1978 JAPANESE WINTER TRAINING SCHOOL
160 brave students assembled in front of Tokyo Honbu at 7:00 am on the morning of January 4th. They stood outside in the cold and tasted Winter in their toes before even leaving for the Mountain Site of Mitsumine Shrine in Saitama Prefecture. Tokyo had experienced an unusually heavy fall of snow on the 3rd and it had turned to ice on the 4th, bringing down the temperatures to a shivery low and causing all to doubt the sanity of training in the mountains. Four of Tokyo Honbu’s foreign students were present, and one student of Shihan Lowe’s, Thrina Cabal, who so enjoyed her previous three weeks stay, that she had flown in from balmy Hawaii to brave the Japanese Winter. The other students hailed from Venezuela, Pakistan, England and Singapore, and two of them saw and felt snow for the first time in their lives that morning.
The four bus loads of students left at 8:00 am and travelled through the snow dotted countryside towards the mountains where a beautiful view of the snow covered Mt. Fuji could be seen from the bus window.
The group arrived at the top of the 1,300 meter mountain a weary four hours later, and alighted to carry their bags a short way up to the Shrine accommodation. Following those who had been through it all before, the students were hustled along into their rooms where they headed straight for the heaters and warm tea awaiting them.
The first training began at 2:00 pm. Donning clamy cold Karate-gi, and struggling to pull training shoes over their already numbed feet, the students hurried out to the assembly point. After, being assigned to groups and given a short pep talk, the training began. Training entailed a short run to a flat area on the mountain which served as the training site. There, exposed to the cold, students split into their groups and proceeded through a regular training session under the direction of their Sempai.
Although there was no deep snow on the mountain this year, and the weather was sui*singly somewhat warmer than usual, little patches of snow were to be found and it was enough to freeze solid the feet of those lead to train in it. Each group followed all, or parts, of a regular training session, and a long and frozen two hours later, the groups jogged the short distance back to the warmth of the shrine.
The evening meal followed a few hours later. The atmosphere was warm and noisy except for the beginning and ending ceremony when the Sempai and Kancho enter and leave. The food was quite delicious, although in rather typical Japanese style, it was a little cold before one could tuck in. The food at Winter Camp is always more delicious and substantial than that of Summer Camp, much to the relief of the students.
After the meal, there followed a period of free time before being gathered together to hear Kancho’s address. The address started at 9:00 pm and would have continued for sometime had not a large number of the students already doozed off, simply too tired and weary to concentrate anymore. The meeting was closed, the futons were spread out in the usual mattress to mattress, economy style, and everyone gladly hit the sack.
Next morning came all too soon, even though the rising hour was later than in previous years. Apparently the Shrine Priests complained of the usual early rising, so this year’s students rose at a still chilly 6:00 am, and had 30 minutes to complete their preparations and assemble in the courtyard. The students, most moving in a mixture of sleepy bewilderness and stiff, excited anticipation, shivered their ways to the assembly point and at 6:30 am were ushered into the Shrine. In a short space of time, only rows upon rows of training shoes on the steps of the shrine were all to show of the noisy before.
Lining up in rows according to rank, with Kancho in the center, every?
– one sat SEIZA and the ceremony began with the beating of the Kyokushin drum roll one beat for each syllable it rolled…..ha ji ma ri (we .begin) three times, tsu yo ku na re yo (we will be strong) twice, and finished with one long drum roll. The Head Priest immediately began the blessing by chanting uninterruptedly except for what seemed like a hap hazard, although I’m sure really well integrated, bang on the drum.
Trying to fulfill one’s duty to remain serene and dignified, each wriggled in their SEIZA position trying to bring some life back to their numbed, deadened feet, while the ceremony droned on. Then Kancho rose and moved forward to offer a leaf sprig. The Priest waved his stick of leaves and paper in big circular movements over Kancho’s head, and when Kancho returned to his position, all bowed and the ceremony ended with the Kyokushin drum roll 0 wa ri (we finish) 3 times, Ha ya ku ka e re yo (hurry up and return home) twice and the final roll.
Staggering, dragging to their feet, the students slowly, painfully filed out of the unheated Shrine into the cold morning to each receive a sip of warm, blessed, sake from the Priests.
Almost immediately. the training began by running again to the training site by the statue of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, an old Japanese God who was commanded to settle various wars around Japan, and to whom many romantic stories are attached. Here followed a normal training session, before the run back to the accommodation and breakfast.
Everyone was ravishingly hungry and a steady line a 2nd helpers for,rice and soup formed. After breakfast and bathing, it was free time until lunch. Students took this time to patch up injuries and sore legs, so the smell of menthol penetrated the air and filled the eyes and noses of the suffering students.
A few of the more adventurous students ventured out to explore the location and view the splendid Mountain surroundings, however, most preferred to stay indoors in the warmth and comfort.
However it was not all rest for some, as 9:00 am was the scheduled time for the correspondence students’ promotion test. Officiating were the head Sempai, Mr. Nandi and Mr. Hiroshige. 7 students were put through Kihon, kata, exercises and Kumite, and all performed rather well.
After lunch, the students prepared for the 20 kilometer run; 10 kilos down
the winding mountain road, and 10 back up again. Students were informed to “do their best”, and at 2:00 pm they set off. The more serious students set out in grim determination, but a few merely loafed along, aided with bottles of drink and junk food. Before very long, this small group of slackers had dropped out, unaware that the only ones they had cheated were themselves, a fact they may one day realize.
Winter training runs on stamina and spirit, and thus develops stamina, spirit and confidence in oneself. The point of Winter training is to come to know oneself, one’s own limitation, and if one cannot keep up with the training then one has to faint in the effort!
Regardless of the galant efforts, only a few made it completely down and back up again. The 20 kilometer run seemed much longer and harder by the steepness of the mountain, and the cold conditions. When it became dark, a car was sent to collect the brave strugglers, and so the sore, battered group retired to the accommodation to patch up their aching legs, skinned toes and sore ankles. It was a weary and hobbly lot that turned up for the evening meal and later presented themselves at the Sayonara Party. Following the traditional form, each student performed a number and so contributed to the entertainment. However, even though it was enjoyable, most were happy to be released to fall into their futons and sleep.
Rising again at 6:00 am, struggling with tired reluctance and stiff bodies, the group again assembled in the Shrine courtyard and so began the last day of camp. After the Shrine ceremony, the students were left to the mercy of the photographers who had them running back and forth, standing in the cold in awkward poses and repeating the procedure numerous times to get it right, and because the cap was still on the camera lens. After this tiresome training, the group filed back to the accommodation and breakfast.
When breakfast was over, a short period of free time followed and then cleaning and preparations to leave. At about 11:00 am the group assembled in front of the Shrine where Kancho thanked the Priests. Bowing deeply, the group, carrying their . bags, followed Kancho down the back side of the mountain to the waterfall, the last and perhaps most exotic requirement of each Winter Camp.
The steep narrow dirt track down
the mountain necessitated a single file and a sure foot, so by the time the waterfall was reached all were warm from the brisk exercise.
Hiding behind trees, bushes and rocks, the students changed into their gi and congregated around the bonfire that had been lit. There they ate their rice balls, and prepared to face the cold water. After a rest, the group stood, clapped their hands and bowed to the little wooden shrine on the hill side, and lined up for training. Dotting the rocks and bridge, the students did the basic punches and kicks, and then headed for the water. The men stripped to the waist and all, including the ladies group, had bare feet. They climbed up the slippery, icy rocks and stood in turn under the water. There each kiai-ed and punched to a minimum of 10 punches. Back at the Bonfire, those of Brown belt and above were treated to a cup of warm sake (Wine) before changing.
When each had had a turn and changed, the group proceeded the rest of the way down the mountain to the restaurant at the bottom, and the waiting buses. At the restaurant everyone was free to eat, drink and buy souvenirs, except the black belt students who changed into Karate-gi and were led down to the passing river where they posed, knee deep in freezing mountain water, for the cameras.
Eventually, the students climbed into their waiting buSes and headed home, reaching Tokyo at 6:00 pm that same night.
The foreign students commented mostly that “it was cold!”. However, each seemed pleased that they had made it in the marathon run and had survived the 3 days of rough and rigour in a strange surrounding, amongst people they could only just barely communicate with Thrina, from Hawaii, who suffered deep bruising in the first day’s kumite and later from very sore legs, could only sigh, “I made it, I did it, I didn’t cheat in anyway!”. Thrina was so popular with the others, who admired her for her galant efforts, strong Kiai and spirit, that they presented her with a placard signed beach student urging her to keep up her spint always.
And how about next year’s camp???…Well,..”Let’s wait and see!