This was my first Gathering with this group. Indeed, I knew these folks only through their collective web presence. Any apprehension that would normally occur when heading into the home turf of a bunch of strangers was assuaged by my correspondence with the primary host, Chuck Pippin. I was confident that I was going to be training with like-minded brothers and sisters. The experience exceeded my wildest expectations.
I had signed up for the combat sessions as well as the blade-making class. All instruction was very well thought out and executed without feeling regimented. The atmosphere was so relaxed, in fact, that I never felt uncomfortable, pressed for time or out of place. This, believe it or not, is no small feat. The balance of top notch instruction with a welcoming, accepting and ego-free dynamic is one seldom realized. The Gathering of the Tribes accomplished this effortlessly and with a competence rarely seen.
The combat instruction included San Yun Do answers to bladed attacks from Chuck Pippin and Don Young, the Sword and Shield applications of Maharlika Kuntaw from the incomparable Brian "Buzz" Smith, Pencak Silat Pertempuran's Ales material brought to us by Sterling Heibeck, Nick Gutschow's Silat Sharaf groundwork movement reminiscent of Harimau, Krav Maga from Craig Gray and Kapatiran Suntukan Martial Arts (KSMA) material (Nick Stick) from the man himself, Jay M. Carstensen. Terry Trahan brought WeaselCraft to the group with an impressive display of skill and no B.S. self defense. Mel Hebert brought some of his personal flavor of Rossi Kuntao to the group, energizing everyone and facilitating some light entertainment in the form of flying bodies. The instruction was of world class caliber and I was blown away by the dynamic fostered by all who participated.
The bladesmithing class was amazing! Although Mel and I started with forged blanks, there was plenty of work to do to turn them into blades. The instruction was thorough and incredibly enjoyable, taking some of the drudgery out of the process. I'm hooked! Chuck's instruction and guidance was impeccable and detailed. Ian Robbins' depth of knowledge and understanding with regards to the smithing process was a wonder to observe and a pleasure to learn from. The experience has crystallized my intent to start making knives.
The bladesmithing experience segues nicely into the most extraordinary aspect of the Gathering: The generosity and hospitality. Handle woods, tools, machine time, steel and even Chuck and Ian's time can be claimed to have been paid for by the nominal fee. But, the bladesmithing class and the time put in by the teachers was invaluable and more than exceeded what we paid.
The most amazing example of generosity was the lodging, food and acceptance that was offered to all. Chuck and his wife, Jeanne, took in a complete stranger and treated him as though he were royalty. I pulled into Chuck's driveway and was greeted like an old friend. Perhaps I've gone soft in my stable, comfortable old age, but I've never felt so welcome and accepted in my entire life. Jeanne was amazing! She was the rock upon which this whole shindig was built. She kept us well fed and happy and opened up her home to the rabble that are the warriors that descended upon it.
Overall, the Gathering of the Tribes 2009 was an experience of a lifetime. I feel like I left there with an entirely new set of brothers and sisters for life. Thank you to all who made that weekend one that I will always recall with fondness.