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In June 2015, I had the opportunity to join the over-enthusiastic guys at Melbourne University Wushu Club on a winter training camp in Daylesford (yes, it’s June and it’s winter in Melbourne!). Here’s a first-hand account of that memorable experience.

The car swerved into a narrow, muddy road and finally stopped before a two-storey wooden house. Here we were, the final destination of our long-awaited winter camp. The semester had ended, the road was calling, and our members at MUTW once again embraced in a whole new journey to up their skills and celebrate winter. This time, Daylesford was the place.

We unloaded our baggage and took a moment to check out the surrounding area. The front yard looked up to a gently sloping hill, which grew grasses so green that we thought it was spring. There were no cows nor sheep in sight, unlike our journey to Daylesford. It felt so peaceful just looking at the green meadows. The sun, the wind, the chipping of the birds. Whenever the wind blew, we could see the grass swaying like waves on the ocean’s surface. On top of the hill stood a lonely tree, bracing itself against the winter freeze.

“Look! A trampoline!” Someone pointed towards the backyard.

“It can only take a hundred kilos at most,” our host warned us, but a group of overexcited young-at-hearts already encircled the springboard, bouncing and flying up high. Some even attempted to do the front kick on air. Mind you, don’t even try if you’ve never taken wushu!

I opened the door to the warm and cozy living room. Those who arrived earlier already settled around the fire place, a traditional kind fueled by wood and complete with a chimney – the real deal! The spots around the fire place proved to be our favourite in the following days.

That night, we filled up our stomach with tasty home-made food by Chris the Chef, and filled up our time with heaps of kungfu movies: Kungfu Hustle. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Wushu the Movie. It’d been a long and tiring day!

The day after, someone woke me up at 5.30am. “Quick! The Tai Chi class is on!”

It was cold and dark all around. The only source of light was from the dim yellow bulbs on the veranda.

There on the front yard, a dozen of people stood in lines practising Tai Chi in silence. Slowly, smoothly, their hands floated like the clouds, and body like water. Tiny raindrops drizzled from the sky.

After a few warm-up exercises, everyone took off their jumpers and hoodies – the heat was on! We moved to some serious fun: standing in pair on one leg and trying to unbalance our peers.

Sweet winter retreat. We escaped the hustle and bustle of the city, the terror of essays and assignments, but we could never run away from the hardcore training. Tai Chi at 6, Wushu at 10, then Self-Defence in the afternoon. Eat. Train. Sleep. Repeat. We could barely walk when night fell, but the feeling was unmatched.

The spotlight of the camp was the Avatar Game, where we divided into four groups: Water Tribe, Fire Nation, Air Nomads, and Earth Kingdom, and took on challenges to become the Avatar – the master of all four elements.

The challenges were designed to evaluate our balance, speed, flexibility, technique and so much more. Teamwork counts, “keeping cool” counts, and clever ways to bend the rules also count.

“Welcome to Air station, where we test your lightness, grace and balance,” greeted the evil Airbender Haidee. She instructed us to stand by one leg on a small brick, “You can choose whichever stance you like, as long as it’s a Wushu stance.”

“Ok, let me try,” Xingda jumped on the brick.

“Ready?” asked Haidee.

“Ready for what?” She started throwing bean bags at him.

“You can either block or take the bean bags. But if you fall, you lose.”

“Any bonus point if we catch the bean bag and throw it back at you?” Veronica asked.

“No.” Haidee pretended to throw a bag to confuse Xingda, then suddenly make a real hit. “Oops, looks like you fall. But I’m so nice I will only minus you half point.”

The Air game was so nice people keep doing it the day after for fun (without inviting the evil Airbender Haidee).

At the Water station, the no-lesser-evil Waterbender Ben asked us to maintain on our horse stance while balancing cups of water on our body. Other stations had their fun challenges as well.

It’s not a camp without a bonfire, right? One night, we gathered around a big fire in the back yard, roasting marshmallows and singing our favourite songs. Everyone seemed to disagree on how to roast a marshmallow to its perfection though.

“You roast and tear off the outer layer to eat, then roast again. The idea is to roast it as many times as you can,” Ciara said.

Some roasted the candy until its skin turned brownish, then put it between two crackers to make a s’more. Others just let the whole thing burn!

At somewhere in our tight camp schedule, we also played the charade for hours. As old as time, this game never failed to bring unexpected joy and laughter.

“I can never look at Hello Kitty the same way again!” one acclaimed.

It was such an exciting camp, with playing, singing, eating and a lot of training. Don’t worry if you missed this one, there’s always next year’s!

Trinh Le

First published on MUTW’s blog.

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