Summer Special Training 2019 seemed especially satisfying, and I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from all participants. Part of the event’s success was due to our thought-provoking guest instructor, Andrew Benioff, Ee Dan Ji Do Kwan. Andrew traveled to our area from Philadelphia, where he had recently completed an examination for the rank of San Dan (third degree black belt) in Aikido. Andrew recruited Shingo Bessho from Philadelphia, an accomplished fellow student at Old City Aikido, the dojo where they both train. We were pleased to welcome Shingo into our training group and grateful for the chance to see a second experienced practitioner demonstrate the extracurricular techniques that some of us worked on over the course of the weekend.
A second reason this session worked so well was the balance between old and new: we were able to revisit bo techniques from the 2018 session and deepen our understanding of those exercises. We also dedicated several hours to unusual concepts organized around the theme of “mashups” that combined traditional Ji Do Kwan techniques with idea from Aikido, Gongfu, and other styles outside our normal curriculum.
On Friday evening, we opened the weekend’s events with introductions and a seated meditation session. As is often the case when kneeling for extended periods, many of us experienced temporary knee or ankle pain and numbness, but I was impressed by the obvious focus and self-discipline of everyone who worked through and transcended those challenges.
Following meditation, advanced students reviewed the twenty suburi and four kumibo that we learned in August 2018 and have been practicing since then. These bo techniques are adapted from Aikido jo techniques (the jo is a short, light staff about the height of the wielder’s armpit). Suburi are individual techniques or combinations that form the building blocks of blocking, striking, and control. Kumibo are drills where two partners take turns attacking and defending in a prescribed sequence, almost like a very short form, incorporating footwork and the blocks/strikes from the Suburi.
After Friday night practice, a small group of us retired to Matt Roncone’s lake house for a wonderful dinner and conversation.
Saturday afternoon’s “mashups” exercise of Ji Do Kwan techniques used in unconventional ways, followed by a demonstration of the fifth kumibo for advanced students later that evening.
Saturday morning started before dawn with an activity that many of us consider a highlight of the weekend training: a traditional Japanese misogi hardship training. This ritual involves performing 1000 cuts with a bokuto while chanting a repeated phrase. As members of the group perform cuts, other members stand in a river and are cleansed of imperfections and attachments. This year we tried a new location, which provided an excellent combination of natural beauty, accessibility, and privacy.
After misogi we enjoyed a group breakfast at nearby Outlook Farm, then returned to the dojang for the first session of “mashups.” We started with a block/strike combination inspired by Gongfu close-fighting styles like Wing Chun, then moved to a striking combination used in Okinawan applied self-defense. In both, we experimented with different range, footwork, types of touch/grasping, targeting, and other variables. We then used different kinds of Aikido-inspired footwork to respond to attacks by stepping off the center line and positioning ourselves in advantageous positions for any type of response.
After lunch at a nearby food truck (Local Burgy) we returned to the dojang for another session of seated meditation. Advanced students then reviewed the four familiar kumibo a second time and learned a fifth to complete this series of partner drills. Having practiced for a full year, we were in a good place to understand many nuances of this richly complex body of knowledge—as well as a number of important points that our visitors from Philadelphia clarified over two days of intensive practice.
Since one theme of the weekend was “mashups” we took our guests to a Korean/Japanese restaurant for dinner, after which a small group watched a documentary film called Kung Fu Hustle that showed many advanced martial arts concepts. . . at least for those of us who were able to stay awake after being up before dawn and training all day!
On Sunday morning we returned to the river and reviewed Saturday’s mashup drills in a nearby grove with open soft footing of leaves and pine needles. Performing the same hand techniques for the second time in 24 hours allowed us to internalize them more thoroughly, while being in a natural setting provided new challenges of spacing and footwork. We then performed a different set of Aikido-based footwork exercises that extended our understanding of what we’d been exposed to the previous day.
After a refreshing training session in these peaceful woods, we had a question-and-answer period. RVTKD students asked a number of perceptive questions ranging from specific technical issues from the weekend’s training to more general questions on the nature of hard/soft styles and martial practice.
I’d like to thank our guests from Philadelphia, Andrew Benioff and Shingo Bessho, as well as the River Valley Tae Kwon Do students and instructors who provided housing, scouted outdoor training locations, opened their homes for gatherings, and provided other logistical support for making this weekend run as smoothly and enjoyably as it did. This annual tradition has become one of the highlights of our year in training, and I appreciate all who showed their dedication to practice and curiosity about unfamiliar ideas by joining us.