||Seattle Branch, U.S.A. / May 2007
Contributor: Colin May
Inaugural North American West Coast Training Camp and Public Demonstration, Seattle, U.S.A.
Over the weekend of April 20-22, the Seattle Branch was proud and fortunate to host the inaugural North American West Coast Training Camp, honoring simultaneously the tenth anniversary of the formation of the branch, our tenth annual participation in the Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival, and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Shorinji Kempo.
The West Coast Training Camp is a new, annual event planned by North American branch masters to increase the number of chances for U.S. and Canadian kenshi to attend official training sessions, since the huge size of the North American region makes a single annual WSKO seminar insufficient for kenshi and branch advancement.
The number of camp participants far exceeded our initial estimate: over 110 kenshi attended from 25 branches! They came not just from the west coast, but from all over North America--from the far corners of the U.S.A. (Miami, New York City, San Diego), from the interior (Michigan, Arizona, Iowa, Utah and Idaho states, and Alberta province) and from Japan.
The chief instructor for the seminar was sensei Masaki Nagata, 8-dan, WSKO Instructor and branch master of Yamaguchi Saikyo Doin. Nagata-sensei is the hometown mentor of Seattle's branch master Hiroshi Onaka, so his participation was very special to us. Also special was the way the training camp successfully served as a reunion, as we welcomed back our founding instructors Pankaj Rastogi (now branch master in Westminster, California) and Sadato Konoya (the original Seattle Branch master, now living near Detroit). Coincidentally, Rastogi-sensei and Onaka-sensei were training mates many years ago at Yamanote Doin in Tokyo. Surely all of this points to en!
The training camp began on Friday afternoon with a special session just for high-level kenshi (3-dan and above). Some 40 kenshi attended. At the same time, 3 kenshi undertook their 3-dan examination. The study and testing session was followed by a meeting and dinner for branch masters, at which they discussed issues of branch development and the possibiity of forming an official North American federation under WSKO.
Saturday was for training all day. The venue was a hall at the Seattle Center, right next to a building being used for the Cherry Blossom Festival. All weekend long, as our contribution to the Festival, our training was open to public viewing.
Nagata-sensei amazed everyone with his abilities--his speed, his breathtaking command of maai, and his agility, especially while seated Japanese-style (seiza). He demonstrated that it is possible to hop about like a small bird and even to kick from that position! We listened with relish to his lecture, in which he shared a story of his time living at Honzan with Kaiso and experiencing the overwhelming strength and love that Kaiso always demonstrated.
Most of the training was separated for yudansha and kyu-kenshi, other than for warmups, kihon and lecture. Generally Nagata-sensei instructed the yudansha, and sensei Joichi Tagami, of Gifu Ohgaki Doin in Japan, was the main instructor for kyu-kenshi. Tagami-sensei has joined us for the Cherry Blossom Festival regularly over the last several years. Since he is essentially a professional seiho practitioner in Japan, on Sunday morning he led an appo/kappo session for the high-level kenshi and in the afternoon a seiho session for everybody.
Saturday night was devoted to a fellowship banquet (followed by various after-parties that shall remain off the record!).
Rastogi-sensei, Konoya-sensei and Onaka-sensei gave speeches about the establishment of the Seattle Branch--the web of cooperative relationships, the en that has let us continue and grow. Messersmith-sensei from Florida shared with us the story of his own encounter with Kaiso early in his Shorinji Kempo life. The strong emotions of the speeches were lightened with friendly conversation and comic performances. It was a great evening.
Sunday's program included ordinary practice, appo and kappo for high-level kenshi, public embu, and seiho to close out the hard weekend of training (an excellent way to end!). The Seattle Branch performs public embu every year for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Usually it is for 30 minutes on stage, but this year we were able to involve many of our visiting kenshi in the demonstration, letting us fill an entire hour showing numerous high-level embu. The air of the hall reverberated with fierce kiai and fairly crackled with zanshin. Nagata-sensei even performed a tan'en with the rarely-seen dokko (see photo).
All in all it was an exciting, rich, warm-spirited and very rewarding weekend. In the days leading up to the camp, Onaka-sensei impressed upon us his desire that we show o-motenashi -- Japanese for hospitality, or a warm, heartfelt welcome. We hoped that by gestures such as offering to pick up visitors at the airport, sharing cell phone numbers and providing goofy entertainment at the banquet, visiting kenshi would feel how welcome they were and how thankful we are that they came all the way to Seattle to share good times and sweat with us.
We are very happy to have gotten the West Coast Training Camps off to a good start.
Many photos from the training camp may be found at http://public.fotki.com/shorinjiseattle/ . The number of photos is likely to grow throughout the first weeks of this month (May 2007) as we receive contributions from the camp participants.