“Nothing sharpens your senses more than a night in the forest
– Nature is Divine.”
Back in 2006 I walked the Pyrenees camping out under the stars and tempering my karate with the elements. This was a practise I’d taken to doing since my twentieth birthday, usually in Wales or other mountainous regions for two weeks at a time. The Pyrenees later held a special place in my heart so I would return there again and again.
The first time I slept out was when I travelled to Japan in the mid nineties. Back then it was out of necessity to escape a bad situation. I spent a week in suburban parks, sleeping rough while trying not to ‘look’ like I was sleeping rough, before eventually finding my feet and sharing an apartment.
As I think about it now I’ve spent many a night beneath the stars in Japan and throughout the Ryukyu’s. In 2016 and ’17 I did several months doing so, not for financial reasons but simply because I found the experience heightened my training tenfold. I would wake with the dawn chorus and swim on the morning tide, finding quiet, tucked away, locations to return to after a gruelling night of training. In this way I was training 6-8 hours daily.
I guess in my mind I romanticised about stories of old that told tales of shipwrecked survivors camping out in the tomb pocketed hills around Tomari and Shuri. And also of a novel about the life of Miyamoto Musashi gifted to me in my teens. But works of fiction rarely reflect the reality of mosquito hordes and bone drenching night rains. Or, as in the Pyrenees, meeting a wolf, or hearing a bear near the camp.
Man is the weakest of apes and not particularly well built for many large predators. The comfort of modern life makes us forget that at times, so wild camping even in relatively safe or tamed landscapes, can be humbling.
Years later I learned that my sensei’s father, Higa Seitoku, also enjoyed taking his training out in nature. In an interview he once reflected:
“I would sleep out in the open or spend the night at a temple if it was raining. Sometimes I would train myself mentally by sitting under a waterfall. That kind of training was really advantageous for daily life too. It also made for some good memories from my time as a student,”
And it’s true. Taking yourself out into the wild and focussing on your karate will pay massive dividends. Some used to say to me ‘oh it’s nice to get away from your problems’, but that’s not right. Any problems you leave behind will still be there waiting when you return. Most of our problems today are the result of modern living. Despite the onward march of technology it has not making our lives simpler or less stressful.
Taking yourself out into nature simply presents you with a different set of more immediate problems. Where will you sleep? What will you eat? How will you keep warm? Where to find water?
The first time you do it you’ll probably have a crash day. For me it’s around day three. That’s when your body’s cycles really start to shed modern living and start tuning to the flow of nature. If you’re not expecting it or are green to the idea then it can become a real challenge. You are faced with yourself.
That’s one of the main gains I recognised early on with training in nature. You are confronted by your own limitations and ability to problem solve. You may need to tackle internal dialogues. In fact, having the time away from any devices or can be a real eye-opener as to what junk is drifting around in the background of your thoughts. It’s why I’ve always done it alone, except for one year when a small group came with me.
For the longest time people used to say to me “oh I wish I could do something like that” to which my response was often “do it then”. Of course what they were really saying was “I wish I could go along and do that.”
That’s why nowadays I offer the opportunity to show others how they can go about doing their own trips. Sometimes it helps to do the first one with someone experienced and able to teach you the correct way to prepare and how to structure a good training regime too. From my base here in central Portugal I’m able to lead individuals on guided wildcamps in the scenic mountains of Serra da Lousã or Pampilhosa da Serra. Alternatively I could meet in the French Pyrenees and suggest good locations there too.
These trips are designed as three day inductions to teach you a set of skills and ease you into the tasks required to make a wildcamp training trip beneficial and enjoyable. This not only includes tips on how to read the environment but also a series of exercises and forms of Okinawan karate to develop reflexes, tactile sensitivity and meditation.
Such trips are also extremely beneficial for late teens struggling to find direction and needing to steer their energy into more creative outlets. My skillsets and experience is best suited to mountain forest terrains of central and western Europe.
If you are interested in booking a trip please use the contact form on this site.