A day at the Summerfest:
The POV of a young Uechi-Ryu Practitioner
The weather couldn’t get much better. In the morning, fog drifted in from Buzzard Bay and swirled around the massive TS Enterprise. Through the cafeteria windows we watched the sun slowly breaking through the mist. From then on it was all glorious, a light breeze rippling the canvas of the gigantic tent, the grass deep green in the shadows.
We arrived at the Mass Maritime Academy for Sensei George Mattson’s 25th Summerfest camp late Friday afternoon, just in time to watch the last black belt being tested. Afterwards, Sensei Mattson took time off to give Max and I a lesson out on the grass. We have been his virtual students for a few months now, and it felt like a historic moment to be critiqued by him in person, during his famous Summerfest! However, my nerves got the best of me, and I forgot to correct my kanchu opening as he had explained in detail during the last online lesson… He then showed us the importance of keeping the wrists straight and strong for ‘closed gate’ at the end of Sanchin.
Before we could do more, it started to rain so we rushed back indoors. Mrs. Mattson gave us each a commemorative tote with an awesome T-shirt inside, and we hung around and asked Sensei about his upcoming book – it’s going to be a major event when this book comes out! Afterwards, we had dinner in the cafeteria and stayed for the party, which was cozy and relaxed but didn’t have many juniors.
Saturday morning, we showed up at 6:33 for Sensei’s legendary Sanchin By the Sea (we missed the first Sanchin by 3 minutes). Sensei was then leading a conditioning drill; having arrived late, I wondered if we should go to the back of the line, but an older practitioner made room for us to squeeze in. It was the first of many instances when other martial artists, complete strangers, made me feel a part of their group despite the age and rank differences. Then Sensei led us all for one last group Sanchin, the entire group stepped and thrust as one, Max and I included.
After breakfast, Max and I explored the docks just outside. We found jellyfish, sea stars and giant carp milling under the barnacled docks, seeing them definitely rid me of any desire of jumping into the water as the day grew hotter.
At 9 AM sharp, we followed the crowd under the big tent, where the upcoming seminars were announced. We joined about ten other kids for a junior class led by Sensei Fred, a jolly fellow who’s a jujitsu, judo, kickboxing and karate champion. He led us to the shade of a building, and we started off with katas as he patrolled, pushing us from the back to test our balance. Afterwards he drilled us on sparring techniques, starting with ten kia’s that echoed into the deep blue sky. My favorite moment was learning the spinning back kick, and using it in a six-attack combination as Sensei Fred shouted at a spit-fire pace.
I expected Sensei Fred to conjure up mats before making us practice falling correctly, but instead we did it the traditional way: right on the grass. Then Max and I paired together and worked on a judo technique to trip each other to the ground, it worked splendidly but we often ended up on top of each other! Nunchakus, jumping jacks and too many bear crawls later, we finished off the morning with more judo rolls. My shoulders ached and our T-shirts smeared green from the grass, it was time for lunch.
Max was sorry to have missed the ‘Fire Dragon’ test held at 11 o’clock since he runs fast and jumps like a frog, then he decided it wasn’t such a bad idea after all as we watched the depleted finalists arrived from the final mile run, this is after they’d already finished pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, long jumps and whatever else; there were two small kids who completed but really looked about to faint.
At lunch, we sat with Mrs. Mattson and (Darin)Yee Sifu, at the table next to other kids from Sifu’s Jungleplex dojo. Max and I have weekly lesson there so it was fun to be with everyone. Then there was the group photo shoot, everyone we’d seen so far was present and the kids sat in front of Sensei Mattson.
Afterwards, Sifu worked outside with us on the knife kata. He made it seem so effortless and fluid, yet never tired of breaking each move down for us. There were two other students learning weapons alongside us, and Sifu was very sharp at watching all of us at once. Max and I worked on the knife kata for one hour and a half nonstop, the red and gold ‘silk’ flying across our face in the sea breeze.
Sifu stressed the importance on getting the stances correctly since they were such a major part of Kung Fu, and I felt the pride in getting into as much of a a deep stance as I could, knife poised flat under my arm, and watched my shadow vanish under me. However, when we started learning the jumps, I couldn’t care less about looks anymore, my concentration was now about keeping my balance on landing, not getting a scratched knee, and sweeping my knife in the correct direction, which is down and up rather than across.
There was about half an hour’s break and we went to the big tent to check out other adult groups. Max and I observed each, and then went back to our knife form.
I steadily blocked out observers and tried to stay focused instead. Sifu explained that in the knife form, unlike Uechi-Ryu katas, our eyes followed our hand, for instance, look to the side when we parry to the side, to the back when we block to the back.
Later on we gathered at the auditorium for the black belt ceremony. I’d never attended one before and it was great. Five masters were to be promoted and they each demonstrated sanchin, seisan and sanseiryu. It was amazing to find such contrasts in their styles, especially in the breathing and circle blocks, and fascinating to know that IUKF supports these differences. Many practitioners from the audience were promoted as well, and all participants from the Fire Dragon challenge received badges.
Buzz Durkin got a standing ovation as he was promoted kyudan. Then another master (Jim Maloney) in his Native American costume, complete with bells, turkey feathers and a mountain lynx pelt did a tribal dance. I didn’t know what it was about until he finished with an homage to Buzz, both in his native language and in English.
The night wasn’t over yet! Yee Sifu received a bronze medal for promoting Uechi Ryu, while Sensei Mattson and other sensei got gold and silver respectively. In honor of his 50 years of teaching Uechi-Ryu, Sensei Mattson also received a certificate from the Governor of Massachusetts, and another one from the IUKF Board of Directors. It was too long to remember, but Sensei Mattson’s list of accomplishments in 50 years is almost infinite. In return, he took off his red polo shirt and did a sanseiryu kata before the packed room, another memorable event in my already amazing day!
Max, mom and I drove home afterwards, I was sad to leave the camp where the tent still glowed under the early evening sky. Thanks to Mrs. and Sensei Mattson, Yee Sifu, Sensei Fred and everyone else, my first ever Summerfest was a fantastic experience. I’ve always read about how martial artists were like a family, but I truly felt it last Saturday, I also learned a whole lot, and had a blast as well.
After stepping out the car, the salty sea air woke our senses immediately, and I started thinking about clams, lobsters, crabs, seagulls, and all the other sea animals. A cluster of buildings were farther off, where a group of black belts were sparring against one another, and grunts and clapping merged with the soft breeze.
Then it started drizzling.
Then came the surprise for Sensei Mattson, and awards for the best dojos and teachers. Yee Sifu got bronze, Sensei Mattson had gold of course, plus other members of the IUKF.