Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day 892: Kangieko ... brrrrrr !

egret, photography

Training in traditional Japanese Karate ...
one of our traditions is Kangieko.

On the first Sunday of the new year, we meet ...
at the beach for Kangieko (cold weather training).
Wearing just our gi (uniform) and bare feet,
we run, exercise, and do kata, kumite and competitions,
on the sand and in the Pacific Ocean.

It is dark when we start at 6AM 
and the sun is rising when we finish.

The best description I have ever seen, is an essay 
written in 2007 by high school valedictorian Rachel Maher, 
now a college graduate with a stellar career. 

My lungs are an old filter, painfully swelling with each swig of cold air; my heart
is a malfunctioning clock, gradually increasing its steady pulse; my feet are blocks of ice,
chipped away by a hammer with each pounding step. I am too cold to shiver, and as I
gaze out at the pale expanse disappearing in the darkness before me, the only thing that
motivates me is the sound of my numerous pursuers. They start to overtake me, and I
feel weak and tired. When I run into the circle, I shove my bare feet deeper into the sand
and briefly contemplate why I ever chose to leave my warm bed. But I am soon called
back to reality by the sound of Senseiís voice. He shouts his orders and my feet leave
their insulating cocoons as I kick, sending abrasive granules flying like explosive sparks
of fireworks against the black of early morning.

I catch the eyes of my friends and fellow trainers and we exchange grins. This is
the day we have been anticipating with excitement, dread - and just a touch of insanity.
This is Kangeiko, cold weather training, a new year custom in our traditional Karate. It is
a time for friends to meet and collectively persevere in the face of a challenge, thus
starting the year with good fortune. The first Sunday of January, we layer sweaters over
our uniforms and socks over our feet and head down to the beach at 5:30 in the morning.
We stand together exchanging holiday stories and, gradually removing layers, we
acclimate ourselves to the cold.

There are levels of cold on the dark beach in January. The air itself is chilly - the
runny nose, aching ears kind of cold. Even so, it is bearable, cold only in relation to our
mild days. The wind adds an edge to the chill, spraying algid Pacific mist against oneís
already reddening face, making it feel raw and numb. The sand hurts. Sand is a great
insulator, so while in the warmth of summer its golden swells exude the sunís heat, it also
expertly retains the cold of night. Sand - at 5:30 in the middle of winter, feeling like a
thousand needles jabbing the feet - is the most irritating, painful, sharp, biting, stinging,
piercing, frigid material oneís appendages could ever hope to encounter. After several
years of exposing myself to this torture, I am convinced that our warm ups are not so
much to warm us up as they are to make our feet numb so that we can put the pain behind
us and get to work.

This method must be effective, because what may be routine in the dojo suddenly
takes on an element of the exotic, and we proceed with great zeal ñ though perhaps with
little grace ñ through our basic techniques and our kata. We come to thoroughly enjoy
ourselves, our happiness augmented by bewilderment at our own audacity to engage in
such an activity. As dawn approaches, we participate in activities that stoke our
competitiveness, while encouraging camaraderie. We have relay races and drills that take
us down to the waterís edge where we spar, actually grateful when we are taken down
into the relative warmth of the cold and churning ocean.

To ensure that we understand the worth of this morningís activities, my chief
instructor, wise as he is skilled, shares with us a message. With his thick Japanese
accent, Sensei makes poignant observations about the significance of beach training in
our lives: of the importance of connecting with new and old acquaintances, and the
necessity of having a focus during difficult times.

Wet and sandy, we then scramble into a line facing the sun, beaming with our
blue lips. Seisan is a very special part of training, a short meditation at the beginning and
end of every session, first clearing our minds of all distractions, then reflecting on how
blessed we are to be able to be active and disciplined. Seisan at the end of Kangeiko is
particularly tranquil and meaningful. Although each person feels tired and uncomfortable
kneeling on the sand, the freshness of the sun lighting the misty shore, combined with the
consciousness of the physical and mental strength that was required for the previous
event, makes it impossible to finish that morning without feeling proud and connected
with the surrounding people and environment.

What comes next is the most physically strenuous part of my morning, though
quite possibly the most valuable event in which I partake. As most of our group migrates
towards blankets, hot beverages, and a blazing fire pit, a small number of us trudges back
towards the waves where we stand thigh deep in water to do a kata for every person
present. The water is no longer an inviting relief from the cold sand, and the resistance of
the water hurts our legs and pushes us out of balance. Wave after wave, the tide threatens
to knock us over, but we continue our training. Sharing this experience, we are able to
laugh, shiver, joke, and smile. Despite being a strict ritual, this training is informal, not
confined to the structure of our dojo. By participating, though, Kangeiko literally makes
the entire world my dojo - a sacred place of learning, respect, manners, and discipline.
Though I often isolate myself in Karate because I feel that I lack the skill necessary to be
associated with my fellow trainers, there is no time of the year that I feel more connected
to everything around me than on the day of Kangeiko, when I am engulfed by the ocean,
surrounded by my friends, and focused on a collective passion. Gazing at some dolphins
swimming in the crispness of the new morning, a particularly strong wave splashes me in
the face. I stumble, continue with my moves, and realize that it is the waves that make
the experience worthwhile.

Rachel Maher, 2007

A great way to start a new year.

A smile for Sunday ...

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