August, 2009

Escrima Summer Camp 2009, Carboneras, Spain
Combat, Culture, and Cuisine.

The brave Escrimadores who stayed the course...

"Kill 'em but don't hurt 'em!", a pithy phrase coined by Grandmaster Bill Newman, was heard quite often this year, again. What might sound menacing and contradictory at the same time, is actually what the basics of Newman-Escrima boil down to: "Kill your enemy but don't hurt your sparring partner". Or, to be a bit more detailed: "Always hit to the point, using the right distance, the right timing, and with sufficient power. 'Steamroll' your opponent to nip his bellicosity in the bud, without losing your balance". In a nutshell: "Hunt him!"
Welcome to the first training session of the Escrima Summer Camp in Carboneras, Spain. It's Tuesday, 11th of August 2009, 6 pm, and we're already in midst of the camp, since for most of the participants, this trip had already started last Saturday.

The group of Escrimadores from Germany (Eppingen, Ludwigshafen, and Darmstadt), that did not take the car, had made individual bookings for a flight but ended up on the same plane, in consecutive rows. This had to be great fun, despite the fact that Iberia planes aren't the most commodious aircrafts.


At this time of the year, there weren't any direct flights to Almeria, so the one stop-over was Madrid. That's right, Madrid-Barajas, the world's second largest civil airport. Arrival at terminal 4, departure at terminal 4 with a stop-over time of one hour, which should be enough, shouldn't it? Iberia's welcome present was offered to us pretty quickly: The connecting flight to Almeria was delayed for 1.5 hours. Who cares, we're all on vacation and the airport had a lot to offer (from fastfood to tapas) and a lot to see on its 506.000 sq ft.

Madrid-Barajas impressive "Terminal Four".

Next stop: Almeria and a quick lookahead: The seaport of Almeria, located in the south of Spain and with a population of about 190.000 residents presented some beautiful views to some of us, following the summer camp. For example the cathedral, built in 1524 A.D., or the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress founded 955 A.D. and erected on an hill to overlook all of the town and the harbour.

The catherdal in Almerias' town centre.

Parts of the Alcazaba castle with its gardens.

A view from Alcazaba over the town and harbour.

After our arrival at the "aeropuerto de Almeria" and a successful baggage claim, we were heading towards Carboneras, in two cabs. The amusing 45-minute ride turned out to be somewhat confusing for the two cab drivers. Due to our missing language skills in Spanish and theirs in English it took them a while to figure out, resp. to get our point across, that we were three groups of people in two cabs heading for three different destinations in Carboneras! Thanks to some solid body and sign language skills on either side, all of us were soon to be dropped at their hotels. After changing from trousers and sweaters to shorts and shirts we were heading to our first dinner, yet without GM Bill but with Master Bernd.

Carboneras can be considered a rather manageable costal village, counting roughly 7.000 inhabitants. The beach promenade can be easily walked down in 20 minutes but thanks to the dozens of tapas bars this should not be seriously considered. It was a bit unfortunate that on this first night out, we didn't have the local insight of Sifu Javier Gutierrez yet, who not only organised this event, but also provided us with tons of valuable information on the local cuisine. It was simply inevitable: First evening, first dinner, first (and last) letdown. At least things could only get better from now on. And they did.

The next day, at the lunchtime sip of beer along with some yummy tapas Sifu Javier enlightened us with lots of interesting and valuable need-to-know bits and pieces about Carboneras, its local cuisine and the Spanish way of living in general. We felt prepared for the things to come! (Remember: A German prefers his beer out of a big mug, but when there's one tapa served for free along with every beer, he happily accepts a small glass as well. Mind you, this tapa always comes with each beer and wether you take it or not, you pay for it - a very fair price. A simple calculation, isn't it?)

By now, it is Monday, 10th of August, and most of us have acclimatised pretty well. However, there was no sleeping late this morning since at 7 am the very first Escrima session was to be held over the rooftops of Carboneras. After that it was off to the beach for a little swim, then some cervezas with tapas and finally siesta, the traditional short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. What a great invention taking in account the intense midday heat despite the constant breeze. The rest of the day was easy to manage after that short nap of about 1 to 4 hours... And what a great rest of the day this should become: GM Bill arrived in Carboneras and joined us right away for a beer at one of the nice beach pubs, making us realise that he is still so very down-to-earth and approachable, like in all those years before...

Tuesday. After the usual routine for the first half of the day, finally 6 o'clock pm approached, meaning the first session of the summer camp was about to begin. No need to worry that the heat of the day might have stacked up at the gym of the local handball team, which we were allowed to use. That gym is cleverly constructed. A very high ceiling with a curved rooftop and open walls to three sides. The mild breeze, daylight and shades seemed to be the prefect prerequisites for the 15 eager Escrimadores from Germany and Spain, waiting for their flavour of a walk in the park.

The TGs had one dominant command for this camp: "To your bucklers!".

...a walk in the park, right. Not! GM Bill had a close eye on us and reminded everyone that the basics are mandatory. The easy walk turned quickly into a boot camp, divided into small groups and working intensively on the Newman-Escrima basics to get a clear and uniform understanding and concept.

The importance of the basics tends to be forgotten easily, even by high ranked students. But quickly they realised how void even the highest programmes and techniques become, when you're missing the foundation.

The aim and hit excercises (1/4 right, change to the left, 1/4, and later on all variations with single stick, double stick and knife) continued on the second day as well, completed by short breaks of sparring sessions, most notably drilled by Master Bernd. In the meantime, the TGs were given a hard time, using the sword and buckler properly.

On Wednesday night Sifu Javier organised the first dinner for us, along with GM Bill and his wife Helen, in a tiny but cosy corner pub at Carboneras' north-east end. We were served two giant pans of fresh paella along with a refreshing drink called "tinto de verano" (a combination of red wine, Sprite and ice cubes), and lots of salad with bread. GM Bill had a really good time with all of us and was telling stories from the past times of Escrima as well as his current experiences in the computer age, which were likewise interesting and amusing.

High spirits and full of expectation for the paella.

After that laid-back dinner, we started relaxed into Thursday afternoon with a little game of boccia, also enjoyed by GM Bill, before he went for an extended swim in Carboneras' breakers.

"Excuse please, where's the boccia game happening...?"

There you go...!

Thursday's agenda was all about Single Stick, an excercise that's known for driving quite a few Escrimadors nuts, even though it's "simply" basics but now with a flow. The session was again mixed up with free sparring sequences resulting in a deflating conclusion: "It's not about the size of your weapon or the fact that you may outnumber your opponent(s) - it's about how you use it". GM Bill's distinguished phrase "kill 'em but don't hurt 'em" showed and proved yet again, how imperative it is to attack properly and which advantage you get out of it!

Usually, good teamwork gives you an advantage when attacking. Usually... :-)

On Thurday night another dinner with all participants and GM Bill with his wife was planned. This time at the town centre in a corner café called "Felipe". The cross-way with Felipe's bar, hotel, and restaurant, in midst of a pedestrian zone, layed out the "arena" for Carboneras' fastest waiters. From an empty pint to a new one in 10 seconds, without spilling a single drop! (BTW, that same speed was also used to serve trays full of food and drinks, both "small" and "large" (as seen to the right).)

Eventually, the final day had arrived along with a session that should become very special. Visibly relaxed by the Spanish climate and cuisine, GM Bill started the big roundup: From the basics (aiming and getting your head out the way) to Single Stick, to sparring sequences, and 1/4/1/4 plus 1/4/2/3 drills. It was an Escrima staccato! And it proved yet again: Newman-Escrima has only five strikes to offer but its combinations and possibilities are infinite!

At the end of this session we were a knackered but happy little goup of Escrimadors. We learned and experienced a lot about combat, culture and cuisine, during the last four days. And we had the chance, as usual, to take photographs with "our" Grandmaster. Still, this should not be the very end of the summer camp 2009, yet...

GM Bill and the happy folks from Ludwigshafen.

GM Bill with Sascha "Bruce Lee" Böhringer.

One of the most popular spots, a nice tapas bar at Carboneras' beach promenade.

Another popular place for lunch, a tapas bar right at the beach.

Good for us, the menu was multilingual, i.e. Spanish, Spanish, and Spanish :-)

Cervezas y tapas - that's what happy Escrimadors look like.

Sifu Javier had a special plan for the very last night: He booked some tables at a typical tapas bar, right at the centre of Carboneras. The menu at a tapas bar is clearly laid out, for a Spanish person. Thanks to Sifu Javier's simultaneous translation and the early lesson we've learned, to order small beer more often than only a few big mugs, we had set up a nice table with lots of variations to test and to taste. If there wasn't one small problem - what to do when you're more hungry than the speed at which the tapas cooks are able to prepare those little snacks? The answer is called "raciones", in English "a portion". They're served in tapas bars as well, but usually for the whole group of people to pass it around and share. Not so likely with a horde of hungry Escrima warriors! Sifu Javier and the present locals at the close-by tables had to learn quickly that a "racion" can be very well served to only one single person. (Regardless of prior tapas and beers, of course...)

The final night, before dinner started (the calm before the storm).

Many raciones and even more tapas and cervezas later this convivial evening came to an end. Since the various groups of participants departed at different days and times, the time to say "good-bye" was now. GM Bill took his time to see everyone off personally. As a student, you not only feel special when treated like this but it also makes you realise the upright honesty that's intrinsic to every session, every story and every comment of GM Bill.

A very special "thank you" goes out to Sifu Javier Gutierrez, who organised this summer camp and helped every "1st-time-Spaniard" to blend in easily.

The term "Escrima" is partly derived from the Spanish word "la esgrima", in English "fencing". That way, this summer camp might have also been a trip back to the roots. Wether there will be another camp in Carboneras is yet unknown, but regardless of where the "Summer Camp 2010" will be located at, when there's Grandmaster Bill Newman along with, it will be great fun. Everywhere and every year. It will be yet another great opportunity for us students to learn both Escrima and for our own personal life, by first-hand input coming from a true role model and Gentleman. May it be for many more years to come...

Muchas gracias Gran Maestre Bill