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Sparring – your hands are weapons too!

KSW Quote Bruce Lee swim

We can’t see into the future, as Pocahontas says, we don’t know what awaits us just around the river bend. Sometimes a day can unexpectedly change into something completely unanticipated.

When I awoke on Friday morning I had no idea that by that Friday evening I would be attending my first sparring class! My Kuk Sool Won Master told me that he had gone to collect more sparring gear and had a set for me too!

Sparring class is the closest environment to being in a real altercation, without actually fighting. It has the specific purpose of allowing you to sharpen your skills and practice things like controlling distance, balance, timing, speed, agility and focus in addition to being a fantastic cardiovascular and muscle endurance training session.

Friday is usually the day that my kids go sparring. My son took to it a lot more readily than my daughter did who not surprisingly was a bit fearful. Nobody likes to intentionally put themselves in a situation where they could get hurt.The clincher for her though was when she discovered that she could get pink sparring gear. Anything pink in her book is a winner.

So contrary to the customary laid back Friday evenings that we usually have after a busy week –  I was off to class again.

My sparring gear was red. I wasn’t initially sure whether the red or black would be better. Red for power or black for wisdom – a combination of those would be great! After donning the gear I saw myself in the mirror – my first thought was of the Michelin man!

We were reminded that the objective was not to cause injury. Control and etiquette were prerequisites for this engagement. Points were scored by light contact in the designated zones on the chest guard, on the sides of the helmet and above the belt location.

Master Saidi suggested that we think of sparring class like creating a book. In the usual class we learn forms and techniques which are like letters and words. In a sparring situation we learn to put the letters together and make sentences with the words creating a coherent story and producing our own book. Forms and techniques are woven together to create a tapestry of skills that can be applied in any conflict situation.

After the first round I already resembled a very ripe tomato in a rain shower even if I hadn’t been wearing a red helmet! The Victorian phrase “Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow” came to mind but I felt much more like the horse!

Students were also told to watch their sparring partners’ eyes. They certainly are windows to the soul and give clues as to intent, focus and approach of your opponent.

We got a chance to switch partners and every interaction was different. The more advanced students offered suggestions and gave opportunities to help me understand what I needed to do without bringing all their superior skills to bear on the newbie. I was very grateful for that!

I am a conflict averse person by nature but the way I responded to sparring class surprised me – I thoroughly enjoyed it! I think I have the advantage of having had an older brother to interact with as a child, that as a teenager I au paired for a family with two little boys who loved duels and that I am raising my son who loves practicing his Kuk Sool Won techniques on me – it certainly boosts your confidence when squaring up to a stranger.

Martial arts weapons look so impressive but sparring class reminded me that your hands and legs are weapons too! Throwing punches and kicks strategically and getting out of the way fast was exhausting but exhilarating! It’s another interesting journey of self-discovery.

To be safe we lose the chance of ever knowing – what’s around the river bend” ~Pocahontas

My new red sparring gear

My new red sparring gear

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.

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.”

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