Fitness From The Field: Kobudo
The Rural Intelligence region offers a plethora of fitness and healing modalities, but it can be hard to know which is the one that fits your needs, your body type and your schedule. Enter Paula Boyajian, a yoga instructor certified in Interdisciplinary Yoga and Yoga for the Special Child, who has taken on the role of RI’s fitness contributor to sleuth out the details of the many health and wellness options in our area.
The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a helpful lesson for children, but as an adult, it’s interesting to know that some sticks can actually help save your bones — that is, if the stick is a “Bō.” Visit Zenquest Martial Arts Center in Lenox and discover how this and other Kobudo props can benefit body and mind.
What It Is
“Kobudo” is Okinawan for “old martial way.” Its origin is unclear, but one story holds that Okinawan peasants were restricted from carrying traditional arms when the island became part of Japan. As a result, they used what they had — farm tools. Although the original intention was self-defense and can still be used as such, today the focus is on bettering the mind and body while cultivating respect for one’s classmates.
ALL LEVELS: I was equally excited and apprehensive to try Kobudo simply because I had never experienced anything like it. But as soon as I met Sensei Mark and Sensei Michele I felt safe, welcomed and encouraged to just be myself. After the warm-up, which got me comfortable with the staff, we were led in individual drills, then expanded into partner work. Routines are repeated until you feel comfortable, questions are encouraged and if you mess up, honestly, no one even cares. In fact, Sensei Michele mentioned that the only prerequisite is a good sense of humor. Not to mention, Sensei Mark seems to have eyes in the back of his head; at any given time he would stop demonstrating to correct a student, all in the name of safety.
I’ll start with what makes Kobudo unique and empowering: the weapons. Although they’re not very heavy, you hold them throughout the class so they end up as a resistance tool. Drills are usually done in a low stance, helping to strengthen legs and buttocks. Other benefits include body awareness, coordination and balance as well as concentration and memory. I even got a sweat going and I wasn’t wearing a gi — the uniform. Speaking of which, the gi provides another benefit I wouldn’t have thought of: because its fabric doesn’t breathe well, your increased temperature aids in flexibility. The uniform also helps your practice carry over into everyday life; when you’re wearing a coat, you’re used to moving within a restriction and when you’re not, moving is easier. Another intriguing thing about the gi is the snapping sound that emanates when a prop hits the material, which Sensei Mark explained, informs you about your movements.
Mark Flynn [in top photo, with Michelle Moreau], who co-owns Zenquest with wife Connie, is a Certified Shihan (Master Instructor) through the Okinawa Karatedo Association and holds several other impressive titles and belts. Just trying to pronounce them can be intimidating but there’s nothing intimidating about the man. He is gentle, down-to-earth and even funny. He mentioned that he used to teach at the mirrored end of the room until he realized that standing in front of the bay window allows more space before he might break any glass. As class started, he suggested I stand in the middle so I could be surrounded by good energy and that included Sensei Michele, who has a 4th degree black belt in Karatedo and is as warm as she is strong. The heart of the studio is best represented by Sensei Mark’s response to my thanking him for making me feel so welcomed; he simply said, “That’s what we do.”
Much like Kobudo today, Zenquest is a mix of the old and new; the lobby has WiFi, there are traditional locker rooms and a soon-to-be expanded fitness room. Large and bright practice rooms are lined with pictures of those who made it possible for us to practice, including Mark’s teacher. I was taken by a particular scroll, which is traditionally presented when teachers feel a student is truly ready to teach. Sensei Mark’s scroll is aptly geared to teaching in the Berkshires: “Master martial arts…to gain awareness as deep as the ocean as rich as the forest!”
Day passes: $20; 3-month unlimited class card: $169.
Zenquest Martial Arts Center
55 Pittsfield-Lenox Road, Lenox, MA
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