the reasons why one might want to do things “differently.” Fortunately, we got to partner up and apply some of what we’d learned. I love doing this. The highest-ranked brown belt, an acquaintance of mine, chose to work with me Saturday evening. In a usual class, one doesn’t always get to talk during the drill or deviate from it. My brown-belt friend gave me more than just a target or a chance to practice my skills at being a target. We had a great time discussing what we were doing, why we were doing it, and experimenting with what we were doing. This kind of fun doesn’t always happen in the groove of a rec-center schedule. We had the luxury of time, so we were able to go deeper than usual.
This was also a chance for the black belts to see my brown-belt friend outside of his usual context of advanced training with other brown belts or while he’s teaching a beginner’s class. Every once in awhile when he and I were working together, a black belt stopped by to watch for a minute or two. I hope these black belts saw that my brown belt friend was doing a wonderful job with me and that he’ll be a heck of a Sensei someday. I hope that day is soon. Just my humble opinion, what do I know, I’m only 5th kyu 🙂
Weapons training is another chance for us empty-handed martial artists to get out of our usual groove. We did plenty of work with bo (a long staff), which isn’t as different as some weapons because it involves a good many of the push-and-pull movements we’re used to. But still… It’s a big stick and one has to learn to manage it. Saturday I opted to learn the bo basics rather than attempt to learn the bo kata (form). Unfortunately, Sunday morning only three or four us from the basic bo class were present, and the Sensei who had taught us wanted to do the kata himself. So we tried our best to keep up with those who had learned the kata on Saturday. Yep. Learn a kata – a weapons kata at that – with nobody breaking it down for me. That was definitely out of my groove. Or was it? Maybe not. Every once in awhile new songs and choreography are added to the Zumba class I go to on Saturday mornings. And nobody breaks it down for me.
By Monday afternoon I’d already forgotten both the bo kata and the empty-hand kata we were supposed to have learned. So if I didn’t learn the two katas, was this camp a waste of time, energy, and money? No. Was the camp all roses and song? Well… I admit my self-discipline was tested. More often than usual I had to battle the frustration that sometimes crops up when my dyslexic brain decides to act up. The muggy heat wasn’t fun. I admit I got discouraged sometimes. Overall, though, it was a good camp because I know that one learns a lot when one is knocked out of one’s usual groove. Being out of the groove is groovy.