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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.


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.

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