Camp South

Shoshin (Beginner’s Mind)

By Ephraim Schwartz

It begins with the subtle reminders: “Don’t forget, Camp South is coming
up in a couple of months. Mark your calendar.’’Then one day, an email arrives
with an application form from Prof. Robert Hudson. You look at it, sigh, and
wonder what to do. It’s three days out of your life.

By now, sensei is growing more insistent: “Camp South starts in less than a
month, let’s get those forms in!” Finally, the kazushi gets brutal. Sensei asks for a show of hands. “How many are going?” Lots of hands. “How many of you have sent in your forms?” All hands drop. That day you go home, review the registration form stuck under the refrigerator magnet. Well, you can’t beat the price. Then you remember last year’s food. Well, you still can’t beat the price.

And then somewhere deep inside you get an urge to fill out the form. Despite all the chores you will put off, despite the friends you must forgo seeing, the football games, basketball games, movies, and time spent with loved ones that you will miss, you fill out the form.  You get to the bottom where the T-shirt
thing is. By now, every T-shirt you own is related to jujutsu. You’re a walking billboard for Danzan Ryu jujutsu. You order a large. Sign the check, mail it yourself so your significant other won’t know. Weeks go by without a word. Maybe they cancelled camp? Then, the map arrives.

It was cold at the bottom of the mountain. 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 10,000 former campers. As I laid out my sleeping bag I was wondering if I had lost my mind. Classes were in session. 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. I was cold. There were people from other dojos snoring. I kept praying for enough quiet so that I could have my turn to snore. And then, somehow it was 6:30 on a Saturday morning.

The energy in the cafeteria was already mounting. About 100 people shuffling
around in gis is too amazing to ignore. These people are part of you — like 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 while. We gulped an egg-like substance and heart-healthy sausages (yeah, right), and perused the lists of classes. The thrill began to rise. Yawara. Kicks and strikes. Transitions.
Shime. And look at the list of teachers! Professors Robert Hudson, Tom Ball and
Dennis Estes. Senseis Randy Schuster, Frank Ferris, Tom Ryan, Ted Himmah,
Kevin Colton, Tim Clepper, Brian Griffin and Tim Merrill.

I took a breath, remembering my sensei’s advice: “Pace yourself. You can’t do it all.” Well, I could try. Prof. Hudson opened the session by reiterating the them: Oku. Deeper. We were examining principles, looking past the techniques to the essence. We began with Yawara: a joint locks in multiple planes. Ouch! Incredibly, you find your uke is a sandan. That doesn’t happen every day.

Onto a class with Sensei Griffin, where you practice seoi nage for 90 minutes.
Skip forward, back, to the side. Placement, technique, principles. Switch partners. You leave the mat soaking wet realizing you still haven’t even touched that throw.
Rolls and falls? Have you seen Sensei Clepper take a fall? It’s not a fall. It’s a
friendly exchange of energy between him and the mat. “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 last? Doubtful. But now you know what it feels like.

How can Sensei Ryan move so quickly and strike with so much force? Rotation,
he says. “Rattled you, huh?’’ he asks. I nod. “Now you know you can take a
punch,’’ he says as he pats my shoulder and walks away.

By the time night falls you are utterly saturated with new twists on old techniques and with new combinations you had never dreamed of. Around the dinner table you recount your experience with both new and old friends. The energy is palpable. You feel the possibilities are endless. Later that night, after the last class, you wander into the cafeteria to find Profs. Ball and Hudson swapping stories and jokes about when they were novice students. By now, you are exhausted but you force 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. 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.

You awaken raring to go, eager to get to the cafeteria and then onto the mat.
Already the sadness is sinking in, the realization that in a few hours, this is all
going to end. There is still time for some shime, some Wazmo, and then, alas, the closing ceremony. Prof. Hudson recounts what we have been practicing and thanks everyone. The he reminds us to look forward and focus our attention on our spouses when we get home.

In the late afternoon the sun is warm and full as you clean your bunk and pack
and say good by to friends you may not see again for a long time. You’re a little stiff, but not too bad. Mostly, you 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.

Reprinted from AJJF Kiai Echo, Summer 2002