During the third week in October, ZenQuest hosted an amazing mini-camp with Master Hirokuni Yamashiro and Fumiko Tsuchida of Okinawa. As with any training like this, there were huge opportunities to learn many technical details and strategies for Karate. However, for those who really opened their minds and hearts...there was much more to learn and enjoy.
Our guests started their trip by visiting some Uechi-Ryu friends on the west coast. After a few days of training and fun in San Francisco, they headed up to the Berkshires. As planned, Senseis Yamashiro and Tsuchida enjoyed two days relaxing at the Hollyhock House...their favorite Bed & Breakfast in the world. They were also treated to the beauty of autumn in the Berkshires, or “Berkshire Sakura.”
Training began on the morning of Thursday, October 20. Master Yamashiro, a Hachidan (8th degree black belt) who has spent a lifetime training in Okinawa, began to “unpack” a unique format for the camp. After warm-ups he would have a student or instructor perform a training routine, and then open up the floor for discussion and input. As he said, “we are all family here...so please share your ideas.” Sometimes he would agree with the input, sometimes he would disagree, and sometimes he would simply share his own ideas. The last 20 or 30 minutes of each session was typically used for two-person drills like conditioning or sparring drills.
The format was a break from the usual seminars, keeping everyone engaged, and making them think about different aspects of training. As the camp directors, Senseis Connie and Mark had mapped out lesson-pans for each session to try to cover a variety of material over the course of the event. This included Sanchin, Hojo Undo, Kata, Bunkai, Yakusoko Kumite, Kote Kite, and Kumite Principles & Drills...and Sensei Yamashiro did an amazing job of following the plan.
A common theme throughout the training was an emphasis on Jiku or posture, Gamat or base, and Jinkuchi or body movement. Yamashiro Sensei talked about the importance of these three principles in training and execution. These principles are actually important for Muay Thai, Jiu-jitsu, MMA and many other martial arts.
In addition to the physical training in the camp there was opportunity to learn other important aspects of Okinawan Karate. There was an emphasis on mutual respect or Sonkei, and promoting the attitude of “one big family” in the dojo. There were language and terminology tidbits thrown in here and there. There was also a hidden lesson in Kenkyo or humility woven in the training. Normally, there is a rank system or hierarchy (for good reason) in the dojo, but during the camp, everyone was brought to a level playing field...and encouraged to open their minds to learning. Everyone, from the most senior instructors to the newest participants, had a chance to be “put on the spot”, and given constructive criticism. Contextually, it all worked very well, and kept people engaged and thinking!
Many of the campers attended a farewell banquette at Enso Asian restaurant on Saturday evening, and the camp wrapped up on Sunday, October 23. There was also about 40 camp T-shirts given out to participants who wanted one.
Thanks to Senseis Yamashiro and Tsuchida for providing some amazing training, and memorable times during the activities. Also, thanks to everyone who participated and help to make the camp happen. We’re already looking forward to the next one.