A Barefoot Training Experience
at Carlisle State Park
by Emily Hobkirk

On Saturday, the 21st of September 2002, I journeyed with about twenty others to Carlisle State Park. It was hot and humid. The humidity was actually one of the first things I myself noticed, because, being barefoot for the entire day, I felt a refreshing coolness to the rocks underfoot. And I must say, the heat was rather intense for a while, but it soon became part of the experience.

After marveling at the penned goats, geese, and chickens, we listened to a heartfelt introduction by Sensei Moncreaff, meditated, and began our descent (or was it an ascent) into the beautifully wooded park at a slow paced jog. My feet preffering the forest floor; i was glad we first stopped in the woods with old crunchy pine needles under foot. It was at this first stop that Mr. Moncreaff introduced the partner every kenpoist has in fighting: the world. How can you lose with the world on your side? Good
question. As I sank my weight into my feet and felt the ground's strength supporting me, I wondered how anyone else could possibly understand, with their thick soled shoes and soft comforting socks, the power of the earth below. It was really a very beautiful lesson, to learn the world is on my side.

As we left at a slightly faster jog, I concentrated on the earth under my
feet and felt its power. And I did feel very light footed, despite the fact
I was consciously trying to sink into a stronger stance. I actually think
the light footedness was a significant part of the power. Anyway, we didn't
jog for too long. We ended up walking before we arrived at our first
official stop: a hidden grassy knoll with two thigh high wooden horse jumps.
[Exclamation] the grass was so cool and soft underfoot. By then I was
sweating, but it didn't bother me. It was the beginning of some great
training, and I was actually quite swept up in it. As we started improvising
defenses with the wooden wall as an obstacle for the offender, I quickly
learned to crowd the wall, whether defending from an attacker on the
opposite side or attacking the defender. We all did our share of jumping,
kicking, punching and falling. We all got dirty. It was... genuine.

We continued to a short, wide, flat bridge that felt hard and unnatural to my
thriving feet. We practiced by defending the bridge, with one partner,
against five others trying to cross it. This excercise, I found, was
predictable in solution, though it turned out harder than it had seemed. I
knew the advantage would be to crowd the middle, because the unsteady
railings were vulnerable, and three small gaps (between left railing,
defendant one, defendant two, and right railing) would be harder to
penetrate than one big center gap. But once the excersize began,
coordination with partners and focus were difficult factors to control. Not
to mention the fact that kicking to the region of one's groin or knee did
not seem to stop many, so one actually had to make contact with each strike to insure accuracy in the opponents that failed to cross the bridge. I ended up with quite the bruise to show for that.

We continued, making a good jogging pace for some ways and a walk for a ways longer, stopping at certain places for historical/training references.
Silent, we tiptoed through torn branches and crunchy leaves to avoid
breaking any branch at all: our focus was heightened greatly. It would have
been easier for everyone else if they chose to go barefoot, because I felt
every branch underfoot and felt when and where a break would occur. The only branch I did end up breaking was one caught on the bulky backpack I wished I hadn't had. However I did get out alright, and had a nice rest at our next training spot: a new, narrow bridge with sturdy railings and a thousand possibilities. That excercise was one-on-one, and the defender always prevented the opponent from crossing, using the railings for leverage and the narrow entrance to their advantage. Well, no. One white belt, who had a very high opinion of himself, was charged by Wasim Quddus and fled (backwards, I might add) all the way to the opposite side of the bridge, screaming like a banshee as he went. [Exclamation], that was hilarious.

And off we went, once again, and it was hot and humid and wonderful. The
next task, no question my favorite, was upon a horse jump, which consisted
of a telephone pole raised a little under three feet from the ground. I
actually broke out the shoes at this point, thinking splinters might succeed
in distracting me from my fighting, but I quickly discarded them to my bulky
bag once i felt the surface. It was soft, smooth and still strong, and I
once again felt pity for those who really didn't connect with it. I felt it
supporting me, and had little trouble balancing. In fact, I think my feet
had no trouble at all, that it was just my mind's own insecurity with
limited space. Looking back, I know I could do better now, and I know I want to go again.

And somehow, as we continued from that site, I read my watch and over two hours had passed. It was incredible, I hadn't felt any time at all. I was
tired, and sweaty, and my legs ached from having run all that way after a
strenuous horse back riding class, but I didn't want to stop. Not in the
slightest. However, Sensei said that we only had one activity left, and even
my feet were dissapointed. I think they rather liked the elemental exposure,
and they loved when I dunked them in a lake at the location of a past black
belt test. The next, and last, excersize my feet and I participated in was
by another horse jump, but this one was about five feet tall. It was less of
an eye opener, but somehow more adrenaline enhanced and funny and ... fun. As we retired back to the old, knotted tree under which a belt awarding
ceremony had graced the past, Mr. Moncreaff regailed us all with another
tale from his neverending supply of stories, and I sank into the ground and
felt its power. It was an experience I hope I will forget, because I hope to
be doing it so often that each individual visit blurs into one massive
experience of true power, and hidden magic.

Fantastic For Body AND Mind