The Mountain Strength Name
The Story of Mountain Strength – this is not just a name, but an experience.
Originally written 06/2009 and edited and cleaned up June 2015
This is not only the end of a year but also the end of the decade. I think this is as fitting time as ever to tell the story of how Mountain Strength got its name. The beginning of the journey started 10 years ago in June of 1999. That is when I became a student of Mark Davis at the Boston Martial Arts Center in Allston, Ma. We can jump ahead through 7 years of hard training in Budo Taijutsu to Saturday, September 30 2006.
The day started fine enough, woke up early as usual. Guzzled some cough syrup to fight of a flu type sickness I had and hobbled over to the kitchen to make breakfast. I had recently injured my right knee and shoulder training outside trying to ukemi out of a crazy Tomoe Nage. Got dressed and headed to my Grandfather’s funeral.
I spent all day with family and around 3pm headed home, packed a day bag and headed to Sudbury, Ma for the New England Warrior camp. When I arrived at the camp everyone was still out in the fields and woods training so I took the time to walk the trails and decompress from the day’s events. I kept asking myself “Why was I here” at this camp? This night was to be my night to take my Black belt test. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, or even deserved it yet. The thing is there is not a black belt test each year and each test is different. You are either ready for it or not.
The only way to be ready for it was to train for anything and any possibility. The only thing I knew for sure was that the test would take place at night after a long day of training. I spent 3 months running 3+ miles through the dark at midnight every night on top of my normal Martial and physical training schedule of 4 – 5 days a week. What I could not prepare for was that I would be emotionally and spiritually drained by losing a close loved one.
Eventually the sun set and I knew it was time to hike back to the base camp to meet up with my fellow Buyu. The walk had cleared my mind but my heart was still heavy. I sat down with some friends and had dinner to fuel up for the night training exercises that would come after supper but before the test.
The night training was excellent. It lasted a few hours into the night ending around 11pm. I was able to train with some good people, friends and peers, and that lifted my spirits. And faster than I thought it was time for the test to begin. All the lower ranked students were asked to leave and return to their cabins in the woods. The black belts and testers traveled in a line out into the forest to a large clearing. There were 3 total students testing and a large number of local and visiting black belts.
It was intimidating to say the least.
Those of us testing were sent running on a 1 mile loop through the dark woods with no flashlights. When we returned all the Black belts were gone except our teachers, Mark Davis and Ken Savage. We were then put through a demanding calisthenic workout of 100 pushups, 100 sit ups, lunges, ukemi and probably some other things I have forgotten. I only remember thinking I have never done so many push ups in my life. After the workout we were sent out to run another loop but were told to not stop running until we were told. When we returned to the clearing there was no one there, so we kept running down the path. Another half mile we reached our teachers on the darkened trail.
On this trail we were asked many questions and then were instructed on how to work in a three man team, how to walk in the dark as a team, and how to see in 360 degrees as a team. We were to stay as a team for the rest of the night.
If one failed we all failed.
We were then shown how to belly crawl forward silently by laying down and lifting our bodies off the ground up onto our toes and hands, keeping our bodies straight, and shifting forward by inches and resting back down and then repeating. Inch by inch. When we seemed sufficient enough at this task we were instructed to dust ourselves off and jog to the next task.
I did not expect what was to come. What the real test would be. The realization that all that was just a warm up weighed a bit on me. I was excited and afraid of what was about to happen. As we ran down the trail we started to see some lights up ahead. The mystery as to where the rest of the black belts were had been answered. They were stringing glow sticks up a trail. UP a trail. This trail broke off to the left and it looked like a ski slope at night. The damned lights kept going into the sky.
We were told to lay down at the foot of the trail, in a single file and start belly crawling up the hill like we practiced earlier. We did and let me tell you those rocks on the water worn trail hurt. We were instructed to yell encouragement to each other. After some time all I could yell out was “Push”. Every Black belt was along that trail all the way up to the top. My teachers always in front of us. We were told to stop after only 5 mins. I thought it was over, I was ehausted as well as losing feeling in my arms. Then I looked up and was told it was only a break to see how we were doing. My teacher moved out from in front of me and I saw how little we moved, how much more there was to go. We started again and we did not stop until the top.
During the crawl my hands and arms were numb. My previous injuries screaming. Blood poured out of my arms and legs from cuts I don’t remember getting. One teammate was ready to quit. This was getting too hard. I started remembering telling my Grandfather just hours before he passed that I was testing for my black belt, my fears and how I wasn’t sure I deserved or was ready. He asked me how long I had been training, he smiled and said I would be fine, it was the last thing we talked about.
In a moment it felt like I drawing strength from the earth, from life, from years of training, from this struggle, this test and it all became focused. It was no longer hard. I had reached a tipping point that I didn’t know was there and I started moving faster, yelling more, encouraging my team mates and helping push them forward, sometimes literally. I felt alive. I reached the top of the hill first and kept cheering my teammates on, helping them to finish. We all reached the top but It wasn’t over. At the top was another clearing.
Here all the blackbelts encircled us and each of us took our turn standing in the middle while black belt was called out to attack us. I was stilled energized from my climb but I soon realized my body was not. It is a scary thing when another person is throwing a punch at your face and your own arms refuse to cooperate to defend you. I couldn’t raise my arms. They were useless but I had to adapt fast.
I used my feet, footwork, avoided the strikes and moved strategically. My legs felt like jelly, my arms useless, and my body broken. But then I used something else that I did not know I had. It’s hard to explain what I did. Perhaps it came out because I had no other option. I resolved my spirit to not be beaten, to not fail. This somehow caused my attacker to hesitate, to not venture within my circle. Perhaps it was a look, or a feeling but he started to backed away. I became the attacker, and my teacher said stop. My turn had ended.
I watched my teammates enter circle in turn and after they had finished tjheir combat we were each asked a question. What it meant to us to be a black belt. Why did we want to achieve this? I don’t exactly remember my out of breath answer, but I know it was from the heart. And it was born from the desire to help others. To be great so others can be great. To be there for those that can not be there for themselves. To have the strength of a Mountain protecting the Valley so that it may flourish and grow.
The concept of Mountain Strength was born from this test.
Mountain Strength is a way for me to give back to those that have helped me and to carry on that way for others. As one of my teachers says we are each given a seed, we can put it in our pocket or plant it. I have chosen to develop Mountain Strength, and help others grow strong.
To end here is a favorite quote that has resonated with me for a long time:
“Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I am there.”
– Bob Humphreys