So I wanted to write a blog post about my Intensive Training Weekend! I got off to an excellent start. I could hardly sleep from excitement, anticipating all the different kinds of training I had planned. At 5:45am on Saturmorn, my alarm roused me and I rolled out of bed and got ready in the darkness. I dressed surprisingly quickly, ate a banana and was out of the door just after 6:00 to do taiji on the pavement out the front of the house. I practiced as much of the form as I knew, broke down each of the techniques in the first movement and came up with at least two applications for each, and then practiced the whole again to piece it all together. I got my phone out and loaded Zombies, Run! and jogged down to the soccer grounds which I proceeded to do laps of. After half an hour I had completed four laps, and a crazy notion struck me: I could do it again. So, high off the exuberance of my success (dodging zombies, getting supplies for the town, just running for half an hour straight), I ploughed on delightedly. I had become some kind of running beast, saying “Good morning!” to strangers as I passed them, sprinting for up to a minute at a time and never even pausing for breath. And I discovered that a slow jog actually replenished my energy compared to the sections of sprinting- after a burst of speed, by returning to a joggle I soon caught my breath and could carry on running. At the last gashuku we ran for half an hour straight and I struggled after five or ten minutes. Apparently I had become twice as fit in the past year. It was amazing!
I got back to the house at 7:30. No one else was awake yet. It was bizarre to think that I had achieved so much and Bethwyn’s household had not yet even stirred. In accordance with tradition I had a cold shower, which was painful and brief, involving much gasping and flinching. After some toast, I decided to meditate so I would be in a relaxed and receptive state of mind when it came to drinking tea and musing over Bubishi. However, after a few brief minutes, it became quite apparent that I was not able to stay awake once the adrenaline had left my body. Figuring my time would be better spent sleeping than pretending I was meditating, I crawled into bed with Bethwyn and slept for a whole other hour- an hour of potential training time! Satisfying as it was, I was behind schedule, and perhaps I was being a little undisciplined, so I hurried to get up and make tea. And that was when I discovered I had trouble walking. Apparently my calves seized up when they were given enough time to cool down. I shouldn’t have been surprised- I hardly ever run, and certainly not for half hour and one hour periods to flee from zombies. But I wasn’t going to let a little inconvenience like cramping gastrocnemia stop me from training, oh no!
A little impatiently, I rushed Bethwyn into having breakfast so we could go pick up our photos. Rob, her father, mentioned that I had woken him early, and Bethwyn felt a migraine approaching from lack of sleep. I realised all at once how selfish I was being- who was I to impose my austere training weekend on an unsuspecting family? I decided to get up later on Sunday and to let my girlfriend eat at her own pace. As it turned out, I was only half an hour behind by the time we picked up the photos (which turned out brilliantly, by the way).
Eager to make up for lost time, I started kihon– basic technique training. Bronte, Bethwyn’s labradoodle, was delighted that I had taken up some kind of new game that involved much flailing and crazy stepping- she jumped on me repeatedly and ran around (and through) my legs, leaving toys underfoot and generally getting in the way despite the warnings I gave her. I figured that if I did it for long enough she would get desensitised and settle down. She did eventually, but only after she ran in the path of a returning maegeri and scooted away whimpering. After that, she almost kept a wide berth.
I did my 600 hand techniques in shikodachi pretty comfortably, within a few minutes. The blocks chained into each other smoothly and I didn’t even work up a sweat- I was feeling optimistic about completing the kihon without too much pain. Then I started the kicks. 200 front kicks, roundhouse kicks, side kicks, hook kicks and back kicks, each. What a crazy hard idea that was. In hindsight, I really wish I had set a thousand hand techniques and half as many kicks because the latter takes so much more energy, but hell, I did them anyway. Somewhere around the 50 kick mark I struggled to convince myself that it was worth it, but I also remembered my pledge I made: No matter how tired I got, no matter how meaningless it seemed, I’d finish whatever task I set myself. With relatively good technique, at increasingly hard levels (the last 40 of each set were defensive, step-back kicks, and the last 20 were head-height), I executed all 1000.
Even though I still intended on doing more kihon it was well past lunchtime, so we skipped off to PAWS for food. Although we bought delicious cake, I chose not to eat it until I had finished my training for the day. Time was running short so I elected to skip the conditioning I had planned in favour of completing the neko ashidachi techniques: 500 more blocks, 200 more kicks, 300 more strikes. Tired as I was, I think that my technique, speed and power improved for all the repetitions I did. Next time I’m caught withdrawing into cat-stance, I’ll be able to snap out a block-kick-punch-block combination very efficiently.
After that it was time to see Shaun Tan in Fremantle with Bethwyn, the original reason why I chose not to go with the Academy on their training camp. The talk was amazing and the turnout was huge. I really respect the artist, the thinker and the man. Afterwards, desperate to reward my hard training, I requested fish and chips for dinner, which probably wasn’t the most nutritious or satisfying meal I could have had, followed by the raw beetroot cake we had bought earlier. A little guiltily (no electronics on gashuku!), Beth and I watched Big Bang Theory until around 9:30, when I was too tired to stay awake.
I slept until 7am and despite the many hours of rest I was still quite tired. I felt a hint of sickness at the back of my throat and my calves were hurting worse than ever. Ever obstinate, I continued training because gashuku is a special time to push through physical discomfort/injury in order to grow the spirit. Deciding it was worth warming up a little more, I decided to walk to the soccer grounds and do taiji there. Once there, I once again started breaking down the sequence and pulling out concepts and applications from the techniques- there are so many, and more I can’t imagine I’m sure. I also practiced the first movement mirrored, which was mind-boggling, but I felt more balanced afterwards.
As I was wrapping up my practice children began flocking to the soccer grounds wearing uniforms. Initially I planned to ignore them and keep on running anyway, but I realised it would be creepy if I just circled around their games, dodging parents and dogs. I started up Zombies, Run! and hit the streets instead, deciding I’d run to the train station and just circle around the back streets aimlessly until it was time to go home. I had been contemplating another hour-long run, but I figured my calves had been abused enough and I had better save my strength for more karate-oriented training.
Another brief cold shower (this one much easier; I found that cooling individual limbs one at a time drops the core body temperature, so that after a few minutes the cold water isn’t so unbearable) full of gasps and flinching. Learning from my mistakes I had a much larger breakfast and enjoyed the luxury of reading Bubishi for about an hour, journalling my reflections and drinking tea. A little guiltily I realised I was procrastinating and was behind schedule again. Hastily I tried meditating, and I think I was much more successful by keeping my eyes open rather than closed. I got much closer to achieving the “body asleep mind alert” state, as opposed to the “body asleep mind relaxed/asleep” as I normally do. After a surprisingly educational forty-five minutes I suited back up and decided to get on with kata practice.
Initially my plan was to do 80 fukyugata ichi, 80 fukyugata ni, 80 fukyugata embu, 70 gekisai dai ichi, 70 gekisai dai ni, 70 gekisai embu etc., doing 720 kata in total. What a deluded idea that was. I knew in the back of my mind that 80 repetitions of fukyugata would normally exhaust me beyond my capacity for continued training. It was utter folly to assume that I could do it over and over, practicing each kata to the point of exhaustion before starting the next one. After struggling through repetitions of fukyugata ichi, I quickly decided I would just do 10 of each kata, which was challenging enough by itself. Like with the thousand kicks, there came a very unique time in each sequence where I questioned why I was doing it, and whether it was really important, and how I could possibly justify so much suffering in the hot sun. In the end I performed them all (minus saifa embu and Higaonna-style sanchin, which I couldn’t remember), even though it took me two hours and a great deal of pain. Each time I completed a set of ten I sat down in the shade and drank some water, but I was getting more and more tired and each set was taking more and more energy which I didn’t have. I thought finishing on Miyagi-style sanchin would be a good idea, to restore my breath and spirits, but it turns out that crunching the abdomen, squeezing the fists and locking the legs/torso over and over builds up huge amounts of strain in the body- my fingertips felt like they were being stabbed repeatedly and my shoulder started to catch fire.
By the end my clothes had been soaked with sweat, my water bottle was empty and I was trembling from exhaustion. I stumbled inside, too tired to find food but forcing myself to drink as much as I could. I had been struggling not to throw up, more or less since I started the kata practice, and my nausea was nearly overwhelming now. I showered (a warm one) and rather lamely I asked Bethwyn if she wouldn’t terribly mind getting food for me. Being the incredibly generous and patient partner that she is, made me lie down on the couch to watch more Big Bang Theory while she brought me lunch. I felt remarkably ill; cold, nauseous, weak and so very, very tired. I suspect I may have been suffering from heat exhaustion, but it could just be that I was tired and pushed myself beyond my limits. It did not take very much to convince me that I had trained enough for the weekend, and would give conditioning and Mugai ryu a miss. I felt quite guilty about the latter in particular, but in my heart I believed I wasn’t able to go, and that should have been all the justification I needed.
All in all, I think I did around 3.5 hours of physical training on Saturday and about 3 hours today. Not nearly as much as I had been expecting, but it’s about quality, not quantity, right? I pushed myself much harder in those 6.5 hours than I normally would in a dozen training sessions, with far fewer rests than I might receive in ordinary training. The result was learning a lot of valuable lessons about the limits of my spirit, as well as my body. Plus, my relatively austere lifestyle of getting up early, eating in moderation (I turned down a San Churo’s vegan hot chocolate!) and studying budo were all great experiences to help make it feel like a real gashuku. Next time, though, I’m definitely going to be less absurd about how much I think I’m capable of- maybe aim much lower, but give room for optional extra training if I feel up for it. I have to say, I’m curious about how hard the training was in the camp in Toodyay, but I’ll have to wait until I speak to the other students at the dojo before I compare weekends. Overall, I’d say it was an exhausting and painful success, though I think that I missed out on a lot of lessons that come from being in the wilderness with fellow students (rather than waking sleeping families up at crazy hours). I’m still feeling nauseous and exhausted now so I think it’s time for bed. Ouss!
EDIT: I know this is a fairly flippant comment, but I’d like to take back what I said about setting my limits too high. I think, compared to Shihan Dan (the head instructor of Wu-wei Dao), I got it bloody easy. In particular, my thousand kicks are hardly worth mentioning in the shade of his teacher…
PPS: I think that what made this “gashuku” so special was that no one told me to do it. There was no teacher standing behind me with a shinai waiting to whack my legs if I slowed down- I was my own master, and I chose to put myself through every single step of the journey. And even though I may not have done as much as Shihan Dan has, I’m damn proud of myself for doing it anyway.