Kungfu Summer Camp
12th – 17th August 2006
When we first booked to go on the Summer Camp it was winter so the idea of being by the seaside in the heat of the sun sounded great. As time got nearer and the heat wave descended on England, it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t going to be buckets and spades and paddling in the sea. It was going to be Kungfu training wasn’t it? And it was going to be in Cornwall where they have forty-foot sand dunes, giant waves and enough space to drill an entire army. Images of fun in the sun turned into nightmares about sweaty boot camps, rookies dying from the heat whilst instructors bellowed their relentless commands. So where are you going for your holidays? people would ask. Cornwall, you would answer. Lovely, they’d say. And what are you going to do there? Kungfu camp. It was the funny looks that did it. Whatever floats your boat – that’s what they were thinking.
Well nobody died and it was a lot of fun. We learnt a lot about Kungfu and Taichi too.
Twenty-five of us from the Lewes and Burgess Hill White Crane Fighting Arts club joined up with fifteen members of the Southern Crane Kungfu club from Sutton, Surrey. So forty folk spent the week under canvas on a campsite just outside Newquay in the worst weather of an otherwise perfect summer and found it a really worthwhile experience.
Neil Johnson and Darren Trottman, the instructors from the two clubs, were running the camp together and had planned a comprehensive schedule of Kungfu and Taichi training which focused on a specific set of themes so that each class was related to the next, whether it was Taichi, Iron Shirt or Sticking Hands.
All those oft-repeated instructions from our regular classes took on a clear meaning when practised single-mindedly over the course of the week. We focused on absorbing the opponent’s power, by sticking, intercepting and following through. To succeed we had to think about the body’s Inner and Outer Gates and those Four Points of Gold and for any of it to even start to work we had to concentrate on sinking our stance for stability and balance. These points kept coming up in everything we did, even if it was not always said out loud. Consequently we all got a lot better.
Each morning at 8.00, accompanied by bird song (mostly swallows and Red Kites – no owls or nightingales, it only felt that early) we gathered for an hour in a nearby field to do a variety of Qi Gong techniques and worked on our breathing technique as well as our inner focus. We also learnt the fourteen Da Mo exercises, which left everyone challenged, revived and really beginning to feel that furnace sensation in our deng-chens. For all those who don’t believe in Chi, this class definitively proved that it exists – whatever it is.
Throughout the week there were a series of two hour lessons which were mostly held one of the near-by beaches regardless of the weather conditions which included hot and sunny, sand-blasting gales or just simple brass-monkey cold. No one stood around getting miserable though as there was too much to do. The sessions included:
1) Sticking Hands. On our first night, after the seven hour drive, two hour traffic jam and the ordeal of erecting our tents in what felt like a hurricane, we came together to practise the gentle art of sticking hands. It was a good opportunity to meet the members of the other club and to try to knock them side-ways.
2) Kungfu patterns. Everyone had to suffer instructors’ beady eyes and knowing looks just when you thought you’d got something right. Inevitably, no matter what level we were, we all ended up working on the beginning of the first pattern. This was all about first principles.
3) Suang-Yang. We divided into beginners’ and others’ classes. The beginners began to learn just how difficult those seemingly gentle movements are and the rest of us experienced the power and beauty of a large group all silently doing the form together.
4) Iron Shirt. Up on the top of one of those giant sand dunes and to the horrified surprize of an elderly woman who had climbed up there to change into her swimming costume, we gathered to beat the hell out of each other. We paired off with partners of roughly equal proportions and learnt a series of bone conditioning exercises, which were pretty hard-core but surprisingly exhilarating to everyone except the three lads from Sutton who were nursing hangovers.
5) Kungfu blocking and stepping techniques. This session let us practise a combination of upper crane and side blocks from a sunk position. We were encouraged to remember all that stuff about absorption, grounding and the inner and outer gates.
6) Learning a new Kungfu pattern. The most unexpected class of the week was when we were told that we would all be taught a completely new pattern called Bai He Shi Ba Jue (White Crane Eighteen Special). We may not have mastered it but we all learnt the basic moves complete with jumps that, on the beach, meant that you landed shin deep in the sand. Eat your hearts out everyone who didn’t make it to the camp!
7) Suang-Yang. Two hours were spent absorbingly just on two moves from the form. No one was so good at it that they didn’t learn a lot from this. It only goes to show that taichi is a lifetime’s work.
8) Four Points of gold. We learnt a combination of punches and blocks that focused exclusively on the four points of gold (hips and shoulders). As we kept changing partners and got gradually quicker and quicker, this became a real test of co-ordination and a revealing insight into assessing your opponent.
For anyone who wasn’t drained of all energy by these classes, there were other activities to keep the old adrenalin surging:
1) A fiercely fought game of “crab football” complete with Kungfu inspired fouls which, fortunately went unnoticed.
2) A thirty-minute run attempted by an impressive few at 7.20 in the morning. Most of those who turned up didn’t realize that the route had been planned by one of the Sutton members who happened to be a wild-eyed London marathon veteran. No one had clocked how hilly Cornwall roads could be either. Everyone got back alive though.
3) Surfing lessons. Well it was Newquay so you had to have a go. A number of plucky beginners went from falling off every time to either standing or kneeling and everyone managed to propel themselves shoreward in a truly exhilarating experience. It was worth it just to qualify as a dude. Now we can all wear baggy shorts, wear our caps backwards and call out “Yo!” to other cool dudes.
4) Going to the pub. The campsite had its own pub – the unfortunately named Cottage Inn – run by Christine, a fearless Geordie who could, and did, take on all comers. She should have done the Iron Shirt class – there would have been no survivors.
Most nights we had a barbeque by our tents supervised by Lewes member Brian the South African ( half man, half Wildebeest) who gave us a taste of life in the bush with never any fear of food poisoning. On one night we had a remarkable Chinese takeaway for forty, which was consumed in torrential rain under the brilliantly improvised shelter of two vans’ raised back doors. These were great weather defying nights, fueled by alcohol, high spirits and low humour. Jokes don’t get any filthier or laughter any louder.
Veils should be drawn over the final night which began in a Newquay bar and ended many hours and several clubs later with the survivors skinny dipping in the, thankfully, not very bright moonlight. Everyone was suitably oiled for the 9.00 Kungfu lesson the following morning which involved a lot of running and jumping and other endurance tests like doing the first pattern with a man on your back. B*strds!
If we had been listening to the radio we would have heard the extreme weather warnings that were being issued for Cornwall that week. One tent got blown down and flooded, not many of us got much sleep but we were never beaten by it and none of the classes were rained off.. We began to think that some sprite had got it in for us but if it had, it was definitely the Chi that saw us through.