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
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.