In true Kung Fu camp style I took it upon myself to readily prepare with appropriate foot attire for a summer camp that had historically been shadowed with wet and windy grassland adventures. On arrival I was pleasantly surprised by the campsite and facilities posed by our beautiful location at the near Washington, West Sussex.
On arrival we were lucky that we managed to pitch our tents mostly before the natural rain christened our adventure to come while we setup camp making sure to cordon off our own special training area for days to come.
After unloading in true Johnson style we were all updated as to what we were to expect of our sessions, I for one was grateful we were going to work on really understanding our grading patterns better and taking them to a new level with obvious sprinklings of semi and full contact sparing (San Da), Ground fighting (Dog Boxing), Iron Shirt (Body conditioning) we also had the softer Taichi and Dao Mo exercises to gently wake us in the mornings.
So we went forth and warmed up before working on our respective patterns working our way to our highest. This was not a time to rush them or to get through them like we sometimes practice in class this was an opportunity to really get to know your body and your pattern and to generate the energy with the correct movement to where it is desired.
On our trusts during our San Zhan we focused on drawing the energy up from the ground to our feet and focusing it into our trusts. Drawing up at our core and practicing correct full diaphragmatic breathing for those at that level and relaxing in order not to exert ourselves and deplete our energy reserves.
Once we got to our respective higher patters we started at the beginning and worked on them intimately as Neil observed corrected allowed us to work on what we learned so we could digest and assimilate it into our form. Before we would rest our travelled and exercised bones we scouted a foraging party to venture into the nearby town and conduct the food shopping for our following day in Neil’s van while the rest of us showered and changed to enjoy the rest of the evening.
However we were getting hungry and tired and so rested our session for the day and went forth to present the home made, Artisan style, curries, breads, Salads and decadent dishes we all brought to entice and tantalise each other’s senses, naturally with a few refreshing beverages of our own choosing alongside the usual an well appreciated hot drinks counter Neil had constructed. We finished the evening with a viewing of Martial arts demonstrations from the china trip as well as patterns performed by the all time greats. The cosiest part of the adventure was shown through the generosity of master Neil allowing his goliath tent spread to become the residence of not only him and his son Max (Mini Neil), but also Will, Mike, Myself and later on my brother from another mother Raphael.
The following morning was an early start. With a salute to the Sun in the nearby abandoned field followed by the first half of the Dao Mo movements always trying to find a way to face the sun and feed off the energy of the morning air through the morning mist and milky skies. Followed by practice of our Taichi form (Shuang Yang Bei Her Rou Ruan Chuan). It is strange how I forget the importance of morning exercise in energising and refreshing your whole body to ready for a brand new day.
In the Afternoon session we took our bikes and made tracks with Mike our resident bike trail expert and made our way to Chanctonbury ring in single and double file, leisurely and carefully always keeping an eye out for our more adventurous and less experienced riders who showed courage determination and “joie de vivre” in light of their new experience. Our convoy of bikes stumbled and struggled up the long and muddy landscape of the Southdown’s park 781 feet above sea level a site of an old Roman hill fort with a long standing archaeological and mythological history. For us it represented fresh training grounds for our patterns and a lunch time picnic site with beautiful views of the weald, and Southdown’s at its foothills for a range of some 50 miles on the clear days that we were fortunate to visit during our camp.
On our way up and down the hill we stopped by on several occasions to appreciate the joys of the simple rope swing which was a perfect half way stop point and training opportunity for our enthusiastic and kung fu crazy band of brothers and sisters.
It became evident throughout the coming days how much one can learn by simply focusing on just one pattern, as I worked my Shaolin tong si gun (staff pattern) over and over again my body once grounded and solid allowed for the staff to move around it and across it with greater efficiency and tightness of a tiger. Neil continued to show me how to use the fulcrum of the arms waist and whole body to bring my energy to the tip of my staff and beyond when splitting the sky. Wow was it satisfying to hear the whoosh of the air before me being sliced and diced with every movement and extension.
Over the next few days we learned of the temperamental and playful showers at our campsite which used to decide their favouritism at random for each user by allowing them between 5-7 and 10 minutes to enjoy the hot shower mostly in the dark.
I personally enjoys the surrounding landscape of the campsite by stomping around it like a gentle elephant bright and early most morning before our Dao Mo and Taichi in my pastel purple wellingtons.
During our down time we went for walks, play spared, drank, cooked and got to know each other a little more outside of the training hall and bonded and in doing so became greater than the sum of our parts.
Even little mishaps and a cycling accident that led to Worthing A&E did nothing but build stronger friendships and bring the club closer together. Furthermore getting ready to shower wearing bin liner, cling film and washing gloves makes for great stories for future camps, plus I think I pulled it off with a style.
Throughout the rest of the camp we continued our daily outings and once my bike was expertly serviced by our super Mike bike mechanic. If anything personally I felt my focus was honed further through working with my injuries, and it was easy to see how everyone was more focused and determined to further develop their existing patterns. That being said Kung fu camp is not for the faint hearted and when Tara and Jen faced difficulties we all came together to supported our fellow comrades through, ginger knee wraps and the like to make sure that they still managed to enjoy the experience as we all soldiered on.
Raphael managed to also join the gang for our final days as we practiced took notes individually and worked on the golden nuggets that Neil presented to us.
In the evenings we took to the fire site after training and supper to roast marshmallows on the open fire and socialise, beverage in hand with the other non Kung Fu campers answering questions and just chilling out in our own little groups beneath the clear night sky in the company of stars.
For the final night we opted in true Kung fu fashion to the local public establishment to enjoy the hot services culinary delights that The Franklin Arms had to offer and to play a bit of pool as we reminisced over another camp coming to a close, drinking the local brew till close.
The rest of the evening we all took to polishing off the drinks we had purchased and sampling the chilli vodka that Mike and I had created before watching the most random Kung Fu film any of us had ever seen as the laptop speaker battery slowly drained away before the films end.
The final day hung over and weary we started our morning Dao Mo and Taichi with an hours grace later than usual thinking to ourselves that it is all now winding down, before being presented with one last battle of full contact San Da in the glorious sunlight at the campsite which was the perfect sunny end to another beautiful Kung fu camp.
Personally the Kung Fu camp family, in jokes, crazy artisan bread, copious amounts of tea & coffee, torrentially wet Gazebo training sessions, all hits the spot for every time I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of attending. Yet nothing makes you realise and awe at the possibilities of all you can achieve and Kung Fu dream more than the larger than life experience of having your mind broadened through the expert tutelage of our Master Neil.
It is in those moments that you truly start to dream and see yourself as a true Kung Fu artist when your form and movement seem to dance on the grassy, chalky, muddy landscape that is the Kung Fu camp experience.
I leave you with a quote form a different master of the Martial Arts to ponder over the practice and development of your Kung Fu.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man
who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Kindest Kung Fu Regards,