CARISMA Summer Camp 2008

Get a bunch of great people, passionate about martial arts, put them in a pleasant location of Hungarian country side and get them to train martial arts for 14 hours over a period of 5 days, in temperatures ranging between 27 and 38 degrees Celsius. Blend in some great activities like see sighting, wine tasting and eating most meals in a good restaurant and, no doubt, you get a successful summer camp.

The CARISMA Summer Camp 2008 was the fourth on a row that we organized: main purpose of the camp is having a great holiday in an unusual location and at the same time enjoy an important amount of highly focussed training hours. This allows all participants to learn new things, train, practice and correct mistakes about their own techniques. All sessions were outdoor, on grass, in the shade offered by a couple of large oak trees.

Day 1 – Thursday – Cambridge to Csokonyavisonta

Soon after their arrival all participants were allocated to their accommodations: within half an hour the first session started, at 5:30PM. Following a light warm up we started combinations of punches and kicks. Knowing that everybody was up early, had a long trip and was acclimatized to temperatures in the teens or low twenty of this year’s dreadful British summer there was little point in pushing this session into power work, given the afternoon’s temperature in the high thirties.

The underlying principle of this session was to be light and fluid trying to extent accurately all limbs while using proper guard and footwork. Next part of the session was about coaching each other, again to work on footwork and proper guard with the coach calling combinations of punches from the attacker. Followed about half hour of light, half speed sparring: as we were an odd number there was a person that at each session had to spar against two people at once, just to make it more interesting.

We concluded with a few exercises of tai chi – chi kung just to cool down and relax. Dinner at the local Korona Etterem (restaurant) and an early sleep was due. Meeting arranged for the following day at 9AM, ready to start.

Day 2 – Friday

While warming up I checked with the various participants what topic they were mostly interested in covering during the next 4 session, lasting 3 hours each. Here is the list of topics to focus on:

  • Multicombat (4)
  • Basics about round kicks (4)
  • Endurance (1)
  • Jumping kicks (1)
  • Mix, including Wing Chun and Tai Chi (3)
  • Various Techniques with detailed explanation (3)
  • Footwork (2)
  • Sparring (3)
  • Sparring two vs. one (1)

Having a total of four instructors, 3 black and one brown belt, in a group of eleven people surely added great value to the whole camp and lower belt truly appreciated the level of attention they received at all time.

The Friday session covered the following topics, more or less in this order: Round kick clinic: we explained and demonstrated all little details about performing a correct round kick, putting emphasis on the footwork, how to open correctly the hips and coordinating the whole movement together. While we opened this topic we moved over to side and hook kicks that share a good part of the principles with round kick and are usually causing the same problems to people that do not perform well on round kicks. Foot work practice: one person coaching the other, stepping back and forth at different distances every time ensuring that the attacker positions him/herself at the right point before striking jabs and crosses. The second half of this exercise was about pivoting around a central point, alternating the coach or the attacker in the centre, while performing hook punching techniques. Sliding kicks: we practiced various combinations involving sliding round, side and hook kick, and various punches. We finished by cooling down.

For the afternoon and evening we agreed to prepare, cook and eat a traditional goulash, so after visiting the nearby town Barcs and buying all we needed we went to one of the houses were the participants were staying. While a few people started to prepare a cold lunch based on bread, cured meats, cheese and fresh vegetables the others started cutting and chopping the various ingredients: the cooking of the goulash, in a traditional cauldron over the open fire, started at around 4:30PM. The cooking time, in excess of 5 hours was to be spent relaxing, having a drink and with Adam playing his guitar. The result managed to exceed expectations

Day 3 – Saturday

Luckily it rained overnight and it was a bit overcastted: temperature dropped in the low twenties making this session much easier than the previous day.

We started an exercise that both improves guard and foot work: one person attacking with jabs and the other replying with hook punches. We continued with combinations involving sliding kicks and punches. We did then rounds when one person was coaching the other, calling for punches combinations (2 round each person), kicks combinations (2 rounds each) and combinations of punches and kicks (2 rounds each). We finally practiced, from a kick boxer point of view, defending against a chain punching attack as practiced by wing chun practitioners. We finally cooled down.

We spent the rest of the day visiting Pécs a nearby town. During the afternoon we were sightseeing the city centre and then we had dinner in a nice restaurant.

Day 4 – Sunday

After warming up the session started with jab-cross, duck to avoid hook counter attack and jab-cross again. The remaining part of the class included: circular foot work by punching hook punch with both hands while either the coach was pivoting around a central point and getting the attacker to turn around or the coach was turning around forcing the attacker to pivot on a single point. We then practiced free combinations, alternating, of low contact kicks and punches. Combinations of punches and kicks always involving spinning back kicks. Sparring sessions, both semi and light contact. The remaining part of the class was involving simple win chun drills while 3 people in turn were sparring 2 vs. 1.

The rest of the day was spent visiting Badacsony, a winery hill north of lake Balaton: we first had some fine wine tasting from the local wine makers and then had dinner in a nice restaurant with a great panoramic terrace overlooking the lake.

Day 5 – Monday

Being the last day we decided to have an easy day (after training, the session was as hard as the others). Training was organized at the Barcs spa complex with the intention to spend there a good part of the day.

The session included: semi contact sparring, light contact boxing sparring against a wall top ensure no foot work and improve mobility of the torso, combinations of Multicombat that included knee and elbow strikes and some very basic wing chun drills.

At the end of the session, while cooling down we asked people how they felt about the overall camp and what we could have done more or better. While general consent was to be happy overall some of the answers included suggestion for next year:

  • Longer staying, allowing 6 or 7 days of training instead of 5;
  • Possibility of adding 1-2 extra afternoon sessions that might include meditation, yoga, visualization or very basic tai chi practice;
  • More sparring.

The rest of the day was spent chilling out in the spa complex, swimming in the pools, and enjoying the sauna and the large Jacuzzi. Dinner in the local Korona restaurant was the followed by a little get together with a few drinks to celebrate Josh’s birthday.

Day 6 – Sunday – Csokonyavisonta to Cambridge

There was no training on this day as everybody had to get back to Cambridge.

Partecipant to the summer camp were: Adam, Andrea, Chris, Duncan, Hayley, Heley, Josh, Massimo, Robin, Si and Wez. Pictures courtesy and Copyright © Duncan Grisby.

The importance of proper technique

If you ask a person with no experience in martial arts to throw a punch or a kick you might get some kind of result that will be, in most cases, very inefficient and inconsistent. Having a foundation based on some kind of martial art ensures the application of a technique based on the style(s) this person has studied and that will apply one of the basic theories behind the art itself.

Each style of martial art has a basic philosophy and underlying foundation that determines various characteristics of the style itself. Usually this was outlined by the person that originally defined the techniques and it reflects four basic principles:

  • His background and experience:
    • a broad range of different styles might have generated a clever mix of the useful techniques from each style
    • a long experience in a single style might have just evolved into a new one that is more in line with his personal taste
  • His body shape:
    • a small, short person might have developed styles that must be, by definition, very clever in defeating larger opponents;
    • a person with good flexibility in the lower body might have developed a style with many high kicks
    • a stocky person with lower centre of gravity might have developed a wrestling and grappling style
  • His taste for one or the other technique: certain people like punching others like kicking or grappling
  • The environment where he grew up and where he developed his techniques: the kind of opponents he had to fight and defeat determined what techniques and defence strategies that he considered useful to be in his style.

Have a look at the many styles available; some of the principles behind them will be even in contradiction with each other:

  • A Karate expert will mostly strike his opponent while a Judo or Hapkido practitioner’s main goal will be to grab, throw or manipulate the opponent’s body
  • Wing chun mostly uses straight strikes and footwork while Aikido is all based on circular movements
  • Kicks delivered by experts of Kickboxing, Thai boxing, Tae Kwon Do are similar although the emphasis is on different rhythm and targets on the opponent’s body
  • A Silat expert will keep a typically open guard that attracts the opponent to hit in between, working like a trap, while Wing Chun will protect the central line inviting the opponent to go around it

It is important to remember that a style was not defined overnight. Whoever has spent long time to define a martial art did a great job to understand human anatomy, biomechanics and how to exploit natural movements while using particular groups of muscles that are suitable for certain situations.

It is therefore paramount understanding the style you are practicing and what the logic behind it is: this is to maximize your power, speed and efficiency in any given situation. A reality check is obviously a good thing to do once you start understanding your style. Any comment is appreciated.

Meet Alan Gibson

Wing Chun is a style of kung fu from south of China that was first brought to the west by the early Bruce Lee in the middle sixties.  Over forty years later Wing Chun is still somehow mystified and many aspects of its training are kept secret by the majority of teachers of this discipline.  In this way they ensure that the transfer of knowledge is regulated and they make a lot of money out of this process.  Luckily some illuminated individuals don’t believe in politics and like teaching top quality martial arts for the sake of spreading the knowledge more than building little empires.

When I first read “Why Wing Chun Works”, back in 2001, I was immediately amazed by the simplicity and honesty of the writer.  All essential concepts were there, in less than 200 pages: I found it so intriguing that I decided to write to the author, Alan Gibson, to congratulate for his great work.  In fact I went one step forward, I asked him to run a seminar with my club: I could see a little problem coming along by getting an expert of Wing Chun to explain, in four hours, the basic concepts of the art to a bunch of people that practice and train something completely different: kick boxing.  Alan accepted the challenge and, with his laid back but very professional approach, managed to involve people at all levels and to teach them some very important concepts that apply to any striking style.  That was the beginning of a nice and strong relationship between Alan and myself and a good number of “why wing chun works” seminars have been organized since.

The most recent one was last week and, once more, Alan managed to beat any expectation and demonstrate again how knowledgeable, practical and straightforward his approach is.  This time the group was of a slightly different kind: the majority of participants had some knowledge of wing chun, some of them being instructors or assistant instructors from other clubs.  Alan was capable of impressing everyone with his deep knowledge of the theoretical foundations of the style he teaches, together with practical application of any possible fighting scenario.  We spent the last half hour of the seminar with half of the people wearing boxing gloves and attacking the others that, bear handed, were there to apply Wing Chun concepts against the boxers.  In typical Gibson’s style there is no question that remains unanswered or concepts that are considered too advanced for the person who asked them.  Everybody was happy and totally satisfied of the seminar and several participants thanked Alan for his great work and me for organizing it.  If you have a chance of training with Alan or participating to one of his seminars make sure you don’t miss the opportunity, you are going to like it.