Perhaps our lives have changed throughout the previous year due to the country’s horrible condition, but it seems that at least a few things actually remain the same. Against the so-called economic crisis, the annual Olympus seminar began this year on the 28th of July. With the significant participation of senior and many junior students the team of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Club Keramikos for the 12th continuing year went to mount Olympus aiming on serious training under the gaze of the central oak tree.
The daily program was set as always after students had settled and the main tent had been set up. Our stay there was divided into two periods, that is from the 28th of July to the 6th of August and from the 6th to the 13th of August, date that the seminar ended. Many students who came to the first group chose to extend their stay on the mountain and continued training, though in a looser rhythm. The training program started under the central Oak Tree at 6:30 in the morning practicing the Qi Gong of the Eight Treasures. Well known from previous years, this particular Qi Gong aims in physical health, while also proved to be a great way for avoiding minor injuries during the running sessions that followed. All junior students were taught this uniquely, beneficial to health Qi Gong. During the running session everyone confronted himself/herself while attempting to improve their physical condition and endurance. Stretching followed, supervised by assistant trainer Joanna Toumbakari. Beneficent for the body, this set of stretching exercises proved quite necessary as it helped the body to relax and reduced muscle aches. Breakfast followed until 10:30 when training started again, this time until about 13:00. Students were divided in two groups. Beginner students trained on basic hand and kick techniques with George Divanis, trainer of the “North Eagle” Club as well as on the Five Elements of Xing Yi. Advanced students with the guidance of Shifu Dimitris Doukas were being taught the first five of the Twelve Animals of Xing Yi. After lunch and the necessary rest, the afternoon training focused on learning various Eagle Claw tao lu, depending on each student’s level. Siu Lum Quan, Jeet Kune, Siu Mien Zhang, Di Mein Zhang, Say Moon Dai Do, were some of the forms being taught. It’s worth mentioning that for the first time this year students of the “North Eagle” School also participated in the seminar, that is students from the newly founded School of George Divanis, for 16 years student of shifu Doukas.
In fact, this year’s seminar could be seen as a process of transition to the new system that the School will follow in the years to come. Shifu D. Doukas decided to expand Kung Fu knowledge by creating a combination of interlinked Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (Eagle Claw Kung Fu, Xing Yi, Tai Ji, Ba Gua). This decision led him to the consolidation of a new system of practice according to which each student is gradually being initiated to the aforementioned Kung Fu styles. Xing Yi is officially part of the School’s program already from beginner’s level, while at the same time attention is being given not only to the learning of Eagle Claw Tao Lu, but also to the understanding and practice in pairs of battle techniques which these Tao Lu incorporate. The basic aim is for students to learn the different principles in which each system is based and to acquire already from start a wider understanding of Kung Fu. At the same time Sanshou obtains a central role and through it a goal is for students to practice in more realistic conditions and gain in physical strength, technique, reflexes and promptness.
Beginner students following this change of program had to complete their knowledge for their yellow belt, while advanced students were called to present the new material and the new form of exams. The try was harsh for everyone, especially since the new material has become more demanding. The Sunday show justified each one’s effort and everyone did according to his/her abilities. Perhaps the most interesting and exciting part of exams was the technique application in pairs. Ioanna Toumbakari and Ayazi Arber distinguished for the morale and the good understanding of techniques, helping the rest to follow in the new spirit.
During this difficult program excursions and moments of relaxation became necessary both for the mind and the body. The two trips to the “Immortal’s Spring” –an alterative spring in which everyone had to dive in the freezing water for some minutes- and to the Canyon of Enipeas were a unique experience. Additionally, trekking in combination with training in more distant locations completed the program. It is certain that everyone felt stronger and rejuvenated; and on their way back the magic of Olympus followed them even when the mountain was far from sight.
Already the 4th of August: For some of us the seminar is just going on, some others are now arriving at the mountain to attend the second part of the special training programme and for others the experience in mount Olympus is ending. The first days feel heavy rythme-wise, because of the extremely high temperature, that no one had experienced before or expected to encounter at the mountain. The sense of time is changing, as to us the day seems to be ending even in the early afternoon and the constant heat and exercise make us feel heavy and full.
The day in Olympus starts at 06:30 pm. with our usual under the tree meeting and we begin with the qi qong breathing exercise, called “the eight treasures”. Through that we become conscious of our breathing and open our eyes to the daylight while preparing ourselves to take hold of the day. After that, comes the 45 minute run in the mountain, which is the first challenge we must see through to the end and our body’s awakening. We relax the muscles with stretching which we actually crave to do after running and we walk to the central tent (kitchen) for a rich breakfast.
During the first training of the day under the hot sun , between 11:00 and 13:00, we are literally underperforming feeling the vitality of the oxygen-rich air at the same time . At this time we are exercising in xing yi -basically in the stance of san di shi- responding to the hot weather with stillness. The feeling we get from it is well-being that doesn't separate itself from the body to reach consciousness.
After lunch and resting comes the afternoon training (17:30-21:00) by the churchyard during which we learn new forms (tao lu). Each of us finds his space and works on his own. While the brain is focused on the new information and trying to adapt to it, everyone is too preoccupied by the various combinations of actions. Through these hours the shade is thicker, the air cooler, the night comes just as we are exercising.
After the last training session of the day we have dinner in the 'kitchen'and realise how tired we are only after we have finished our dinner. Close to 22:00 o'clock the body feels heavier, talking drops to a minimum... We are all slowly walking to our tents.
Sunday the 5th of August was the set date for the beginners’ and the advanced students’ exams. Although the tension from the exposure and the trials ahead trump the feeling of the day, it doesn’t really show in the environment , as it is actually fading out like the smooth lines of the mountain peaks.
All of us really enjoyed ourselves and felt the constant effort that the advanced students had shown and their internal quality of concentration next to the trully charming fact shown from the beginners, that was the revelation of the real students’ spirit… We all saw our trainer Ioanna expressing clearly through her kung fu,the beauty and the strength that come from hard work and love in the bodys selfrespect. Arber was also an example of strong will and with his cultivated personal way of moving, justifiably rose to the level he was presenting.
For the next day,the third hottest day of our stay,we chose Enipeas river,training under the shade appreciating the sound of the running river ,enough to cool us down before it was time to jump in! That’s how the excursion ended,with us jumping in the ice-cold water, which took our breath away at the moment our heads completely submerged under it, but when we managed to relax our bodies,the feeling was great.The psysical fatigue,the exhaustion from the heat, the idea of the frozen water that was keeping us away from it, everything was gone. We spent the next day going for a long walk up in the mountain. We had to be constantly aware of where we stepped and what was infront of us, as we were walking through a virgin part of the forest. We would interrupt the tiring, often steep ascent or sudden descent, to take a breath and look at the view, which was more and more beautiful from every new higher point giving us courage to continue, like a force on our side, always faithfull and generous to our eyes. We reached the hill with a few scratches on our legs and thirst… We drank water, lied on the ground, we relaxed with qi qong exercises and walked back throughout the sunset.
Thursday was our day-off during which we visited a natural spring in Kisavos mountain known as “red water”. The water was really cold and rich in minerals and the experience was very good and silent in a way for everyone. Each of us stayed in the water for 9 minutes and after the body felt very relaxed, as if we had been deeply massaged. The water there, is effervescent and the reaction with the body is actually visible. The feeling can be described as a slight skinburn. On our way back from the natural spring,we had to stop at a village of great beauty called Agios Padeleimonas. Guided from the flow of relaxation that the strange water of Kisavos left us, we walked in the village enjoying its unique beauty. In the middle of the second part of the seminar, the weather conditions changed the routine in the mountain, being unpredictable and powerfull.
The first storm, at midnight, forced us out of the tents as we had to sleep either in the church, at the hostel or at our teacher’s cousin’s house which is hospitable for us every year. The next day we only managed to exercise in the morning. During the afternoon training the sudden rain and lightning, forced us into the church and so we spent our training time practicing the theoretical aspect of traditional Chinese martial arts under the candle light. It evolved in quality time accompanied by the gentle flames of the candles and the sense of something common behind everybody’s presence. It seemed that the small space of the church was concentrating that sense and making us feel closer. At the same time the dark sky and the rain outside made us focus on our selves.
The last day of the seminar was dedicated to the examination process of the students that had come during the second period and the demonstrations of the whole group that take place every year. No one was just a spectator, everyone participated creating a relaxed atmosphere with its energy evenly distributed among the group.
On the last night, the weather allowed us to remain on the mountain and dine on the home-cooked meals that George and Ioanna had prepared for us, after which we discussed our feelings about the seminar around the fire. Everyone enjoyed our last calm night on the mountain that seemed like a gift after the previous 3 rainy days during which the weather kept changing our plans.
The next morning we each packed our things and the large central tent and we left carrying the gifts of the mountain and the vitality that the training filled us with, making the transition completely natural.