<em>“Following is an account of my personal experience during my first special training in 2005, during which time, I was a member of the CSULB Dojo…enjoy!” -Michel Schnaas</em>
The rains had come and gone leaving on their path debris on the beach and a chill in the air. This would become the stage for the 2005 Winter Special Training. The CSULB Dojo hosted the event through the dedication of the club’s president, Trung Pham. On the evening of January 21st, 2005, 50 SKA members met to share eight punishing practices. Registration took place south of the Belmont Shores Pier at 6 PM. It was then followed by the announcement of the rules and an official greeting by Terry Race, our fearless leader for the entire Special Training.
The army in white included 24 Black belts, 12 brown belts, and 14 white belts. At around 7 PM, we invaded the cold and moist shoreline. We lined up on the sand forming a large square to perform the traditional Mokuso. White belts faced north towards our seniors Black Belts, and Brown Belts faced west towards our Senior Godans and Yodans. Senior Godans and Yodans included Tom Muzila, Garry Shockley, Daniel McSween, David Lechuga, Hugh Body, Ross Jackobson, and Mark Wilson. They all wore on their faces their years of dedication and their relentless determination to help Terry put us through the experience of our lifetimes. By the time Terry was done describing our first exercises which would embody the first of eight practices, I knew I was in for something unlike anything I had put may body through. This was to be my first Special Training. By the time Special Training was done, I knew I had never pushed my mind and body to the boundaries of their capacity as bitter opponents.
On that fist night, we began punching on one knee and then falling to both knees only to do it over and over again while avoiding the branches and all sorts of debris left by the storms. The scene was a dark night with the forgiving light of the moon that would peer through the clouds to assist in spotting the obstacles on our way. The knees and shins of our gis were soaked and sandy by the time we had to stand to complete the last portion of the punches. These exercises drifted us south from the pier and back again several hundred yards. Once back to the pier, we continued running for about three miles north and back again. I paired up with a kid named Alex. We ran the whole way talking and getting to know each other. I soon realized that Special Training is in big part an opportunity to do just that – to get to know each other through struggle and mutual encouragement. There were karatekas from as far as Michigan, Colorado, Northern California, and San Diego. The energy was exchanged throughout the trainging through stares, groans, and smiles.
At 4:45 AM on Saturday morning we met to begin with a barefoot run under the morning mist through the streets and parking lots of the Cal State campus. The ground was cold and moist. The sun was still sleeping while we set our selves up for a day of hard training. The thing I feared the most leading up to S.T. was the infamous hour and a half of Kiba-dachi. I honestly did not know if I was going to be able to do this. I kept thinking to my self that if anything was going to break me was just that. I like to get the toughest things out of the way first, so, I was glad to have done so in the first practice of Saturday. There we were, 50 of us in a circle staring straight forward trying not to think too much of the time left ahead of us. We tried not to let the pain in our muscles, the rattling of our knees, or the groans from others get the best of us. Godans and Yodas approached us to correct our stances and to provide encouragement. Some people began to fall over; some would slip on their own sweat. Our senior Godans and Yodas were quick to help. I was on a mission to conquer my fear, so I pressed on and tried not to think too much about what was happening around me. At one point, David Lechuga whispered in my ear with air of encouragement: “You’re doing great. Count your breaths to 1000 and I promise it’ll be over before you’re done.” At first I wanted to laugh at the very thought of counting to 1000; particularly when my breaths are one every two to four seconds. Then I found myself not being able to stop counting my breaths. Although I would loose count after a few, without thinking, I would be on 50 or 60 and began to realize that it was really helping me drift from the pain. Finally, after 60 minutes, the pain was over for those over 40 years of age and 90 minutes for those under 40. The rest of the day, we had two more equally challenging practices including 100 Taikyoku Shodan Katas. Energy was flowing high through out the day. When the energy would begin to dwindle, we counted on our senior Godans and Yodans to remind us to pick it back up.
On Sunday, we met at 5:15 AM to another misty, barefoot run through the campus. With slow runners and white belts leading the group at the beginning, we all ran while reflecting on the previous day and what this day had in store for us. The first practice of the day consisted of Sambon-Gumite. Being all used to the usual opponents from our own dojos, it was great to test our skills against fellow karatekas from other Dojos. This was truly a learning experience for all. Mercy was not being granted on me from any of my opponents. I returned the favor equally hard. Back and forward, we kept aiming and releasing the best of our punches. Casualties at the end of the practice consisted of a few bloody lips and two injured noses – nothing too major. As opposed to Saturday, Sunday was nice and sunny outside. It was perfect for the kicking portion of S.T. We created a circle under the unforgiving mid-day sun. The circle would rotate clockwise to give everybody an even tan. Having the sun directly on my face presented an extra challenge with every kick leading up to the final total of 1000. “Kick! Kick! Rotate! Ichi, ni, san! Kick higher! Get lower! Start over!!!” There was no slacking. This was to be done hard and strong by all or not at all. Dehydration was particularly high in this portion of the training. I could almost hear the chilled bottle of water in my cooler calling my name. When we completed our kicks, we posed for group photos and went on to our final break. During all breaks we all replenished our body nutrients and fluids as best possible and, if the body would allow, we would get some sleep.
For the last practice at CSULB, we met at the East Gym to do Ten No Kata. The energy continued high to the end. This was equally demanding. We kept each other going hard and strong to the end.
To culminate the great experience of Winter Special Training, the large army of white met back on the same beach we had once invaded with anticipation and energy. The night was cold and the sand even colder. The waves provided the acoustic background only fit to a night like this. We lined up on the water’s edge. One after the other, we cut through every Tekki Shodan as if it was our last. All 100 of them got their fair share of energy. There was no lack of focus. There was no hesitation. Every Kata was filled with angry kiais. We were a loud group in concert. Finally, I completed my last Kata, and so, there I was, on Kiba-Dachi Stance; Facing north; with my fist of rage trying to take the pier down while I reflected on what had happened for the past two days. “Yame”, the last of the Senior Black Belts yelled. “Yasume”…and that was it; the Pain; the suffering; the crippling stances; the challenging walks to every practice; all of that was over. And so we lined up side by side on the water’s edge with the incoming of the tide to a moment of meditation. With the light breeze on my face and the sound of the waves pounding in my head, I began to rest.
After Mokuso and a few words by Terry and our Senior Godans and Yodans, we all took a chance to say our farewells. I could see on every one’s face my pain. We knew what the other felt and we all vowed to do it again. So, until next time…
<em>By Michel Schnaas
Lake Forest Dojo</em>