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May 25 2009

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Sfest Reviews

What Others Say About SummerFest:

Sensei David Lamb:
“WOW! In spite of the rain, another invigorating SummerFest! Every year, you find a way to help us rekindle old friendships, initiate new ones, experiment with new techniques and ideasl . . . and have fun! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned at the same time.
From Sanchin on the beach, to grappling, to new approaches to Uechi techniques to anti-grappling, there was something for everyone. I especially love coming to camp so I can be a student again as I’m always learning. I also find this to be a time to recharge my batteries, as I discover something new/different, and can return to my classes with fresh ideas. With my renewed energy, this re-energizes the students as well.
So thank you George, for being such an inspiration. Your open mindedness, your positive energy, your insightfulness and your visions for Uechi are indeed, inspirational. Because of all this, you have an impact upon others evident at SummerFest with all of your students and seniors. For this, I thank you greatly.
Yours in Budo,
David Lamb (Nebraska)

Sensei Van Canna:”. . .This will be a great camp, many people are coming, the training will be hard but fun and Bob Campbell will do something special for us.

There will be a huge tent with chairs and tables and room for seminars out of the sun, for people who cannot bear the hot sun..
The fun is unbelievable the training extremely intense.
Come on down, don’t wake up when it is over and kick your ass for missing it. Not many chances like this in life.
When you say: too busy; too expensive; my wife won’t let me; there is nothing I can learn there ..look at yourself in the mirror to see how foolish you look.
Get there, make some new friends and learn something you did not know existed.”

SummerFest 2004


By Robert Hunt

I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

A white ceiling of hazy clouds floated across the Cape Cod sky like a friendly wraith holding the July sun at bay. The breeze off the cool Atlantic ruffled my hair and dried the salty sweat on my skin as fast as my pores could expel it. I strode across the green grass field at the heart of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and stopped to watch a small legion of diehards in dirty white karate pajamas (rapidly assuming the camouflage colors of earth and grass) kick and punch, jump, run, scramble and shout to the cadence of someone who was doing what karate teachers have felt the urge to do for centuries – conjure up diabolical exercises to make students ask themselves the eternal karate question, “What am I doing here?”

I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

A large white canvas canopy stood in the middle of the field and a variety of teachers/students talked and demonstrated and watched and listened and existed underneath it, lending to the canopy the happy feel of an open sided circus tent. Over in a corner of the field, a couple of twenty-first century ancient warriors whipped bo’s around their heads in mock battle. Someone was shouting somewhere.

It was Friday morning, July 30, 2004. I forgot all about last night’s red-eye from Phoenix and the 4 hours of sleep I snatched in a cozy Comfort Inn in Providence, Rhode Island. Excitement filled the air. The smell of the Atlantic filled my senses. Sea birds greeted me overhead. People punched and kicked all around me. It was karate Disneyland. It was as if I were coming home, as John Denver once sang, to a place I’d never been before.

I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

George Mattson strode my way with a large, lanky stride, a smile across his face and his hand outstretched. Although I had heard his name mentioned off and on for 40 years, I had never met the man, but it took about ten words to make me feel like a long awaited brother. That’s the effect his gentle manner has on you and that’s the same gentle manner that permeates his organization. I’ve been to tons of karate events in the past 40 years and there is generally enough ego around to sink a small ocean liner.

Out of every hundred or so people you’ll find a half dozen masters, a pile of grandmasters, twenty great-grandmasters, a few Shihans, a couple of Saiko Shihans and at least one know-it-all jerk you can’t get rid of. But this camp was not like that, at least not among the people I met. Everyone was a commoner the same as I, regardless of how many decades of karate had turned their black belts white, with no mention of rank or position, except in regard to the popular instructor Dave Mott, who was promoted Saturday night.

And who could pick a better place, for goodness sake, than Cape Cod Bay?
When I first considered attending this event I pictured myself wandering aimlessly down some lonesome beach, experiencing nothingness, or something equally Zen-ish. But there just wasn’t time. All weekend I had the edgy feeling that if I wasn’t right there in the middle of things, I might miss something.

I had been invited to George Mattson’s Summerfest to talk about my newly published book, “The Art and the Way”, and teach karate history and weapons, but ended up again more the student than the teacher. I was lounging on the grass under the tent Saturday afternoon listening to Mr. Wong and his translator talk about one Chinese approach to our common pursuit. As I watched, I became aware of a figure practicing sai and bo kata off in the field behind them. The bo flowed smoothly and the sai cleanly and I found I had a hard time concentrating on the lesson at hand. The kata performer was John Hassell and at first polite chance, I donned my student hat, introduced myself again and spent that evening letting John berate me to keep my elbows down and move from my center. I was a student once more. Sweat trickled down my nose. I was tired. My back ached. My feet burned. My legs begged for rest. It was heaven. If I could only make the bo cut the air with the same woosh that John did.

As the weekend passed I found that there were plenty of other arts to sample, with people around to teach most any weapon from Philippine escrima to Okinawan bo to Chinese spear. There was all the kata one could handle, tai chi, grappling, jujutsu, pressure point techniques, acupuncture, tai massage and a pile of things I can’t even get myself to remember right now.

Even as I write this, all the events that took place over the three days seem to be fighting for their place on this page in front of me. The task of sorting them out in order of interest and importance is truly daunting – and probably not necessary. If you study karate, you know what I mean. (And if you are reading this you probably study karate.)

The afternoons grew warm, but the breeze never ebbed, and evening descended over the Academy accompanied by a quiet mist, framing each light bulb in a soft halo and soothing the body and soul from the day’s intense activity. After-dinner time was passed in the clubhouse doing what karate people do best – talk about karate. There was, of course, the omnipresent guitar and an impromptu rock band that changed members regularly as the evening progressed. Calling it “friendly” would be faint praise.

I remember sitting in the clubhouse at a table with David and George from Florida, fellow travelers John and Hoshin, Patrick the acupuncture man and a quiet guy who looked just like Paul Sorvino. We talked about karate history, Japan, Okinawa, Kanbun Uechi and a myriad of other things you might expect at a karate camp. I like karate. I could talk about it all night. If my wife hadn’t dragged me off to our dorm room, I would probably still be there.

Early Sunday morning I meandered along the water’s edge past the dormitory and studied the ocean lapping against the sand. Two locals stood thigh deep in the surf digging for clams. Bits of last night’s mist still hung in the fresh air like fluff from a fading blanket, the breeze off the sound just beginning to nudge it all away. I peered down the beach. A woman stood facing the ocean, as still as Lot’s besalted wife, her arms outstretched toward the incoming surf in a heartfelt welcome to the morning at hand. She never budged a centimeter during the several minutes I stood there marveling. Behind her a figure in typical karate white repeated Sanchin over and again, following the four directions of the compass, and then started once more at East facing the Atlantic in the same direction as Lot’s wife. Behind him another warrior waved his six foot bo over his head and around his body in loopy circles as if directing a symphony of waves to break uniformly on the shore, which, in turn, seemed to obey. It was very inspiring.

I met Windsong Blake. Windsong is a Wompanoag Indian. They were the ones who spent that mythological first Thanksgiving meal together at Plimouth with the Pilgrims and who have regretted it ever since. Windsong began his karate training in the ’50’s by reading and practicing the moves from Nishiyama and Brown’s book because there weren’t any karate teachers around. He went through Shotokan, Kyoyushinkai, back to Shotokan and on to other arts and adventures.

He talked about going down to New York City in a rattling ’37 Chevy to take part in his first real karate training (with Mas Oyama). Here was someone who has been to the mountain and back again and who was behind me mimicking the bo kata I was teaching. I had the distinct feeling that the wrong person was standing in front of the class.
I took Windsong to be about 65, and, although he looked pretty fit, I wondered why a guy that age would be learning one more bo kata after all these years. I asked his age. He’s seventy-nine.

Sunday about 3:00 in the afternoon we faced the inevitable end. I hung around the Academy like the last robin of summer, soaking in the ocean breeze and the camaraderie. I practice karate in Phoenix. Oceans are important to me. Water in general is important to me. I try to stay as close as I can for as long as I can every chance I get to approach any body of water larger than a swimming pool. Hence this place was double fun – karate with a sea breeze.

I bade my farewells, waved goodbye to George Mattson and headed back across the green grassy field that I had crossed the first day in the other direction. The white canopy somehow looked sadder empty. The sea birds laughed at my foolish attempt to put life in some order and wondered why I just didn’t stay there on Cape Cod Bay. I know that’s what they were thinking. What else would they be thinking? I wondered it, too.
But I was happy. I had grabbed a few hours of karate among people who followed the same call as I. And I had the sea and the sun, the birds, the salt breeze, a few good memories, my bo and three hundred new friends to grab it with me.

I knew it was going to be a great weekend.


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