New England Warrior Camp 2010 – Recap

This past weekend was the New England Warrior Camp, an annual gathering of ninjutsu practitioners from New England and beyond. My good friend and buyu Ken Savage of the Winchendon Martial Arts Center created the event 13 years ago and each successive year, the Camp gets stronger and stronger, with 3-days of intensive day and night training in rustic conditions meant to take camp-goers out of their comfort zones and encourage them to explore the path we walk in new and exciting ways. It’s truly a fantastic event – and while many others have attempted to copy it – none have succeeded.

For the past 10 or 11 years (can’t recall now), I’ve been honored to teach one of the break-out segments at the Camp and I always try to center my presentation around what I happen to be working on at that particular time. It’s always a fantastic experience to get to work with people I don’t normally train with, see how my training and presentation hold up under the duress of each individual attacker, and see how other practitioners are walking the path.

Friday was a humid, rainy day, and I arrived at the Camp at about 3pm. At the White Lodge (the Camp is held on a Boy Scout reservation), I checked in and immediately saw Ken and Paul. A few other folks were milling around, but the excitement was palpable. It always is. One of the great things about the Camp is the caliber and attitude of camp-goers. Everyone is friendly and outgoing. And while there is plenty of political idiocy running rampant in the Bujinkan as a whole, the Camp never tolerates nor suffers from any such juvenile behavior. In short (as Ken’s motto states), we’re there to “explore, challenge, and develop” our warrior spirit. A humid, rainy day wasn’t about to spoil that.

At one of the open-air pavilions, Ken taught a class from 4-5:30 on Kuki Shinden-ryu Hanbojutsu. It was a great way to kick things off and tons of people arrived in time to take part. Ken took us through some basics on using the hanbo, a 3-foot staff, and we got a chance to loosen up with some cool striking techniques.

At 8pm, Ken officially opened the Camp with a welcome around the big fire at the Chippanyonk fire circle. After going over Camp logistics, each of the instructors got a chance to briefly tell folks who were taking their sessions what to expect from the training. From there, we went out to the Ellis Lands where Mark Davis, the senior teacher at the Camp, taught some great night time techniques. As the rain poured down, the air grew cooler, and the night got even more beautiful. The Camp is a fantastic reminder that the wonders of the universe exist in every moment of every situation – we only need to open ourselves up to their presence in order to see and appreciate them.

After the night training concluded, we went back to our quarters at the Henderson Cabin. Several of us stayed up pretty late talking old times and sharing some pretty funny war stories from our years of being in this art. Billy, Dave, Paul, Dennis, Paul, and myself had some great laughs. Then it was off to bed.

Saturday dawned bright and cool. The rain that had poured down the previous night had vanished, leaving behind intense crystal blue skies. A lot of campers showed up for Ken’s early morning Gyo natural fitness session, which is a great method for improving strength and fitness. After a breakfast served up by the Camp’s cook, Ed – who is just crazy enough to add another colorful dimension to the Camp experience without the need for a strait jacket – we all walked out to the Ellis Lands for Mark’s next segment. The ground, which we expected to be muddy, was prefect for training. We twisted, rolled, and bounced around for several hours.

Lunch came and while the rest of the camp-goers went back for the meal, I hung back at the Ellis Lands going over my presentation notes and preparing a few more props. My good friend Billy came out early since he’d be playing the role of attacker (my uke) for my session. We went through what I’d be presenting and then sat down to wait for everyone to show up. Paul showed up to prep for his session and then Ken came out along with the rest of the campers. Each of us had a spot on the giant field and we broke up into three groups for our breakout sessions.

The focus of my presentation was on development of kinesthetic awareness, broadcasting too much intent to an attacker, and disappearing in the midst of a violent encounter. I had a fun time demonstrating the techniques we’d be playing with. The second hour included both attacker and defender being blindfolded with a practice knife inserted into the mix. Two hours flew by and I then raced back to the dining hall to down some chow since I hadn’t eaten much since breakfast aside from some Twix bars and Gatorade.

After dinner I had a chance to grab a quick shower and a cat nap. After that we headed back to the Chippanyonk for the Saturday night talk around the fire. Traditionally, this is where folks can ask questions of the instructors, and we do a few other cool things as well. Ken also laid out the specifics for the night training exercise. This year’s exercise involved a VIP search-and-rescue followed by escape & evasion through hostile territory. Myself, some of the other instructors, and staff volunteers played referees for the event, and as the cool night grew colder, 90+ campers were sent off on their respective assignments. Complicating the assignment even further, each VIP held an index card. Upon arrival, the search & rescue team would be presented with the index card, which told them that their VIP was injured (broken leg, broken knee, etc. etc.). Search & rescue would then have to figure out how they were going to transport their injured VIP back through enemy territory without being compromised. Needless to say, it was a very tough assignment, but a helluva lot of fun.

The Saturday night exercise ended with folks heading back down for the traditional Spam-fest around the campfire. Each year someone seems to concoct some insanely ridiculous recipe for Spam and something else. In the past, the sandwich concoctions have gotten pretty extreme. Not being a fan of Spam, I opt out. But folks brought cookies and other snacks. This year, most people headed off fairly early to bed. Saturdays usually produce the best sleep at Camp.

Sunday morning, Ken took the campers on a walk up the mountain, using more of his Gyo techniques. The view must have been spectacular! After breakfast, the morning’s breakout sessions were with Dennis Mahoney and Leon Drucker. I had an errand to run and missed the first hour, but got back in time to train with Paul and my friend Mike Zaino for the second. More fun training before lunch.

Mark Davis closed out the Camp with a great afternoon session focusing on using the six-foot (bo) staff in a natural way. Paul and I got a chance to explore some of the material we’ve been studying and had a blast doing so. After the session, Ken officially closed the Camp and folks got their gear and said their good-byes. It was, as it always is, a fantastic time. A lot of campers call the Camp, “Ninja New Year” and use it as a means of setting new goals for themselves as they continue walking this path. Ken hands out blank pieces of wood early on Saturdays and invites people to write down a goal for themselves. At the Saturday night fire, campers are invited to come up to the fire and toss their intention sticks into the flames. There’s nothing spiritual or mystical about it, per se, but it’s always a powerful moment as the flames grow higher from the inclusion of each successive intention stick and I, for one, always enjoy watching it. I know I’ve set many goals for myself at the past Camps, and it helps to remind me that there’s still so much to learn, despite twenty years of study in this style.

2010’s NEWC was a great time and I got to meet some wonderful new people. The strength of this art lies in the fact that it is forever growing and evolving – it’s a “living” martial art, not a stagnant, static one reduced to a finite number of stances and techniques. The strength of the Camp lies in the fact that the people who attend it continue to “live” their own individual martial paths, rather than imagine themselves as masters with nothing left to learn.

My sincere thanks to Ken Savage for creating such a wonderful event & to all who came out to the training this past weekend. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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