Every year, for the past 36 years, the martial arts style Cuong Nhu has held an annual training event known as IATC: International Annual Training Camp. In its current form, the camp is held on Memorial Day Weekend on the campus of a major university, allowing hundreds of practitioners in our karate style to train together in the same gymnasium, eat together in the same cafeteria, and hangout and sleep in the same college dorms. It’s one of my favorite weekends every year.
I joined Cuong Nhu in 2000, so I’ve attended my fair share of these events — from Raleigh, NC to Gaineville, FL to Atlanta, GA. And while there are a handful who have attended every IATC, some that have attended most, and many that have attended far more than me, I feel I’ve attended enough of them to have some ideas about how to get the most out of an IATC weekend.
Some of these ideas are about what to do, and some are about what to bring. I should also declare up front that while my rugged Australian roots, childhood experience as a Boy Scout, adult experience as a Scout Leader, and penchant for camping and survival skills have allowed me to function in a variety of harsh environments, I love being as comfortable as possible. Emory University (the location of IATC 2013) boasts some of the most comfortable dorms in the history of this annual event, but there are a few things you can do to make things even more comfortable. I realize that writing this article may subject me to some good-natured hazing from some of my Cuong Nhu buddies, but I’ll take it like a man… and then I’ll sleep like a baby in a dorm room that’s more comfortable than theirs. 🙂
So whether you’re an IATC rookie, an old-timer who owns a full collection of campout T-shirts, or somewhere in-between, the following are designed to help you enjoy the weekend to its fullest!
Bring your own set of twin bed sheets – or at the very least, a fitted bottom sheet.
When you check in to your room, you’ll find a pair of twin-sized beds with clean sheets, a pillow, and a blue blanket. More than likely, they’ll be folded neatly on the bed, rather than already made up as shown in photo from the Emory University dorm website:
The foam mattresses in the room are comfortable, but they’re very smooth — so the sheets (and you) slide around on them easily. And since there’s no difference between the top and bottom sheets (the bottom sheet isn’t fitted), I inevitably wake up with my sheets bunched up instead of fully covering the mattress. Fix this problem by packing your own set of twin sheets from home, or at least a fitted bottom sheet. Rolled up properly, it will take very little room in your bag, and as long as you don’t go crazy with super-high-thread count Egyptian cotton or flannel, it won’t add a lot of extra weight. For bonus points, bring your own pillow (I personally prefer over-sized pillows, even in a twin bed). But you probably won’t need extra blankets, it’s Atlanta in late May and the climate controls work perfectly. However, Sensei Dawn White offers a counterpoint, and with a bonus tip: “I also bring my own blanket. The dorm provided ones make me itch. And tissues — as there are none in the rooms and the toilet paper is down the hall in the bathroom.” My good friend Dawn is right: there’s nothing worse than having to blow one’s nose on an itchy dorm blanket.
Another tip – if you’re bringing a significant other as your roommate, you can slide both beds together to make an almost King-sized bed. The beds are each 36″ wide, so together they are 72″ wide, and King-sized bedding is 78″ wide — and works just fine with the beds connected.
Consider bringing your own bath towel
The water pressure and temperature in the Emory dorm showers is great. And the two bath towels you’ll be issued are the perfect size… for a college freshman girl… on a gymnastics scholarship. So I always make room in my checked baggage for a couple of full-sized Costco bath towels, washed with an extra shot of fabric softener. Of course, the standard dorm-issue small, thin, bleach-smelling towels might be just fine for you. But every time you use them to dry off over the weekend, you’ll have no choice but to conjure a vivid mental image of me… dripping wet and buck naked… drying myself off in slow-motion with a blanket-sized, fluffy, soft, orchid-scented towel… while the 1975 hit You Sexy Thing plays in your head. You’re welcome.
Think about a bath robe and slippers
Depending on which dorm you’re assigned, and which type of room you get, you may or may not have a connected bathroom, and you’ll have to walk down the hall to and from the showers. Though technically allowed, streaking is not encouraged at IATC, so you may want to bring a robe (and maybe some slippers) for the short walk to the bathroom (thx @ Sensei Dawn White for this tip).
Bring anti-inflammatory medication, pain relief items, and vitamins
Training camp is fun, but it’s physically demanding. Make sure you pack some Advil, Aleve, or other anti-inflammatory of your choice. You can find some for sale on campus, but it’s cheaper and more convenient to just bring it from home. Also, if you’re a vitamin or supplement fan like me, make sure to bring them for the weekend, I count them all my vitamins and glucoasmine tablets in advance, then throw them all in a large zip-lock baggie in my carry-on. Also, I find that unscented muscle rub and heating patches are generally a good thing to have on hand.
Manage your time change
If you’re travelling across time zones to get to IATC (and particularly if you’re coming from the West Coast like me), you’re going to want to plan ahead for jet lag. I like to fly in at least a day early and stay the night off-campus — especially if it’s a testing year for me. Also, the week before IATC, I start to wake up a bit earlier, and try to fall asleep a bit earlier, just so the early mornings aren’t so brutal. Waking up at 6:30AM in Atlanta is the same as waking up at 3:30AM in Seattle, so I try to wake up at 5:30AM in the week leading up to camp. I’ll use Ambien to zonk myself out at the Atlanta hotel at 10PM on Wednesday night, since that’s only 7PM back home. Then I’ll wake up and have breakfast at a “normal” time on Thursday, since eating on a local schedule always helps the body adjust to a new time zone.
Consider your footwear
Some attendees prefer to go barefoot on the hard wood floors of the gym, which is perfectly acceptable. Some wear tennis shoes, which is also fine. I prefer to wear my “monkey feet” (Vibram Five-Finger KSOs) which allow me to grip and feel the floor as if I was barefoot, while still protecting against blisters. If working out on a hard-wood floor for multiple days is something new for you, give your feet some thought. Also, be sure to bring a comfy pair of any sort of slip-on shoes for walking between the gym and the cafeteria. Slip-ons will save you time and get you to the cafeteria earlier, which translates to a shorter food line.
IATC 2013 is the first year that you’ll be able to access a mobile-optimized schedule and class list for all IATC sessions. Bookmark http://iatc.cuongnhu.com/ on your iPhone, iPad, Android, or other smart device to keep a schedule of everything that’s happening. You can also add classes directly to your calendar (if your device’s browser supports it). Try it out!
Take photos, tag, and share
With the explosion of social media, it’s easier than ever to share the IATC experience with lots of people. Cuong Nhu has a Twitter feed (@cnomaa), a Facebook group, a FourSquare location for the event, a Google+ page, and our own hashtag for the event: #iatc2013. Even if social media is new to you, download a free app, create an account, and jump on it. There’s WiFi all over campus, so post some photos on Instagram with the #iatc2013 tag. Make a Vine video. Tweet about your class. Post a photo it in our Facebook group, and tag away. This promises to be the most social media-friendly IATC ever, and you just may surprise yourself at how much fun that can be. For more details, check out the Guide to Cuong Nhu Social Media on the Komoku-ten Dojo website.
It’s generally warm in Atlanta in May, especially for those of us travelling from more Northern parts of the country. Drinking lots of fluids (especially water) is key. There are drinking fountains around the gym and across campus, but you’ll need your own water container (I recommend a 32oz BPA-free wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle). Be sure to put your name on it somehow (masking tape and marker works great). I’ll also pack a small bottle of Mio liquid flavoring to squirt in, which generally results in me drinking more water faster.
Lay off the soda
It’s extremely tempting at the cafeteria to take advantage of the “all you can drink” soda machines. And even though Coca-Cola is the official drink of Atlanta, do yourself a favor and stick to healthier options. The sugar, caffeine, and other chemicals in soda is actually working against what you’re trying to accomplish in a training environment.
Talk to strangers
One of my favorite parts of IATC is catching up with old friends I only get to see once a year. So at the cafeteria (where lots of socializing occurs), it’s natural to look for those friends when walking out with my tray to try and find a place to sit and eat. I also tend to see groups of people from the same dojo, who see each other all the time back home, sitting together at the cafeteria — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if only hang out with people you already know, you’ll miss out on meeting new friends, and if you’re an old-timer, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to make a new-comer feel welcome. Demonstrate the Cuong Nhu principle of Open Arms by inviting someone who is walking alone with their food tray to come sit down with you and your friends. Or do the opposite by walking up to a table of complete strangers and asking if you can join them. If they’re rude and say “no,” don’t worry — you know karate. Punch them in the face.
Try something different
It’s natural for people to gravitate toward things they know, or to which they have a natural affinity or ability. But force yourself out of your comfort zone with at least one class at IATC. Even if you have no rhythm whatsoever, maybe give Capoeira a try. Maybe you’ve never touched a Sai in your life, but Raphael is your favorite Ninja Turtle, so go learn the kata. Or maybe you’re scared to death of Master John Kay. Don’t be. He’s actually a nice guy when you really get to know him. No, seriously!
Get some video of katas you want to learn
It’s often helpful to have a video of someone performing a kata you’re trying to learn so you can review it back home. And at this annual event, you’ll meet some of the (literally) best in the world at performing some of these katas. Trying to learn Crane? Go introduce yourself to Sensei Karen Bradshaw and ask her if she’ll let you video her performing it. Track down Sensei Joe Varady or Master Bao and ask them to do Tiger for you. See if you can convince the normally camera-shy Master Thu to perform a Bo kata. Master Kirk will be glad to perform a Wing Chun for you, and Master John Burns can usually be talked (or bribed with Vegan food) into acting like a monkey for your recording pleasure. Keep in mind that the only “official” videos are the ones on the DVD or the Cuong Nhu website, but even non-official videos can be invaluable in gaining insights into a kata.
Here’s another helpful tip. Remember that the first move of the first Cuong Nhu kata involves a 90 degree turn. Do that same 90 degree turn to your smart phone when you use it as your recording device. The result will be a well-framed shot that can play nicely on a 16:9 TV or computer screen, rather than a tall skinny shot that is choppy because you had to move it around too much to follow the kata’s movements.
Don’t try to learn too many different katas
One of the great things about training camp is that there are so many different katas available to learn. And one of the bad things about training camp is that there are so many different katas available to learn. Listen to the sage wisdom of Sensei Kenric Lai: “After my first campout, I learned not to take every section with a kata. I think I took like four kata classes during my first campout. Guess how many I remembered??? ZEROOOOOO!” Kenric is right — and he’s no dummy. He tutors Biomedical Technology. He’s the Asian Lex Luthor (just as smart, same hair-do). If Kenric can’t remember four brand new katas from camp, you and I don’t stand a chance. Learn one… maybe two, and video tape them for later reference.
Bring some… duct tape?
Yep. Seriously. Even if it’s not a whole roll. It just might comes in handy. Say, for example, if a motion sensor light switch in your room can malfunctions, and turn on the lights in the middle of the night if it senses you rolling over in bed. You could cover it in duct tape to ensure a good night’s sleep. Think that couldn’t happen? Ask Master John Kay if he believes it could happen (spoiler alert: he knows it could happen).
Find someone from Sung Ming Shu and say “thanks”
They’re very humble about it, but I know that the host school for IATC 2013, Sung Ming Shu Dojo, spends massive hours getting things ready for this huge event. Look for their dojo patch on someone’s arm, introduce yourself, tell them “thank you,” and give them a hug. If they just stare back blankly like a zombie, that’s OK – they’re probably a bit sleep deprived from the long hours they’ve been putting in. Your gratitude will sink in, and they deserve it.
Got your own tips for getting the most out of IATC? Share them in the comments below! Hope to see you all at this year’s training camp!