By Ephraim Schwartz – Published in the Kiai Echo circa Winter 2003
It begins with the subtle reminders; “Don’t forget Camp South is coming up in a couple months., Mark your calendar.” Then one day an email allegedly containing an application form turns up from Prof. Hudson. A day or so later the real application form shows up with his apologies,. You look at it, sigh, wonder what to do. It’s three days out of your life. By now your Sensei is growing more persistent; “Camp South starts in less than a month, let’s get those registration forms in.” Finally the kazushi becomes brutal; “I want a show of hands. How many are going to Camp South?” Lots of hands. “How many of you have sent in your registration forms?” All hands drop.
That day you go home, peruse the registration form stuck under the refrigerator magnet. Well, you can’t beat the price. Then you think about last year’s food. Well, you still can’t beat the price. And then from somewhere deep inside you get an urge to fill out the form. In spite of all the chores you will have to put off, in spite of the friends you won’t see, the football, basketball games, the movies, the quality time spent with loved ones you’ll miss, you fill out the form. You get to the bottom, where the tee shirt thing is. By now every tee shirt you own is jujitsu related, you are a walking billboard for Danzan Ryu. Heck, how many tee shirts can you own? You order a size large because you know it’ll shrink or you’ll grow. Sign the check, mail it yourself so your significant other won’t know. Weeks go by and nothing happens. Maybe they cancelled camp. That’ll be less complicated anyway.
Then the map arrives. What is it about Danzan Ryu people and maps? It’s all fine to be considerate and let everyone try their hand but the bottom line is we need to arrive. North, South, East and West, these are not unimportant principles. OK, maybe it’s just me; my navigating/driving team lost the way and we arrived two hours late.
At the bottom of a mountain, the place was cold. It looked like a kid’s camp in deep freeze. A sign told us our dojo was up the hill in the Oak Lodge, or the Maple Lodge or some other deciduous place. Inside the bunks sagged under the weight of ten thousand former campers. As I laid out my sleeping bag I was wondering if I’d lost my mind. Classes were in session, you could tell by the lights shining from the corner of the building. I trudged down to the cafeteria to face cold squares of drying pizza. Wow, the food sure looked better than last year’s. And there was hot chocolate. That night I slept uncomfortably in my sleeping bag. It was dark, It was cold. There were people from other dojos snoring. I kept praying for enough quiet so I could get to my turn to snore. And then somehow it was six thirty on a Saturday morn.
The energy in the cafeteria was already on the upswing. Just a hundred people shuffling around in “gi”s is too amazing to ignore. (Yes, it’s true. This year there were over a hundred participants.) These people are some part of you. Crazy uncles and aunts to be sure but undeniably family. There were grins all around as we all said hi to people we hadn’t seen in a long while. In between gulps of egg-like food and heart healthy sausages (yeah, right) the lists of classes were being posted on the wall. Four mats, four different classes being taught at once. The thrill began to build. Yawara, Kicks and Strikes, Transitions, Shime. And look at the list of teachers! Prof. Robert Hudson, Prof. Tom Ball, Prof. Dennis Estes, Sensei Randy Schuster, Sensei Frank (“I Have Questions) Ferris, Sensei Tom Ryan, Sensei Ted Himmah, Sensei Kevin Colton, Sensei Tim Clepper, Sensei Griffin, Sensei Tim Merrill. I took a breath, remembered my Sensei’s advice; “pace yourself, you can’t do it all.” Ah, the heck with that advice, I can try at least.
Prof. Hudson opened session by reiterating the theme; Oku. Deeper. We were going to be examining principles. Looking through the techniques to the principles below. And it was a fabulous theme. Because every single teacher had a slightly different idea of where deeper is. We began with Yawara; a joint locks in a multiple of planes. Ouch! And off we go. Incredibly you look up to find your uke is a sandan. Doesn’t happen every day.
How about a class with Judo Sensei Griffin where you practice Seoi Nage for an hour and a half. Skipping forward, backward, to the side. Placement, technique, principles, switch partners. After an hour and a half you leave the mat soaking wet realizing you still haven’t even touched that throw.
Rolls and falls? Have you seen Sensei Tim Clepper take a fall? It’s not a fall. It’s a friendly exchange of energy between the mat and him. They aren’t antagonists, they’re best buds. Listen as he tell you, “think up. Point your toes. Compress the energy in your stomach. Extend.” Just for a moment you feel a bit of the grace take hold. Will it be yours forever? Doubtful. But now you know what it feels like and that there’s a path on which you can go.
Everywhere is a an extraordinary wealth of experience and instruction around you. Literally hundreds of years of combined experience on the mats. You feel it flowing over you in every class. How can Sensei Ryan move so quickly and strike with so much force? Listen, he’s telling you. Rotation, he claims, as he has me raise my palm to my neck. Then he kindly steadies me until I gather my feet. “Rattled you, huh?”, he asks. I nod. “Now you know you can take a punch,” he says as he gives me a friendly slap on the arm and walks away. (A word to the wise, when figuring your schedule plan to take Sensei Ryan’s classes early. There’s got to be a secret to that man’s energy.)
By the time night falls you are utterly saturated with new twists on old techniques and new combinations you never dreamed existed. You have seen principles pulled out from the kata and thoroughly examined. Around the dinner tables you recount your experiences with old and new friends. The energy everywhere is undeniable. Another feeling begins to powerfully take hold of you, the awareness that the possibilities are endless. The faces around you are older and younger, shorter and taller, and you learn quickly to leave your assumptions at the door. It always sounds so facile to say there are no limits if you give your effort and your heart but the people here prove it. It is real and undeniable and it has the capacity to transform your view of yourself. Nothing superstitious, no hocus pocus, just your experience.
Later that night, after the last class, you wander into the cafeteria to find Professor Tom Ball and Professor Hudson swapping stories and jokes about the days when they were students and learning Danzan Ryu. By now you are exhausted but you keep forcing your eyes open because you are hearing a living history of the people who came before you. Some of the stories are told with a wink and a nod, tales of people jumping over moving cars, and some incredible ones are told with an absolutely straight face. What comes across is the feeling that you are part of an expanding tradition that goes back thousands of years and now includes you.
Finally you cannot keep your eyes open. That night in the bunk you simply drop off. Wake up raring to go, raring to get to that cafeteria, eat, get onto the new classes of the day. Already the sadness is beginning to take hold, the realization that in a few hours this is all going to be over. There is still time for some Shime, some Wazmo, and then alas, the closing ceremony where Professor Hudson talks about all we have done and thanks everyone and speaks about looking forward and focussing our attention on our spouses when we get home. Wow, I mean, marriage counseling, can you believe that? Is this a full service Camp or what?
In the late afternoon the sun is warm and full as you clean up your bunk and pack and say your good byes to friends you may not see for a long time. You’re a little stiff but not too bad. Mostly you just feel saturated. Alive. Once again your cup has been magnificently filled. And as you walk down the dirt path among the pines and slide into your car you are aware of one thing as you swing the door shut. No one could keep you from coming back next year. See you there.