Day three began with evidence of why they’re called the Smokey Mountains. Because it was our last day and we were leaving the cabins, we had to clean. I did one more run-through to make sure we got everything and forgot to snap a picture of the beautiful cloud cover. The whole area is worth a visit for the stunning scenery.
The morning weather was cloudy with a little light drizzle. We started inside with the elbow set while stepping in open diamond footwork. We started with the right side, and upon finishing the set of twelve, we switched to the left hand and left leading footwork.
The morning instruction was in Kenpo Counterpoint 2 – also called the Assault Set – and updates to that curriculum. Both Evan Ringle, my instructor, and Mike Miller of Springfield FMA I have spoken at length about how much they enjoy this level of the material. Both of them have said that through this portion of the curriculum they are starting to see the bigger picture in Counterpoint Tactical Systems. The Assault Set empty hand drills had not really interested me until this camp. I knew they were important, but I preferred the weapons work.
Zach has a 7th degree black belt in American Kenpo Karate; the majority of his students have studied American Kenpo Karate. Before training in CTS, my only exposure to Kenpo was the movie Perfect Weapon. Master Whitson has modified Kenpo drills and incorporated these new drills as part of his system. Due to my lack of familiarity with the Kenpo techniques, these drills have been harder for me to learn than most of his students. (Granted this means that I could train new muscle memory without having to modify what I’ve already learned.) I was biased against the Assault Set. During this camp, Master Whitson discussed his philosophy in creating these drills. Between this and how highly Evan and Mike think of the drills, I became more interested in the Assault Set.
As the instruction progressed through the day, I could see why Mike and Evan love this material. I said in Day One that I was putting together skills sets with more and more success. If my life were a cartoon, on Day Three a light bulb the size of Connecticut and bright as the sun would have appeared over my head. I got the chance to work a part of the set with the newly promoted Russ Haas of East Coast Self Defense. As I worked my techniques, Russ was checking them, which is a common protection during partner drills. I don’t remember if it was at his insistence (most likely was) or if I just did it, but as he checked the final part of the sequence, I added a new technique, which he checked. Since he checked that, I flowed into something new. Ding ding ding, we have an epiphany. Until that moment, I had thought of the Assault Set as a technique specific drill. (After all of my experience with CTS, I should have known better.)
One reason that I love the Filipino Martial Arts is the concept of flow. The FMAs have an attitude that change happens. They accept it and work with the change rather than against it. FMAs follow what in physics is called the path of least resistance. Brazillian Jiu Jitsu is also famous for following this principle. Essentially, if the first move does not work, you move to the next instead of forcing the first move to be successful. It’s a Zen mindset where the FMA player is not attached to any move or technique. This concept of flow is what I was missing when Evan was studying the Assault Set. (He clearly saw the concept as part of the material because he tested it in Pittsburgh and passed.)
On the Day 02 post, I spoke about how the CTS instructors lead by example. Russ has been practicing the Assault Set longer than I have been involved in CTS. He easily could have countered and shut me down at any time. However, he pushed me outside of my comfort zone so I would improve. My mindset shifted from learning the drill to learning the concept. I began to see how the flow in the weapons training worked as part of the empty hand curriculum. (I am still studying and grappling with these connections.) Russ’s little nudge set me on a different path; so, thank you to him for the important lesson. When I worked with Mike Miller or Evan Ringle after this, I began to see that they were on this same path. They had ingrained these principles already.
Day 03 is only half a day; camp closes at noon on Sunday. We still had staff material to cover. A light drizzle had come and gone while we worked the Assault Set. Zach wanted to check the conditions in his front yard. He asked who in the group wanted to move outside and learn staff even if the front yard was a little wet. From where I stood, it looked like a unanimous decision for the final staff set, which measures in length from the ground to the crown of your head. We covered the entire staff twelve count. The floretta technique with the staff is impressive and feels like a very powerful strike. I had trouble with the transition from right hand lead grip to left hand lead grip. After some instruction by Josh Ryer and Evan, I came a little closer to getting it and have been working on it since the camp with my walking stick.
As the final part of Josh Ryer’s third degree black belt test, he had to spar staff. All of the black belts who were healthy sparred staff. Below is a clip of Josh Ryer and David Curet in action. It’s fantastic. They are using the walking stick length in this clip.
The voices in the clip are Russ Haas of East Coast School of Self Defense and the newly minted black belt, Preston Macready of Ryer Martial Arts Academy. They sparred each other before this video.
This was my third camp, and with each year, the camp gets better and better. Thank you to Zach and Dian Tanaka Whitson for their hospitality and all the hard work they do to make this camp a success.
Dian had lunch prepared for us. We grabbed sandwiches and hit the road. But first, we had to say good-bye. Good-bye to friends we might not see for another year, congratulations to all those who advanced in the curriculum, thanks for the help, the laughter, the beer and, occasionally, the bruises and, finally, see you next year.