The Summer Camp Tradition,
by Geoffrey Edwards [submitted 1996]
I was first attracted to Sensei George Mattson's dojo over twenty years ago when it was located in downtown Boston. After earning my Brown belt, my job took me to Ohio. Since 1983, I have made the pilgrimage to Boston every August for Mr. Mattson's annual Summer Camp. Even though I may never advance beyond the Brown Belt level, the camp has become an important part of my life.
During the 80's and early 90's, Mattson concentrated on bringing many Okinawan, Japanese and Chinese masters to his camp, who would concentrate on teaching traditional exercises, drills and forms. In the last five years, he has promoted the talents of local martial arts masters, many who specialize in unique and highly popular ancient and modern disciplines. Some of these arts are of the "highbred" variety, combining the best of a number of Oriental arts to provide solutions to modern world needs. Pressure point study combined with weapon disarming and submission hold techniques is one of many such new age art forms being developed by students of Mattson and followers of other martial arts systems. When I asked him about this change of attitude, his reply shed some light on the man and his goals:
"... Back in the 80's, when Grandmaster Kanei Uechi was still alive and healthy, the spirit of the camp thrived on his presence. After he died, many North Americans found themselves taking a second look at why they were studying Uechi-ryu and what their expectations were. The Okinawan, Chinese and Japanese masters remained an important part of their practice, but the students and teachers were looking to explore their system. . . check out what others were doing and how this new information related to the art of Uechi-ryu. We were looking to discover new concepts, ideas and understanding for the old and trusted moves we are practicing and teaching."
"This new emphasis", continued Mattson, "opened the door for local talent to be highlighted at the annual camp. Ground work, grappling, pressure points, jujitsu, Okinawan traditional weapons, chigung, meditation practices, acupuncture, Tai massage, in addition to the formal karate practices, now formed a kind of new-age schedule. Instead of three or four Okinawan /Japanese /Chinese teachers drilling students for four hours, we now offer a choice of 20-35 hour long seminars every day. And the students love it!"
" Instead of doing three days of conventional karate classes," Mattson continued, "the camp now offers students and teachers an opportunity to check out other styles and disciplines, in a relaxed and friendly setting".
Sensei Uechi enjoys these events, especially when he works with the children. Although he speaks very little English, he is able to communicate very well through the language of movement. The kids love his classes and keep him busy for hours signing autographs on their hats, T shirts and gis."
I remember the first camp on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor. It was five days and nights of non stop activity. Hard work during the day and partying every night. I had to take a vacation at the end of the week to recuperate. The long weekend is much easier to fit into my schedule and by Sunday evening, most people are still eager for more. Many families are coming now. Spouses who don't practice the martial arts are able to spend time touring Cape Cod during the day and party with everyone else at night. Many get involved with seminars requiring no prior experience or with sessions dealing with the healing arts. Dr. Ann Doggett and Dr. Richard Brown, Chiropractors from Quincy, were busy for the entire camp talking about reflexology, diet and Chiropractic. This year, there will be more seminars dealing with acupuncture, tea ceremony and Chinese medicine.
There really is something for everyone. The teachers have an opportunity to sit in on children's classes, taught by experts who manage hundreds of children in their dojo. Emphasis is on how to motivate the children while maintaining discipline and teaching them self confidence and control. Teachers are able to return to their own schools, eager to try out new teaching skills acquired at the camp. Needless to say, children really enjoy the special attention received during the camp.
Because children make up 60-70% of an average dojo, these classes are also very popular to monitor by the camp instructors and dojo owners. In order not to tire the children, the classes alternate between outdoor class work for one hour, indoor for the next hour. Rose Dyer, a very popular teacher who operates a number of highly successful youth programs throughout New England , works the indoor classes, teaching a popular "Virtues over Violence" program to her enthralled audience.
One of the camp's traditions is Sensei George Mattson's 6:30am class by the ocean. As many as a hundred students show up every morning for his class. Mattson Sensei works on breathing, balance and strength developing potential of the "active meditation" form called Sanchin. Often, when the tides permit, the students will march right into the ocean performing their kata.
One of Mattson's students came up with the idea of the name "Summer of the Tiger" five years ago. Harvey Leibergott, a black belt author of the recently released book focusing on the Summer Camp history, thought it a good idea to have a camp theme stressing each of the Uechi-ryu's Chinese roots. Since Uechi-ryu originally came from China and was derived from the Tiger, the Crane and mythical Dragon, Harvey thought the name could change each year for three years. This highly popular "theme" camp was so successful that Mattson continued the name "Summer of the Tiger, Dragon & Crane" at the end of the third year.