We took the redeye from Seattle to Newark, rented a car and drove the two hours to Esopus. Upon arriving at the center we had a brief orientation, followed by a long workout. The promotion candidates were then separated out for about three hours of formal testing, followed by an hour plus of non-stop kumite. The kumite was very lively, and I fought both promotion candidates and other black belts that were there to assist with exams. As if on cue, for the last and longest fight the sky opened up and it poured rain and thunder on everyone.

Following the fighting exams we cleaned up, attended dinner, which was followed by the evening meditation. The next morning we were up at 4 AM for zazen or sitting meditation, followed by kinhin (walking meditation.) Morning meditations began before the first bird started singing, and would be accompanied by a swelling cacophony of birdsong. Kinhin was followed by a vigorous workout and special training. I chose self-defense as my training option, although the other options (senior kata, kumite conditioning, etc.) were equally attractive. Breakfast was followed by another “short” workout that lasted an hour and 15 minutes. After some free time that was devoted to organizing for the afternoon’s scheduled team activities, we retired for lunch. During the afternoon, pre-assigned teams competed in group activities such as tug of war, pony races, water balloon tosses, etc. Evening meditation preceded dinner, and then we met in the auditorium for other contests, including singing, impersonating Kaicho and Nidaime, marshmallow toss, chugging, etc.

The last day consisted of 4 AM zazen, kinhin, an extended workout conducted on the vast front lawn of the retreat center, with all karateka making a huge circle and holding hands while executing kicks and other techniques. We stopped briefly to observe the sunrise, then continued with the workout, ending with advanced self-defence techniques against a knife wielding assailant. In this case the assailant was magic-marker wielding, intent on “slashing” our white t-shirts. Hansekai, or reflections, followed, with everyone giving a brief account of their thoughts on this year’s Gasshuku. As the event broke up, many sincere goodbyes were said, and promises to friend on facebook. It was great to see so many old Seido friends, to reconnect with people like Senpai Mary Nolan, Senpai Todd Solly, as well as meet many new people, all bound by a common interest in Seido Karate. Kizuna!