Spring Special Training in Kansas City, March 2002 (Ian Horner, 8th kyu)
As a Shotokan student entering a special training for the first time, I am experiencing a feeling that is completely unique to me. Aside from the intimidating and humorous stories shared by my seniors, there is no way for me to know what I am about to go through. I spend the entire day before the first practice feeling adrenaline pump through my body. I am excited, I am nervous and I am a little humored that I am starting my spring break from high school with special training. I arrive at the Kansas City Shotokan Karate Dojo early in order to settle down and see the people who I was going to be practicing with.
Practice #1- 1,300 kihon
I had spent a long time thinking and focusing on the training beforehand, and when the moment of the first practice finally arrived I seemed to have a lot of confidence and energy to give. Perhaps I had too much energy. Stretching calmed me down some but when we started I tried to give everything I had as I had been instructed. The practice consisted of 100 repetitions of each of the basic techniques (kihon). The pace of the practice was quicker and far more intense than regular practices. I had expected this but I admit I was a little shocked. In fact, I began to have some real negative feelings at one point while struggling with my physical pain. I believe that it was in the middle of the kicking techniques, my personal peak of practice, that I began to feel this way.
Now that I had already begun my suffering, I was a little nervous. I thought that if I was suffering already then there would surely be far worse times ahead. However, despite my physical pain I got stronger toward the end of the practice. Perhaps it was knowing that there was not much further to go and that I had more to give.
When we were practicing stamping kicks (fumikomi), I felt that I was giving everything. There were even some techniques that felt so good that I got goose bumps all over my body. Maybe it was just poor circulation.
Even though I had negative feelings during practice, I realize that I loved every part of it, now that the practice is over (author's note: It turned out that this was pretty much how I felt after every practice. I did not appreciate it until it was over). I make sure to drink a lot of water even though it is really hard. I am dehydrated and not feeling very thirsty. After eating some food I prepare for the next practice.
Practice #2- Ten no Kata
I could still feel the first practice in my body but I still had a lot of energy to use up. We stretched and then it is was announced that we will practice Ten no Kata. 400 punches and 600 combination techniques. The juniors faced the seniors in two lines. The eye contact held between the juniors facing the seniors was a very important motivator to me. You can see it in their eyes -- how they think you are doing. Each person has the responsibility of raising the other person's spirit through eye contact. But if you are doing something very wrong, then they just yell at you. That did a good job of fixing false techniques because I felt intimidated by a more advanced person scolding me and was afraid to slack. We also rotated after every set to face a different senior. This was very interesting because even as a junior I could see the difference in personalities of each one I faced. I could see who had more focus.
Ten no Kata practice required a lot of focus. There really was no time to think about time or how long we had been practicing. Because of this, the practice seemed to end much quicker than I thought it would, and honestly, part of me did not want this practice to end because of how good the new experience felt. I also noticed that stretching after practice was feeling better and better. I really started looking forward to the after-practice stretching exercises.
The sun went down a long time ago, and we have four hours to sleep before we start the third practice. I still feel good and I still have energy but I know that I need to sleep. After eating I spend a long time lying awake on the hardwood floor. I'm not using a mat or anything, just lying right on the floor. Then I fall asleep for about two hours. Now we are getting up, but the sun is still not up and it is very dark. I know that we have a tough practice ahead of us. I know that it will be an hour and a half of squatting in horse stance (Kiba-dachi).
Practice #3- Kiba-dachi
I was a little nervous before this practice. I had already accepted that I might black out, or cramp horribly and fall to the floor. I only thought this could happen to me because my seniors told stories about this happening in previous trainings. It was not until a good forty-five minutes into the practice before I realized that I would not pass out but would wish that I could.
My previous experiences of holding this posture had spanned only ten to fifteen minutes. During that time my arms and legs would shake like crazy. However, I have never seen my legs shake so much as they did during this practice. It took about two minutes for the pain to enter my legs and it took about five minutes for my whole body to start shaking like crazy. I stayed as low as I could to where I could feel the tension in the joints of my ankles and knees. I was locked into place.
I sweated more than I ever have before. Little droplets trickled off my eyelashes in frequent intervals. The sweat that streamed down my legs had pooled around my feet. This caused my heel to slip out a couple times, and the feeling was not a good release, it was more of being ripped out of a solid posture.
In this practice we face a senior again. We stare into each other's eyes and show each other how still and determined we can be. By the end of practice there were waves of loud shouts (kiais) that helped revitalize my energy. Kiba-dachi practice was probably the most mentally draining practice of the training.
The practice brought out a lot of negative feelings. I asked myself questions like, "What the hell am I doing to myself?", and, "Why would I ever want to do this again?" However, when the practice was over I realized why I had done it and knew that I would do it again. At the end we were supposed to step up very slowly. My mind wanted to get up quickly. However, I was completely glued to the floor. It took me a long time to raise my foot off the floor and I walked with a double limp for a long time. Flexing my joints was a very good feeling.
I still feel good after kiba-dachi practice but I can feel that my legs are weakened. All I want to do is rest and relax for the next practice, but I don't want my legs to stiffen up. I end up going to a grocery store and getting some nutritious food. I almost got stuck in the parking lot when my friend's car won't start. We get back to the dojo in time for the next practice which is rumored to be a kicking practice. This causes me some worry because of the condition of my legs.
Practice#4- 1,200 kicks
This practice was set up in the same format as the 2nd practice of Ten no Kata. Once again the eye contact with senior was quite a motivator. This practice was by far the most physically draining practice. Kicking is so tiring especially when you don't know how to do it right. However, I found that, after the mental exertion of the last practice, I was able to let myself work even harder and use up more energy. I think that this practice was my second best practice. And again when we reached the end of practice I tried even harder, and again got goose bumps doing the stamping kick (Isn't that weird?). However, I still managed to reach the point of negative thoughts when I was experiencing a lot of physical pain. This seems to be the best time to push myself.
Now my legs are in a lot of pain. I am having many cramps which keep me immobile for a while. When I try to walk around I get lightheaded and my heart starts beating rapidly. I knew that I really need to eat healthy food and drink a lot of water. However, the food that I eat disagrees with my stomach and I begin feeling ill as the next practice approaches. So I am facing a little doubt. I feel like a mid-practice vomit is inevitable.
Practice #5- makiwara & kata
I felt a bet of relief when I learned that the practice would be focused on technical execution and the use of the makiwara, a vertical wooden plank w/ a striking pad. This practice would not overly stress my legs and my breathing. We practiced two techniques on the makiwara, reverse punch and back-fist strike. The focus of the practice was to feel the connection to the floor, and concentrate on relaxing. It was obvious that the harder I tried to hit the makiwara, the weaker I was.
The end of practice was a series of Heian Sandan which is my favorite kata and was quite pleasing to practice. The kata felt different to practice after working on my connection to the ground with the makiwara.
I had felt certain that our next practice will be a midnight practice of 1,000 punches (oi-zuki). However, for some reason the leader did not mention that our next practice would be at midnight. He only said, "Sleep well before our 6:00 AM practice." I guess that there is supposed to be a 'surprise' element for the midnight practice, but for some reason I still let myself hope that there might not be a midnight practice. There turns out to be no reason for me to fool myself like this. At about 11:30pm we are called to practice.
Practice #6- 1,000 oi-zuki
This practice was another practice that was very enjoyable. All the lights were off. At midnight we executed our 1,000 punches in a silent darkness that helped make the practice personal yet still well focused. I spent my time focusing on one aspect at a time. I tried to fix the things my teachers had told me to fix ever since I started karate. I made my hip go first. I began to make my punching hand thrust the moment I began to step. I worked hard not to let my back foot slide. By the end I worked to combine all of these things into a newly developed punch. This practice was very important in helping me understand oi-zuki.
I am really ready to sleep after such a dark practice. After I grab a quick bite to eat I completely conk out and don't wake up until most other people are heading downstairs to the practice. It takes me just a bit to wake up for I have been sleeping very deeply.
Practice #7- sambon kumite
This was the kumite practice! I was excited for this practice, but I was still a little nervous about getting knocked on the floor by a senior. I thought that it would be cool to get back up and then knock that senior down. Nothing this dramatic happened however. I only got hit by a couple of people and not that hard. My instructor in my morning practices knocked me around a bunch and showed me that I have a lot of visible weaknesses, but what can you expect? I am, after all, just a beginner. By the end of practice I was a little discouraged that things did not get a little crazier. I think some people went easy on me because I am 8th kyu. I should have tried harder to hit them. When the white belts and brown belts sat down in order to allow the seniors to face each other we saw a little bit of how crazy it can get!
I do not have that much physical energy yet I am still very awake. This time spent before the final practice is full of hype. Approaching is our last chance to give everything we have before we return to our more comfortable lives. I feel as if I am guaranteed to have a good practice.
Practice #8- 100 Tekki Shodan
After a very focused stretch I prepare for the 100 Tekki Shodan Kata practice. This kata is a difficult one because it requires staying low as well as staying very focused on your movements. Because of its more complex movements than in the Heian kata, it is more demanding.
We start and everyone is going completely crazy. After we completed each Kata I was extremely tired but I would focus on re-gathering energy in the moments of time in between each execution. My kiai got more intense as the practice progressed. That was another way for me to gather more energy.
This practice was by far my favorite practice! The last ten kata that I did felt very good to me, and the last 2 kata felt better than good. I almost felt like I was watching myself from outside my body painlessly executing this kata to the best of my abilities. And then, just like that, special training was over and nothing else was required of me.
My instructors had said that I would feel a little different, aside from being tired, after special training. I would say that they were telling the truth. Although practice was over, my mind maintained a focus that noticeably stayed with me for days on end. It seemed as if I had gained a new acceptance for suffering. The past and the future had disappeared. I knew the things that I had to do but I knew that I did not need to think or dwell on them until they came.
When I went home a shower was nice treat. It felt very good. But I must have fallen asleep because I woke up on the floor with cold water pouring on me. Even though I felt like I only slept for maybe ten minutes I might have been in there for hours. I looked at my clock and realized that it was time to start on vacation with my friend. We had a twelve hour drive ahead of us and I had very little energy. Since he had also completed the special training, this turned out to be a very long and difficult drive with many rest stops along the way.
We drove to Breckenridge, Colorado. When we arrived, we rested for a long time. Couple of days. And when I woke up I took some time to reflect on any changes to my mind and body. The first thing that I noticed was that my body was very efficient and my metabolism was running on overdrive. I processed food in minutes and was hungry many times a day. I ate lots of small meals over the course of each day. Not only did my body know how to take in energy efficiently but it also knew how to use it efficiently. In my hikes above the tree line where air is thin I was able to effectively cover a lot of distance in a short time. Normally I struggle greatly.
My new mental and physical efficiency made me feel great for days, but I noticed that it was changing. Either it was declining as I sunk further and further into the comforts of our modern western daily living routine, or I was just getting used to my new level of focus. Perhaps it was a little of both.
In any case this special training experience for the first time was quite an eye-opener. I appreciate its benefits now, but I know there is much more to learn from this kind of training.
-- Ian Horner, 8th Kyu