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5 things I learned when earning a Brown Belt in Kuk Sool Won martial arts

Is there something you always wanted to do but thought there was too much water under the bridge to take a chance? Of all the things I expected to do in my mid forties, earning a martial arts brown belt was a bit of a surprise.

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Photo: Master Saidi congratulating me on receiving my brown belt on Promotion Day at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California Photo Credit: Swathi Ravi

The journey to brown belt has been enlightening and the top 5 things I learnt are:

1. Listen to the Yeasayers and Not the Naysayers

Not everyone will be supportive or happy for you. Some will be indifferent and some will even be mocking and condescending. Naysayers helped me to focus on the reasons I chose to do martial arts and to pay more attention to those who were being supportive and encouraging. Seth Godin defines the Yeasayer as being the opposite of a Naysayer. Find your camp of Yeasayers and let them encourage you to reach your goals.

2. When the student is ready the teacher will appear

Instructors are crucial in getting you where you want to go. A credible instructor with a great track record who fosters an environment that motivates you is critical. My family and I are fortunate enough to have a remarkable instructor in Master Saidi who knows how to teach each one of us to reach our full potential. Find an instructor that matches your learning style.

3. Pain is part of the process

Fear of injury was a huge concern for me when starting out. In class one of the mature adult students often jokes about the ‘mileage” we have to take into consideration in our training. Warming up is important as well as pacing yourself in the challenges that are encountered. However carefully I approached the activities though – I still got hurt. I sprained a toe on a training mat, hurt my back over stretching in warm-up and have regular bruises after sparring class. I came to realize that when practicing martial arts, pain is part of the process no matter how cautious you are. I often think of my friends battling cancer and consider myself to be fortunate to have a healthy body that I can push to its limits. My body can heal and conditioning makes you stronger. Experiencing pain is also where many lessons are learned.

4. Teamwork makes the dream work

Although practicing martial arts is a personal journey and a lot of the training is done by yourself, team support is a huge benefit. Training partners give feedback that is invaluable. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a dojang family to raise a martial artist. Different training partners teach you various aspects of what needs to be learned. I am fortunate that my husband (blogger at Remarkable Runs) practices the same art and is also a fitness fundi so is able to give me great advice and support during my training. The journey to black belt is better with a team helping you reach your goals.

5. Time passes whether you make it count or not

The clock doesn’t wait for you is what I remind my children whenever they are taking too long to get ready. I have often wished I started out training when I was much younger and still had more pliable and malleable muscles. There are some people who have inspired me though who defied their ages and still achieved their goals. Often people will tell me that they would really like to try out a martial arts class but they will wait for various reasons like: till they have more time or had another child or found a job closer to the dojang. Time is passing anyway and its up to you to make it count.

My martial arts journey continues as I have ambitions of earning a black belt. If all goes according to plan that should take another 3 years of training. Three years will pass anyway – what will you do with yours?

 

 

 

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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.

One mind focused…nothing impossible! Kuk Sool Won wins!

KSW Quote One mind focused

It’s strange to think how much time we spend going to and from the dojang. Kuk Sool Won has really become such an integral part of our lives and both my kids and I are loving it! Reminds me of an image I saw recently – Eat, sleep, Kuk Sool Won, repeat!

Our classes alternate so effectively we are at the dojang 6 days a week due to the extra tournament training classes. I jokingly said that we might as well put up a tent outside!

Other unusual behaviours have also permeated our daily lives. In the morning my daughter greets me with a “parro” cuddle. “Parro” in Korean means to return to the original position.

My son and I pass each other and he tries techniques on me while practicing to kiai.

As I walk through the house I aim at the height of the light switches when practicing my kicks.

Since Kuk Sool Won is a Korean martial arts system, the Korean words we hear in class have become part of our daily dialogue. Clearly Kuk Sool Won wins at ours!

I wondered about this profound influence and realized that at the heart of it is a passionate teacher and a martial arts school that has a nurturing and family friendly atmosphere.

Master Saidi clearly loves what he does and connects with his students in a way that helps them reach their full potential. It’s wonderful to have found a martial arts teacher who is humble and caring while also being able to drive his students to be the best they can be.

He also has a knack of saying rather profound things while he teaches so is an excellent source of writing fodder!

Thousands of students have been through his school over the past 25 years and each one has been changed in the process. Many things can influence the decision to start martial arts training but choosing the correct teacher is the most critical element.

In my personal journey I have not always been positive about my aging body and have often been rather unkind to it. I have never been good at sports. I never thought that I would be capable of doing this martial art until “Sir” as we respectfully call him, convinced me otherwise.

On Wednesday I was tested along with my training buddy Vineela and another charming young woman and we got promoted to the next belt! I now have a yellow stripe on my white belt! My first sporting achievement at 44 years old!

Several people, including Mums on the school run have stopped me to ask what I am doing to look so good. But it’s not only the external that has been transformed – internally I feel like I have rekindled the flames of ambition that peaked in my youth.

Was it mere coincidence or serendipity that my martial arts journey began in the same week of the Seth Godin, Your Turn Challenge? I think not – it seems more like divine intervention. I got connected to a dynamic group of change makers at the same time that my eyes were reopened to the joy of making a difference and the inspirational value of being part of something bigger than myself.

“What are we doing today Brain? The same thing we do every day Pinky – try to take over the world!” That used to be my mantra while at university. Today I feel more driven than ever to bring out the best in people and encourage them to pursue their goals.

I spoke to a Mum outside the dojang while waiting for my son to finish training. She asked me about the class – it was not the first time she did. Tonight she is taking her first step to reach her goals – she is joining me in class!

Saturday I received a t-shirt from Master Saidi that has the inscription – “One mind focused…nothing impossible! ” Says it all really.

Passion breeds perseverance and drives us to fulfill our dreams.

At the dojang with Master  Saidi after testing and promotion

At the dojang with Master Saidi after testing and promotion

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.

Jump front kick – believe you can!

Yoda Quote

It seems perverse to my non-athletic brain to put jumping and kicking into the same move. However after trying it for the first time, I think I’ve found my new favourite kick!

It was my third Kuk Sool Won class. It starts at 7pm so at 6pm I can already feel my anxiety starting to build. It’s still unfamiliar territory and completely out of my comfort zone.

We get through family dinner and I can sense that my heart rate has gone up and my palms are getting clammy. Sweaty palms are a real nuisance – I always feel like I’m holding out a wet fish when someone tries to shake my hand.

Tonight my hubby and two kids are escorting me to class. I can see the kids eyes gleaming as they look at me in my black dobok (uniform) -they look pleased as punch with me. This of course does not prevent them from mocking me for being a white belt. Kids – they certainly know how to keep your ego in check.

Rick leads warm-up and since Master Saidi is busy with tournament registrations he keeps us going with kicking practice.

I managed the first few ok but then Rick mentions the dreaded spin kick. I’ve had episodes of vertigo in the UK and ever since then any form of spinning really ramps up my anxiety levels. My martial arts loving doc said I would be fine as long as I took it slowly . Here goes nothing I thought.

My kicking partner was a rather shy girl with a yellow stripe belt and a hair clip that kept falling out. “Pick that up please. ” Sir asked her “someone may step on it and damage my floor.” I couldn’t suppress my laughter – spoken like a true martial arts Master, no mention of any injury to the foot.

My partner was kind and patient and had to hold the kicking target. I got rather confused with the spin kicks not always knowing which leg to kick with after I turned but I soldiered on. I asked another student, Paul, to demonstrate the kick again and he kindly obliged. That kick will certainly take more practice. I was told though that my kick was fine – I just needed to believe I could do it.

Then Master Saidi called for some jump front kicks. Seriously? I took two steps, jumped and kicked and my foot hit the target with a resounding thwack! It felt awesome and hearing the sound of the contact was extremely satisfying. Like hitting the sweet spot on a driver.

“Do or do not, there is no try ” said Yoda. I think the second kick worked better because I didn’t overthink it. I just did it. I believed I could.

Is there anything you’re overthinking? Believe you can and do it!

 

At the dojang in Dublin, California

At the dojang in Dublin, California

 

 

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.

It’s a Surprise – Open It!

A diminutive student dressed in black yet exuding a quiet confidence enters the dojang. He greets his martial arts Master with a cheerful “Kuk Sool” and promptly hands over a rather large, carefully and colourfully decorated box. “I made this for you Sir, it’s a surprise.”

He then crosses the mat barefooted to place his shoes neatly in the closet and finds a spot to sit cross-legged on the floor while waiting for his class to begin.

The New Year is a surprise that each of us has been given. Some of us have accepted it graciously and others reluctantly or indifferently. We have a choice to engage with it however we wish to.

It can remain as is, untouched, and still life will happen. Time will pass.

Or we can choose to open it, to interact with it, to accept its contents but also to add our own dreams, our own pieces that will shape what we experience.

The Master places the box on his desk and smiles. He is aware that this surprise has involved careful thought and planning and is touched by the connection it represents.

“Have you opened it Sir?” a tiny, yet insistent and expectant voice pipes up from the back of the class.

The box is opened to reveal a small and intricately detailed paper bird with wings outstretched in flight.

“It’s wonderful!” the Master exclaims and the little student beams with pride. He has shown his appreciation and demonstrated his gratitude.

The bird has left the cage and the box is now open to opportunity.

We all have the capacity to use small moments to acknowledge the impact that someone has had in our lives. We have the opportunity to value and recognize our connectedness and aspire to be a positive influence in all our interactions.

This year is your surprise. Will you open it?

cardboard-box-hi

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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