Getting together in Citta di Castello
The excitement was building. Theo was coming all the way from India, Anne from Germany, Dave and his family as well as Marc and Ela flying in from the UK, and Lise was already at Citta di Castello: a really multicultural and diverse group. I would personally be seeing my instructor and my kung fu brothers and sisters in person after 8 years, and this trip was going to be an amazing training experience.
It’s not the shortest journey from Clermont (no, not Claremont Hall in London, but Clermont-Ferrand, the home of Michelin in France) to the wonderful town of Citta di Castello in Italy where we would be training at the lovely house of Lise. So rather than drive around 1000km, I had decided to take a flight from Lyon to Rome, but this plan encountered quite a setback as my flight was delayed due to restrictions in French aerospace. But waiting one day longer wasn’t too hard once you relativize things.
‘Be like water’, a quote from one of my favorite martial artists Bruce Lee, so flow I must through delayed flights and trains. However, my spirits were lifted when Theo kindly picked me up from Arezzo in the car, and lo and behold, a wonderful week of kung fu, friendships and great Italian food awaited me.
Shuang Yang mornings and an energizing breakfast
Our days at the camp started with early mornings, for Shuang Yang Tai Chi at 7am or a run before breakfast. The serene surroundings of Citta di Castello provided a beautiful backdrop for our morning practice: the nature was simply breathtaking. Difficult to do justice in words .
One of the nicest things doing the pattern first thing in the morning is the fresh air for deep breathing and bringing in good energy for the day. It was also an opportunity to see the pattern being done fully, all the 66 moves of this beautiful form in the nature and sun.
Post Shuang Yang, we would gather in the house for preparing breakfast: eggs, porridge (Theo had one wonderful recipe for porridge pancakes) , fruits, yoghurt, Italian cheese and sausage : just the start one needs for a good day of training (plus a good mug of coffee, how could I forget!)
Training, Food & Training
The training happened in quite a few places: either an open space when the sun shined, or in the schoolhouse indoors if the weather was a bit chilly.
Dave was really clear about what to take from this week of training for each and every one of us, and the fact that we would have about a year’s worth of material on which to work on. And the learning was fun. We reworked many of our moves to have more balance, intent, correct application, stance or learnt new ones in our patterns, and to keep these at a certain level of detail.
For example, with the upper crane blocks, we worked on how to whip them from the hip and come to structure at the end, rather than using the waist which is too slow or just strength (which gives you more bruises!) This personally for me helped in Green Dragon Leaves the water in the Yongchun pattern, to be more attacking and finding a way to be strong without using actual strength
Working on the opening of the pattern was also an eye opener (pun intended) and it really helped me think about the application of each movement and how the weakness of one move is compensated by the very next movement. We looked at this is partnerwork in both the Shuang Yang and Yongchun patterns, and it changes the way we move (especially to not see moves in isolation but rather as a sequence that has flow and meaning to it).
What’s truly amazing about camps like these is that you learn not just by practicing, but by watching, by listening and by making mistakes. Watching my senior colleagues do some of their higher patterns was an excellent learning experience. It was really so simple just to stay present, and absorb.
Around 12, we would break for lunch at La Miniera Di Galparino, which was just next to another famous tourist attraction of the Umbria region, the Big Blue Bench that shrunk people temporarily to half their usual size. Here’s the proof if you don’t believe me:
Jokes aside, the lunch was really really good. 4 course meals, with an infinite variety of risottos, pastas, Italian wine, with a lovely view of the Umbrian countryside just outside. Everything organic, as they produce their own pasta, bread, vegetables, oils, jams, cheese and vin santo, and some very warm and friendly Italian patrons.
In the afternoons we would have a siesta post lunch…. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
And then training would resume again from 3pm.
6-7 hours of training a day is not easy, but it’s suprising how the time flew so fast with the varied atmosphere and the good energy of the group. I really loved the partnerwork, and we practiced catching drills, to “catch” our partner’s movements and help them work on their positioning and balance, and also to feel how a movement would actually work in practice. By far, the most humbling was the new discovery of push hands for me, which is a boon for learning stability and learning that perhaps losing more than winning teaches you more.
This pushing to achieve new levels of skill and performance came also with its own healthy share of laughs. The group energy was really good, I don’t remember a single conflict but rather all the jokes and good vibes that we shared.
The Importance of Mindfulness and Inner Focus
Dave also emphasized the importance of mindfulness and inner focus in our training, as well as breathing right down to our dantien in our Shuang Yang. He shared his wisdom about the philosophy and principles of Kung Fu, teaching us to cultivate discipline, respect, and humility not only in our training but also in our daily lives. These lessons added a profound dimension to our training, helping us develop a holistic approach to martial arts.
One morning, we had a day just to work on the performance of our patterns: right from the theory of performance during breakfast, to the morning training where we had to show our character, the day was about finding the grit and understanding to really show our patterns in a different light.
On the penultimate day of the camp, a real moment of excitement, as I had my grading. It wasn’t me at my best, but I guess that’s what kung fu teaches in a way, to be ready, to be able to make your bad days into good days and good days into really good days. I don’t have any photos of the grading, but happy to say I passed(!) and that I have a lot of feedback for improvement for my next one.
Exploring Local Culture and Cuisine
Throughout the camp, we also had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the local culture and cuisine. We took time in the evenings to visit ancient churches, bars and landmarks, learning about the rich heritage of Citta di Castello and its people. We also indulged in the delicious Italian cuisine, savoring the flavors of homemade pasta, fresh produce, and local delicacies, which added a delightful culinary dimension to our overall experience.
Lise very kindly allowed us for those who were leaving a little later to stay on at her place. Theo, Marc and myself had an excellent trip to the holy city of Assisi, which we will probably remember as much for the food as for the sight of the incredible Basilique of St Francis D’Assisi.
We also were able to travel to a Citta di Castello special march for Easter (at night!), which was one of these rare Italian attractions that’s really difficult to stumble upon as a tourist.
As the Kung Fu camp came to an end, I still had a weekend to reach back to France, with some new skills and a deeper understanding of Kung Fu. I had also experienced the beauty of Italian culture and cuisine. More than anything, I was grateful for the opportunity to train with my instructor Dave, whose guidance and character has had a profound impact on my journey as a human being, and with my fellow kung fu brothers and sisters.
Can’t wait to see you there for the next one.