By Matt Sartori
The idea for a danish summer camp has long been one of those oft mentioned possibilities that never quite materialized. Last year, when I brought my student David along to a weekend training trip to visit Neil, David mentioned that, through his work, he’d be able to rent a sizeable summer house cheaply. This was the catalyst we’d been waiting for and then and there Neil decided our next summer camp would be in Denmark. This is the account of that wonderful summer camp.
Day 1: Friday 28th – Arrival.
On one of the warmest and sunniest mornings so far this year we welcomed Neil & the gang at the airport. I was very pleased with this as I’d been worried about the weather for the coming week and even in the UK they’d heard about our epically cold summer thus far. At the car rental we picked up a nice new transit van similar to Neil’s own and although equipped with right hand drive Neil had no problems driving it. Off we went from the airport to the summer house in a small kung Fu convoy. Since Neil had mentioned some of us would be learning the Water Carrier pattern we arranged to make a short stop by a lumberyard on the way there. In short order we’d found a few planks that would be suitable water carrier substitutes. At our final destination we found a typical danish summer house complete with a small covered terrace and a nice, if gently undulating, garden. We also discovered that the house had three bedrooms instead of the two we originally thought, for a grand total of six beds. On top of that there was a large games room (replete with a snooker/billiards table) with potential for more sleeping quarters. In the end most of the travel/camping hardened uk gang opted for setting up camp in the garden with the tents they’d brought along. At least they wouldn’t have brought them for nothing.
Once everyone had unpacked and settled in a few of us went on the first of what would become our daily excursions to the local supermarket.
Shortly after returning from the shopping Neil had already cut the planks to water carrier size. A few of us who were going to use them (and Sita who just helped because she can’t resist the allure of untreated wood) embarked on an extensive sanding session. The various stroking and wood handling techniques caused a certain amount of giggles and smirky head-shaking.
At this point, mostly due to the unholy hour the uk gang had gotten up that morning, everyone went into a bit of a lull. A few restorative coffees and teas later everyone was ready to go exploring and after a short walk we managed to find our first beach.
For the danish contingent this was a very familiar kind of beach and it immediately felt like being on summer holiday.
Once back at the house we started on dinner, finding out where everything was and how everything worked.
After dinner we all embarked on some danish “hygge” though people were tired and soon retired to their beds. In the evening Neil and I began what would become a nightly session teaching me the Shuang Bien Fu pattern in preparation for my first China trip.
A great first day by all measures.
Day 2: Saturday 29th
On the second day we woke up to the harsh reality of the danish summer but thankfully we were all prepared with a variety of all-weather gear. Fully proofed we started the day with a bracing session of Da Mo (building it up slowly, adding a few moves every day) and Shuang Yang. Just as it always seems like a bad idea to go out into the bad weather, if you are prepared, it always turns out much better than you anticipated. As an added bonus, breakfast tastes that much better when you’ve had time to build up a hearty hunger out in the elements.
After breakfast and the daily shopping run, since it was still a bit rainy, we decided to make use of our large garden to do some patterns practice. Those of us learning the water carrier got started on that.
By the time we’d eaten our lunch at the house the weather had turned warm and sunny again and we all went for a walk further along the beach where we’d trained in the morning.
We found a lovely little niche just back from the beachfront which we would come back to several times during the week. After practicing a lot of Bagua circle-walking there Max and Zack marked the place with a stone circle symbol on the ground and so the place became known as the Yin Yang place.
Danish people, well accustomed to the changeable weather, tend to favour the indoors. To avoid missing out on the occasions when the sun does make an appearance they have developed the ability to rush outside in droves the second it does and so our otherwise deserted beach would suddenly and periodically be bustling with beach amblers. This was great because on many occasions we’d get curious and friendly people come up and enquire as to what we were doing.
That day, at the Yin Yang place, we learnt about the way Bagua walking helps us circle our opponent whilst retaining balance and control, and about techniques for turning and crossing to the center and back again. After a few hours of practice we walked back to the house.
The rest of the afternoon remained warm and sunny and everyone enjoyed lounging
about the house terrace and garden until dinner time. As with so much of what we do in the club, the dinner preparations and the cleaning up afterwards was an exercise in coordination, cooperation and taking turns.
At the end of such active days everyone’s a bit drained but we always managed to chatter away into the evening and Neil, his energy apparently inexhaustible, was always the first one up and the last one to bed.
Day 3: Sunday 30th
Our morning Shuang Yang on the beach was very windy, overcast and drizzly and just as we were feeling our most intrepid, small groups of danes would appear and jump into the frigid (by the looks of it) sea in front of us like it was nothing. Like it was pleasant even!
On these morning sessions, despite most of us having years of Shuang Yang under our yellow belts, we still managed to uncover fresh details and little mistakes in our forms. This is why spending a week together just training a bit of everything is so good.
On this particular day, after the usual breakfast and the food shopping team had returned, we all drove out to look for a new place to train. We found, down a few twist and turns of country lanes, a lovely lawn, flat and freshly mown and with a sea view, where we decided to stay and train despite it having begun to rain a fair bit. And a good thing we did because soon enough it had cleared up and we managed both a good deal of training and lunch on the nearby benches.
Happy we’d found a nice flat area with a view we noted the location and drove back home.
By this point the sun had come out and it was decided, after the requisite coffee & tea break, to walk to the Yin Yang spot to continue our Bagua and patterns practice.
As a nice end to the session, for those who were so disposed, there was a chance for a dip in the sea. I bravely gave up my chance to jump in so that I could properly document the event as the (self appointed) official photographer. And anyway I’d forgotten my swimming trunks.
Once back at the “ranch” we got started on an epic barbecue which included the biggest burger patties I’ve ever eaten. Individual meat loaves in a bun would probably be a more accurate description. After dinner, in a brazen challenge to their digestive system, Neil, Liz, Imogen, Ali and Dave showed some of the various Di Shu patterns they’d recently learned in China. Those of a less daring constitution decided to play a game of Ludo instead. Sita, clearly a Ludo black belt, won the game decisively.
Day 4: Monday 31st
The morning Da Mo beach session treated us to a full selection of danish summer weather with both rain, wind and, suddenly, blue skies and blazing sun. The night before I had been in intense “negotiations” with David, who was slated to arrive today, to ensure he would get here as early as possible. Despite various logistical problems such as family and cars in the shop, he managed, with expert kung fu timing, to arrive just as we got back from our morning session.
For our pre-lunch session we used the garden where we grouped by highest patterns and took turns performing them. This is less nerve wracking than a usual performance as we’re just each other’s audience and it’s useful because we can comment on details.
After lunch we drove back to the freshly-mown-lawn-with-a-sea-view, aka Vestervang, that we’d discovered the day before. Here we had lots of space to do Bagua and Dishu patterns and some even had time for a dip at the end of the afternoon session. Alas I missed out again due to aforementioned photographic duties.
Back at the house we chilled after a good afternoon’s work. Soon we were all very hungry and looking forward to the evening feast of jacket potatoes which, due to a series of unfortunate barbecue related events, took a bit longer than usual to bake.
Once again the Ludo was broken out and this time Max swept the board with the ease that inexplicably but reliably comes to the first time player.
Day 5: Tuesday 1st
By now the daily Da Mo morning exercises had grown to almost the full set and the follow-up with Qi Gung was a really nice wind-down.
On the way to our daily shopping run we spotted some of the local wildlife and the answer to a puzzle that had stumped us for days: why did some of the small trees in all the surrounding gardens have a little fence around them? Until we spotted the leaf-nibbling deer the leading theory had been that they were just “naughty trees” but now we knew better.
So far all our beaches had been mostly pebbly affairs but team Denmark, having all spent childhood summers in the area, knew that there were plenty of wide sandy beaches nearby so, armed with packed lunches, we set out to find them. A ten minute drive later we found ourselves at Gudmindrup Strand, just as wide and sandy as we remembered. Now, sandy beaches afford a lot of opportunities to the creative martial artist and before going home that afternoon we had drawn yin yang symbols in the sand with our circle walking, performed patterns half submerged in the nordic waves, done impromptu sea-weed sparring, sand sculpting and even managed to bury Zack in hot sand. All in all a fantastic outing.
Back home in the garden we finished the day’s training off with some Dishu which is notoriously difficult to do on sand (so if attacked on the beach or in a playground sandpit make sure to use tiger-crane!).
The evening‘s Ludo battle, by now a summercamp tradition, found David taking the game in an unexpected turn of luck.
Day 6: Wednesday 2nd
After a sunny start to the day our Da Mo exercise ended with a fun Chi Sao session where we got to practice our sensitivity and flow with each other. It’s always instructive to stick hands with someone you are not used to so summer camps are excellent for finding someone new. For the midday training we went back to the Vestervang lawn where we practiced our various patterns and even attempted synchronizing some of our longer ones. By this point I had now managed to (roughly) learn all the moves of my new Di Shu pattern and Neil, in what would seem like sci-fi only a few years ago, filmed it on his phone, sent it to Master Lin in China and got a comment back from him within minutes. Amazing.
Once again, apparently undeterred by the previous experiences, people went dipping in the nordic sea before we turned homeward. On the way back from the daily shopping Linda decided that everyone should have a classic danish ice-lolly, actually named “Kung Fu” and (in)famous for a coating of black liquorice. So we stopped by the inappropriately mistranslated “Let’s Nob” sea side shop to buy a box of them. Judging by the silent nodding, furrowed brows, careful avoidance of eye contact and a number of variations on “this is not too bad” I’d say it was a mixed success.
In the late afternoon we returned to the sandy beach to continue our Bagua circle walking and even found time for an evening dip.
Day 7: Thursday 3rd
Adaptability is essential in kung fu and this final day of the camp would prove to be our test. For instance, because the morning started with a downpour, we adapted by going straight to breakfast. Ha! Unfortunately the rain didn’t let up, but luckily we had enough space in the house and on the porch to do a kind of covered patterns jam. Once again many details were polished and corrected and I was able to add quite a few notes to my notebook. Always keep a notebook. In yet another example of adaptability we used the limited space to practice standing locks which was actually useful and realistic to try in a squeeze around other people. In the afternoon, during a dry spell, we walked to the nearby Yin Yang spot for the last session of the camp and after a few hours of honing the week’s new knowledge we returned to the house. Because we had to leave the house early the next day we did some preliminary packing and cleaning and because rain was forecast for the night some opted to pack their tent whilst it was dry and to sleep indoors.
For the final meal it was decided we should have a massive Pizza feast and when Sita mentioned that she did a wicked ginger pizza I must admit i nearly fainted. I am perhaps known as being a bit of a pizza/pasta purist (some have suggested another “ism” to describe it) but I am (almost) always willing to try new things so when I did try it I have to admit it was actually nice. But pizza? 😊
Day 8: Friday 4th – Travel home.
The travel day went smoothly with everyone doing their bit to clean and tidy and we eventually left the place, as we always do, cleaner than we found it. In fact we were commended on leaving the house spotless, so I’m sure we’ll be welcome again next year 😉
I admit there’s a certain bias involved in being on home ground, but this was for me the best summer camp ever. It was a wonderful combination of being with people I know, like and respect, all in familiar surroundings and with the logistics all working out in the end.
Thank you Neil for deciding to give Denmark a go and for a great week of kung fu.
Now I just wish we could make the danish summer camp a yearly tradition.
The summer camp 2017 was Neil, Max, Zack, Liz, Andy, Dave, Imogen, Ali, Sita, David, Linda and Matt.