Monthly Archives: February 2015

Thought for Social Media Week: Kuk Sool Won is not Karate

Master Seyd Saidi, Kuk Sool Won of Dublin

Master Seyd Saidi, Kuk Sool Won of Dublin

Today marks the start of Social Media Week and seven cities across four continents are participating. I even know the lovely Joyce Sullivan who will be speaking at the New York City conference today. When I considered the buzz of activity around this glamorous and noteworthy event I could recognize most of the brand names in Social Media that were represented but what struck me on the news page sharing options was that only four were selected – Twitter, Facebook , LinkedIn and Google+. Oh to be in that top 4!

This led me to think about my new martial arts passion –  Kuk Sool Won. Why? Because on almost every occassion that I have mentioned to someone that I do martial arts they have asked me which one and when I respond I usually have to repeat it or expand on it.

I have often been asked “So when is your karate class?” Karate is one of those brand names that has become synonmous with a particular product, in this case martial arts. It doesn’t seem to matter to most people whether you are Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Cynthia Rothrock or Michelle Yeoh as I have heard their movies still commonly being referred to as karate films.

There are a number of brands that fall into this category like Kleenex, Popsicle and Zamboni and if you like you can take a look at 41 Brand Names that People use as Generic terms  you might be surprised at what you see.

I am an instinctive marketer. I talk about things and people that have had an impact on me. I share things I care about.

Kuk Sool Won is a traditional Korean martial system that has a remarkable history. I was introduced to it when my husband signed my children up for classes with Master Seyd Saidi. As a martial arts system, Kuk Sool Won seeks to integrate and explore the entire spectrum of established Asian fighting arts and body conditioning techniques and also includes mental development and traditional weapons training.

After watching my kids thriving and becoming increasingly enthusiastic about practicing this martial art I was so intrigued that I had to try it out too.

I am a martial arts fan but I don’t do Karate – I do Kuk Sool Won!


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Association.

Pay attention 007: Situational Awareness and martial arts

KSW Quote Q 007

Situational awareness is a useful skill and it requires paying careful attention to your surroundings. Since we were Bond movie fans as kids my brother often used to tell me to “Pay attention 007” and I even use it on my kids now too.

In the Bond movies Q (the Quartermaster) famously says to James Bond “Now pay attention 007” and then in one exchange says   “I’ve always tried to teach you two things: First, never let them see you bleed;” Bond responds: “And second?” and Q says: “Always have an escape plan”.

It’s remarkable how scenes and lines from movies spring to mind in various situations. I happened to be parking my car on the way to the dojang and my Kuk Sool Won Master walked across the tarmac and picked up a nail and said to me “Why don’t other motorists notice these things? I often have to pick them up.” He then proceeded to scan the area for anything else potentially dangerous and found some other nasties too. It was a small moment but a lesson nonetheless. Especially as I didn’t notice it when I parked my car.

Must be a martial arts awareness thing I said – just like Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity. I had recently read a mixed martial arts thread discussing How to Develop the Situational Awareness of Jason Bourne and that’s probably why it came to mind then. I am usually so involved in my lists that I don’t pay attention to much else happening around me unless I have my camera in hand.

My camera increases my mindfulness since it focuses my attention. When I walk or even drive somewhere I often remember the locations of a particular flower or tree in bloom. It seems to me that martial arts training does the same. Intention gives focus which in turn makes one more mindful.

There is a Korean term called “Jung Shin” that means focusing your mind and heart 100% on the moment. It’s not always easy to do. When we are involved in sword play or practicing techniques there are a number of bodies in motion simultaneously and sometimes in an attempt to get out of the way I inadvertently move into the path of another student.

The busyness of life and our emphasis on the next task does not usually allow this attention to permeate our days.

I would love to be able to do what Jason Bourne did. To be so aware that as you move your mind automatically registers the detail. Perhaps technological advances will allow us to have the scanning abilities of the Terminator at some point so we can speed read and analyse our surroundings. I know that it can be learnt to a certain extent because when I have my camera I scan for interesting details all the time. It’s also clear that when you are a martial arts expert like Master Saidi then situational awareness is part of the package.

The more attention you pay the better your situational awareness will be. It seems as with most other types of learning, the more you practice, the better you become.



Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Association.

Practice, patience and patches

The Grand Master and founder of Kuk Sool Won, In Hyuk Suh,  has a saying that has become ingrained in mind “With patience and perseverance all things are possible.” His other well known saying is “We need more practice!” and I know for sure that it applies to me.

Grand Master In Hyuk Suh and Master Saidi

Grand Master In Hyuk Suh and Master Saidi

February 16 was President’s Day so there was no class. My training buddy sent me a text to confirm that the school was closed. I expect she was feeling the withdrawal symptoms too.

We had such a great training session last week and we were both starting to feel a bit more confident about our forms. Master Saidi had given us some extra pointers and demonstrated how the form movements pertain to a conflict situation so that we visualise the applications.

We repeated our forms side by side and it felt really awesome to see the flow of movements conducted in unison.

We had also had some falling practice with one of the higher ranked belts, a blue stripe, which made the techniques look a lot more impressive. It’s amazing how being observed adds a layer of pressure and thankfully we got through ok. Patience is certainly a necessary virtue when learning martial arts.

I couldn’t recall when last I had to try and roll. In my experience it’s not a movement that the average adult gets to do very often. Master Saidi made it look so easy “Just roll on your shoulder not your head!” Fear gripped me again. My inner ear issues made me susceptible to vertigo and I wanted to be sure that I could get back up again after rolling. “Perhaps you should practice at home” I was jokingly told. Well it was now or never I figured – one of those situations again where you feel the fear but do it anyway – so I did!

Now that we would be going to tournament we also needed to get patches for our doboks. The patches certainly add a touch of flare to the already intimidating  black uniform. I am rather excited about getting mine – it will feel like an outward sign connecting me to the ancient traditions of this martial arts system.

Kuk Sool Won Uniform (dobok)

Kuk Sool Won Uniform (dobok)

Wikipedia had the following interesting points about the uniform:

“The uniform material is stronger than a standard Tae Kwon Do uniform, but lighter than a Judo uniform, as it must allow the user to perform the complete spectrum of martial arts techniques. Kuk Sool Won uniforms are black as opposed to white, mainly to differentiate them from other martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do which focus more on sport aspects and have adopted white as the primary color of their uniforms. However, an alternate reason could be that according to Korean tradition, the color black is associated with wisdom.”

Tournament is approaching and we have special training sessions to help us iron out all the errors and increase our confidence. I am planning to attend every single one of them! I need more practice!


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Association.

Tournament training: small moments matter

Quote small moments

Raindrops were falling on my black dobok as I walked to the dojang for my first tournament training class. As it fell harder I thought that perhaps I should hurry it up a bit so as not to be soaked by the time I got to class.

While waiting to cross a busy intersection though I noticed drivers looking at me standing in the rain in my black uniform and white belt and felt compelled to stand tall and pretend that the rain was not bothering me at all. You can’t let the art down by not showing good character in an awesome uniform!

I reached the training hall a bit soggy but with my pride intact. Class began and Master Saidi lectured us on the importance of tournament as a developmental opportunity.

Needing a training partner

“Tournament is a chance for you to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself” he said then continued “if I give 100% then I expect you to do the same. I want to see your lowest stances and hear your loudest kiai, now is not the time to be shy. Growth happens when you are out of your comfort zone.”

The Pacific Coast Kuk Sool Won Tournament is several weeks away in Folsom.

My training partner had been to an earlier training session with her daughter so I needed someone different to practice with today.

Forms and techniques

We were given the names and numbers of the forms and techniques we would be doing. We were also taught how to introduce ourselves to the judges. Etiquette is a very central element in Kuk Sool Won.

We had some time to practice our forms and then moved on to techniques where we had to face our partners. Only thing was I had no partner so I stood quietly while everyone else paired up waiting for my next instruction.

Another student who did not have a partner, a red belt, caught my eye and asked me to join him. Usually we are partnered with students of our own rank.

We were told which techniques to practice and one of them I had just learned and the other was new. I would be doing Ki Cho Hyung 1,2 ,3 and Ki Bohn Soo 1, 2 and 5.  We started practicing and then it was clear for me to see how effectively the joint locking techniques work. How cool is this I thought!

A different perspective

The various groups were asked to perform their techniques and watching the energy displayed by the more advanced students was awesome! It was like being in a live martial arts movie!

Oh to be able to fall like that! I would need lots more practice!

Small moments

I collected my shoes and was about to leave when another black belt Rick said hello while taking his sword out of its scabbard. I had to smile. It was the perfect reminder as to why I was putting myself through this extended learning process. My unfulfilled goal of learning a complete sword form and finding my green destiny.

Small moments matter – especially when they remind you of big dreams!


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Won Association.

Shooting a martial artist: The point of view paradox

Master Seyd Saidi from Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

Master Seyd Saidi from Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

The scene in the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the lost Ark where an assassin  is wielding a very deadly looking scimitar and dramatically displays his prowess with it only to promptly be shot by Indy is a memorable one. This post however is not about that kind of shooting – it’s about portrait photography.

I am passionate about floral photography and it’s a subject that fuels my creativity but I find photographing people stressful and nerve wracking. Flowers tend not to object if they don’t look perfect in a shot.

My friend Sharon Cohen is a professional portrait photographer and although I’ve seen the striking images she produces I had not seen her in action at a shoot before. I had engaged her services to capture images of my martial arts instructor, Master Seyd Saidi, for a journalistic piece.

Master Saidi is one of nineteen 6th Dahn Kuk Sool Won Masters in the world and has a remarkable life story. He is passionate about teaching martial arts and has done so for over 25 years. He continues to inspire young martial artists and has a flourishing Kuk Sool Won school based in the Bay Area of California.

We arrived at the dojang and I helped Sharon to unload her equipment. It took several trips to do so. The lighting was going to be critical. The training hall has vaulted ceilings with fluorescent lights and since the training area is surrounded by mirrors all sorts of crazy light bounces happen.

Sharon took some preparation shots to test the lighting and asked me to pose in front of the backdrop. I was not comfortable on the other side of the lens but I had great fun playing with the swords.

Vanessa Thomas, student at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

Vanessa Thomas, student at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

There was plenty of activity both by the subject and the photographer. Stances were changed, kick height and position were altered while Nikon lenses were swapped and lighting altered and backdrops re-positioned. I had both sword envy and lens envy!

Once the shoot was in progress some interesting dialogue occurred that reminded me of Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 habits of Highly Effective People” and the Point of View Paradox with  the young and old woman.  The example demonstrates how a conditioned mind affects how we perceive things and that two people can look at exactly the same image and see completely different things.

Sharon was concerned about capturing his face, eyes and expression sharply with the best lighting and minimal shadows while Master Saidi’s concern was ensuring that the stances, hand and foot positions and angles of the weapons were technically correct. Thank goodness for modern camera technology and previews. They could discuss the captures and decide when a retake was necessary. However since both are highly skilled professionals there were actually very few retakes.

This process was a valuable prompt. Since being made aware that my own conditioning also affects my perceptions I do still wonder whether I consciously recognise it often enough when dealing with others. Do you?


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Won Association.

Age is a number, action is a choice

Quote age is a number

I’m too old for this …  is the Lethal Weapon movie quote I could relate to both before and after my 6th Kuk Sool Won class because it was also the day that for the second time in my life I had to take a behind the wheel driving test.

How much anxiety can you fit into one afternoon? Plenty it would seem.

Testing and accomplishment

Moving to America meant that my United Kingdom driving licence would only be valid for a limited period before I was required to take the local driving tests both written and practical. I postponed it for as long as I could as the thought of doing a behind the wheel test after more than 20 years of driving filled me with dread, especially because it would be on the other side of the road.

The anxiety of the pending assessment transported me to the day that I first took the K53 test in South Africa as a teenager. Surely being 40 something should grant me some more composure than then – but it didn’t.

However if I wanted to drive I had no choice but to do it. And 20 years later I felt the same thrill of accomplishment as when I first took the test.

Kuk Sool Won Class 6

I had a few hours to let my adrenalin levels drop before my anxiety started peaking again in anticipation of the martial arts class.

The grimaces of pain on the mature brown belt’s face leading warm up were echoed by mine. The natural flexibility of our bodies had been eroded by time. Next to me what looked like a ten year old did the full splits with remarkable ease. It hurt just to look at him.

Beads of sweat were clearly evident on my flushed cheeks. Kicking and punching the air is rather heavy work.

Then came form practice and techniques. Following the stresses of the day my mind drew a blank on which hand grabbed and which foot stepped. Ten push-ups for you thanks very much!

Even my favourite sword play couldn’t revive me. I was spent.

Accepting the challenge

Then just before departure the white belts were encouraged to sign up for tournament. The idea was that it would challenge and motivate us.

Completing the forms made it obvious that I was the oldest white belt by far. There wasn’t a box to check after my age category!

So yes I did it anyway. Age is just a number, action is a choice.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Won Association.

Just a white belt? You need to begin to unleash the awesome!

Quote start great

My fifth Kuk Sool Won lesson and my anxiety levels still peak before class. Punctuality is something our instructors and I take seriously so I am always at the dojang at least 10min before the lesson begins.

My eyes are drawn to the brown belts in training. Eyes focused, mind clear, hands fast and stance low – that’s what Master Saidi calls their attention to. Such control and flexibility is wonderful to observe.

White belts unite

Time for my class to begin and I find my spot on the mat. Beside me a tiny and completely adorable toddler takes his place to begin his second class. We are separated in age by about forty years but in the dojang we are the same. White belts – the lowest rank.

I meet another mature white belt student who has just returned from an extended overseas trip. She is delightful and just as anxious as I am because her long absence requires her to refresh some of the skills she has already been taught.

We plough through techniques and forms together. It’s great fun and we have a sense of accomplishment completing the introductory stances and moves in unison.

A lesson about beginning

One of my favourite stories as a child was Alice in Wonderland and her conversation with the Mock Turtle about lessons came to mind:

‘And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.’

I am glad that these kind of lessons don’t apply in Kuk Sool Won class. I need all the teaching and practice I can get!

I am mindful of my self-talk. Don’t think because you’re brave enough to start that it’s going to be easy. Don’t think that overcoming your lizard brain means that there will not be further obstacles or naysayers or moments of self doubt.

This might not work but I’m doing it anyway. “We don’t have to be great to start but we have to start to be great.” to quote Zig Ziglar. We all have something awesome inside of us to share but if we don’t start then nobody will ever know. You need to begin to unleash the awesome!

The next goal

We stop our practice to observe the brown belts. Even with their advanced skills the Master still corrects certain postures and hand positions. They are still learning too. In martial arts there is no finish line – only the route to the next goal.

I find this comforting. As much as we learn there is always more to know. Master Saidi tells us there will be tournament practice and that he expects the white belts to go to tournament too. This is a bit of a surprise as it’s less than 2 months away! A new learning goal is set.

We get to bow out at the end of class and we stand on the tape in rank order – white belts last of course. My spirits have buoyed. Even the longest journeys begin with a single step.

Have you taken your step?

Kids Kicking it Kung Fu style from Uganda to Kuk Sool Won style in America

Master Saidi martial arts quote

“Everybody in Uganda is Kung Fu fighting” – this article by Elizabeth McSheffrey caught my attention. It’s seldom that we hear the good news stories from Africa on this side of the ocean but this one made it.

The local film industry, also known as “Ugawood,” has been steadily growing thanks to new infrastructure and resources and has spawned a new fascination with martial arts. Seeing the images of these children finding new hope through a martial art is rather inspirational as well as hearing their stories of commitment to improve themselves.

Across the ocean in North America, with children who are far more affluent, martial arts is equally inspiring and motivational.

Martial Arts and Parenting

Modern parenting comes with the expectation that we adequately prepare our offspring for all the challenges that their futures hold. It’s a lofty goal and somewhat unreasonable. We can however provide them with some fundamental approaches to life that will help them to face any eventuality.

Ensuring that their self esteem is well honed while teaching them to set goals, maintain discipline and have a ‘can-do’ attitude can have a significant impact on what that child accomplishes in later life. In Kuk Sool Won, at the end of every training session, the Master asks “What is martial arts?” The response comes loudly “To develop and maintain positive, disciplined attitude Sir!”

I see the positive results in my children who have been learning this traditional Korean martial arts system for a year now. My somewhat shy and very loving son has connected with something he excels at when schoolwork is often a battle for him. Education can happen outside of the classroom too. He has matured enough to now lead warm-up at martial arts so it has done wonders for his self-esteem.

Positive female role models

My spirited daughter has been inspired by the powerful female role models she has encountered. There are two female Kuk Sool Won black belts we respectfully call Ma’m but since they are still confidently and unapologetically feminine she has a different view of ‘pink, pretty and powerless’ being the only options for girls. She has encountered real life girl power and thoroughly enjoys going to sparring class in her pink sparring gear.

Meanwhile another young girl Rachel Nattembo rushes to her Kung Fu class in Uganda. Racheal also leads her peers through a kung fu routine in the school yard of Nateete Mixed Academy in Wakaliga, Kampala. This young martial artist played “Liz” in “This Crazy World,” a 2014 action flick by Ramon Film Productions.

Interestingly Elizabeth writes that according to the Uganda Taekwondo Federation, South Korea was the first country to introduce Asian martial arts in Uganda in the 1960s when an instructor was invited to teach inmates at the Uganda Prisons Headquarters in Luzira. She quotes Isaac Nabwana, founder of Ramon Film Production in Wakaliga, Uganda who says Martial arts are rising and everyone now is trying to do what I’m doing because they see I’m doing something that is unique and is loved.

One Martial Arts Family

Such contrasting settings, so many inequalities but as Bruce Lee said, “under the sky, under the heavens there is but one family..”.

Martial arts is a uniting force and as Master Saidi says “You can’t prepare yourself for martial arts but martial arts can prepare you for many things.”

Connection. What is your intention?

Good teachers Quote

Connection and integration of the upper body was the theme during Tai Chi class yesterday.

Our Tai Chi teacher, Tim Gnazale, often uses very descriptive metaphors to drive his points home. The notable one for this lesson was the garbage compactor model, compressing the trash in a downward motion. Grinding down to connect with our ground paths was our aim.  In Tai Chi  the Ground Path is the concept of having properly aligned internal structural integrity from every external part of the body connected through the body down into the ground.

Sensing your state

Being aware of our upper bodies and sensing the state our various anatomical regions were in was a revelation. I became aware of how rigid and tense my shoulders were and had to focus on releasing some tension.

We got to apply the principle by trying to lift a student while they held their arms locked at the sides. Surprisingly not one of us was toppled. I wasn’t so sure that I had connected properly though so was prompted to ask my first question.

Asking questions

I had watched a Kung Fu training video about driving versus pushing energy that was rather cool and I imagined if I was driving myself downward that I would feel the connection more tangibly, which I didn’t.

So I asked the question about how I can tell if I was really connecting or just pushing down and thinking I was connected. The response was that if I was asking that question then I wasn’t connecting…

Blimey but my ego didn’t respond well to that observation! Sometimes the truth is hard to hear. Sometimes the feedback pushes you to grow even if it’s difficult to accept especially because you know it’s true.

So if it’s not working then I will need to return to the basic model as instructed. Good teachers don’t always tell you what you want to hear but point you in directions that show you how to grow.

Cars, social media and intentions

Another analogy in this lesson was constructing and using a car. Once you have all the components of the car, and they are working optimally together then what are you going to do with it? Drive up a mountain, cruise down the highway?

This analogy was used to show that once connection and integration is achieved then intention is required to leverage it.

Interestingly the car analogy had come up in an entirely different conversation I had the day before with Joyce Sullivan when we were talking about Social Media strategy management. She explained that once you’ve purchased a new car you want to prolong its lifespan through regular maintenance just like your strategy.

The connection economy is ubiquitous and the principles can be applied to both Social Media and Tai Chi – who would have thought!

The lesson then is knowing your intention in order to focus what you are going to do with the connection once you find it.

What is your intention?

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