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Summer means camps & workshops: What to do (and not do)

Questions and answers are an important part of any workshop experience
Questions and answers are an important part of any workshop experience
Photograph taken by Paul Rest

Summer is here and summer camps and workshops are in full swing. Whether this summer will be your first workshop or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are some important tips that will help your experience be one that is a positive and fun.

And one where you will hopefully also learn a lot…

To begin with, most dojos have a bulletin board where information about summer camps and workshops will be posted. There will be a contact person you can email or call for registration or with any questions. This person will (or should be able) to help you. The most common questions are about food and lodging—and perhaps transportation to and from the airport to where you will be staying and training.

And this contact person will often be able to put you in touch with one or more members of the dojo sponsoring the workshop who can help with any additional questions, and even accommodations.

Often, people from your dojo have attended this particular summer camp or workshop before. Ask them for their advice. There will be no doubt favorite places to meet nearby for coffee, treats and after training beverages (a local favorite pub?). Finding out these tidbits of information will make your stay a lot of more fun.

When packing, remember you will be meeting new training partners and making new friends, I recommend bringing a notebook with you. You can record email address and other contact information for those you met. You can also use the notebook to make notes about what you learn. Perhaps you’ll be shown a new technique or a variation on an old one.

You can save all of this in your notebook. And the next summer camp or workshop you attend, you’ll have a notebook ready to record what’s important.

On a personal note, I often referred to my notebook later. It helped remind me of what I learned. And to help me not forget to email or find on Facebook the people I’ve met.

You will also find there is often a daunting training schedule: Early morning sunrise classes, two or three classes each morning, afternoon classes, evening classes and maybe even a late night class. An important rule is to remember to pace yourself. You might want to go for every class but more often than not, I’ve seen this lead to avoidable injuries.

Remember: Listen to your body (and mind and spirit) about what training schedule will work for you.

Regardless, your body will be challenged with the training during the camp or workshop. The most common “owies” are mat burns on the toes and feet. Other common ones are sprained toes or fingers. The ones to watch out for are a training partner either accidently or carelessly throwing you in the wrong way or into another person.

Any concussions should be taken seriously. Don’t try to push this aside and ignore them—seek medical advice before resuming training.

Weapons are a particular place for caution. You will be around new training partners. Some may confuse a yokomen strike with a shomen strike and helicopter their bokken right at your head! So the rule here is a simple one: stay alert!

Staying hydrated is another important rule. You’ll probably need both water and some type of sports drink to keep your body’s electrolytes happy. If you feel dizzy, step off the mat and hydrate yourself. Don’t go back on until you feel yourself back in balance.

This is for your own safety and that of others.

The same hold trues for food. You’ll be burning a lot of calories. Think about what you’re eating and what your body will need to sustain itself while on and off the mat. You might even want to do some research on the web. Obviously, ever body is different. But eating enough of the right foods in a balanced way is critical.

Once again, asking the contact person any questions or request you have about food is important. And checking with any dojos member who has attended this camp before is equally smart. Some camps and workshops have particular ins and outs that will serve as guides such as particularly strong breakfasts, so-so lunches and killer dinners.

Follow this advice. It will make your camp and workshop experience so much better.

And don’t forget to bring a bag of your favorite snacks such as energy bars, dried fruits and nuts and other goodies. These can be shared but most importantly they will help sustain you (and your body) during the training sessions.

Another rule is a simple one that is easy to forget. Get enough sleep. With all the excitement it’s easy to stay up late trading training stories. Once again, pace yourself. Maybe one late night bull session with your new friends will be okay. But your body will need sleep to recharge itself—both physically and mentally.

Lack of sleep can lead to injuries. It’s that simple.

You should also attend to your person hygiene. This means you should wash your training gi’s as often as possible. Most workshops will have washing machines and dryers on site (often a college campus dorm). There’s nothing worse than training with someone that has been in the same unwashed gi for a couple of days. Oh, my, yes! And hygiene should also include regular showers (including keeping your finger and toe nails trimmed—as the recipient of a serious cut from a sharp over-long fingernail, I know this one all too well).

Finally, there are the senior sensei’s that are leading the camp or workshop. This has always been a highlight for me. For the most part, these teachers are quite approachable and interested in getting to know you. (It’s also good business so you’ll want to return next year.) I once gave Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan a favorite poster of mine from an artist I knew. I simply thought he’d like it. Shortly thereafter, I received a hand written thank you note from him. I’ve never forgotten this.

Not all sensei’s are this approachable. But hopefully you’ll find the senior instructors who are right for you.

Oh, and don’t be intimidated by the fact that everyone there seems to outrank you. Everyone has been in your shoes (or sandals). Passing on the legacy of the Art is the responsibility or everyone senior to you from the person one rank above you to the senior instructors leading the workshop or camp.

In Aikido, this is what O Sensei wishes were. To harmonize the world by sharing the Art—what we’ve learned.

So have fun this summer. And remember to follow these simple rules and suggestions to make your experience one you’ll never forget-- and one that will make you want to return next summer.

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