This was the first weekend camp of the year and came at a good time, having just got back into the swing of training after slacking off during the Christmas period. For those that haven't been to a weekend camp the format is generally training from 10 in the morning until around 5 in the afternoon, broken up by lunch. Sunday often includes an earlier start. In the breaks and the Saturday evening there is a lot of talking, with everyone quizzing Dennis for as much information as they think they will get out of him. Food tends to play a large role in the proceedings, and this weekend was no exception: Sharon provided us all with delicious food both days, for which she deserves a big thanks. We also stuffed our faces in Oriental City on the Saturday evening, and Darren Trottman impressed us with his BBQ skills on the Sunday.
Well, enough of that. Everyone wants to know about the weekend….
I arrived on the Saturday fully expecting to launch straight into a killer warm-up [the last weekend camp had revolved around the importance of a thorough whole body warm-up] I was quite surprised, and relieved, when we all settled around the TV….
In the space of a few hours I was introduced to more styles of Kung Fu than I had picked up during the past couple of years. In terms of Kung Fu that I have seen, my experience has been limited to films, and a few wushu demonstrations. However, the footage we saw seemed genuine, and it was quite incredible how different the styles were. The Lion Dancing was courageous [here read 'stupid', or imagine the craziest Jackie Chan stunt you've seen], the 'northern' Shaolin was spectacular and looked as if the stylists didn't understand what gravity was, the northern Wudang was graceful and flowing, and the southern stylists really made you wince!
Everyone got more engrossed when we got to the Southern styles that started to more closely resemble ours. The stances were familiar, as were the techniques and facial expression. You could see eyes and ears prick up when someone recognised a certain pattern or weapon they were learning. Some principles were very clear, such as the rooted stance. The training also looked no-nonsense with some eye-watering conditioning demonstrations. One big difference that was obvious between everything we saw and ourselves was how much lighter in movement they were. You could see that they were not pre-occupied with their muscles, but what their body could do for them. Their patterns were real exercises, and true demonstrations of their Kung Fu.
Behind the apparent differences in the styles, and beyond the training of the stylists [ie that they were damn good] there was another common characteristic - total conviction. You could see this in the 99-year old practicing with his broad-swords and in the 3 year old boy doing a breath-takingly acrobatic pattern.
As I said the Kung Fu we were watching seemed the genuine thing. In case any of us were doubtful on this point we were shown another example to compare it with. To say that this gave us a contrast is a severe understatement. Watching it made you wince in an entirely different way. I can't get across how horrible it was. Although it provided a good joke for the weekend, it also made me quite proud of our style and the authenticity of our training.
Having been inspired by the Kung Fu footage the weekend was dedicated to our patterns. The time that was put in over the two days benefited my understanding of the patterns I know. Late on the Sunday I looked around and saw people getting sharper in their movements, and there was less slurring that comes with confusion. The breakdown of what goes on during the sequence of movements of the pattern is important for this, and this takes time.
Looking back on the camp two weeks later, I think Dennis' intention was to get more feeling into our patterns; to make our patterns a performance. From the San Zhan, we are exhibiting our mind, body and spirit at peace and at war. It is very difficult to make the sequence of moves into something that our body performs quite naturally, especially when we are so conscious of trying to get everything right. I suppose this is where all the hours of practise come in. The pattern itself is more than just the sum of its moves. When it comes to the crunch, when we are performing our pattern, we must throw all of the thinking out of the window. Like in sparring, when performing a pattern, it is too late to think about what your body is doing at that time. It must express itself.
As well as helping my Kung Fu the camp broadened my understanding and general knowledge. Inspired by this, the following week I went out and spent a load of money on books on related subjects. Some good, some bad, but all quite interesting.
Anyone in the club can go to a weekend camp, whatever their level of training. At this camp there was a junior who had started only a few weeks previously, learning their San Zhan, next to an instructor working on their highest pattern. The dates are in the calendar on the web-site. If you can get along to one you will learn a lot, and you will realise why it has been so hard to convey what you learn in this article.