The Martial Camp Part 1: The gathering of the martial arts clan

There is so much to say about The Martial Camp 2020 that I’m dividing it into several postings. This posting contains a general overview of the camp, in the next postings (haven’t decided how many yet) I’ll describe the masters and what they taught. Since there were so many other fellow martial artists at the camp I hope they’ll also chip in in the comments to provide a more complete picture of the very enjoyable experience.

There were 43 of us who had made our journey to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai from all corners of the globe for a two-week Martial Arts camp.

One came all the way from Chile, another was a woman doctor from Kirghistan. There was a young man from Egypt, a logistics professional from Panama and a Chinese healer from Madrid. There were Europeans, Australians, Brits, Americans and Asians.

We were varied. We had different skills and learned different types of martial arts whether they were Taiji, Wing Chun, Shaolin, Xingyi or Systema.

Group shots of the participants and the 5 masters who generously shared their knowledge and skills over 13 days at The martial Camp

We had one thing in common though: the fascination and love for the spirit of the martial arts, which, when you get down to it, is about self-cultivation, or getting the mind to be able to command the body to do exactly what we want it to do.

Most of us had seen the YouTube interviews that Martial Man Kieren Krygier had made of martial arts masters, mainly based in Asia. Some of the masters were seemingly capable of mind-defying feats such as sending people reeling with a touch or gentle push. They looked too good to be true, yet we’ve seen others do it or heard of such incidents from friends.

Yang Style Taiji master Adam Mizner was well-known for his ability to fa-Jin and to use his chi to control “opponents”

So when the prospect of not only meeting but getting to touch hands with not one but five of these masters presented itself, we all couldn’t resist but to see and feel for ourselves if these feats are real. And if they are, how we can get close to replicating these abilities for ourselves.

Moreover, it was a great opportunity to learn and experience first-hand the abilities and philosophies of masters other than our own, so that we had a better basis of judging the soundness of the styles and trainings we had chosen.

Some of us, to me, were skeptical pilgrims, seeking the Holy Grail of the soft martial arts – the ability to activate our internal energy in our practice of a martial art. We want to believe that these feats are possible but won’t do so unless we can validate them for ourselves. Others were less skeptical and more New Age, already believing in chakras, healing, energy work, auras and blue pea tea before they got to camp.

Regardless, we all signed up for The Martial Camp that was organized by Kieran and his Thai partner, who goes by the nickname of Soda.

Mindful Wing Chun’s Nima King inducted us into the mysteries of Nim Tao

This is the second year that the Martial Camp is being organized and it was located at Belle Villa Resort, about 45 minutes drive from central Chiang Mai. Set in the hills it was cool (about 15 degrees C in the mornings) and surrounded by lush forests, a perfect setting for the trainings we were about to receive.

We arrived via different flights to the camp on January 9 and had a great time getting to know the different participants, some of whom had flown over 30 hours just for this event.

Over the next 13 days we would get to listen to and receive instructions from the five masters Kieran had curated for the camp: Adam Mizner (Yang Style Taiji), Nima King (Wing Chun, of the Cho Shon Ting lineage), Yap Boh Heong (Five Ancestors Fist and Wu Mei), Liang De Hua (also Yang style Taiji) and Huai Hsiang Wang (Prana Dynamics).

The masters had their own take on things but a common thread to their teachings was the importance of posture and relaxation of the muscles and joints to ensure a free flow of energy, whether it be called Chi, Prana or some another term, throughout the body. They also delved at length into activating the fascia as opposed to the muscles for powerful movements. They also spoke about Daosit beliefs and philosophy.

Yap Boh Heong taught about Yang Shou Gong and introduced us to Five Ancestors Fist and Wu Mei

This is not exactly new stuff to someone who had read widely about martial arts, especially the soft styles (as opposed to the hard ones like Karate and Tae Kwon Do) but the value in their instruction was in providing greater nuances and dimensions to our understanding of how to go about activating the internal energy.

Liang De Hua was another Yang Style master whose humor and down-to-earth attitude endeared the participants to him

To their credit, the masters were responsive in answering questions and most of them were very hands-on, allowing us to touch hands with them to feel the power. (I’ll get into the details of each of thee masters in subsequent postings but in this post I’ll focus on an overview of the camp).

Huai Hsiang Wang shared about Prana Dynamics, which is about the dynamics of internal energy

We had two days of instructions and training with each of the masters. There were break days in between to give us some variety and to see a bit more about Chiangmai and we spent a couple of days exploring temples (what else in Thailand?), listen to a funny monk explain about Buddhism, visit an elephant sanctuary, Chiang Mai’s Night market and attending a Muay Thai fight night.

It was not all training at The Martial Camp and in between masters we took time off to sightsee, visit an elephant sanctuary and other touristy things. Hey martial artists can be touristy too

In between we had great conversations with each other and the masters. Many of us, knowing how political and petty martial arts circles can be, marveled at how so many martial artists can be in one place and get along so well. There was no up-manship, or chest thumping, only convivial and warm exchanges of experience and information. many of us made friendships that may yet prove resilient against time and distance.

The resort we stayed at was clean, well kept and apart from some lousy WiFi connection in the rooms, was ideal. The buffet meals got a bit monotonous though but it was inevitable, given that the chef had to cater to so many different cultural palettes for nearly two weeks. Relief, however, was at hand in the local restaurants nearby where we lapped up the Tom yum, som tum and other local dishes. On the final night, we were treated to an outdoor barbecue, complete with fireworks.

The Camp was definitely worth traveling to and paying for (not that much, considering that all food and lodging was catered for) and everyone I spoke to felt that we had gained something valuable, either a new exercise, a new perspective, new friends, or a deeper understanding of what we needed to do to make our own training more effective and to become better martial artists.

As hosts Kieran and Soda were always on site and attentive to our needs or questions. I think that anyone who’s serious about their martial arts and who possess an open mind that there are always valuable things to learn from other masters should go for at least one of these camps.

In my next postings I’ll discuss more about the masters, what they thought and whether they are able to walk the talk when it comes to channeling their internal energy onto others.

Note: All photos taken from The Martial Man Facebook page with the gracious permission of Kieran.

Journey into Taiji

When I was younger I used to think it hyperbole when they said that you’d need seven years to master Taiji (or T’ai Chi if you used the old Wade-Giles spelling).

Now, after having taken up Taiji for coming close to three years, I am inclined that you’d take considerably take more time – like a lifetime – if you want to master the art.

But first, what is Taiji? Many people have the impression that Taiji is the slow-motion half dance that old people in pajamas do at public parks. Part of Taiji is that – an exercise you do for health benefits – but it is much more.

Taiji was originally conceived as a fighting art. Legends say that the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng came up with Taiji in the 12th century. The next historical record seems to trace Taiji as an art practiced by the Chen Family in Henan province since the 17th Century.

Whatever the truth of it is, the art was a closely held family secret until Yang Luchan took the art and taught it to outsiders in Beijing. From there taiji spread and many different styles developed from there, among them the Yang, Wu, Chen and Sun styles.

My journey into Taiji started because I wanted to rekindle my love for martial arts (practiced Karate in school and university) but I wanted to do something that didn’t only rely on youth and strength to prevail.

As anyone’s won’t to do these days you go to the internet to see what you can learn. I alighted on Yang Chwen Ming because he was most searchable on Google and Youtube. I then bought his training DVD and proceeded to learn Yang Style Taiji.

His style is fluid but not having anyone to teach you in person was difficult for anyone to learn. And after trying to look for a Taiji school in South Jakarta I managed to hook up with a group of people that practiced the cumbersomely named Chen Style Practical Method of Taiji.

Since then it has been a journey of satisfaction, frustration, many sprains and falls as well as some rewarding moments. In other words I’m hooked.

What I find so fascinating about Taiji is how counter-intuitive it is to you we react to physical challenges. It is purely an understanding of physics, body bio-mechanics – and the difficult part – training your body to do what your mind theoretically knows.

Although we have someone here who has been well-trained, the Grandmaster of the style, Master Chen Zhonghua makes a visit to Indonesia each year to conduct a workshop and teach the students here:

Here’s a workshop in Jakarta from 2015:


As you can see the Taiji being practiced here is anything but soft and slow. It involves students understanding the principles of Taiji and then putting them into practice. There is a lot of push hands (Taiji sparring) in this style because Master Chen believes that you can only learn to apply what you have learned if the opponent’s moves are unpredictable.

Master Chen will be conducting another workshop Jakarta, actually in Tangerang, on December 2 and 3. It would be a treat to watch the man in action and to learn Taiji principles and their application from the man. Beginners and experienced martial artists  will be able to learn something from these workshops that are conducted in English and Mandarin and translated into Indonesian.