The main draw for Iron Mountain is the curriculum. It is an instructor’s camp even though not everyone there is currently an instructor. Master Zach Whitson designs the camp agenda with the higher ranks in mind, which means that advanced Counterpoint Tactical System curriculum is taught. For non-black belts like me, it’s CTS Christmas. Camp is also an opportunity to convey updates to the existing curriculum – more on this in a different post.
For 2014, the curriculum ranged from fourth degree black belt to third degree brown belt material. Master Whitson taught qigong, Cacoy Doce Pares, kenpo technique, stand up grappling, and pekiti tirsia double knife. This camp covered internal martial arts, single and double stick, empty hand, grappling, and double knife. That’s quite a range of material, and the camp is planned with enough time to get a basic grasp of the material. For the beginning practitioners, the lessons can be overwhelming. I know they were for me during my first camp. That’s why it’s important to work with a variety of people at camp. The more experienced CTS people are always helpful.
Each morning of camp starts with qigong practice from Wu style Taiji. We worked two postures Kan Zhuang and Li Zhuang. These are then combined into Alternating Kan Zhuang and Li Zhuang. Master Whitson says that, “This is internal training that allows you to launch a powerful attack while maintaining softness and relaxation during the movement.” He characterizes this practice as a long term study. The internal martial arts do not have the immediate results like an external art; so, patience is needed.
Here’s an example of Wu style:
At this year’s camp, Master Whitson explicitly said that internal practice is going to be incorporated at the higher black belt levels. It’s well known that he works on internal practice with his more advanced students, but this is the first year that he’s formally said it’s part of the system. He is still experimenting with the organization of the upper black belt levels; I’m unsure where the material is located. Master Whitson mentioned what grade he thought it’d fit, but I didn’t write that down in my notes. The internal arts are north of fifth degree black belt, though. This means that I have plenty of time to practice the postures.
Qigong practice has been a part of every camp that I’ve attended. It is one of the more difficult practices that we do at camp. Standing still and calming the mind are weak areas for me. I enjoy it, though. This practice provides a mental break between everyday life and camp. It creates a space in my mind for training. Qigong has been an acquired taste, though. For the first two camps, I was impatient to get to the good stuff like espada y daga or Cacoy Doce Pares. Still, I paid attention and followed the practice because I trusted that Master Whitson had a purpose for it. For the last three camps, that trust has paid off a little more each time. I still struggle with this practice and think that I will throughout my life. I’m beginning to think that with qigong the real rewards are in the struggle, not in the destination. I, of course, reserve the right to change my mind if I ever arrive at the destination, but I’m enjoying the struggle nonetheless.
After qigong, Master Whitson showed the first pre-arranged sparring set from Cacoy Doce Pares. This set is a counter-recounter drill that is made of one strike met with one block on three alternating angles. The training partners are constantly moving from offense to defense while working both right and left sides of the body. I use pre-arranged sparring to develop other attributes like relaxation and to soften my touch. Master Whitson has told me in the past that pre-arranged sparring should be almost meditative. This means being in the moment or the pattern will break.
After a bit of practice, we moved onto an arm drag series off a forehand strike. Cacoy Doce Pares is a short range art that includes grappling. The arm drag series is set ups for locking and throws from eskrido – Cacoy Cañete’s mixture of eskrima and judo. The series works well with pushes and controls. We also got an example of an arm drag off a backhand strike, but, instead of going into a different series, we got a new tie up. It’s a subtle timing manipulation that requires practice. I found it out of tapi-tapi-on but struggled to see it in the Jennifer drill.
I love anything involved with Cacoy Doce Pares. The system has unlimited potential because its training model allows exploration. I’ve begun applying this training model to empty hands and knife. As I get deeper into the espada y daga curriculum, I’m sure the CDP method will be integrated as well. The sparring focus allows the practitioner to go beyond the drill. It allows for creativity, attribute enhancement, and the opportunity to see if techniques work.
CDP also emphasizes softness like an internal martial art. This softness allows the practitioner to spar safely into advanced age. Tactically, the softer opponent provides no energy for a training partner to interpret. This integrates well with the internal martial arts practice. A few years ago while sparring with Master Whitson, I was being way too heavy. His response was to use pushes and control from Taiji to counter my heavy forward pressure. It was a fun example of how to blend arts and a good reminder to lighten up.
After the tie up, Master Whitson showed a double stick set for CDP that was new to me. It was a double stick version of the Cacoy Doce Pares twelve attacks. We added some linear footwork with it – step throughs and one hundred eighty degree turns. Then it became a partner drill with the footwork simplified. While this was brand new material, it built off the CDP twelve attacks that I’ve been doing for years. It was easy to pick up. The drills gave a bit more of a view into CDP as well.
It was then time for lunch. The group got together for a photo with the beautiful hills in the background. The morning focused on the internal martial arts. I don’t know if Cacoy Doce Pares qualifies as an internal art but it had that feel. The focus on relaxation and flowing with energy instead of fighting against it is what makes me wonder. I have more research to do into the internal arts; so, I could be wrong. We switched gears after lunch; the afternoon focused on an external martial art.
Updated 11/26: Master Whitson provided a better example of the Wu Style Taiji; so, the YouTube video has been updated.