My First Summer Camp

By Leslie Cohen, San Diego Aikikai

The first time I went away to an Aikido summer camp was in 1994, to Portland State University. I had done a few classes at prior camps before, as a commuter in my hometown of San Diego, and my band at the time had even played the farewell party, but this going-away-and-full-camp-experience, was all new to me. I was young(ish), 27. I was in the thick of training hard with a group of similarly aged folks at San Diego Aikikai, under the strong guidance of Chiba Sensei. He expected as many of us that could, to attend camp. So off we went, in somebody’s car (mine, Liese’s?). Our first stop was a rendezvous with a group of Shibata Sensei’s Kenshusei in Berkeley. Many memories are hazy – there may have been a bit of drinking that stopover night.

The following morning we continued our journey North. In the morning, there was a mysterious note from Shibata Sensei that had been left from him for his students: “Meet me in Yolo”. So off we went to Yolo County, almost a hundred miles up towards Highway 5. I think we side-tripped to the actual namesake tiny town of, but never did see him…(yes, these were the days before cell phones). Next stop was somewhere in Oregon, a campground for the night. A tent and a tarp came out. We crowded five or six of us into a tent meant for maybe three, tops. Heavy overnight rains came, and then the wet sleeping bags from the tarp we had laid underneath the tent, were now a nice lake to lay in. I may have crawled out to sleep in the car, but barely remember.

The next day we arrived at camp, found our rooms and then it was game on. Training, training, training. Bad food eating. Weapons class was outside on a beautiful green grassy lawn. The unforgettable event of Jack Arnold Sensei’s heart attack during that class, him laid out on that same beautiful lawn as CPR was administered. My partner (Bob Burns Sensei) admonishing me to look away and keep training, and us doing just that, me with tears in my eyes. (And for those of you who did not know this, Jack Arnold Sensei was revived and went on to live for almost 20 more years!).

I made many new friends at that camp, including one (Ben Pincus) who eventually introduced me to my husband. There were many other memorable moments …(Sundance anyone)?

I can’t tie it up to a neat conclusion, that “blank” happened training-wise, and that changed everything for me. But that wasn’t why we went to camp. We went with our teachers and for our teachers. We went to train with our peers, and make new connections. The experience was transformative because it was different and challenging, and there we were, working our way through it, together.

2017 Camp will be held at University of Puget Sound, July 26-31 2017. I am coordinating it. Do you want to drive cross-country to join in the fun? Maybe camp along the way? Flying is ok too. Any-which way, I hope to see you there!

-Leslie Cohen

2 Replies to “My First Summer Camp”

  1. Great Story – Thanks for something nice and encouraging to read . These days we need a nice story and I think : “you nailed it ” !

  2. Thank you Leslie.It was a wonderful day that we were training together.Upon see ing the doctor with Jack, and several assistants I knew he was in good hands. The warrior code tells us that when a comrade is down, and cared for we keep on fighting.We argued sharply I recall. Then during the mass meeting it was Vasquez Sensei who advocated your position that we should mourn for the fallen comrade and stop training. The dialogue on the two positions was active….then at the end of the meeting our sensei Chiba said…and I’ll never forget “If I die on the mat you had better keep training”.” And yes here we are still training as hard as we are able.I have had physical limitations (the kiss of aging is sometimes harsh) but I will try and make it to this camp, for even a day. I shall be 79 then, and after years of never missing a summer camp it is quite humillatiing for me, but knowing me humility is the best medicine I can take to help me along the path.

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