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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.”

Bo staff bliss! A new martial arts weapon for me.

Kuk Sool Won class number 4. I was beginning to think that the other mature female white belt that I was told was in the class was a myth but I finally got to meet her yesterday.

Doing unusual things on your own can make you look crazy but doing them with company makes it look fun!

Have to admit that I wasn’t entirely focused. My lovely neighbour had a medical emergency in the afternoon and after the fire engine and ambulance left I was still rather shaken. Life happens and you cannot be prepared for every eventuality.

So I sat at the back of the dojang (training hall) waiting for the class to begin and tried to steady my breathing. As usual my anxiety levels were starting to climb and I tried not to watch the more advanced students doing their pre-class stretches. Their degrees of flexibility are too intimidating.

Made it through warm up puffing like a steam engine and as flushed as a fresh organic tomato.

I got to learn a new technique with the other white belt. She has a precise and methodical approach and moves gracefully through the required steps. She also enquired about my accent. Yes, I am a South African who left the United Kingdom to live in America where I am now learning a Korean martial art – a multi-national collaboration for personal growth!

Then Master Saidi told the students to get bo staffs at the back of the dojang. They were all brown belts so I was not expecting to get one. “Vanessa, you can get one too” he said. I was so thrilled it felt like Christmas!

Bo staff form no 1 involves learning to hold and rotate the staff without dropping it. Dropping it gets you push ups (although you’re exempt if you’re a white belt).

Ma’m Sahar showed me how to keep my wrists connected and turn my hands to catch and release the staff. “Go slowly in the beginning” she explained “once you’re comfortable with the movement then the speed will follow. ”

I had another Kung fu Panda moment – this is awesome I thought and I actually exclaimed out loud “This is soo cool!!” Bo staff bliss indeed!

Did you have a particularly blissful moment yesterday?

Photo 1: South African in America learning traditional Korean martial arts

Kuk Sool Won Dobok, bo staff and South African flag

Kuk Sool Won Dobok, bo staff and South African flag


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.

Kuk Sool Won lesson 2 – Skip. Hurt. Destroy.

Image courtesy of Goodfon.Su Wallpapers By: anon001

Image courtesy of Goodfon.Su Wallpapers By: anon001

Intent – having your mind and will focused on a particular purpose. When you move in martial arts you need to know why, you must consider your objective.

Each posture in a form serves a purpose as it has a defined application. Similarly the transitions between postures require attention so that balance and focus can be maintained.

During training our instructor, Master Saidi demonstrated some self defence techniques on his senior black belt student Rick and another black belt instructor  Gyo Sa Nim Sahar to show how the system can be applied in an offensive scenario.

While observing these movements I could not help but be astounded by what the human body can achieve with dedicated training and commitment. Master Saidi is one of only nineteen 6th Dahn Kuk Sool Won Head Masters in the world and when you see him in action you can see why.

I felt a bit like Po in Kung fu Panda when he first watched the Furious Five in action.

The Master immobilised his opponent swiftly, precisely and effortlessly. Pressure point and joint lock techniques are clearly effective.

To see them applied first hand was awesome! Just like Po I too wanted a souvenir and given that my other passion is floral photography I instinctively wanted to run and get my camera.

“I always say that there are three steps to martial arts. I call them skip, hurt and destroy” said Master Saidi. Step 1 is to skip, to avoid or exit the situation, get out of the fight (at this point I just kept thinking Run Forrest! Run!).

If there is no way to avoid the fight then step 2 – hurt follows. The aggressor needs to know in no uncertain terms that there will be a world of pain coming their way if they do not desist.

In the event that the aggressor refuses to accept their impending doom you move to step 3- destroy.

Most females I know at some point in their lives have found themselves in situations where they felt threatened and vulnerable. The recent twitter trend #YesAllWomen was a sad reminder of this.

Much as we would like to, we cannot wish those with hostile intentions away. We can however equip ourselves with the mindset and the techniques to defend ourselves when necessary.

In a recent situation where I felt threatened while out at night I noted with interest how empowering it was to know that in the event of an attack, I could do something to defend myself.

Skip. Hurt. Destroy.

Photo: A quickly taken candid snap of Master Saidi after my second Kuk Sool Won lesson


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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