Caltech SKA Special Training Winter 2001

by Jamie Pflasterer

That question "What do you do when you reach the summit of a mountain?" was one of the first challenges that greeted participants at the Caltech Winter 2001 Special training. Randy McClure, a yodan from Caltech, led special training and urged participants to "keep climbing" from practice to practice, to keep increasing the intensity, and to mantain their mental focus. Randy was supported by godans Bruce Kanegai from Simi Valley and Yoram Cohen from Westwood. The Caltech special training in Pasadena, California ran from the evening of Friday January 26 through Sunday afternoon, January 28.

Seven additional yodans Charles Lai from Rocketdyne; Deke Keasbey, Louis Gottlieb, Dan Sakurai, and Mark Petrigac all from Santa Monica; Kevin Bench from Arizona State; and Pam Logan from Caltech helped in leading practices. A total of 51 participants attended, including 28 black belts, 12 brown belts, and 11 white belts. Kevin Bench of Arizona State and his group (Karl Kaufman, Ben Flores, Kate Buenau, Eliza Miller) traveled the greatest distance to attend.

It can be difficult to explain to non-martial artists why someone would willingly spend a weekend at special training. When asked what their reasons were for attending special training, many participants gave different answers. Georgiana Mitchell, a brown belt from the Royball LA dojo, mentioned that she will be grading for shodan this summer and that she wanted to improve her kumite techniques. She said, "This is my first Caltech special training usually I go to Long Beach instead. I really enjoyed having the chance to practice with different people." Ben Flores, a white belt from Arizona State, came to his first special training in order to see what it was like and to learn from others. Tom Livermore, a white belt from Caltech, said, "I came out of respect for my instructor no other reason." Ian Ferguson, a sandan from the Santa Monica dojo, uses special training as a time to slow down and savor individual moments in life. He said, "Special training is a way to taste my life through hardship, facing fears, and overcoming them. Everything seems brighter and shinier after practice. It's like when you are a kid the day before Christmas seems like the longest day of the year. Special training is a way to recapture that feeling - to slow down the pace of your life and to feel that same excitement and anticipation over again. If I could live every day the same way that I do during special training, my life would be long and rich."

Bruce Kanegai, who attended his first winter special training 36 years ago, said that special trainings are different for him as a godan. "As a black belt, special training is an opportunity to prove yourself in leadership and to set an example for future leaders. Juniors put their lives into the seniors' hands it is up to the seniors to provide hard experiences, not bad experiences, for the juniors. Everyone has to face themselves in special training and rise to a new level." He encourages everyone to participate in special trainings to break through their mental blocks and to prepare themselves to overcome other trials and challenges in life.

Although many of the special training practices are very challenging, there is usually one practice in particular that has a special meaning for each person. Hands down, the favorite practice among this years participants was kumite. Tom Livermore said, "The kumite practice was definitely the most exciting and emotional practice for me." Karl Kaufman, a shodan from Arizona State, said that the intensity of kumite made it his favorite practice. Some participants were ready for just about anything. During the line-up before the practice began, Greg Ushomirsky a white belt from Caltech at his first special training, noticed that another white belt was standing off to the side. He asked a senior, "Doesn't everyone have a partner?" The senior explained that since there were an odd number of people, during each turn one person would not have an opponent. Greg then asked, "What about the yodans? They're not in line." Again, the senior explained that it was customary for yodans to observe and correct, but not directly participate in kumite. Greg looked confused he told the senior, "Go ahead and put them in the line I'll take them on!"

Kate Buenau, a white belt from Arizona State, said, "I'm glad that I met my goals for my first special training. My goal was to keep focused during practice and to never give up no matter what." Georgiana Mitchell also met her goals for tightening down mentally during kumite. "I faced so many new techniques and new approaches to kumite I feel like I learned so much. Now I'm prepared to face anyone during shodan grading this summer." Georgiana also praised the leadership of the special training. "I really enjoyed Randy [McClure's] inspirational stories of rock climbing and boxing before and after the practices." Tom Livermore agreed that there was a rare quality of leadership to be found in SKA. "To me, it seems like the yodans and godans are a different class of people. Their integrity and commitment shone throughout special training. People who don't have that type of strength will never make it to such a high level. It's a unique and fundamental part of this organization [SKA] to attract, or perhaps to create, these kinds of quality people."

So what do you do when you reach the summit of a mountain? The answer of course is - "Keep going up!" Thanks the leaders of the Caltech special training who helped us reach higher than we thought possible, and to everyone who attended. Hope to see you next year at the top!


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