by George E. Mattson
I always look forward to visiting Sensei Jim Maloney and his students in the Vancouver area. Although they are the “new” guys and gals in our ever growing Uechi family, they are the most dedicated and hard working group I have ever seen.
This incredible spirit becomes contagious to all who visit their dojo, including visitors from Boston! The usual two hour seminars stretched into whole evenings and full afternoons! On my first visit I focused on basics, especially proper breathing methods and Sanchin techniques. This trip, because everyone had mastered the basics so well, I was able to concentrate on advanced kata and prearranged kumite. Additionally, we spent quite a lot of time on timing and balance drills.
Sensei Maloney operates a very large and successful training institute for First Nations people in Mission, B.C.. At the First Nation’s Tribal Justice Institute, Jim and his staff train Native Americans in all matters of law enforcement. In addition to induing the students with their native culture and traditions, Uechi-ryu karate is the focal point for much of the spiritual and physical training that the recruits receive.
The Institute’s Medicine Man and Uechi student, Gerald Oldman, fired up the “sweat” hut early S aturday morning and invited me and the Institute’s guest teachers and students to a ceremonial “sweat”. During the four sessions, which took place over a two hour period, approximately 25 men and women learned about the history and cultural significance of this unique ritual. After each session of about 20 minutes, specially selected lava rocks which were heated in an outdoor fire, were added to the pit inside the hut. As each rock was ceremoniously placed in the pit, participants, led by Oldman, would sprinkle pinches of healing natural herbal medicines on the red hot stones. In the absolute darkness of the hut, the sparkling spectacle , resembled a fourth of July fireworks display. Then as quickly as it erupted, all once again became quiet and black again, forcing the inhabitants of this womb-like enclosure to again look inward and concentrate on the drum beat and chanting of the medicine man.
After the first session, every muscle in my body was aching. My mind was still uncontrollably converging on mind pictures of real and imagined problems I was facing back in Boston. I was wondering if it was possible to politely excuse myself and get out of the confining forces of the hut. But I stayed and remained locked in my cross legged position, determined, for all the wrong reasons, to finish the ritual.
After the second session, the heat of the rocks, occasionally intensified by Oldman’s ceremoniously swishing the pit with a water soaked branch, totally penetrated my body. Muscles began to relax and my mind became quiet. I began to concentrate on the chanting as my breathing became slower and deeper. Filled with the sounds and aroma of the hut, there was no room for any negative thoughts. Now I was getting into the therapeutic effects of the hut, resenting the intrusion during the brief few minutes between sweats when the entranceway opened and freshly heated rocks were placed in the pit. Unlike the beginning of the first sweat, when I was apprehensive of the total darkness, I now welcomed its security and comfort.
The fourth sweat was the most intense. The healing quality of the sessions seemed to parallel the intensity of the heat, beginning slowly and expanding until the limits of the human mind and body were reached with the fourth session. Although emotionally and physically drained, I left the hut feeling calm and at peace with myself.
After the afternoon seminar, a caravan set off over the mountains, to the small community of Shalath, nestled picturesquely at the foot of a mountain range and a beautiful lake. There, Sensei Stuart Killen teaches Uechi-ryu to Chief Gary John, his wife Neawana and approximately 100 men, women and children of this community. Stuart also works with the community school system and performs other services for the group. He is most proud of his Uechi-ryu program, which began humbly with a few children and now encompass much of the community. If some of the elders feel that karate is a bit physical for them, they still wholeheartedly endorse and support the program.
On Sunday, following the seminar and promotional, the community sponsored a banquet for the visitors and participants. On my the last trip, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the dried salmon served at dinner. Before leaving, they presented me with a whole bag filled with the delicacy. This trip, I didn’t say anything about any specific food (which was all fantastic) but was again given another bag of the air dried salmon. After the children’s segment of the seminar, nine year old Adam formally presented me with a hand carved wall hanging depicting a Crane, a man and a fish. What made the presentation so important was that Adam hardly communicated at all two years ago. In a most dramatic turnaround, Adam now assists in the children’s class and works out with the adults.
Adam’s story parallels the success Sensei Killen has made with the entire community. He has accomplished this by teaching the physical art of Uechi-ryu while incorporating the community’s spiritual and cultural heritage into the program. Small things, like counting during the exercises in both Japanese and their native language. Such sensitivity, triggers an interest and pride in their own language and spurs some to further their skills in this subject.
I left with a sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that Uechi-ryu would flourish and spread from this community to others in the region and eventually throughout Canada. Sensei Jim Maloney, the person responsible for introducing Uechi-ryu to Canada, ended the weekend with a statement that summarized the similarities of Uechi-ryu and First Nation culture. Both place importance on giving wholeheartedly, helping those who are less fortunate and on being humble. I’m very proud of Jim for the work he is doing in B.C. and of his senior students, who are loyal to him and are helping him achieve his goals.
I’m looking forward to returning soon.
George E. Mattson