On Friday May 26th, I travelled down to Camp Barton near Trumansburg NY to participate in the 39th Annual Shorinji Kempo Cornell Camp.
As the log cabin doors creaked open, we stepped out into an early morning fog rolling in off beautiful Lake Cayuga located in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes. Friends old and new gathered for a short warm-up followed by a quick jog to breath in the fresh air and get our bodies moving. After a delicious breakfast, we began our study of the philosophy and techniques of Shorinji Kempo taught by Sakuyama-sensei (Ibaragi Takahagi Doin, Japan), former staff member at Hombu and direct student of our Founder – Kaiso So Doshin-sensei.
This year the emphasis was on raising our awareness of how our body moves, specifically through the hip joint (Greater Trochanter or GT for short). Since many of the techniques involve rotational motion through the hip joint, it’s important to understand how it is used to generate power as well as improve speed and balance. We stepped out of our comfort zone by exploring the edge cases where it feels like we would fall over because we were leaning far forward or to the side. We wouldn’t actually fall because our brain tricks us into thinking that we are going to lose our balance well before the point where it happens.
As many of us will be attending the 70th Anniversary of the Foundation of Shorinji Kempo World Taikai event in California this summer, Sakuyama-sensei shared some of his thoughts on Embu preparation and competition. Embu is an important aspect of studying Shorinji Kempo because students perform several techniques in longer combinations with a partner. By alternating the roles of attacker and defender, students improve their techniques by better understanding distance and timing. We learned that there is no difference between practicing Embu and competing in it, other than the fact that in competition you only get to perform it once. This is why it’s important to practice diligently and concentrate completely in order to perform at the highest level possible. In Embu, as in life, it’s okay to make mistakes. One should recognize that a mistake has happened by acknowledging it but not getting too caught up in it. Embu is more than just demonstrating techniques, it helps cultivate life energy (ki) and demonstrates the flow of energy between partners. During our training we continuously combined techniques together to build Embus and demonstrate them to each other. At key times during these demonstrations Sakuyama-sensei would ask us to pause so that we may become aware of the energy flow between us.
We also learned how fortunate we all are that we have a powerful tool for introspection, self-awareness and connection to our environment and beyond - our breath! Humans can survive weeks without food, days without water but only minutes without air. We learned how to monitor and regulate our breathing while sitting, stretching and performing techniques. During stretching, we were asked to focus on allowing our breath to flow into the area of our body that we were trying to stretch and not to think about it as purely a muscle exercise. This allowed us to be more proficient at stretching as well as helping us become more aware of our bodies.
We wish the thank Sakuyama-sensei for coming all the way from Japan to teach us and the Camp organizers for their selfless efforts in facilitating another fantastic training opportunity.
We hope to see everyone again next year!
Kevin Legault (2nd dan)