It is a family reunion. Some will be missed, stories will be told. Conversations left at the last dinner meal last year will be resumed. When we are there, it is those days in Cheraw that seem more real, more vibrant, like all the time in between just disappears and the weeks that form our Gasshuku are joined end to end. It would not matter what the year was. The camp looks the same, it follows the same rhythms, and people fall into roles.
Every year there are white belts. Clustered in the back of the dojo, trying to find their footing in a new environment, serving as omoto for Sensei, some will be back. Those that return are the veterans, with color in their belts. They have friends to see, they know what day they want to sign up for cooking, and the dojo is a more familiar place.
Then, usually five years of active training in, is the year of shodan testing. At the end of the week every year, the ikkyu students that have met the requirements get a two hour test of their skills, knowledge, and commitment. Complete that and you can perhaps call yourself a serious student, someone who is at the end of the beginning.
The more senior people, those who have been coming for many years or decades, may not see their roles change much, but everyone else falls into place and camp endures.
I will see you all in Cheraw.