One week ago I packed my bags and left USA – where I organized The Karate Nerd Experience 2017.
As you know, KNX is my annual event where I invite a limited number of “Karate Nerds” from 35+ countries to eat, sleep and train together with handpicked Karate experts.
Now that my jetlag is finally over… it’s time to explain what really happened at KNX17.
Like previous years, I invited a participant to share his personal experience!
(Btw, you saw the four “behind the scenes” videos right?)
MY KNX17 REVIEW
By Alan Swirsky, USA
I had heard stories, watched videos, and followed as much as I could on social media, but I had no idea what to expect from KNX17.
As someone who trains in an uncommon style, I was more than a little apprehensive.
What if we are asked to practice a kata I’ve never learned? What if one of the sessions is about point-sparring or something I’ve never done? Are we going to be competing? Am I going to be treated like an outsider? Am I going to be the only one wearing a black gi?
While my fears might have been warranted, they were certainly assuaged by the promise of learning something genuinely new from a cadre of world-class professionals.
It was time to stop being a black belt, authority figure, and instructor and time to be a white belt again.
Excuse me—momoiro (peach blossom) belt.
And that was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.
The event had an airtight schedule. Our humble group of 50 arrived, signed in, donned our gis and fresh new belts, and headed into our first session.
After a quick warm-up that doubled as a small group ice-breaker, our first instructor, Maria Dimitrova, launched straight into a series of lessons on basics. That is, she literally taught us how to punch. I had no objections; I wanted to learn how a world champion like Sensei Dimitrova throws a punch.
Something so simple was made vastly more complex as she talked about weight distribution, body movement and shifting, and the tanden, or center of the body.
The drills she led us through allowed us to experience a paradigm shift in our technique.
I had a discussion with my partner about how we were doing something so basic, yet it was as if we were experiencing this technique for the first time.
It felt truly incredible to just let go of our ranks and misconceptions and just do karate.
As I scanned the room, I saw everyone putting their effort into learning, re-learning, and practicing what was being taught.
These were people who wanted to be here.
As we gathered for dinner, we shared stories not of rank, styles, and trophies, but of our personal journeys in karate, what brought us together, and what we hoped to learn. We broke bread over a common creed.
It was easy to feel welcome as none of our backgrounds interfered, but instead enabled us to share with one another.
After dinner, we had an enlightening theory session led by karate historian Patrick McCarthy. Sensei McCarthy covered a mind-boggling range of topics across multiple disciplines (and languages!) to reveal to us that our respective styles, schools, ranks—all of them belong to Karate.
We may debate the origins of a kata, the meaning of certain techniques, or the usefulness of particular bunkai, but the varied paths we take all arrive at the same conclusion.
Put another way, we arrived at the same seminar, didn’t we?
During the next morning’s session, Sensei McCarthy turned theory into practice.
The lecture about the origins of the martial arts now became a series of two-person technical flow drills, where each individual move was pulled from a different kata than the last.
My classmates were excitedly shouting out the names of techniques and moves they recognized from their own experiences (“Nukite from Naihanchi!” “That lock is from Seienchin!” “Isn’t that Heian Nidan?”), and it’s important that I clarify that this was not one student (and certainly not me) with all the answers, but a variety of attendees finding validity and connection in the lesson.
The drills themselves were an absolute blast, and Sensei McCarthy strolled around watching our progress and making corrections.
After several drills and switching partners along the way, we broke for lunch.
I sat with new people, learned new stories, and heard new ideas tossed around.
Conversations gradually shifted from karate, in isolation, to our karate, how we practiced, to where and when, and eventually invitations from student to student to come and train together, plans to meet at a given tournament or seminar, and to write or talk in the future and share books and knowledge.
We had known each other fewer than 24 hours and so many of us had become friends.
The rest we simply hadn’t met quite yet.
After lunch, The Karate Nerd himself led us through an excellent review of ground-fighting techniques known as “Chi-Jutsu” or “dog boxing.” Subscribers to Karate Nerd Insider™ would have recognized some of the techniques on display, but that’s not to say the experience was the same.
Being able to practice these techniques with a partner under Jesse’s excellent instruction made this truly unique.
This lesson I found especially useful as it covered a subject that seems underrepresented in many schools I’ve been a part of: the floor.
This wasn’t the same as attaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to a seminar about stand-up fighting, but instead approached ground fighting from the mindset of a striker rather than a grappler. It hit the perfect balance between skills we students already possessed and new ground to cover (no pun intended).
Just for fun, this session was capstoned by Jesse teaching us a ridiculously fun and surprisingly powerful kick from Capoeira.
After dinner (sitting with yet another group of people, enjoying new conversations), we came back into our makeshift dojo for the secret session…
I’ll be honest: I’ve tried yoga on multiple occasions and didn’t take to it. But this is an event about shedding preconceived notions and biases.
Within the two-hour session, our groups had managed to successfully initiate suspended handstands, the classic “flying” pose, and various geometric shapes balanced carefully on our shoulders and limbs.
It was significantly more fun than I was willing to give it credit for!
The best thing I can say about a seminar is that I learned something new and exciting—the yoga session was a resounding success.
On the morning of the last day, we were led through a wildly different session by Erwan Le Corre, who taught us his philosophy of movement.
Sensei Le Corre is the founder of MovNat, a physical cultivation program based on the principles of natural body operations.
Le Corre did not merely deliver a canned lecture on how to use our bodies, but dove into the deeply introspective discussion of mindfulness, and having the self-awareness to be able to articulate why we do what we do.
One part lecture, one part practice, we began with breathing, then sitting, then standing, and finally into striking.
It was like we were reenacting human evolution.
Our movements became more precise, more intentional, and more deliberate (it brought to mind Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, only with karate).
After lunch, our mechanical control was put to the test as Sensei Le Corre brought out 2x4s and bananas.
We practiced standing on the 2x4s with a partner, then moving along their lengths, then into complex actions like crouching, pivoting, and striking.
We stood atop the boards and tested our dexterity by tossing the bananas back and forth to a partner, and finished with jumping from board to board without touching the floor.
If these sound like games, I’m sure that was no accident!
They’re simple activities, but became intriguing training tools in the context of our lessons.
Following Sensei Le Corre, Jesse took the center again to lead us through a series of engaging movement drills before turning the stage over to our (not so) secret instructor, a mysterious UFC fighter.
I think all of us were expecting Oliver Enkamp, Jesse’s younger brother freshly-minted in the UFC, to lead the session, and all of us were thrilled.
Oliver’s session was intense. He taught us a progression of techniques practiced by UFC fighters that started on our feet and gradually worked to the ground and back up. We laced up our sparring gear and went for it.
I don’t do any sport fighting, so this was alien territory for me.
Fortunately, my partner for this session had a solid grasp on the mechanics and coached me through what was going on.
We sparred for two hours and I wanted to collapse, but I had never felt so incredible.
Everyone cooled down and prepared for our closing barbeque dinner (and I was pleasantly surprised to find sweet tea served so far north), and we celebrated the incredible event we had just been a part of.
But the secret to this event was more than just the classes and the instructors.
It was more than our incredible host, the hard-working staff, and the sponsors. It was more than the post-session Q&As and photo ops with the instructors, the catering, the accommodations, and even the momoiro belts.
What made this event incredible were the attendees!
The first day we were classmates, and the second day we were friends, but by the third day we were family.
We had traded phone numbers and taken selfies. We had already made future travel plans to practice again. We had spirited conversations about this thing that brought us all together.
I had a conversation with one of my new friends as we prepared to depart, and he told me this:
“What instructors like Jesse have done for us is incredible, but even he’s just one person. We need to follow his lead and continue training, listening, and sharing. We need to be the people who create the martial arts community we all dream of.”
And he is absolutely right. The magic of this event came down to the people, who were stepping into the unknown together, willing to trust each other, and finding that we all have so much to share.
So I ask you, reader, who has read this account and made it this far: do you love karate? Of course you do. Attend the Karate Nerd Experience.
That’s not a sales pitch; I want you to have the same experience we were privileged to have.
I want you to learn and grow.
And no… I was not the only one wearing a black gi. 🙂
Alan Swirsky is an English Teacher and Karate Instructor in Tallahassee, Florida.
PS. You can watch the KNX17 instructional videos here.