I’m sorry. I know I was suppose to post part 2 of last week’s post, this week but I went and assigned a post topic to all of us without thinking. I promise that next week’s post will be part 2.
For this week, I assigned everyone (well not Master Shaffer) to write about the first winter retreat they attended. The problem is that I have never attended one of my winter retreats because I have always taught them. So my post will be from the point of view of the instructor. Back in 1991, Grandmaster Ahn gave everyone that came to class one night a surprise written exam on the mental aspects of Taekwondo. This exam was an eye opener for most of us that took it. Needless to say, there were a lot of bad grades and it was obvious that more attention needed to be placed on the various mental components of Taekwondo. This really motivated to learn more and started me down a new path of study. My first area of exploration was the Trigram and the Taegeuk Forms. I spent a lot of time asking questions and reading about them. Once I had a general understanding of them and their relationship to the forms, I wrote an article for Taekwondo Times. This was just the beginning of my new obsession.
Once I moved back to Rochester in 1992, I started teaching Taekwondo at several local YMCA. A group of black belts that had been with me before I moved to Cincinnati, started coming to my classes again. I had a fairly large number of students within a very short time and I knew that I had to place a strong emphasis on the mental aspects of Taekwondo, especially when teaching my black belts. I wanted to share my love for this knowledge with them. The problem was figuring out a way to do that without them all dropping out. I was convinced that if I devoted a lot of class time to anything other than physical techniques that I would have students leaving or at least complaining. That is when I came up with the idea to have a winter retreat. The retreat would solely focus on everything in Taekwondo that was not physical. I knew that the local YMCA had a camp up in the mountains that they rented to snowmobilers in the winter. I thought that would be perfect, because it would be in the middle of nowhere and there wouldn’t be any of the daily distraction. After sending out flyers to my black belts, I was truly amazed that all of them signed up for the 3 day retreat. “All of them” was only 5 at the time: Master VanHee, Master Humble, Mr. Smith, Mr. Folks, and Mr. Berry.
Because all my experience with retreats was only in the form of very strict Japanese meditation retreats, that I had attended frequently, I think I might have overdone it the first year. We all arrived Friday afternoon and I immediately started teaching classes on some Chi Kung exercises. These exercises consisted of holding the arms in different positions for a very long time while doing various breathing techniques. By the end of the night the black belts were in a lot of pain and ready for bed. Bed consisted of very old dirty bunk beds that none of us could really fit into. They did provide entertainment however, because there was writing all over them and the walls. The summer campers had a lot of interesting things to say.
At 4:45 in the morning I rang the wake up bell. Mr. Smith jumped so high when I rang it that he hit his head (having slept on the top bunk) on the ceiling so hard that I thought he knocked himself out, but all he did was create a lump the size of an egg. At that point everyone had 15 minutes to get ready for walking meditation. Walking meditation was outside and lasted 15 minutes. While walking, a group of snowmobilers was returning back to their cabin after having consumed a large quantity of alcohol at a local bar. They slowed way down as they passed us and I’m not sure if they believed what they saw was real or was caused by the beer. We couldn’t see their faces but all their heads turned as they went by.
After walking meditation was finished, we returned to the cabin to start seated meditation. This lasted for 6 hours, with only a 30 minute break for breakfast. I had decided that Saturday from the bell until 4 in the afternoon was going to be silent and that there would be no talking under any circumstances. Well, I had to talk to teach the classes that were held after meditation but I tried to minimize this as much as possible. Lunch came and went and so did another class or two. Around 2pm I gave them a break in order to take showers. The cabin didn’t have any showers, so off they went to a building that housed all the showers for the camp. Once they entered the building, several of the snowmobilers saw them and started asking them question about what my black belts were doing outside at 5am. The problem was that the black belts couldn’t answer due to my rule on not speaking. They tried to use hand gestures to communicate that they could not talk but it was a disaster, so they gave up and stayed to themselves. At 4pm when they could finally talk, they really didn’t say that much. They acted like they were drugged. I felt like I had to do something and I decided that this “state” could easily be cured by a nice walk through the woods. So we all jumped in a couple of cars and drove down the road to a parking lot at the beginning of a hiking trail, and off we went. Well, until a cross-country skier got upset with us for destroying the snow on the trail. So, what were we to do. I looked around and saw a nearby mountain and decided that the best course of action was to climb it. It has become a tradition and we have climbed it every year since then, that we have used Camp Gorham as the location for the winter retreat.
Once back in the cabin, it was time for dinner. Then I taught several classes on Iron Shirt Chi Kung, after which it was time for bed. I had decided that I wanted to teach them all a lesson on how much the mind can affect our perception of how sleepy we are, so I rang the bell at 2am instead of 4:45am. There were no clocks allowed at the retreat so there was no way for them to know what time it really was. The morning was identical to the previous day. Walking meditation followed by seated meditation. We only sat for a couple of hours however. Then I told them they could all talk because I wanted to ask them a few questions. I asked them how sleepy they were that day compared to the previous day. How difficult it was to get up and how their meditation went. They all felt that it was easier than the day before. No one had any clue that it was only 4:30ish. Even after I told them a couple of them didn’t believe it. It was amazing how sleepy they all got once they really knew the time, so I let them go back to bed.
That was all I really remember about the first Winter Retreat I taught. We have come a long way. A few years ago we had over 50 adult black belts at the winter retreat. It is amazing how far we have come.