This past weekend, on the campus of Seattle University, several dozen Kokondoka assembled for our annual National Seminar.  A range of individuals from new white belts to some of our most experienced Masters attended.  Ages that spanned over 40 years were on the mats at the same time, sharing and gaining new knowledge of our system.

I’m often the recipient of puzzled looks from friends and co-workers when I tell them I’m leaving town for “three days of severe beatings.”  They often tender some version of “you’ve got to to be crazy to do that.” Family members don’t bother any more.  I’ve been doing this for way too long.  There’s no doubt that anyone attending deals with any less in terms of  questions or comment.  The concept of spending several hundred dollars in seminar and travel fees, getting up at a ridiculous hour to make a flight, bowing in, going through anywhere from 18 – 21 hours of workouts in two-and-one-half days with just enough time for quick meal breaks, getting hit, kicked, choked, thrown to the ground – over and over and over – just doesn’t register as something normal in their minds.  It’s really kind of sad, though.

For those of us that live this life, we begin looking forward to the next Seminar about the time we bow out of the current one.  It is almost an insulting understatement to say Nationals are special.  It goes far beyond the meaning that single word can convey.

We get together for these three days, not just for the workouts but for so much more.  There’s the opportunity to leave the outside world behind for a few days.  We have the opportunity to forget the inane political ads that are unfortunately just starting to ramp up.  We let school or the office get by without us for a while.  All of the societal nonsense goes away.  We bow in to Kaicho and the Masters.  We bow in to each other.  We are part of a family working not only for our personal improvement, but to help improve everyone else with whom we have contact for the entire weekend.  Higher ranks assist the lower, while themselves gaining still more insight into the very techniques they are teaching.  We support and encourage each other.  The individual, as well as the System, grows with each session.

We share the joy and pride of those that receive rank promotions.  It was especially gratifying to see two Kokondoka that –  one in the very first session and one at the banquet – were surprised by unexpected promotions.  Their reactions and looks on their faces when their names were announced  had to be a highlight of the weekend for all of us in attendance just as it was for these very deserving individuals.  The humility of their acceptance of these honors was just as much a lesson to us as any waza we were shown over the course of the weekend.

We honored and thanked our host and all of the members that did so very much to make this Seminar happen.  Site preparation, airport transportation, registration, delivery of the mats and other supplies and more than I can fathom came together through the efforts of these selfless people.  Two more were recognized with the Bob Longo Award for their contributions to the system, one of the biggest honors we give.

The physical demands of the weekend are much more than most of us encounter at any other time of the year.  At the end of it all, we are tired, stiff and bruised at the very least.  Many of us move around in what is known as the “Kokondo Strut.”  People sitting next to us on the plane ride home seem a bit put off by the sounds we make getting into and out of our seat.  And we keep coming back.

We leave each Seminar better than we arrived.  Any less is nobody’s fault but our own.  There’s too much knowledge, too much support, to do otherwise.

I always have trouble finding a worthwhile ending for these little missives.  This time, though, I had the incredible good fortune of finding the following in my emails when I got home.  My thanks to Ms. Kristin Armstrong for the following words:

“I’m glad to be here right now, poking at my threshold.  I want to get more comfortable being uncomfortable.  I want to get more confident being uncertain.  I don’t want to shrink back just because something isn’t easy.  I want to push back, and make more room between I can’t and I can.  Maybe that spot is called I will.”

Nothing much to say after that.

Good training, everyone!  I hope to see you next year!  Ossu!!