Nestled in the mist-shrouded mountains of Thailand’s remote north-west lies the kung fu school which we have all dreamed of.
Surrounded by rice fields and jungle and overlooking the valley of the Pai River, the Nam Yang Mountain Training Camp is dominated by a huge gold-painted statue of Tat Moh or Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was the wandering Indian monk who settled at Shaolin temple in China and founded both Shaolin Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. He taught his disciples unique physical and spiritual exercises. Through generations, these exercises have been treasured, carefully preserved and passed on to a select few. They involve breathing methods known as chi kung, strengthening the tendon to produce explosive power and a clever knowledge of body mechanics which allows those in the know to play to their own strengths and their opponent’s weaknesses in order to overcome overwhelming odds.
Training begins at 6:00 am in the cool quiet moments before dawn. Students perform the traditional exercise routines in the fresh morning air, strengthening their internal energy or ‘chi’, stretching out their bodies and building the famous Shaolin ‘spring’ power into their tendons. They continue with weapons training and sparring drills know as ‘pushing hands’ and ‘sticky hands’ until the call for a well-earned breakfast. All meals at the school are prepared specially to complement training using home-grown ingredients where possible. We are talking jack fruit curry and herbal rice porridge here with not a whiff of junk food.
After a break during the hot middle part of the day, training resumes with an intense fitness session, guaranteed to leave even hardened athletes sweating, followed by a stretching session which has to be experienced to be believed! Then comes the really serious kung fu and self-defence session with kicking, palm striking, throwing, arm locking, and more. This is when you learn to take a knife from an attacker and leave him tied up in knots or to slip under a punch and neatly drop your bewildered assailant on his backside!
This basic training program is complemented by a number of optional activities ranging from a meditation program aimed at calming mind, raising consciousness and achieving enlightenment, through talks on philosophy and the metaphysical, to sparring sessions based around Chinese boxing and gruelling, sweaty runs culminating in sprints up the (very long) stairway of a local temple.
The headteacher, Master Iain, provides the driving force of the school with his huge, charismatic presence. Two times world kung fu champion and veteran of an amazing thirty-two years of kung fu adventures spanning much of the globe but in particular Southeast Asia, Iain is the kind of the second dad that everyone wishes for at some time. He has an answer for everything. He is joined twice a year by his teacher Master Tan Soh Tin, head of the Nam Yang school who has been practising kung fu for an amazing sixty-two years already. Iain’s assistant instructors are drawn from his core students most of whom have trained with him for many, many years.
You can tailor the dates and length of your stay to suit your itinerary. Some people stay for years! If you intend to travel extensively it does make sense to visit the kung fu school and hone up your self-defence skills early on in your journey.
If you want to spend time working on your self, learning an ancient esoteric art, honing your body, opening your mind and raising your consciousness with a good deal of kicking arse mixed in for good measure, this could well be your first choice!
See www.kungfuretreat.com for more information.
This article was written in partnership with Nam Yang Mountain Training Camp