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Thursday, April 17th, 2014 03:44 pm

I just got back from a weekend training camp up in the Pennsylvania hills, where I got to spend several days with some of the top guys in my martial arts organization. I wasn't on the list of instructors this time, although I have been for several of these camps in the past. Until I get on-site and see the hand-printed list of instructors for the weekend, I never know whether or not I'll be expected to teach a session.

As I was preparing for the weekend and working on what I would teach if called upon, a realization came to me: these events typically have somewhere between 50 and 100 attendees, roughly 90% of whom are at least first-degree black belts. There is another camp in Indianapolis that is both larger and has a greater number of lower-ranking people, but Pennsylvania is usually smaller and ... more rarefied? I suppose "elite" would technically be correct, but you don't get an elitist vibe from (most of) these people.

What had never sunk in on me before was that even at the smallest (~50 people) of the Pennsylvania camps, most of the people there have 20+ years of martial arts experience. Some of them are over 50 years. For some reason, this year my brain tossed something up into the realm of my conscious brain that said, "50 people x 20 years = 1000 cumulative years." In other words, we had over a millennia of martial experience in that room. And they call on me, with my 30 years of experience, to teach to that group?

{Jaw drop.}

One of the 9th-degree black belts at this event was a good friend of mine named Matt Brown. He was trying to teach a technique, but his uke (oo kay, training partner, "one who receives") kept "leading the technique." Matt told the uke to strike straight at his face, but because the uke knew which way Matt was going to redirect the strike, he kept moving his strike into the final position without Matt doing anything. I heard Matt tell him several times, "No, strike *here*" while pointing right at his own nose, only to see the uke redirect his own attack. This is actually a very common problem in martial arts classes, especially among the lower ranks. (Leading the technique, I mean. Not Matt's nose.)

Matt next looked around the room, spotted me, and called me up to be uke for him.

For some of you, this may elicit a "so what?" response, but it is a gesture of trust -- especially after having just had a problem with an uke. Matt knew he could trust me to give him a sincere attack that was targeted right at the center of his face. He also knew he could trust my control enough that if he didn't do something to stop me (or if his attention wavered, or his technique didn't work) he'd feel my hand land on his nose, and that I would have enough control that it would only be embarrassing for him, not painful or damaging.

Matt also gave me another high compliment as part of that same sequence. After dealing with my attack, he was throwing one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" counter-attacks. It's deliberately set up so that you can see the counter-attack coming in. If you don't stop it, it's going to knock your block off. If you do stop it the way most people will reflexively try, you just put yourself in an even worse position for what he's going to do to you next.

Matt started his counter-attack, and I intercepted it... but not the way he was expecting.

So he stopped, had me stay in position, and went back to addressing the room: "Now did you see what he did? He's actually trained WELL, because he [explanation]"

Um. A 9th-degree is telling a room full of high-ranking people that I'm WELL trained?

{I'm sorry, did my jaw hit your foot?}

Afterwards he razzed me about messing with what he was teaching, but he was grinning while he said it. :-)

Something I haven't mentioned to many people yet is that at last year's May (2013) camp, our grandmaster indicated that he thought my rank level wasn't in line with the level of what he was seeing from me, and that he thought this year's Indianapolis (2014) camp would be an appropriate time to promote me. (I'm deliberately not putting this on Facebook or other places because there are people I'm still not sharing that information with yet. But since none of those people are on here, I can tell you.)

Since Indy is the next official Camp, I wanted to confirm with him that he still felt the same way and was planning to promote me at Indy. He asked me what my current rank was (the belt only indicates which 3-rank grouping you fall into), and looked taken aback when I told him I was 5th degree. He then said that yes, he ABSOLUTELY intended to promote me, and that in fact he'd been quite impressed with what he'd been seeing from me, to the point that he'd have no problem promoting me to 7th!

{Excuse me, did anyone see which way my jaw went? I think it may have rolled under your chair...}

I blurted out something along the lines of, "NO, Sensei!" to which he just grinned and said, "Yes, well, let's put you at 6th for now, and we'll see where things go from there."


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