Summer camp, Five Ashes 2011

stranded_until_the_end

The official kickoff time for the summer camp was 8:30 at Buxted station. A steady downpour began just on cue. Bryan arrived to lead us in convoy to join the rest. We joined up and got to our parking ground, a grass verge somewhere outside Five Ashes. Neil’s Kung Fu wagon was the only vehicle to be allowed down the fields to the wood, so we loaded it up for what was to be the first trip down to the woods. It turned out to be the only trip as the Kung Fu wagon couldn’t make it back between the lower meadow and the second field up the track, which was made into a mud slide in the driving rain.

It was getting a bit more Ray Mear’s by the minute. The second load of bags and camping equipment was carried down by hand. Down on the flat ground at the bottom of the wood a tarpaulin was roped up between the trees to provide a canopy for us to shelter from the rain. We huddled under the tarpaulin as the rain made great puddles above our heads. To clear the great pile of luggage from under the tarpaulin most of us dispersed to find clear patches where we could pitch our tents between the trees. That made enough room for kung fu to begin with a marathon session of sticking hands in the relative dry.

sticking_hands

The Portsmouth contingent provided the extremes of James for trying to uproot a big un and Ali, for trying not to be uprooted by a little un. It ended with a discussion of the familiar sayings of kung fu; big circles into small circles, rooted stance, flexible waist, fast hands, whipping, cotton wool on the outside-steel wire on the inside, moving like a cloud,????
The rain subsided and the one or two holdouts pitched their tents, our Public Convenience was erected, Hong Mu got hold of an axe to chop wood, a fire was lit and our woodland settlement had taken it’s shape. Pretty soon it was time to prepare an evening meal. Most couldn’t wait to get their cookers fired up and pots boiling. In cookery you were either a meths man like Graham, Neil and Bryan or you were on gas, and of course there was the fire shared by everyone. For sure nobody was going to end up hungry. Hong Mu chopped more wood and the fire became a blaze where we could sit and talk and listen to James going through his repertoire on his guitar. For most of us the first night was a bit uncomfortable as quite a few had put their tents up during the downpour. Liz and Nina were wise to have held out until the rain stopped to put up their tents. I found my feet were in a pool of water by the morning. I bailed it out the next day and added my sleeping bag to a extensive drying rack of stuff out to dry up on the meadow.

hong_mu_and_his_chopper

The next day started with a cup of tea then out of the woods and up to the meadow above the rocks for a traditional summer camp Da Mo session. We “only” did up to exercise 13 the first morning to prepare the new initiates.
We continued with a fairly long session of Shuang Yang as a hot-air balloon floated across the Sussex countryside in front of us. Back down in the woods there was some surprisingly accomplished breakfast cookery and some eating of leftovers from the night before. Training continued in bursts of about an hour or so interrupted by tea, snacks, chopping wood and clothes drying. Max and Spencer joined in nearly every session. The new pattern we started learning was one I’d watched a Chinese master teach to Neil in China while the rest of us were learning a different one. I recall that at the dinner with the Master at the end of our training with him the Master was joking to our interpreter were about how he had taught another Westerner a pattern full of “bat” techniques without telling the Westerner what it really was. He then explained that the pattern he had taught to Neil contained bat, chicken, monkey and ox techniques, as well as crane. So now it was our turn to wonder “What is this pattern?”.
The afternoon saw climbing ropes and belays come into action on the rock faces that give Under Rocks it’s name. Matt, Bryan, Nina, Andy, Mark, Max and Mike all made it at least halfway up the rock wall under Neil’s supervision. We continued in the rhythm of training and tea until another episode of mass cookery broke out in the evening. Imogen and I volunteered to go for bread and beer. We went up the fields to get the car to drive the couple of miles to Mayfield. All was well and good until on the way back we met Phil followed by Sian, on their bicycles coming down the hill on the wrong side of the road. I stopped, Phil’s bike stopped, but Phil carried on and clipped the rear wing of my car on the second bounce off the tarmac. Phil was dazed and in some pain. Imogen swung into command and control mode and put East Sussex emergency services through their paces. I understand they performed fairly well, the ambulance arrived within 20 minutes, loading Phil off to hospital on the driveway of a nearby house. The people inside a few yards away didn’t notice at all seemingly glued to what I assumed were scenes of mayhem and destruction in some film they were watching. I now guess it was probably Tottenham High Street, wasn’t it good to be away from it all. Having handed Phil over to the ambulance crew we carried on back to deliver the beer and get some potatoes on the fire. Hong Mu chopped wood and James kept up the soundtrack around the fire with his guitar playing what we learned was a loop of his own Smashing-Pumpkinsesque compositions until it was time to turn in.

training_in_the_woods

Next morning we did the complete Da Mo set, James and Nina the new initiates having sorted out windmilling number twelve, everyone did it all, including the “9” low horse-stance meditation breaths and hair flicking. After Shuang Yang, breakfast cookery, if anything, was getting more impressive. Eggs were fried, poached and scrambled, bacon and sausages were fried. Toast was made as Hong Mu chopped wood and revived the fire. During the day with episodes of pattern training and sticking-hands, we got to the end of learning the sequence of moves for the White Crane Stomps the Ground pattern and started learning from Matt Brooks a five-minute/five-stance training routine, which he picked up on his last trip to China. It has a sitting stance very similar to one we’d just had to contend with in the Stomping Crane pattern. The time continued with bouts of training interspersed withs tea-breaks, housekeeping and rock-climbing. We had some more discussion about familiar kung fu sayings and about what to think or not to think during the “9” Da Mo meditation breaths, until it was time for another expedition out to get bread and beer. Another group volunteered to go this time. We suspected partly as an undercover way to make a toilet break as they had found the camp Public Convenience a little too public. They must have been bursting by then.

relaxed

Hong Mu chopped wood, so the fire was roaring again, good for roasting spuds. It was already the last night and more than that Nina’s last night with the club and in the UK. There was a party atmosphere more so than usual as food was eaten, beer and wine drunk. A somewhat improvised video show gave us a chance to see the meaning of “whipping” when it’s done by the best Chinese Kung Fu martial artists. Imogen introduced a game of guessing the one true statement out of 3 confessions. Everyone took part, but most were in excessively confessional mood, telling at least 2 true confessions, instead of the one required by the rules of the game. Mike even wanted to do a second round of confessing. What is it he thinks we don’t already know? Things went on from there to composing an apologetic riff called the Badger Blues. Yes some East Sussex badgers may have acquired a blue rinse thanks to our visit and sanitation techniques. A game of constructing a story by each person successively adding one word at a time turned into an actual message to Milad. There’s always some point on a summer camp when you can’t stop laughing at something or someone and this was it, when Nina did the honors and recited the ridiculous message to Milad’s voicemail. I went off to my tent to the sound of Kung Fu women singing “Killing Me Softly”, maybe that’s a Kung Fu saying we missed earlier. Da Mo was a little later on the last morning, everyone was a little later to stir, especially Bryan, who was still in his hammock wrapped up like a chrysalis, motionless until he was swung by Hong Mu as 8 am approached.

In the final Da Mo I for one couldn’t remember what I was supposed to think or not think during the “9” meditation breaths and hair flicking which I suppose at least achieved the object of being distracted from the low horse stance. We reprised the Stomping Crane pattern and the 5-minute/5-stance training form back down in the wood, – plenty to think about there. After another marathon sticking hands session it began to rain for the first time since the downpour when we arrived. When it slackened off Hong Mu had his chopper confiscated; it was time to strike camp and get out of the woods. A great pile of camping equipment and luggage amassed by the Kung Fu wagon in the meadow above the woods. Optimistically we packed it all in and Neil drove up the meadow to the muddy track to the fields above. The first run ended in wheels spinning deeper into the mud. Only when everyone got behind it did the Kung Fu wagon make it up the track up to the level ground above. From there it was home free. Short and sweet everyone had had a good time doing Kung Fu, climbing and cooking in the wood under the rocks. Hand shakes all round and some poses for Nina’s album and we dispersed for another year.

Dave Edwards 2011.