I must say that my first special training was quite an experience.
I remember as the date grew closer, two months before the event I broke my right annular finger knuckle. I anyway continued training even with my arm in a cast. There was a week after getting my arm in a cast that I moped around a bit, but soon I got hold of myself and continued the training. I participated in the 100 km. non-stop hike that is organized each semester by the university Shotokai group with the cast and did fine, this heightened my optimism. But the main question was, could I go to a very demanding Special Training with a weak knuckle? When the cast was off I trained as intensely as always with my mind set on the event. Things didn't look to good, my knuckle was quite swollen even after the cast was off and training Gohon Kumite or equivalents did not help it. I paid the money for the event, a month before and did not think more about it.
One day, on our usual Saturday training sessions, oriented for those that intended to go to the Special Training, Heyden Sensei appeared and led the training in a very demanding fashion (now I know this was intended to weed out the weak ones and spare them from the S.T.), we were subjected to a very intense session of oi-zuki oikomi, a few "games", different techniques non-stop and it all ended with what I can recall were 100 (or was it more...?) pairs of squats with alternate lateral yoko geri kekomi, which I was not able to complete. After that session I was terribly depressed, I was on the verge of crying. I felt that I had done horribly. On my way down to the showers from the football field, I was thinking I was not good enough to go to the S.T. and I was intercepted by a green belt I very much respected, he told us, me and my friend Germán (another beginner, started with me) that he had watched us and thought we had done very well (!!?) whereas I was standing there with tears in my eyes thinking quite the contrary... So I once again felt I could go to the S.T., it's actually Francisco Molina's "fault" I still am in Shotokai and for that I am very grateful to him.
The month of training that followed was lead by one of the two highest grades at the university, a brown belt called Rodrigo Pino, he was one of the oldest students at that time, he'd already gone to two special trainings and knew what it was about. Six days a week we trained every morning, we'd go over the different types of sessions we'd be subjected to at the S.T. in some things he ended up being tougher than the S.T. but we had no idea. Two sessions he prepared us for Gohon Kumite (five step sparring) which is done at full speed. Rodrigo at the time was the fastest of the university karateka and he being a bit of a brute would in no way restrain his oizuki and even less with us newcomers. I had to pair up with him two times and I would roll on the ground most of the time, thrown down by the initial blows I would receive on my chest and stomach. After a while you actually felt like trying to knock him out (at least) so you wouldn't have to receive any more blows, that's how tough he was.
One day the S.T. arrived, we were very well prepared, though we didn't know it, but very very scared. this was mainly due to the horror stories on S.T. that were quite abundant. The dirt ground, the thorns, the rocks, the cramps, the long training sessions the stress, the stiffness, the blows and bruises, the blisters and then the holes on the soles of the feet, blood and etc...! Little did we know that many of those things were true but we would rather believe they weren't. but there was no turning back either, you went or you went. Now it was a matter of getting through the 8 sessions on those four coming days.
Actually S.T. are five days long but the first day is used to get everything organized, tents up, sleeping bags placed, the food, clean up and water groups established, etc. When I took off from Concepcion towards Laja, I remember thinking I might not come back alive, I was truly scared but didn't tell anyone.
The training sessions were very tough and even though I had bandaged my soles very well (my main fear) I suffered with the thorns, mainly between my toes and the friction even through the bandages, that wouldn't last long anyway. The interesting part was that the group situation made you work harder and give more than your 100%, you were in better shape and the general environment gave you extra energies and a better spirit. The rocks would bore into your soles but you would continue. Already after the second session the first day I had two quite interestingly sized blisters on the koshi of both my feet... anyway... there was no escape and blisters are surely no excuse.
Getting up the second day was very hard, I had brought no real mattress so I was sleeping uncomfortably almost directly on the ground, 6:00 AM, your body would not respond, the aches would tempt you to stay still, the abdominal muscles would not lift you any more so you had to use your arms to get up. Things were even more trying when it can to the point where you had to put on one of the two humid Karate-gi's from the day before... The only thing to do was to begin a stumbling walk and build up on that. I immediately understood why S.T. veterans always start their trainings walking.
Sessions would go by one after the other, all punctuated by the relief of having got through one and the fear of having to go through another one... everybody would be very emotional at the end of each one, trying to build enthusiasm.
One of the most memorable sessions was Gohon Kumite. It proved that we were quite well prepared, too much for some, nobody could catch me, or so I thought until I had Javier Rojas in front of me... down to the ground again, just as with Rodrigo... I later found out he and Rodrigo were the fastest... My hand with the recently broken knuckle can through quite well, a bit swollen but that went away soon after. Another memorable session was the 1 and a half-hour kibadachi... Right before the start of the session I was saying this is impossible, there is no way I can do a quarter of an hour in kiba-dachi, let alone an hour and a half!! but we started and we suffered, Heyden Sensei would tell us stories, that helped but the pain... the exasperating pain! but then it would stop, you'd get 10-15 seconds of relief and then the pain would return for 30-40 seconds and the cycle would repeat. Suddenly the hour and a half had passed we had gone through with it, standing 90 minutes upright is tough enough, we had gotten through the same time in kiba-dachi. We were then lifted up (legs in the same position as in kibadachi, stiff in place) and placed on our backs on the ground, then Sensei would shake our legs into relaxation, it felt like thousands of needles stuck in your muscles.
One afternoon all the sessions had finished, we couldn't really believe how fast time had passed those four S.T. days but at the same time it seemed an eternity when you thought back. We packed our things with a bit of sadness but at the same time very happy of having gotten through it all in one piece and in good spirit.
In my case I had two large holes on the bottom of both my feet that hurt incredibly when placed in water and disinfected, but that was nothing compared to what we had just overcome. When I returned to the city, everything looked so much brighter, the beautiful things so much more beautiful, the ugly cement city so much more ugly. But that effect wore off as time went by and you returned to you usual routine though in the back of your head you knew much more about yourself, that your mental limits are not what you believe they are, they are much further away, that you act, react and train much better and naturally when you do not think about it, at least in Karate-do, etc. Many lessons that were acquired through those four grueling Special Training days.
After the event you'd say: "that was crazy, no way I am going to another one" and as the next special training date grows near, there you are ready for the next one!
Thank you very much for keeping the special Special Trainings alive Heyden Sensei, they are a necessity for Karate-do.
Guadalajara September 19, 1998
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