Over the weekend, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend New England Warrior Camp (NEWC) 2008, the 11th year of the event. For those not involved in the martial arts, NEWC is a 3 day, 2 night seminar that gets together practitioners of the Bujinkan ninjutsu family for an intense amount of training. This year's theme was Togakure Ryu ninjutsu, one of the ninja methods for self-protection.
There's so much to be said about camp that can't really be put into words. It's literally training of every kind for 48 hours, sundown Friday to sundown Sunday. You wake up in the morning on Saturday and Sunday and do some fairly intensive fitness methods, from stealth running through a forest (stumbling and falling will really hurt) to hiking up Nobscot Mountain and seeing the Atlantic from 30 miles away. Training is conducted by the master instructors in the New England area, and you're guaranteed to walk away both full of information and badly confused.
A lot of the training is what Stephen K. Hayes calls "investment training" - stuff that you learn in a very short amount of time, but then literally take years to work on and process, until much later down the path, you finally "get" what that training was about so long ago. This entire camp was a lot of investment training, working on ideas from the Togakure family method of keeping your community safe from harm.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the opportunity to do some tameshigiri, or live sword cutting. Master instructor and swordsmith Matt Venier gave us the opportunity to use live, sharp swords on bundled bamboo mats, which traditionally were used to simulate cutting against an opponent. They're a diagnostic tool to indicate your level of precision with a sword - a clean cut with no curves or seriously ragged edges is the sign of a minimally competent swordsman. An explosion of bamboo bits all over the floor indicates that lots more practice is needed.
I'm proud to say that I'm minimally competent and have the picture to prove it, though as with everything, lots more practice is needed on my part.
After 11 years of attending these camps, after 15 years of training in this particular method of martial arts, I'm still excited and happy to be practicing, still learning, still finding all sorts of things that I can add to make myself a better practitioner. It's equally inspiring to look at my teachers and see what's possible, what lies ahead on the path, and know that with practice, I'll get there, too.
Many thanks to everyone who made this camp excellent, but most especially camp organizer Ken Savage of the Winchendon Martial Arts Center for creating and organizing the camp year after year. As a fellow organizer of conferences and events, I know just how much stress and duress a community-focused event can be, and I admire him for being able to pull off better and better camps every year. I hope that PodCamp, the event I created with Chris Brogan, will be able to celebrate its 11th birthday.
For those of you considering taking up the martial arts - any martial art - give it a try. Give yourself a month and see how it fits you. Martial arts training isn't for everyone, but if you never set foot on the path, you'll definitely never know for sure. And hey, if you're in the Boston area, there's always the Boston Martial Arts Center, too, where I train.
11 years on the path and still going...
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