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Holiday '95:- A personal review of summer camps
 

In the second week of August there is a White Crane summer camp. This is held in the picturesque costal village of Tintagel in Cornwall. We usually head for Cornwall on a Saturday, driving down in a minibus, arriving in the evening. Dropping down from the thousand foot high hills of Bodmin moor, the twisting lanes take us to the caravan site, about 400 yards from the sea. Accommodation is basic; we stay in two or three caravans, six to caravan. The site has showers, a laundry, a shop, swimming pool and a sauna. We cook for ourselves, and contribute to a 'kitty' for the food.

The White Crane Summer Camp is an event that has a mystique, particularly to those who have not been lucky enough to go. Tales of previous year's camps are often told over a good meal, and for people who have not experienced the camp, these give dark hints of trials of the strength and endurance required to survive. To many people, the prospect of camp conjures up images of Friday evenings extended to 15 hours in temperatures of minus 20. This article will attempt to remove some of the preconceptions about what the summer camp is and what it can mean to students who do go on it. First a resumé of the training regime on a "typical" camp, in as far as any camp can be considered typical.

During the week we train in the morning, go sightseeing in the afternoon and train again on some evenings. The training consists of a mixture of soft and hard style, together with the obligatory morning run (at 6am) around the cliffs. The run is a wonderful way to start the day, as it warms up the muscles and eases any stiffness from previous days' exertions (and sore heads from previous nights activities!). Following the run there is time for a 'light' breakfast. We usually train in a field at the top of the cliffs, looking out over the sea toward Wales which can be seen on a clear day. The first half of the morning is spent doing Suan Yang. The suan yang allows one to centre ones self, get chi flowing, and become receptive for learning the principles and practice of the hard style. It is difficult to describe in detail the format of the days, as each summer camp and each day on the camp is different. The nature of the camp is very dependant on the people who go on it. What we learn is very much tailored to the sort of persons we are and what we want to learn. This would seem to be because the summer camp is interactive, and as well as learning from Dennis, we learn from each other.

Compared to the weekday classes, the training is less intense, but there is considerably more. We train 'formally' for about 5 hours each day, sometimes more sometimes less. This of course gives everyone a huge appetite and the meals are correspondingly large, but it is rare o gain weight during a camp. On one or two days (if the weather is good) we go to a beach at the bottom of some 300 ft. cliffs. There we train from about 9am until lunch time, sleep off lunch or explore the beach and caves, then train for another three hours, rounding off the afternoon with a Cornish cream tea.

Eating well is a tradition at the summer camp. In previous years, the main meal for each day was prepared by a different group of people, cooking in different styles. We got quality as well as quantity. Lobsters are another tradition at the summer camp. Dennis cooks a mean chilli and ginger lobster. We usually collect the lobsters from a nearby fishing village and cook them that evening. To date there has always been more lobster than we could eat!

Going on the summer camp is a very good way to get to know other members of the club. When you have to share a caravan with someone, you definitely get to know them better than if you just meet up in class and at the meals. It is certainly a good way to get to understand people better and the reasons that people act as they do. This, again, is a part of kung fu.

As well as the formal training, we talk a lot among ourselves and with Dennis about the soft and the hard styles. Most conversation revolves around kung fu and our experiences in learning the art. This becomes part of the training as we develop a greater understanding of the principles of the art and more importantly, the ways in which we learn it. Whereas in the weekday classes, the focus is on the physical aspects, the summer camp allows us to develop the mental and spiritual aspects. This is a function of the time that is available. During our day to day lives, we have a limited time which can be devoted to training and thinking about kung fu. We also have many pressures, both from family life and from work and study which prevent us being able to concentrate fully on learning kung fu. At the summer camp, there is nothing else to do (except go to the pub, beach, cinema etc) other than kung fu. This period of pure concentration allows more improvement than 15 weeks of regular attendance at classes! Ask anyone who has been.

The essence of the summer camp is the fundamentals of kung fu, and that includes having time to be one's self. This may be going to the pub, walking on the cliffs, swimming, watching the sunset, or even the TV. For the authors of this article, some of the most special experiences were becoming aware the noise of the sea and the feeling of the wind on the face and the sand under ones feet whilst doing Suan Yang.

Additionally, spending time getting to know the other students outside the context of our everyday lives means that we gain insights into each other and in doing so, our horizons are expanded and we learn to accept the differences between people. Thus we form lasting friendships.

Some of the most precious moments may be found in those periods of stillness when one is alone with one's thoughts. At such times one may become aware of what is described in class as the expansion of horizons. This often happens unexpectedly much in the same way that one experiences Chi.

As we said at the beginning of the article, the summer camp is the year's most mysterious event and the one shrouded by many preconceptions. The essence of kung fu is the making of a difficult journey in which the Mind, Body and Spirit are developed and understanding gained, as represented by Sum Chien. The summer camp embodies this principle and allows us to transcend our preconceptions of the art, of each other and especially of ourselves. If anyone reading this article is serious about kung fu, then we recommend the camp.

 
Sandy Robertson and Sanjay Lal. March 1995