We usually think of a path or of a way as something useful to bring us from one place to another. When you have to go somewhere you just start walking the way to reach for it, and when you are there you just stop walking. Very simple. Very logical. But I’ve learned that when we talk about the way of karate, about the Japanese “Do”, our common idea of a way is really in danger to take us out of the way.
I realized it by attending the 2017 Wadokai Summercamp held by Master Roberto Danubio from Sunday 9 to Friday 14 of July in Filzbach, Switzerland. It was my second time: I had been there also in the 2016 and, as you can read here, it was a true revolution for me and my karate, so I didn’t think that it would be just as shocking this time because I knew what I had to expect. But apparently, you can’t attend that one-week-lasting seminar without coming out of it somehow transformed. Not even the second time and probably not the next.
Yet, the summer camp format is always the same: wake up at 6:30 am to have breakfast from 7:00 to 8:00. At 9 o’clock we had to be on the tatami for the traditional floor cleaning. No matter what belt or dan degree we had: whether we were beardless beginners, seasoned black belts or senior masters we had to soak the rag in the water with our bare hands, wring it well and give it in. You would be surprised to know what sense of satisfaction and peace you can draw from this little act of care to the dojo, the community and yourself. Once we’ve done our duty we could devote ourselves to some individual warming-up exercises. The actual karate training began at 9:30. Usually, in the morning we worked on kihon and kata for a pair of hours and then left the tatami for a fast shower, as at 12:15 pm lunch was served. We had just the time to rest a little before of the three-hours-and-a-half long afternoon training, mainly devoted to kumite and kata. At 18:30 we had a generous dinner and finally we had the opportunity to relax and spend some time chatting together (and it was fun and interesting every time, as people from Finland, Iceland, Germany, the United States, Italy and, of course, Switzerland attended the Danubio’s summer camp).
Told this way, it may sound hard but somehow reassuring in its unchanging routine. But the truth is that this outline has to do with constancy, and constancy is far from being reassuring. Constancy means you have to keep walking even if you think you’ve reached your goal and destination. This may sound foolish to anyone who thinks that a path is being made to take you from one place to another. And there is no doubt that most of the paths work that way. But not the path of karate. Not the path of Budo.
We had just finished a tough workout on the tantodori when Roberto Danubio sensei started talking to us. He was in the middle of the dojo and had made a sign of getting closer to him.
“You can’t do Budo on Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 8 pm”, he said. “If you do Budo, you do it all of your days, all of your hours. This is the meaning of the sentence: Karate is a lifetime journey. It doesn’t mean just that you have to practice weekly for all of your life. It means that if you want to walk that way you have to embrace it and embody it and walk it for your entire lifetime, and the lifetime is every single minute of your life”.
I don’t know why he said us those words. Perhaps he is concerned about something regarding the current situation of karate, or maybe he saw in us, or in some of us, some sign of martial inconsistency. But whatever the reason, those words made me reflect.
I often think of my path of karate as a series of goals, things to mark on my check-list. Grade advancements, degrees, teaching qualifications, seminars, refresher courses, new techniques and new katas, competitions. They all look like destinations and each of them is a sort of a place to go. If you think this way, your journey in the Karatedo may appear as a sort of tourist trip. Shooting a selfie from the Eiffel Tower: done; casting a coin in the Trevi Fountain: done; snorkeling in the Red Sea: done. Things that you do once or maybe twice in your whole life. At the same way, you may think: “Shodan ranking: achieved. What’s next?” or “Swiss Wadokai Summercamp: attended. I’ve done it. What’s next?”. The answer that Mr. Danubio indirectly suggested me is: “Next is the same. Nextis keep on walking the way. Keep on studying for the shodan degree even when you are godan. Keep on attending the seminars that you’ve already attended. The true goal is constantly running the Do. Other goals are just apparent”.
That was my simple insight. For you, it may seem banal, but for me, it was quite upsetting. Every time I go to the Karate Summercamp held by Roberto Danubio I come back changed. I come home with a better karate than I’m off – that’s for sure – but also with a stronger attitude and a wider consciousness. Yes, we practiced a lot and I’ve learned or improved dozen of new techniques like tantodori, kumitegata, kata and kihon kumite details and variations, sparring exercises and so on. But I can’t check any one of them out of the list. I can’t say done but just doing, not learned but just learning. And I hope I’ll never stop doing and learning them.
I don’t know what you think about, but the next year I will still be at Danubio’s summer camp in Switzerland. And I cannot wait to meet you all there. Trust me: you won’t regret.