In case it has not yet been made abundantly clear…I am soooooooooo excited for this year’s Winter Retreat!  People who have not yet had the privilege of attending this spectacular event perhaps to not understand the enormity of impact that this program has upon its participants.  In my line of work, we talk repeatedly about impactful and meaningful programming that facilitates the building of community and the forming of genuine relationships.  In essence, in my professional life, that is the goal of everything I do; of each day’s work.  For me, the reference point, my litmus test so-to-speak, is the Shin Ho Kwan Winter Retreat.  But why?  What is it that makes these three days out of the entire year such a powerful experience?  Well…it’s a hard question to answer, which is perhaps why I have been unable to recreate this type of experiential opportunity in my work.  There is just something about it, something that I, nor most of my retreat co-veterans, just can’t put our fingers on.  You might say that it is because of the learning, of the actual material that is presented during this weekend getaway.  You would certainly be partially correct.  As I’m sure folks would agree, the educational level of the Winter Retreat is outstanding.  Our instructors, most notably Masters Pearson and Humble come extremely prepared.  Master Pearson, I know, puts in months of time developing, researching, and rehearsing the topics he has carefully chosen.  The lectures delivered and the hands-on learning provided are unparalleled, I would venture to say, in the martial arts world – seriously, I’d bet my paycheck on it.  It is delightfully sophisticated while remaining light-hearted, “informal,” and enjoyable.  I put informal in quotations because the retreat itself is extremely formal from a martial arts perspective. However, simultaneously, the lectures and learning are relaxed and comfortable.  Questions are encouraged, the instructors are approachable, and the material always seems to be presented in an accessible and meaningful way.  The topics are varied and interesting.  We get just enough information to wet our appetites and keep us wanting more without being overwhelmed or bored.

So yeah, the learning is great.  But the power of the retreat seems also to transcend the learning.  In a conversation with Master Pearson and Mr. Walsh the other day, we realized just how many people have expressed an interest in attending this year’s retreat.  This is a really curious phenomenon and I think it demonstrates the power of martial arts to build community.  These individuals, who we are so glad are coming, maybe aren’t doing so because they practice martial arts all the time but rather because this has always been and hopefully always will be their community.  They feel connected to the people and the place and the message that is the Winter Retreat.  It has become such an imbedded part of our culture within our particular school of martial arts that it is hard to imagine the cycle of the year without it.  One of the most amazing years of my life was the 12+ months I spent living and studying in Israel.  As anyone who has spent significant time abroad knows it is an incomparable experience.  The growth and transformation that takes place within a person whilst they are living away from home, particularly in a foreign country, is absolutely tremendous.  I would change nothing about that year of my life (except perhaps to extend it!) and I do not regret for a second spending a full calendar year in the land of my ancestors.  But being away from one’s family, friends, and community has its ups and downs.  We are all prone to missing the comforts of life as we knew it from time to time.  As incredible and important as that year was for me, I can honestly say that one of the few times I remember feeling homesick, like really homesick, was the weekend of the Winter Retreat.  Knowing that people were there and having a great time and learning without me, that inside jokes were being crafted and memories were being formed and I wasn’t a part of it, was really frustrating.  That year remains today, the only retreat that I have ever missed in 15 years of eligibility.

The retreat has changed drastically since it began 21 years ago.  As it grew in popularity and more people became eligible to attend, it became more and more fixed culturally speaking.  Now there were “things” and traditions and formalities not to be trifiled with, much of which still exists today.  It grew so big that we’ve had to change locations not just once, but twice, to accommodate all the interested students, first from Gorham to Cassowasco and now back to our beloved Gorham.  Almost everyone remembers with intense detail his or her first retreat, and there are now many students who have attended ten or more  People can recall their favorite lectures and activities (mine was when we played Monopoly as part of some lesson – which I honestly don’t remember now – and I landed on Park Place with a hotel owned by none other than Mr. Quandt.  It would’ve wiped me out but Mr. Smith (remember him!!??) unknowingly came to my rescue, calling to Mr. Quandt from the other room and distracting him long enough for the next person to take his turn!!  I’m sorry Mr. Quandt – I owe you like $1500! ) , their favorite overall retreats, the most botched opening ceremony, the most beautiful one, the most strenuous climb up the mountain, the most impressive move ever performed on a sled being dragged behind a car, the most hilarious antic performed during a stage hypnosis demonstration (I hope no one recalls this!), the most powerful mind-blowing moment during a meditation session…and the list goes on.

So for those you who will be joining us for the first time, welcome!  We hope you’re excited to become part of this community in which you will always have a place.  For those of you who are still on the fence about attending, or you’re unsure how to make it happen, don’t let this be the year you decide not to come.  Make it happen!  We’ll see you there!


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