Pronounced “Ling-juh-ping”, the undulating mixed woodlands not far from this town in southern Sweden is home to Lotus Nei Gong’s (LNG) recently launched residential martial arts centre. Set in rolling countryside and mixed woodlands outside the region’s largest town, Linköping, LNG’s new centre is the fruition of three years of development by Damo Mitchell and Roni Edlund. In July 2012 LNG’s residential centre opened its doors for business to its first paying students.
About the Centre
LNG’s objective at Linköping is to promote the Taoist arts in the kind of “temple” environment that is not easily found in the West. Usually, students looking for this kind of training travel to Asia. It is costly a costly venture in terms of greenbacks, time, and logistics. Modern lifestyles mean weekly evening classes and perhaps periodic weekend courses are the extent of availability to those who want to take their art beyond a recreational level.
LNG’s “regular” students, most of whom are UK based, come to LNG to develop martial arts, but also other arts like qigong and nei gong that are complementary to livelihoods including Shiatsu, Chinese medicine and other practices. LNG teaches well supported programs in qigong, martial arts programs including Taijiquan (Yang & Hunyuan), Baquazhuan, Xingyiquan, and Shaolin. Over the last few years weekly classes and weekend courses have grown, and with it individuals’ abilities.
According to Damo, even two-day or three-day courses that students have attended for as many as three and four years do not afford the time needed to get results that traditional “temple” teacher/student relationships could achieve. “We help our students get a lot from weekly classes in Somerset, Cardiff, and North Wales, and our weekend residential courses are always fully supported. It is frustrating that students can only really make so much progress, even though we are not short of students who have time and ability to devote to the arts. We have been running weekend courses in Britain for four (?) years, and we get great feedback about these. For others, and particularly for students travelling to our UK courses from continental Europe and North America, LNG has to think in terms of providing training for weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and for those on our 3 year martial arts foundation course, three-monthly programs”.
Damo continues: “In Britain we have so much trouble containing rising facility costs and it just gets increasingly difficult to absorb boarding costs within our pricing. It is something I feel strongly about. What we teach should not be exclusive. So, with this year’s launch in Linköping, students can get results they would be lucky to achieve over the space of a year, for not a lot more than it costs for two or three day courses in Britain. Nor is the facility restricted to students already on the books. Several students who came to Sweden this year have never been to an LNG course before. We are always glad to talk to anyone serious about their art.”
LNG’s centre took its first paying students between July and August in 2012. The centre sits in several acres of woodland and open field, headquartered at a refurbished lakeside cabin which facilitates a bunk room, store room/pantry, and also a lecture room/treatment room/shrine room. In a typical week, the centre trains students from age 18 through 25, young professionals, old professionals, or just outright veterans.
A weekly cohort of 12-14 students sleeps in same-sex yurts. The yurts are equipped with mattresses/quilts/pillows, and a toilet block and cold water shower block provide the minimum comfort that students would expect of a traditional “Wudang” martial arts regimen. Fresh produce is delivered daily to the centre for students to prepare. In an outdoor environment where calories are crucial to morale, students do not go short, and in addition to the centre’s daily staple supplies, students who stay for longer than a week can augment provisions during their two days’ rest and recreation in town. Linköping is a 7 mile bus ride away and students can wander as far afield as they like during their days off – provided they get back in time for class next morning.
In 2012, the Centre opened with a 15m x 5m indoor training hall and an outdoor martial arts conditioning area. Featuring traditional training aids like Baquazuan’s “9 heavenly posts” and an innovative Baqua training platform among other traditional training stations, students have access to punch bags, kicking bags, various weapons and Damo’s own contribution to martial arts training equipment – the “Taiji” log for push hands. According to Damo, the centre offers better training equipment than anyone with experience of China has likely found so far.
Training rotates through weekly cycles with two days’ “r&r”. The day starts at 6:00am, with about an hour of seated practice or meditation on one of two hilltops within 10 minutes of base. Breakfast finishes in time for ji ben gong (physical conditioning) to start by 9:00, and by 11:30 students are back at base in time to get the chopping boards and stoves ready for lunch. Training does not resume until mid-afternoon so that students can individually practice their progress, and by 3:00 students are in session for the next two hours working on individual forms.
In 2012, the centre provided training for students of Shaolin, Xingyiquan, Baquazhuan, Taijiquan (Yang and Hunyuan), Shaolin broadsword, Yang Jian, and even Qi Gong systems, particularly in support of LNG’s Qi Gong Certificate programs currently in progress in Britain and Sweden. By 5:00pm, students are left to deal with dinner, and by 7:30, training resumes for a further 2 hours to deal with martial applications in the centre’s covered training facility and on alternating nights, Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture, Tui Na, and Taoist philosophy.
With so many varied needs, ages and abilities, each student’s program is tailored within the daily timetable. For instance, mid morning ji ben gong (conditioning) sessions are tailored to match core skills to each student’s needs for his or her art. Empty hand Taijiquan students might work with standing postures or concepts like dan yuan for their morning’s ji ben gong, while sword students would work with weapon drills. Shaolin students might work with physical conditioning at the centre’s outdoor conditioning centre.
Form work, which follows in the afternoon, works the same way so that one group may work with Baqua, while another group works with Dao Yins, another with swords, and so on. Students work with chosen art throughout the week under supervision in this way. Perhaps this is where results (when compared to weekly classes) are most easily seen. Although Damo allocates time between a variety of abilities and arts, limiting students to about a dozen a week means nobody is left standing for lack of something to do and the results are surprising: a couple of weeks training this way gives students a real chance of assimilating demanding forms that they would be hard pressed to absorb during a year of weekly one or two hourly classes.
Many students who come to LNG’s centre work with an elective program. That is, they choose the art they want to develop, and conditioning and training for that tradition follows over the duration of their stay. This could be one week, two, three, or four weeks, and for those who have the luxury of time, up to 3 months.
Another group within the cohort trains under LNG’s three year Martial Arts Program. This program is for students who choose to dedicate their lifestyle to a three year regime which includes a comprehensive conditioning program and foundation in Shaolin, Baquazhuan, and Taijiquan. The program requires a commitment to three months of residency at the centre each summer for three years, in addition to regular annual training. For those students within this group, training is dictated at LNG’s discretion, and these students assume additional responsibilities for the daily upkeep of the centre and its facilities in keeping with a “temple” training regimen.
In 2012, 20 students “got their t-shirt” at the centre’s 4 week season. Most students travelled from Britain, but even in the first year LNG hosted visitors from Sweden, Austria, France, Germany, and the United States (I’m a US passport holder!) Some students flew via Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport: scheduled trains run from Stockholm to Linköping. A second airport near Stockholm – Skavsta Airport at Nyköping – connects to Linkoping by Flygbussarna’s Airport Coach services (about a 2 hour ride). In 2012 some students found flights direct to Linköping.
As this article goes to print Sweden’s harsh winter is already well under way. July and August’s endless days in the land of the midnight sun are gone and what remains are the moose and wild boar that roam winter’s woodland. LNG’s training equipment has been stored and the world moves on. LNG has since been to Thailand where plans are in place for a centre to open in 2014. LNG has finished its first series of events in the United States following the success of Damo’s first book – Nei Gong, The process of change. In addition to a full schedule of 2013 events in the UK, LNG commences a two and a half year Qi Gong Certificate program in Gothenburg in January. Plans for summer 2013 and beyond at Linköping are well advanced. The covers come off and the training equipment comes out of storage in May when summer returns to Sweden, and the centre will operate between June and August, this time with extended facilities.
In conclusion, one might ask, “to what end?” Why do we do this? According to Damo, whether physical, martial or spiritual, The Taoist arts are a tool for the human process of change, a tool for cultivation of self.
It takes about twenty minutes for the bus to reach the bus station near Linköping’s town centre, perhaps about the time it takes for you to read this article. In 2013, word is that the training schedule is going to be modified to give students a mid week day off, making it easier for students to get back and forth to town. There is an excellent swimming pool and sauna in town. Anyone with a sweet tooth could get lost with the cake stands at Linköping’s coffee shops, but some of the greatest pleasures in life are sometimes the simplest. It is never hard to find a strawberry stand come summertime, and the strawberries are perhaps Sweden’s greatest secret.