Festival 34 in Raleigh North Carolina was an exciting, inspiring, and rewarding experience. No surprise there. I have been making the pilgrimage to this event for three decades. I use the word pilgrimage because by definition this is “a journey to a sacred place.” For me, wherever festival is held the space and place are sacred because of what happens there and the people I share the experience with. No doubt there will be those who feel that referring to my training as sacred is a bit to much. Obviously I disagree because of the crucial and undeniably beneficial influence it has had and continues to have on my life. Further, I believe there is indeed a sacred energy that is created when people who are like-minded come together in friendship to explore their mutual interests and celebrate community, tradition and personal evolution. Beyond all that there is then the fact that for all of us this is just plain fun, or we probably wouldn’t be there.
To be sure there have been for me times of great challenge and even wrenching disappointment at festival events. Yes, I have failed tests before. Yes, I have had disagreements with my friends and teachers before. Some have altered relationships permanently. But this is the normal ebb and flow, the very nature, of not only community dynamics but that of a genuinely challenging and rewarding path as well. As a tradition festival has remained as a constant, a landmark if you will, a mile marker. This is a place rich with learning possibilities. This is a place where I can sit face to face with friends, teachers and students. Often, in spite of best intentions, this is the only place where we can make such a thing happen. Frequently just a few such moments together can influence the entire upcoming year in unexpected ways. Sometimes it is the pleasure of meeting someone new, getting to know someone better, or just catching up on life with an old friend. It is a time that offers a very unique set of circumstances that too often passes too quickly.
In my thirty years of Ninja Festival pilgrimages I have transitioned from new kid on the block to featured instructor. I still find that after all these years, regardless of (and dare I say that sometimes because of) all the bumps and bruises, physical and otherwise, festival has not lost its’ unique form of magic. These days I often begin my yearly pilgrimage with Forest Gump’s moma’s words playing in my head; festival “is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” For me, even if I stumble upon a chocolate that I don’t particularly care for I know there are many other treats in the box. This year, like so many others, the box provided a lot of what makes this journey so sweet. Already looking forward to opening the lid on next years’ box.