Having spend the previous day and night at Badgells Wood I then set off further into the Kent Downs to meet up with instructor Hannah Nicholls who I'd met for the very first time at this years May Day Meet. The directions have a post code that doesn't quite reach the wood but only by a very small, almost negligent distance and there is a rather striking banner at the entrance anyway. It did occur to me that I was going to spend the day slightly closer to France than my home.
I was going to be doing the day with Katy and as I was there just ahead of time I helped Hannah get some wood for the fire and had a chat with her. I explained that I'd seen her featured in some early Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazines and as well as attending the day I explained that I was looking forward to spending a day with someone who has forged a path for so long as a female instructor in a male heavy industry.
The original day was scheduled some months ago but for one reason or another it didn't happen but Hannah was kind enough to re-schedule it, the day had finally arrived, and we were blessed with a gorgeous Autumnal day.
When Katy arrived a short while later Hannah started explaining her bushcraft journey which was heavily influenced by some extensive training with Tom Brown Jnr who was taught by 'Grandfather', an Apache elder from a a very early age. I reckon she could have regaled us with stories up about her experiences to dinner time if I'd asked but she went on to some skills she was taught by him for moving silently Apache style.
We did a fingers in ears walk at a variable pace around the periphery of the camp fire and then reported back on our experience, she then showed us how the Apaches would place their feet and re-did the exercise and it's a million miles away from our modern day stompy technique. Katy had a bit of a knee issue and interestingly, as the day wore on, she said that the different technique actually gave her relief. We did the second part barefooted and I decided to remain so for the duration of the day. The picture top right is a peripheral vision exercise.
After each exercise we stopped and discussed what we had found with the left hand side picture being after a sit spot. Energy is a big part of Tom Brown's training and philosophy and it's no surprise to see us investigating it on this day with the picture above right looking at individual energy. Hannah also touched on how the brain functions in different ways and that we function with Beta waves in our normal hectic lives, and should be aiming to use Alpha waves during this day.
Arguably this was the most amazing part of the course for me. Hannah asked me to stand behind her, put my arms around her waste and lift her up off the ground. She's only a little slip of a thing so it wasn't hard. She then utilised the abdominal energy field that we all have and I tried again and my goodness she weighed a tonne, or maybe even a ton, and I only got an inch of clearance. That was a real eye opener.
And onto another exercise that I'd no previous experience of. We were robbed of sight and then led off a short distance from the starting point.
I was 'presented' to my tree and then given a few minutes to get to know it's smell, feel, size and energy. It was actually useful being barefooted because it had prominent roots to feel with my toes and soles. I was then led away along a slightly different route.
Now I'd correctly identified the tree as a Spruce by touching it so I'd allowed my Beta brain to kick in and dictate the direction once I had removed my blindfold to find my tree. I headed over to to a small stand of them and when I reached out to one it didn't feel right and Hannah pulled me back to the starting spot and when I was reunited with my tree I knew from just laying hands on the trunk at shoulder height that it was the one. We both got got our trees.
And onto another energy session, this time plant energy. Hannah explained that we were going to be sat comfortably with our eyes closed and have a leaf placed in our hand. As the afternoon had a chill creeping in I decided to move a little closer to the fire and that alone was magical with eyes closed as the ground was warm to my bare feet and the occasional wave of heat wafted into your face. She curled my fingers over but we weren't allowed to grip the leaf, just cup it. I was mindful of this because I felt that there was a real chance I could skew the exercise by identifying the variety of tree or plant like with the Spruce.
Hannah talked in a soft voice to us asking us to think if it was a tree or a plant, it's growing habits, does it have any utility uses, or bare fruits, nuts or berries, can it be used medicinally and so on. Again we discussed our findings and Katy got quite a lot from her small Burdock leaf. I didn't get as much but felt that I had a tree and thought my hand felt warmer when Hannah mentioned uses and edibles...I had an Ash leaf which gives us good firewood and keys that can be pickled. You may say that perhaps I mistook the swirling heat of the fire, not so as I noted that on both occasions my other hand felt no heat either simultaneously or just before or after.
I had my tripod mounted camera on time lapse mode to capture a few images to give a pictorial flavour to the words on here and this often mean that the subject matter is to one side or a little distance. I have heavily cropped the above picture because it captured the exact moment that Hannah told us about a guy who did this who almost though fate got an Oak leaf and, well our gasps in the picture tell a thousand words. We finished off doing a blindfolded drum stalk but sadly my camera ran out of juice as we started it.
Throughout my current sabbatical I've often tried to do things that whilst I might be familiar with the subject have been a little out of my comfort zone (this Will Lord and this Dave Watson day being good examples). Most of this day really was, by and large, new to me and I think both Katy and I came into the day with an open (if Beta) mind. I came away really enthused by this experience and if you have read this blog and think it's mumbo jumbo then come and try it as a cynic with an open mind and you may even get more out of the day than I did.