As I awoke I was first aware of two things. First, it was chilly. My nostrils burned slightly as I took in air, and not just any air, this air was not full of city smell: smog, rubber, petrol and fumes. And second, I noticed I was still fully dressed from the day before from head to toe-except for my boots. I lay there for a few moments to get my bearings. Where was I?
You may find this question odd. For me it is not. I travel weekly as a business entrepreneur and executive and I have awoken in many hotels reminding myself where I am and what are my objectives for this trip as my first conscious act. But this morning was different. I smelled mud and sweat.
I also immediately took note that I wasn’t in the Four Seasons. I was in an orange tent. Sunrise had occurred and I noticed light peeking in the front. I thought I should get up. As I attempted to rise I immediately felt a cramp and collapsed back to the ground in pain. Why was I here? What was happening?
I tried to assess what hurt. Damage control. I soon ascertained that every joint, every muscle and every tendon was sore. Nothing had been left behind. And then, as I lay there, I began to remember the day before.
After a flight from Dallas to Toronto I had gotten on a bus to an undisclosed location three hours away in the Algonquin Forest. And although I had not camped since about the age of 13, I was now 49, I had decided to attend the week long Systema Camp.
I had attended some Systema seminars and I was intrigued by the emphasis on relaxation and breathing. As a 49 year old hard driven entrepreneur, executive and lawyer, the idea of learning to breathe and relax while engaging in martial arts intrigued me. I had a karate background and had gotten a black belt in 2005. I knew katas and techniques and I could spar, but honestly, one of the guys I got my black belt with had died of a heart attack two weeks after our test and I thought that could be me in a few years.
As I lay there that chilly August morn, I questioned my sanity. I had a big house in Texas, a Porsche, a beautiful wife of 29 years and a great job running a successful and large company. Why was I here? I called my wife. She said I sounded like I never had before and maybe I should come home. She offered to send a helicopter to airlift me out. I laughed – that hurt as well.
I tried to sit up again but fell back down in pain. What did I do? It was then that I recalled the first day. Breathing exercises. Breathing exercises turned out to mean doing more core exercises than I had done in my entire life. Three hours worth! There was walking and breathing, working around obstacles in the woods, striking, knife disarming, rolling across a wet rain soaked field in the dark, learning to fall softly on concrete and then roll. We learned how to sense someone’s intentions in daylight, dusk and the dark. We had to find our way back to camp from the woods without a light. We worked out and sparred in the cold waters of the lake. An endless set of challenges on the first day. No wonder I couldn’t rise.
A bell rang. I stopped thinking about my pain and I decided to breathe. I used the very breathing principles I was taught to get up, put on my boots and got out of the tent for another day of training. As I felt the sunlight on my muddy clothes, I saw others rising also. I was standing now and ready for more. I called my wife back and told her to hold the helicopter. I was going to learn how to breathe and live – out here in the woods. And I was going to bring this back home. This sense of
being alive; this health and relaxation.