Kungfu in the forest

I spent last week under canvas in a forest practising Kungfu and having an amazingly good time for someone who has spent the last nine months almost home-bound recovering from a brain haemorrhage.

It was the annual Kungfu Summer Camp (see www.whitecranefightingarts.com) and, this year, it was held in the New Forest in Hampshire, England. The place where the Norman Conqueror, King William I’s unpleasant red-faced son, King William II was killed by an arrow whilst hunting exactly 909 years ago yesterday, 2nd. August 1100. Not that we were marking the event of his possible murder when we held our own forest-whittled archery event on the eve of his anniversary.

The New Forest is one of England’s few surviving ancient woodlands and it has retained to this day an atmosphere of that primeval British world with elderly Oak trees whispering of days long forgotten and wild ponies reminding us that once we used to share the soil on a more egalitarian basis with other species. In fact you had to be careful who was looking through your tent window with an eye on sharing your provisions.

So it was a fine place to go, not just to recover some of my kungfu energy but also to contemplate in an atmosphere that spoke of things larger than us mere mortals.

Every morning began at 6.00, it often rained and breakfast was a long way off when we headed for a magical spot with the dramatic remains of a fallen Oak tree to practise, not only our taichi form, Suang-Yang but also the physically and mentally challenging Da Mo moving meditation exercises, our style’s traditional way to start each day.

It was difficult not to think of King William meeting his sudden death somewhere here without also recognising that sudden death is what my brain haemorrhage could also have doled out to me. If he had had my chance of a second go at life, then I hope he would have felt as positive as I did standing there, in a painfully low horse stance, in communion with this woodland and at peace with the early morning calls of woodpeckers and crows.

There was a lot that I couldn’t do though – I tried a touch of gentle kungfu dog-style two-man put-downs but my brain soon told me that that was a bad idea. I was free during these sessions to get out my camera though to capture some proof that dog-style is not just effective but painful too.

Here are some of my friends’ going through the motions and the agony of a style that I was just beginning to learn on my last trip to China. I shall be back though and this move, which begins with both fighters in a standing position is high on my list to perfect.

I was pleased to have had a go at some kungfu grappling but I was really there to practise my patterns with a profound look at improving stance – this was the week’s theme and also a way of showing how the ancient Chinese understood the workings of the human body.

I was also there to learn Dragon Fly Dipping Sword, our Chinese straight sword pattern. Needless to say, I loved it.

I surprized to find how much I could do under the watchful eye of our instructor, Neil Johnson, in this brilliantly organized event where 27 people or various abilities came together for a week in a small clearing in that forest.

So there it was, admittedly I had to go and lie down most mornings and afternoons and early nights became a boring reality whilst the others played but it was another major landmark on my road to full recovery, I hope.

I had to rely on my camera for fun too when all the others were engaged in campside activities such as mountain bike Frisbee:

If the Frisbee was just too gentle then there were a host of other high octane and very muddy games that kept everyone amused:

There was room for music too as there should always be in my life and nothing was more life affirming than performing again in an impromptu gas lit canvas auditorium to a crowd of friends.
Guitar, ukulele and maracas were the perfect accompaniment for a variety of songs including Blue Moon in the moonlight and Purple Rain – yes, OK, well it is England – in the rain.


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