Survive the Judd Reid Fight Camp.
In fact, this was my third time attending the annual Kyokushin Karate camp hosted by the legendary martial artist (and one of my best friends), Australian Judd Reid, as well as Sensei Dean Booth.
I met Judd – or, Shihan Reid as I respectfully refer to him throughout the camp – through a serious of fortuitous circumstances starting in 2014. One of my best traveling buddies from Melbourne, Clint G da Monsta, introduced me to an interesting cat named Anton Cavka who had just produced a unique martial arts documentary and was looking to promote it.
I was writing for the Huffington Post at the time and happened to be visiting Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the same time as Cavka, so we met at 7 am at an end-of-the-world bar called The Pickled Parrot, and got along famously from there.
That’s when I first heard of Judd Reid and his successful undertaking of the 100-man fight, or real-life kumite, as he was only the 19th person in history to do so.
Tragically, Anton passed away before the book was finished, so when Shihan Reid was nice enough to invite me to his first karate fight camp in Thailand in 2015, I said “yes” even though I was in piss-poor shape and had never practiced Kyokushin Karate before.
Since then, I’ve aimed to go every year (I wanted to do it last year and actually was in Thailand for the camp, but the alien tapeworm that took over my insides had other plans), silently dedicating my effort to Anton’s memory, thinking of him often as we train.
But with no dojo to workout in or even a training partner, I considered hiring a Filipino just to help toughen me up for the camp.
Looking for someone to punch me in the stomach and kick me in the legs repeatedly.
Must be clean, discreet, and single (no wedding rings when you punch me.) Southpaws need not apply.
Three days a week is ideal; job will pay by the bruise or until I yell the safe word, which is “MORE."
However, as usual, I was completely humbled by the camp, although I escaped without a significant injury this time – a minor miracle. (A torn Achilles, broken ribs, dislocated elbow, broken fingers, and a lot of bruises to my pride were the casualties of past camps!)
The camp is “only” six days but there are three workout sessions per day, each one cumulatively harder thanks to your exhaustion, lack of sleep (I barely slept four hours a night because everything hurt and my adrenaline wouldn’t subside, even when I desperately needed rest), mounting injuries, and such.
The whole purpose is to completely shock your body, forcing you far out of your comfort zone, all while ramping up the intensity to an 11 on a scale of 1-10.
You can either be comfortable or you can grow - but not both.
While the other athletes in the camp had a considerable edge in skill, technique, and the ability to withstand blows since they all trained regularly at their Kyokushin dojos back home, I did possess a few distinct advantages.
Most of them had to travel extremely long distances from places like Canada, Europe, and Australia, so they were coping with jet lag, the time change, and a new climate, while Southeast Asia was already “home” to me.
I also came prepared, purchasing a little coffee maker for my hotel room and fortified with packs of Red Bull, oatmeal, almonds, and Tylenol to keep my tired old bones going.
However, I had to keep working during the camp, which means I awoke at 4 am every morning to send emails and write blogs before heading downstairs for the first workout at about 5:30 am, or “O-dark-thirty” as they say in the military.
After a quick shower, we convened downstairs for breakfast, as we ate every meal together, Uchi Deshi (live-in student) style. Once “brekkie” was over, that only left us about 90 minutes or less for the next session.
But the next training session came up way too fast, as we met at 1030 am in a hotel conference room that was cordoned off and converted into a fully functioning dojo for us. There were rubberized mats spread across the floor, mitts, pads, and kick shields lined up, banners with traditional Japanese writing, and posters with quotes by the martial art’s legendary founder, Sosai Masutatsu Oyama.
After another group gathering for lunch, we had the longest break of the day – about three hours – before the final afternoon session at 4 pm.
I used that time productively, dancing around like a boxer as I tried not to get killed, blocking the occasional kick with my head and absorbing a ridiculous amount of punishment to my legs (my shins still smart a week and a half later!).
The late afternoon sessions often ended up on the beach, where we had some of the hardest training of the day. It was well worth the pain and perseverance when we slowed down to practice katas, then knelt in formation along the edge of where the waves lapped the sand, focusing in a meditative state as the sun fell towards the horizon before us.
For instance, we hotly debated the word thong (the word for flip flops in Australia) and which side of the road was "correct" to drive on. But as the sole U.S. representative, I was thoroughly outnumbered, and took it as a huge complimnt when I heard comments such as, “You’re the first American I've met that I actually like!”
After dinner, we might head across the street for a massage or to visit the laundry, but most spare moments were spent trying to rest up for the next morning, when we did it all over again.
Each session lasted an hour and a half to two hours and resulted in us drenched in sweat, soaked in sea water, covered head to toe in sand, grass, or dirt, and sometimes even splattered with a little blood.
But we were always smiling ear to ear, enlivened that we’d survived one more spirited day training at the toughest karate camp in the world.
A lot of my friends are into martial arts, fitness enthusiasts, or know of Judd Reid by now. So, in next month's postcard, I'll break down the nuts and bolts of the actual physical activity and training we engaged in over the course of the camp, as well as the elemental nature, discipline, and honor of Kyokushin Karate, which has definitely changed my life for the better.