Train for All Conditions

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-09-25)

It was the early summer at Natural Bridge, Arizona, where the Kenpo schools of the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and surrounding areas would hold their spirit camp. Many other visitors were welcome and came from Texas, California, Utah, Nevada and so on.

Now these camps were spartan to say the least: we camped in tents, used "porta-potties", and cooked over large fires or individual gas burners. The lower in rank you were, the more likely you would just get your baloney sandwich down before doing pushups for violating some rule of protocol. Worse, you might have your instructor alongside you, paying for your 'newbie'-to-camp-life error because he or her didn't teach you well enough.

On this most beautiful property were large trees, open fields, the remains of a Native American cliff dwelling, a lodge not to be used by anyone, and...The Duck Pond....

This pond sat in a meadow next to the open field training areas and was the playground of several ducks.

My senior student in the area, Gary Swan, was as much a stickler for sound basics as I was, and we would have long classes on basics and combinations of the same.

When a student would commit an egregious error (which any error was), he or she would be given a task to redeem him or herself and remove the pushup-in-the dust stigma of both student and instructor. I assigned simple things, such as climbing a tree to see if the leaves were also green on the top, or in this case, checking the wetness and depth of "The Duck Pond". All of this was done to remove the comfort zone of the student so they would be prepared for battle.

One of the senior belts---let's call him "Cliff"---brought one of his orange belts, a gorgeous redhead of whom he was very fond. When the order was given to get into the Duck Pond, the young lady refused, saying it was "icky" or something along these lines. I asked Cliff why his student wasn't willingly going into the pond with her brothers and sisters. He ran to her and though the conversation was inaudible, his gestures resembled begging. After a bit, I turned to Dennis Conatser's instructor, Lonny Coots, and asked him why the young lady wasn't in the pond and would he allow one of his students to act in this manner. Mr. Coots turned to a young Conatser and said: "Mr. Conatser, see that she tests the water." Mr. Conatser interrupted the conversation between Cliff and his fiery redhead and threw her into the pond like a screaming, angry, banshee.

The next morning this lovely lady came to me while I was eating breakfast and offered me a blueberry muffin. Suspecting arsenic, poison mushrooms, or other niceties, I accepted it and made sure Cliff had the first bite of her offering. She apologized and became one of the most enthusiastic students for the rest of the camp. Cliff didn't last long in the relationship, and I always wondered what kind of student she would've made ultimately.

You see, not all the lessons are physical, and once one finds that their survival is guided by their determination, the student emerges.