Overview of the 2012 Shin Ho Kwan Black Belt Winter Retreat

I am happy to report that we are all back safe, well, and delightfully exhausted from the 2012 Black Belt Winter Retreat.  As you probably know from the blog, post after post, week after week had been leading up to that experience.  Every year, I always feel a little deflated, a little sad when it’s over.  This year was no exception.  It was a wonderful retreat despite some snags along the way.  I feel really sorry for everyone who could not, or worse yet, chose not to attend.  You really missed a great experience.  We had awesome classes in a variety of subjects, including some physical things like weapons and concepts extracted from the internal martial arts.  Master Pearson was in excellent form as always and his lectures were interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining!  We also had two great guest instructors teaching us and I know I speak for everyone when I say thank you to Sensei Paul Gardner from Eastern Sky Aikido Kokikai and to Dr. Peter Kladstrup, wellness extraordinaire – both dear friends of Master Pearson’s and both excellent teachers of their craft.  Among other things, Sensei Gardner spoke about the impact your mental state and attitude can have on your physical abilities and presence – this is a concept that really can be life changing and entirely holistic – it extends waaaaaaay beyond martial arts.  With Dr. Kladstrup, we learned about his methods of testing for various ailments and inequities within the body.  This was cool because, having been a patient of his, I have seen him do this type of work hundreds of times but I never really understood what was behind his techniques.  It was great fun to practice on each other and turned into a great chi stimulating hour when energy in general happened to be at its lowest.

My fellow Hagsaeng Naebu also were tasked with presenting some of the work we have done in our time together.  They, not I (as I was busy in the kitchen) taught the group all about the various apparatuses we have been using, how to make them, and how to train with them.  It was fun to watch everyone else go through what we go through on a monthly basis and I was relieved to know that they also struggled with these traditional methods when trying them for the first time.  It was also nice to discover that we Hagsaeng Naebu have improved in our knowledge and in our ability to handle these apparatuses.

As always, the retreat had a profound effect on me.  I had wonderful 1:1 conversations with many of the participants and I left feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and re-committed to Shin Ho Kwan’s teachings, practices, and path.  It’s funny – our students often leave the retreat with the desire to make huge changes in their lives or to start this regimen or that program or to go to class more consistently or whatever.  For some reason, this weekend tends to have a powerful impact on people and the way they think about themselves, their instructor, and our art.  These feelings are often so intense that Master Pearson has, for several years now, acknowledged and warned against them during his final talk of the weekend.  He is careful to encourage people not to make too many drastic or dramatic changes in their lives even though they may be inspired to do so in the days after the retreat.  Failure to complete such goals, he warns, will lead to a crushed self-confidence and extreme disappointment.  I, too have fallen prey to those overwhelming types of feelings that result after the retreat and I always  try take Master Pearson’s warning to heart and keep things in perspective.  This year, however, as I listened to him give a lecture that I have heard him recite countless times (I think there are even one or two blog posts about it) about how we prioritize our practice in our lives and how to effectively set goals for ourselves (you know, the thing about the jar with rocks, sand, and water…), I began to think about some of the things that I had yet to put inside my jar.  I realized, and I explained this to some of the people that I had private conversations with on this very subject throughout the duration of the weekend, that Master Pearson’s warnings are supremely correct.  Lofty goals such as I am going to practice for 3 hours every day, or meditate for an hour every day, or whatever do not serve us well.  We inevitably fail because we do not take the time to figure out how these new regimens can fit within the lives we already live.  If however, we focus on small, attainable practices that don’t take up too much time or energy, we feel a sense of accomplishment, we maintain the practice for longer, and we also enhance our overall martial arts knowledge and ability.  There is no need to pick 5 things that you want to learn or improve between one retreat and the next.  Instead, pick one thing – one skill or one form or one practice and do that.  And when you finish it, pick something else.  If you complete 5 things by the next retreat, great.  Perhaps you’ll do more, perhaps less, but at least you won’t be disappointed that you did not complete some arbitrary, extreme number that was unrealistic in the first place.

Which brings me to the Monday after the retreat and my day off from rabbinic life.  I usually use my day off to do a few things for myself (a long workout, sleep in, grocery shop, laundry, other errands), and the rest of the time I use to catch up on work.  Oddly enough, I have not used that day as a day to prioritize martial arts.  Inspired by the retreat and the feelings that I discussed above, I think I will begin using a part of this day for that purpose.  This seems like an attainable goal – use part of my day off to practice…something.  So what did I do today, you might be wondering?

Way back in the summer – Hagsaneg Naebu posted instructions about how to make each of the apparatuses that we use in our training together.  Each of us took responsibility for a different apparatus and described how to make it and use it.  I took the weighted hoops – Sandy and Sameer!  This apparatus began as my least favorite – because it is difficult, tiring, and causes Master Pearson to yell at me a lot, but it has actually become one of my favorites.  Like the finger board, it has an instant result – you know immediately if you are doing the technique right or wrong based on how much it hurts you hands or the back of your wrist.  It is a very good teacher.  When I wrote my post on how to make it, I went out the same day and bought the supplies to make my own.  And they sat, and sat, and sat, and sat in storage unit of my apartment for months.  So that’s what I did today!  I am now the proud owner of my very own weighted hoop that I made with my own two hands!  The fact that it took me 6 months to actually make it is completely ridiculous because the entire project, start to finish only required about 5 minutes to complete.  So if you’re looking for a fast and easy martial arts project – this is it!!!!!

Some of the problems I encountered were filling the tube with sand and attaching the connecter between the two ends.  When we made this apparatus at our meeting there were four of us and we sat on Master Pearson’s stairs in order to allow gravity to help us fill the tube.  Well I couldn’t do that on my own but after a bit of struggling and twisting and turning it ended up working out just fine.  Make sure – if you do this – that you have a funnel for the sand.  It will make everything easier.  Also remember that the connector is open on moth ends so sand will flow through it from side to side if you do not fill the entire tube so that it is tightly packed.  Fitting the connector was also a bit of a challenge.  Master Pearson did this step last time so I wasn’t aware of how strong you needed to be to push it inside the ends of the tube.  I did learn that you can twist and turn the tube around the threads of the connecter and that worked as a solution but be careful when you do this as it has a tendency to  change the shape of your hoop from a circle to an “S.”  I had to do it twice to figure out how to retain the shape and still get the connector into place.  In the end, I couldn’t get it to fit as snugly as the ones we made with Master Pearson but I was able to compensate by adding black electrical tape all around the connector – you have to do this anyway because the plastic piece has this weird sharp point in its center and it will hurt you hands if you do not cover it.  Additionally, I think I made my hoop just a tad too big.  I guessed based on memory of the other two but I think I was off slightly.  The entire thing is just a bit harder to maneuver than the ones we use in class and my arms are just barely long enough to do the back of the wrist, flip it over thingy.  Ah well – it doesn’t need to be perfect and just think, if I can do the exercises with my hoop, which is heavier and bigger than our classes’ – then I should be killer at this apparatus at our next meeting.

At any rate, I’m glad I now have this training apparatus and I can’t believe how easy it was to make.  Here is a small goal that took me only a few minutes to complete, left me feeling good about having done it, and will enhance my learning for months!

Finally…my own weighted hoop! Does it look too big to you?

Requirement (finally) fulfilled,


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