In The Footsteps of The Past

Yesterday, the family and I went for a hike at the Nobscot Boy Scout Reservation in Sudbury, Massachusetts. For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you know this is the site of the annual New England Warrior Camp put on my friend Ken Savage, who runs his own dojo the Winchendon Martial Arts Center and is the senior student of my teacher, Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center. Every year for the past fourteen years, Ken has put on the camp and invited instructors from all over to come and present a teaching segment – sometimes based around a theme, sometimes not. Over the years, thousands of people have come to this 3-day event, held each Autumn, and “explored, challenged, and developed their warrior spirit.”

It’s always a fantastic event and ken and his staff do an utterly amazing job of making sure that the Camp runs smoothly. For most folks, the visit to Nobscot is a once-a-year event, but I like visiting the camp at other times of the year for the specific purpose of walking in the past.

For fourteen years, the Camp has been a fixture in my life; an event where I get to have scores of experiences, lessons, and opportunities. Fourteen years ago, I’d only been studying the art for about seven years and had only just earned my first degree black belt during a trip to Japan in 1997 with Ken and Mark. Back then, I didn’t teach at the Camp – I was simply another camp-goer eager to participate in whatever segments were available. The Camp – as created by Ken – delivered countless adventures that have a cherished place in my memories.

But as is so often the case with life, our focus is often only forward-looking. What’s coming down the road? What’s happening around us at any given time? What are our goals for the day, the next week, or the next year. And I’m fond of saying that once something is in the past, it’s no use residing there any longer because it can no longer be changed.

As much as I myself like to keep driving ahead, there is great value in walking in the past – if only for a few hours. And by walking the paths of the Nobscot Reservation, it gives me the opportunity to remember precious lessons that time may have obscured or rendered less potent. As I walked with my family, I passed the Fire Trail where my good friend Rich Borgatti earned his black belt by belly-crawling up the side of a mountain and then having to endure a particularly grueling series of attacks. But you can read Rich’s full account of that night here, because for me to attempt to replicate it from my perspective as his senior would be unjust.

We walked past the Chippanyonk Fire Circle, where on Friday and Saturday nights, the instructors field questions from camp goers on the essence of warriorship, walking the path, technical questions from the art, and so much more. The conversations that have taken place there are priceless, and even now, the words of those many nights still linger in the rustling of the trees that lean in over the long cold embers of many fires.

Beyond, we strolled into the Ellis Lands, where most of the teaching segments have taken place. It’s where I’ve taught the majority of my segments alongside my close friend Paul Etherington. It’s where Ken built a long fire walk during one particularly memorable Camp. It’s where we’ve practiced intention exercises while surrounded by the dark forest on all sides.

Every step that I took with my family yesterday brought back another moment – precious fleeting instances from my past riding on the wings of a lesson, an expression, a comment, a smile – and another realization of the legacy I’ve been ever so fortunate to be a part of. As I watched my sons run along the same paths, and their laughter echo through the same trees I’ve come to know so well, I saw glimpses of faces from my past running and laughing as well. Some of those people have chosen to walk another path; others still walk the path with me. But each has had a place in creating the treasure that is my past.

When Ken created the Camp, he’d recently earned his 5th degree black belt and the Grandmaster told those who passed the test that he had just given them a seed. It was up to them what they did with it. They could put it away, and every so often take it out and look at it. Or they could plant it and let it become something truly incredible. Ken selflessly chose to plant the seed and let it blossom into the New England Warrior Camp. For fourteen years, he has labored tirelessly to provide students with the chance to experience aspects of Ninjutsu training that you won’t find in the safe confines of a dojo.

But he’s done so much more than that. What Ken has created with the Camp is a living, breathing piece of history – much the way the art of Ninjutsu is a living, breathing, constantly evolving martial lineage – one that continues to teach long after the actual events have passed.

Yesterday, walking through the woods at Nobscot, I got a chance to relive many of those lessons, to remember the joys of hard training, the chuckle of shared camaraderie, and even the wafting scent of the ghost of Ed the Cook’s Gumbo recipe.

Living in the past is a mistake; but visiting the past every once in a while is a great thing. For me, it helps me appreciate the journey I’m on, the places I’ve been, the kindred spirits I’ve been blessed to walk beside, and the lessons – so many lessons – that I’ve learned in pursuit of some greater ideal. Thanks to Ken Savage and the New England Warrior Camp, I have a place I can visit where walking in the footsteps of the past is not only possible…

…it’s wonderful.

Thank you, Ken.

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