Mini-gashuku at Lake Nenia: Iron Fist Retreat

EDIT: It seems I forgot to post this sooner. Whoops!

In an unprecedented stream of new blog posts, I wanted to write briefly about the recent gashuku I attended. It was my third mini-gashuku, the first of which utterly changed my life (though I did a very poor job of saying so). I’ve been training with the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts for nearly three years now, but it feels like forever. As I’ve recently told several people, I would trade all my years of Shotokan, Shito-Ryu, ITF Taekwondo, WTF Taekwondo, Moy Lin-Shin Tai Chi and maybe even my experience in Iaido for just a few months of Wu-Wei Dao under the tutelage of Shihan Dan and Kancho Nenad.

I digress. The gashuku (or more correctly, the intensive training camp) was an excellent experience. I’m at the high end of the junior grades now and I’m not too far away from black belt, so just like in previous years I felt like I was already very familiar with the majority of the syllabus. And just like in previous years, I learned so many new things it amazes me. I refined much of my technique, smoothed out partner drills and learned a new weapon sequence. There was a grading on Sunday afternoon, and to be perfectly honest I’m a little disappointed with how I performed. I’d spent a long time (maybe forty minutes) coming up with really clever and technical applications from my kata, but I’d only practiced them once with a partner and dedicated the rest of my time to learning other drills. The result was that when I tried to perform them on the gravel, I slipped frequently, my partner reacted unpredictably and I had to change many of my beautifully planned takedowns to more generic leg sweeps. I still passed (achieving 1st kyu), which delights me, but I wish I’d practiced just a little more rather than trying to surprise everybody with my skill. Ah well, lesson learned.

I’m a little surprised to say that fear is something I experienced quite a lot of on the weekend. Fear of pain, fear of exhaustion, fear of running until I was empty and then running even more, fear of cold, fear of wet and so forth. Yes, looking back, there were many things to fear. The gashuku involved some discomfort and required me to push myself beyond what I wanted to do. But regretfully, I lost much of the magic of the present moment because I spent so much energy worrying about an uncertain future (which you might have guessed wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be).

At the end of the day, I look back on the weekend and smile with fond memories of plenty of people sitting around the fireplace while they yell advice at the one guy trying to get the fire going. Of the dancing shadows cast by the trees. Of the glistening water and of the serene birdcalls. Of cat skulls and fox skins and swimming turtles and not-ducks. Of kyudo in the shade and of laughter at the table. Gashuku really is a special place where people come together, to live and train and share. It makes better people of us all, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested.

Til next time.



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