The following was a recap I wrote for the SKA member website/newsletter. Great experience, it was hard to articulate my thoughts around it.
FIRST SPECIAL TRAINING
I was fortunate to spend a weekend this past January at the 2014 Midwest Winter Special Training. While I’ve been involved in traditional Japanese karate for some time, I’m new to Shotokan and SKA, and this was my first event of this kind. Thanks to my seniors at the Indianapolis dojo, and some efficient Googling, I had some idea of what to expect. But, knowing is not the same as understanding, and understanding would only come through doing.
To be completely honest, I had mixed emotions about attending the event. I was excited to see my karate practice reinvigorated after a few years of dullness. I appreciated that the intention of the weekend would be to polish the spirit as opposed to pure instruction. Yet there was a sticking point, a voice that whispered from time to time, “Do you really want to do this? You know you can, so why put yourself through it?” In preparing for the weekend on my own, I had to acknowledge that I was fighting my own pride, mixed with ego, mixed with fear. My personal focal point of this Special Training would be to confront my own ego, and to prove irrational my fears.
Over the course of the 42 hours we were in camp, we had eight training sessions. An underlying goal laid out by our lead instructor, Mr. David Altman, was to leave nothing on the table, to commit to the practice at hand, which was (and will always be) the most important session. This perspective has long been important to me, and it was supremely satisfying to have an entire weekend to devote to putting it into practice.
The 30 of us in attendance committed ourselves to the first session, and the second, and the third, and so on. To be in a room full of people all fighting the same fight—against fatigue, against themselves—might easily be one of my favorite experiences training in this art to date.
The physical aspects of the training were tough, and like many others I experienced fatigue in my own way. I tend to recover fairly well from extensive training due to some background in athletics, but I was tired and sore just like everyone else. That said, I was pleased to find that I never attached myself to the misery; it didn’t weight me down. In fact, the more fatigued I was, the more intense my focus grew. And that was the point! I wanted to see where I could go and to prove wrong my perceived limitations.
Leaving the event, there were two sessions in particular that were etched in my mind. The first I’m sure many of you can relate to: making kibadachi. Ninety minutes in a half-squat? Are you kidding me?! I do some variation of the squat at least a couple times per week and make a practice of full-depth squatting as part of my mobility work, but I’ve never held a partial squat for that amount of time. This was easily the hardest practice of the weekend for me. I found myself trying to meditate during the session, focusing on my breathing. I don’t remember how many times I counted 100 breaths. Yet, I could hear Mr. Altman saying, “Don’t go to sleep, be with it!” This was critical to my experience during this session. Towards the end, my legs shook, and it was all I could do not to shift my weight, moving up only to be reminded to drop back into it. “When it hurts, get lower!” No doubt, I will never forget my first session of kibadachi.
The other session that left an indelible mark was “midnight training.” The quiet, the dark, the simple repetition of oizuki, the intention of paying respect to those who came before us, all created a very special period of time. I recall vividly the feeling of making rei as we opened the session and the connection I felt to my friends around me. There was an energy in the room that can’t be fully described. I was in awe of the whole thing. It brought so much more meaning to the weekend for me, which had already shaped up to be incredible.
These sessions, combined with the others, reminded me that training isn’t really training unless there is spirit in it, unless there is intention. Without those, it’s only exercise. The challenges have to be there to help you grow, to set the bar higher and higher.
The final session on Sunday came and went. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little grateful for some time to rest and fully recover, but that was mixed with a deep sense of accomplishment. Had I been asked to do another session, I would have without question. The fear that had been hiding underneath that pride and ego was silenced. There were no voices telling me I didn’t need to do it. I felt like I had touched the earth and proven to myself that this was the right path; it was now MY path.
As we were wrapping up, I had the following quote from Rumi in mind: “Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.”
This Special Training gave me an opportunity to surrender, to open up to a new experience, to empty my cup (not my strong suit), and to polish my spirit. I am eagerly anticipating my future Special Trainings.
— Nick Kirkes, unranked (Wado-ryu ikkyu), Indianapolis dojo