By: Mike Colangelo
2007 was a year of growth, maturity, and excellent teachings at the dojo, and the year came to an exciting end through three back-to-back annual events – the Tai Kai, dojo cleaning, and social dinner banquet.
The year’s theme was the exciting and powerful samurai school called Kukishin Ryu, which is well known for its dynamic “dakentaijutsu,” which at the beginner level consists of a combination of powerful strikes, throws and take-downs. Besides the vast amount of sophisticated and effective unarmed techniques, the school is also known for its wide range of weapons techniques. In fact, the Kukishin Ryu is one of the largest and most complete schools of ancient combat arts offered at the dojo and contains many levels and deep teachings. Throughout the year students were introduced to the basic wazas, which means techniques, of the first level known as “Shoden.”
However, students of all levels had the chance to review the year’s theme and teachings at the annual Dojo Tai Kai, which means “big gathering.” The Tai Kai took place over a snowy winter weekend and involved two days of intensive training. As nature worked hard outside, tirelessly piling mountains of snow, students inside trained hard to develop the correct spirit required to successfully perform the techniques of the school. Sensei was in great form and spirit, and demonstrated a stunning variety of movements, both basic and advanced. Students were personally guided through some of the finer details of the techniques, and were thrilled to have the chance to explore an actual ryuha, or ancient lineage, a privilege usually reserved for senior level students. Besides numerous empty hand forms, students had the chance to experience Kukishin Ryu bojutsu, training with the six-foot staff, jojutsu, training with a four-foot staff, as well as bikenjutsu, sword techniques. Students were also introduced to more advanced specialized weapons, such as shuriken, which are special throwing blades, as well as concealed weapons. Finally, a special highlight of the event was a sandan (third degree black belt test) by two Sempai’s. All students trained hard, showed excellent spirit, and greatly expanded their knowledge of a unique, highly effective and ancient tradition.
The next event also helped bring the year to an end – the annual dojo cleaning – and just as nature constantly renews itself through the natural cycle of seasons, the cleaning is an opportunity to renew the dojo in the spirit of purity and cleanliness. Students of all levels, including both kids and adults, exchanged their weapons and training uniforms for brooms, cloths, and dust pans for an evening of scrubbing, sweeping and dusting. More than just a cleaning, however, the event holds a deeper significance and contains many life lessons. Kids learned discipline and responsibility while being assigned tasks to complete under careful supervision. All did a great job and worked very hard. The adults also worked hard; all mats were lifted and the floor scrubbed, and all surfaces were wiped so everyone could look forward to starting 2008 in a fresh and revitalized atmosphere. Most importantly, all students learned to work together and developed a deeper appreciation for their training space, which like everything practiced inside the dojo, is merely a reflection of life outside.
The final event of the year was the dinner and social banquet – a night of great food, games and prizes, and a chance for students and instructors to get to know each other outside the dojo. The event was held at a local Korean and Japanese restaurant, and guests had the chance to feast on a vast amount of sushi as well as cooked fish, a wide variety of meats, noodles, fruits, vegetables, and other mouthwatering items. Highlights of the night included an inspirational speech by Sensei about the history and future of the dojo – and the importance of growth and achieving happiness in life. Guests also had the chance to win a variety of exciting prizes through a raffle contest. Prizes included one of Sensei’s books, as well as a tea set, T-shirts, and a bottle of Sake. However, to make things more exciting, winners couldn’t just walk away with their prize, but instead had to deliver a speech about the many benefits of training at the dojo. Laughter, smiles, and cheers quickly filled the room as winners revealed the many positive insights and stories of personal growth achieved through training; their words wrapped up and delivered through an infectious and positive energy. Most importantly, students revealed how training fostered great camaraderie, and provided ample opportunities for the overcoming of personal limitations and fears. So far, 2008 is off to a great start and promises to be even better. The most important lesson, however, is to always “keep going!”