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Summer without Summer Camp

Every year for the last eight years, my classmates and I attended Summer Camp to learn from our Master Dan Docherty. My teacher, the late Katherine Allen had been organising the Wudang Summer Camp in Cranbrook for the past 20 years. Katherine sadly passed away in January and Summer Camp in Cranbrook will be no more.

Summer Camp has been a regular on my Tai Chi calendar and each year, the dates for camp would be the first dates I'd book at work as annual leave. It is that important to me, but initially I was reluctant to attend as I didn't think it was for me. However, once been I changed my mind. Whilst there was a camp in Horsham, I preferred Cranbrook as it is a much nicer journey (so long as you're not stuck behind a tractor).

Preparation is key and we spent many Saturday mornings in Dunorlan Park brushing up on our skill and knowledge. This was especially important for those of us who want to be graded. We went through every pushing hands drill, forms and as many applications as we can think of. These are some of the things we might do at camp. If people thought Tai Chi was easy, think again.

In the years I've attended camp, many things changed and growing older was one of them. Back then nobody had smartphones and there was no phone signal. Though there was at the far corner, where nobody lived. Funny how in those days we could live without our phones. At the first camp I attended, five days felt like forever, but over the years it felt shorter. When I first attended, many people helped me and in later years, I helped others. Training was quite intensive and challenging in the dry heat. After five days, expect to lose weight and gain a tan. Every morning we did hand forms and applications. Followed by an hour for lunch, where we busily scribbled down notes. In the afternoon we did weapons and pushing hands. Dan would ask us to demonstrate, correct us and then we go off to practice with a partner. For some, it can seem like punishment, but for many of us, we enjoyed the experience and learned a lot. Camp was a great opportunity to make new friends or catch up with old ones, from the UK and beyond.

I can't say there was ever a camp I did not enjoy, each was different and bring back many memories. Such as a loud fall and a bruised rib. How did that happen? Well I was doing pushing hands, not paying attention and got tripped up. Did I learn from that? Yes I sure did. One year I was hospitalised and I decided to attend to observe and ended up doing everything. I didn't think I had the stamina, but I made it and got graded. The impact from attacks and throws were hard to deal with that year, but I found a way. Those hip throws, trips and hard landings I won't forget. But this was about eating bitter. Weapons were most people's favourites and Wudang has a good reputation for this. For those who've not studied weapons in class (always only after you've done the hand form and with no exceptions), camp provided you with the chance to try weapons. Not just weapon forms, but applications and lots of them. Not all schools teach weapons to these lengths, so we are very fortunate in Wudang. Whilst Wudang teaches Tai Chi as a martial art, but we also have the health aspects too. When we're not training, we sat down and Dan will tell us interesting and amusing stories. The Saturday night parties were fun too. The stories, the quizes, the laughs and the food. Camp was many things, the pain, the frustration and the joys and laughter. You never know who may turn up and what surprises are there for you.

Those days are gone, but you never stop learning and camp provided a firm foundation for the future. So long as you make use of those experiences, then nothing is wasted. There will be other camps elsewhere and the coronavirus pandemic has not helped. I am an optimist and one day, we will meet again.

Gratitude as always for the lessons learned and the friends made from near and far, past and present.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Special thanks to my Sihing (martial brother) Charlie from Wudang Birmingham for providing some of the photos.


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