Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sparring in martial arts? Float like an Iron Butterfly

Young students in sparring gear at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California

Young students in sparring gear at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California

What’s your position? I can’t lock in” the words from a favorite childhood video game come to mind when I think about movement. Moving targets are hard to hit. During a sparring match constantly moving is to your advantage. When you stand still, you’re just a punching bag for your opponent.

Fridays are sparring days at our Kuk Sool Won martial arts school in Dublin, California. My kids attend an afternoon session and I go in the evening. Last Saturday my husband also took his first sparring class on a Saturday morning. Our house is filled with training paraphenalia, mats for falling, targets for kicking, a Wavemaster for punching and kicking and of course four sets of sparring gear.

Despite the fact that our sparring is light contact only the gear comes in very handy to protect against the occasional wayward punch or a kick that packs slightly too much power. Bruises are part of the process I’ve discovered. The ultimate goal though is to improve speed, tactics, techniques and fight sense. Sparring  draws all the self-defense elements together in a simulated threatening situation and teaches you to respond effectively to whatever comes your way.

Every student has a unique approach to sparring. Build plays a role as the taller students have increased reach with their long limbs while the shorter students can use speed to leverage opportunities as they appear. I was in the middle of my fifth round when Master Saidi stopped me to give some feedback.

You need to loosen up” he said “you are not aiming to take him down with each shot. Be lighter on your feet. You have the potential to be great at sparring but your body is too tense.” It was useful to get constructive input. Moving has always been my achilles heel. Both on the tennis and squash courts my husband used to tell me to move my feet and that was about twenty years ago so this message was not new.

What to do about it now was a different story though. I want to get better at sparring and now I know that in order to do so I have to undo a lifetime of thinking that I am too heavy to move faster or be lighter on my feet. Even as a skinny kid I used to drag my feet as though gravity has an extra pull on me. It’s time for a dramatic shift in thinking. Is it possible after so long? I have to believe it is.

Unlike Master Choon Ok Harmon, the Iron Butterfly who started practicing Kuk Sool Won when she was 14 years old and is now the highest ranking female Master, starting out in Kuk Sool in mid-life has different challenges.  Clearly she can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee! At least since my name means butterfly I have some connection to the concept but the floating is going to take concerted effort.

When training your body to do something it has never done before there are no shortcuts. It will take patience, practice and perseverance and fortunately those elements are also part of the philosophy of being a Kuk Sool Won practitioner.

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.

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When exercise isn’t exercise – discovering the thrill of Kuk Sool Won martial arts

Promotion Day, a highly anticipated event by every martial artist whose art has a belt ranking system. Our household was no exception given that there were four us who would be receiving new belts. On this occasion the dojang is decorated with balloons, ninja faces, trimmings and quotations to celebrate the anniversary of the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin school which was first established by Master Saidi in California 25 years ago. The kids were excited as they would receive their new belts in the morning promotion session and the adults in the afternoon. Another goal achieved.

Special Promotion Day celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the opening of the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin School in California by Master Saidi

Special Promotion Day celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the opening of the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin School in California by Master Saidi

I am not accustomed to setting sporting goals. It hasn’t been a been a part of my life as I never found a form of exercise that appealed to me in the way that Kuk Sool Won does. I enjoy swimming and cycling and even named my bike. I enjoy the fun and rhythm of a Zumba workout too. I guess it’s because with these types of exercise my focus is not on the activity itself but rather on peripheral factors. We are all unique and each of us is fueled by different drivers.

I love the buoyancy and look of water, the cool blue color of the ocean or a sun drenched swimming pool lift my spirits. When biking I enjoy the freedom, the beauty of the scenery, the feeling of the wind blowing on my face and the warm sun on my skin. With Zumba it’s the appeal of the music and the fun of shaking what my Momma gave me but in martial arts it is the actual exercise that I connect with.

My anxiety levels before a class are no longer as intense as when I first started 8 months ago but nervous anticipation has replaced it. I get to the school early so that I have some time to focus and breathe before class begins. Just doing warm-up is already a way to gauge my progress and challenge myself. My levels of flexibility have already improved significantly and I can now get my legs over my head while on my back without the fear that I associated with this posture in the past.

My husband often says that golf is 90% mental and 10% mental. My mental attitude towards doing some of the exercises needs to be re-examined with every bit of progress I make. I am completely rubbish at back falls still but the fact that I roll over backwards at all is a miracle to me!

 

Master Saidi and students with their new red belts

Master Saidi and students with their new red belts

The set up of the dojang excites me like the look of blue water, although that may have something to do with the blue springy floors!  Wavemasters are lined up along the mirrors, weapons on racks including bo staffs, knives, spears and even bows and arrows and of course my favorite – swords!

Once the training begins there are so many facets and variables it engages both my mind and my body. Eyes focused, mind clear, hands fast, stance low and kicks high are much easier said than done and you can always improve something – the permutations are endless. I notice my breathing and the ever increasing levels of perspiration. As Master Saidi says “this sweat is not like the kind you get in a sauna, it is hard earned and yields for more long lasting results.”

Picking up a bo staff is a pleasure in itself. The weight of it which seems to increase the longer I hold it. The excitement of twirling it above my head and visualizing myself in a martial arts movie. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of satisfaction of successfully navigating a sparring session dripping sweat like a leaking faucet.

Movement, meditation and mastery of body and mind – crucial elements that underpin any progress in Kuk Sool Won. I have new targets as a blue stripe belt holder that are already set by the comprehensive curriculum but I have personal goals too. To reach 80% flexibility by December in addition to being able to do more than 25 push-ups in one go and to be able to maintain a low stance for more than a minute. These may not seem like much but are quite an ask considering my baseline fitness levels.

These goals however are driving me forward. Everyone has to start somewhere. To me though it’s not like any other exercise I have done and the results are evidence of this fact. Before Kuk Sool I saw exercise as a chore, a necessary evil, now however the thought of the physical exertion is secondary to the thrill of discovering new avenues of growth. Exercise isn’t simply exercise when it connects with your soul.

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.

Martial arts Testing Day, Board Breaking Bliss! 

Happy Board Breakers with Master Saidi at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California

Happy Board Breakers with Master Saidi at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California

‘Twas the night before Testing and all through the house, there were kiais resounding that would scare a mouse!

We had returned from our refresher class that had replaced our regular sparring class on a Friday. I was hoping that a final review of my techniques before Testing would boost my confidence and ease my nervousness.

This might have worked if I actually managed to remember all my techniques though. I had the unusual privilege of working with my ten year old son and he was thrilled with the opportunity. He particularly enjoyed the techniques where I had to throw him.

We left the dojang for the short walk home carrying our bo staffs. We must have made a rather unusual sight.

Testing day arrived and the nervous energy had the kids awake early. It was  great to see how enthusiastic they are!  Watching them succeed just ramped up my anxiety levels though as my own Testing was only late afternoon.

Robin and I walked to the dojang and met some of our fellow students at the door.  The previous testing session was drawing to a close.

Our session began and we went through the series of kicks, punches, forms, techniques and body conditioning testing. Before our forms Master Saidi reminded us about the 5 critical elements:

1. Mind clear

2. Eyes focussed

3. Stance low

4. Hands fast

5. Kicks high and precise

Then came the moment of truth. Breaking a board with a spin kick. “You’ve got this!” encouraged my hubby, it was nice to have support on the sidelines. KSN Sahar also gave us a quick pep talk before the session and reminded us that martial arts women are strong since they have the courage to face their fears and rise to challenges. We have such great instructors!

It’s daunting enough to have to break your first board but then you’re still in the middle of the dojang by yourself and there’s an audience! No pressure.

“Take your time” said Master Saidi. I did. I could feel my sweaty palms and my fast heart rate and then I took some time to pause and breathe. The dojang faded out and so did everything else around me. It was just me and the board.

It was like doing a depth of field adjustment in Photoshop when I edit my pics. I was determined to break it on the first go, especially because I was told it really starts to hurt if you have try several times.

Spin. Kick. Bam it was broken.

Spin kick time

Spin kick time

I was overwhelmed with joy as I bowed to my board holder, JKN Rick and said “Kuk Sool!”

My response was however eclipsed by the bounding happy dance performed by my training buddy Vineela. Such unfettered delight was sheer pleasure to observe.

The euphoria was however not only about the thrill of breaking the board but of what it represented to us. It was about being scared but doing it anyway. It was knowing that this was a journey and facing the challenges it presented to us so that we could grow. It was about pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones and experiencing something new.

The three musketeers as we have now been named, Vineela, Ramya and myself congratulated each other heartily after the session. We could sense that this was just the beginning of our board breaking bliss.

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.

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