I woke up early on September 13th for the trip to Butler, TN. After eleven hours of travel, including meeting up with Michael Miller from Springfield FMA, we arrived at camp. The first night is all about the welcome; we stopped at Zach’s place to say our hellos and orientation. After all that, we went out for Thai food. Then, it was up to the cabins for bonfires and getting caught up with friends that we haven’t seen for a year and also for new introductions. All of that traveling didn’t sit well with me; so, I called it an early night on Thursday. I wanted to be rested and ready for the first day of training.
When I woke up on Friday, this was the scene outside my cabin. This view is a perfect way to start the day. Seeing this view was very relaxing, and I couldn’t help but smile looking out over the valley. It put me in the right mindset for the day ahead. We drove from the cabins to Master Whitson’s training facility. This year’s camp was capped off at forty-one participants. People had traveled from Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Tennessee, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri to train with Master Whitson and be part of this camp. (Visit the links page to find the schools around the country.)
Day one started off with some ranging footwork as a warm up led by Josh Ryer. After warming up, Master Whitson led us all in some standing meditation. This was a difficult aspect of camp for me. The meditation required just standing and relaxing. This stance – having to hold my arms up as if hugging a tree and remaining still – produced a slight burn in my shoulders. Master Whitson constantly reminded us to relax, and at each of these cues, I felt that my shoulders were bunched and had to consciously relax them. Then, Master Whitson led us through the updates to both Panatukan sets. The new elbow count was really nice, but my favorite update was the jab/cross timing drills. During training, we even started adding the Defensa tactics from Panatukan 2 to these drills. This was the first camp where I started expanding the CTS material that I’ve learned without direct prompting from an instructor. We were working the drills but adding material from other parts of Panatukan or Stand Up Grappling. Learning to see the connections between the different sets of material is an important step in the CTS practitioners journey. It is a process that I’m still wrestling with, but at this camp, I noticed that I was making progress putting skill sets together.
Lunch for forty plus people is not easy, but Dian Tanaka Whitson accomplishes it expertly. Dian prepares lunch and dinner for five meals during camp; she takes care of any problems with the cabins and provides each cabin with groceries for breakfast. All of Dian’s hard work allows the camp to transition smoothly and stay focused on training. I want to thank her for all she does. The food is fantastic, and the hospitality is second to none. Not only did I leave camp with a lot of knowledge, but I also left with some cookies straight from the oven.
Lunch is also the time to rest and branch out. It’s the time to get to know everyone a little better. The people that come to camp have their own wonderful stories, and it’s worth taking the time to get to know them. I’m shy in large groups, but I do push my boundaries and meet new people. Lunch is the perfect time for this. The group usually puts together a long table on the deck. When the weather complies, I prefer eating on the deck overlooking the front training yard. This year we were able to enjoy the sun with our food and conversation.
After lunch, we moved to the front yard and on to the first part of the staff material. At this camp, Master Whitson taught three lengths of staff. First is the walking stick, which measures from the ground to your hip; the next measures from the ground to your sternum. I’m unsure of the proper name for it; so, I call it by the grip Master Whitson taught with it – the battering ram. The final length is the staff, which measures as your height. I attended the Pittsburgh Filipino Martial Arts camp where Master Whitson covered this material; so, I was familiar with it. Going through the material again was a good chance to pick up on little details that I missed the first time. We started with the walking cane length. Working the various angles with the walking cane and working on the Pekiti contradas platform, I noticed my shoulders were wearing down faster than normal but were still getting a good workout. For this reason, I decided to purchase the walking stick, and the longer, heavier stick has become a new addition to my solo practice. We covered all twelve angles with the walking cane and worked some drills from green belt and second brown belt as well. I really enjoyed seeing how the Pekiti Tirsia drills that I’m learning apply to the larger sticks. Sure, modifications have to be made, but the motions are similar and the concepts are the same. It was a solid afternoon of training that was capped off with belt tests.
At the end of day one, every color belt from blue to first brown tested. My attention was focused on the test for second brown belt. (This was reconnaissance for my next test.) I watched a portion of each of the tests. The difference in skill levels was apparent between the blue belts and the upper color belts, but the intensity and the effort was uniform throughout. Everyone worked hard, and everyone showcased the skills that they had learned. Testing is a nerve wracking time; every person testing wants to show Master Whitson that they have worked hard on their material. But testing is also an opportunity. I’ve seen a few tests without any notes given. Most everyone gets comments during the test; I have with each of my tests. What I have learned is that notes are not negatives; they are there to highlight the areas that need work for both the student and the instructor. Iron Mountain is meant to be an instructor’s camp; so, the notes received during a test are also for the instructors. My training partner Alejandro of Saint Louis Counterpoint passed his green belt test. Congratulations to him, and congrats to all those who passed their tests.
After all these tests were completed, Josh Ryer performed the ground fighting level 02 portion of his third degree black belt test. The test went exactly like this: Zach listed a technique or position, Josh demonstrated, Zach asked for a new technique or position, Josh demonstrated. We all watched (except for David Curet, who helped Josh with the test), and it was very impressive. I do not remember any notes being given. The material was very interesting with some cool reversals and sweeps.
After the testing was complete, dinner began. Dian had made Chicken Adobo and rice. There was more laughter, more socialization, some beer and lots of stories being told. I often say that Iron Mountain is like a family reunion, and dinner did not disappoint. I learned some jokes out of Dayton, was told of some strange movies out of West Virginia and met an architect out of Pittsburgh who happens to have a project involving a building here in Saint Louis that is rented by the company I work for. It’s a small world as they say. When we returned to the cabins, we had bonfires and more socialization. I found it very comforting to be surrounded by the silence of the woods and then to have that silence broken by the laughter of friends.
Day Two began with the Kenpo Counterpoint Assault set and ended with Black belt testing. More on that in the next post.