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Martial Arts, Magic and the Stories we tell ourselves

It’s amazing that it’s already been 20 years since the publication of the first Harry Potter story by J.K. Rowling. An incredulous adventure filled with magic and awesome accomplishments in the face of incredible odds – which if course reminds me of the martial arts journey.

Kuk Sool Girls

Photo 1: Kuk Sool Won Girls

Martial arts is the key to the magic of the body in motion. It unlocks so many avenues of development – mentally, physically and spiritually.

Anyone who has practiced their art in the great outdoors knows the feeling of connecting  the energy within with that of the environment. It is a timeless, spiritual experience which opens the mind to calmness and control.

The basis of Kuk Sool is the development of “Ki” (Internal Power) and therefore Kuk Sool is considered an internal martial arts system. Meditation forms part of the curriculum and it’s wonderful to observe the effect of controlled breathing and mindlfulness even in the youngest students.

Often it is thought that the martial arts journey is reserved for the young and agile and there are certainly distinct advantages to starting early. Maturity however is not an excluding factor – your body is still in motion and there is still magic within.

When I look back over the last few years I’m amazed at the things I’m doing now that I never thought I’d be capable of. We all have stories that we tell ourselves about what we can or cannot do and it takes courage to move beyond the boundaries that we set in place. I recall the nervousness at my first “falling” session where just rolling over backwards induced incredible fear – now it’s the quality of my back falls that I need to work on.

If you are seeking some positive martial arts encouragement try the blog by Andrea Harkins “Change your Life in One Day”.

Harry Potter was the “boy who lived” and was one of a kind. At our martial arts school we are continuously encouraged by our Chief Instructor Master Saidi to do our best and push ourselves. I am not however the only mature student at his school – there are several adults at our dojang who challenge themselves and persist in their training – to be better than they were the day before.

It’s never too late to make a difference or take a leap – you have the magic to make it happen.

 

Martial arts can change your life in 48s, if you let it.

Yes it was the 48s of the Nunes vs Rousey fight that I had on my mind when I wrote this post title. Images and commentary about the much publicized  fight were all over social media and got me thinking about how much life can change in a single moment.

Even a moment lasting less than 60s.

Although MMA is currently the top draw card in the popular press when people think of martial arts, it is not what lead me to practice my art.

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Photo: Kuk Sool Won Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh with me at the training Seminar in Dublin, California

Yes, martial arts is fundamentally about fighting. However in a traditional martial art  it’s about using your body as a weapon while also honoring it as a vessel for enlightenment.

Respect, self-discipline, control and increased self-awareness are an integral part of a traditional martial arts journey.

Every person who practices a martial art has their own reasons for doing so and has their own expectations. The teacher and school where you choose to receive your martial arts instruction will set the tone for your training. Finding a school that matches your martial arts world view is what sets you on the path of your martial arts journey.

It’s the moment that you make that decision, which usually happens in the blink of an eye that can change your life… if you let it.

I’ve seen all types make the decision to start but only a special few allow martial arts to change their lives. It’s not just about training, it’s a way of life and when committed, it will change the way you make decisions about the things you prioritize.

So when making resolutions and/or setting goals here are three things that I’ve come to know:

1. Growing and learning is a life-long process

2. When you do the work, you reap the rewards

3. Helping others also helps you.

Whatever your chosen art, embrace it and enjoy the journey.

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?

 

 

 

Martial arts: you can do it, this is your invitation!

You have the freedom of choice. You can choose to take action or be overwhelmed by your imagined shortcomings and do nothing.

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Photo 1: A high five at Kuk Sool Won Testing Day after a successful board break

Recently my ten year old son asked me whether he could audition for his elementary school’s variety show. I was somewhat surprised as he tends to shy away from the limelight.

He needed three other students to participate and thankfully there were ten others including  my seven year old daughter, who were more than willing to share their love for Kuk Sool Won martial arts with their peers. They called themselves the Kuk Sool Crew.

It was heartwarming to see them band together and practice. They were filled with enthusiastic energy and their excited smiles when they got together were a joy to behold.

Their eagerness to try something different was  inspiring. Although they were nervous it didn’t stop them from taking a chance.

We all have choices to make and chances to take every day. I had always wanted to do martial arts but I thought my age would be too much of a limitation. It took someone to invite me to try before I began my martial arts journey at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California.

An invitation from the school was a catalyst for my kids and their peers to try something different. An invitation from their martial arts Master triggered the start of my Kuk Sool Won adventure.

There are numerous martial arts styles including Karate, Jui Jitsu, Taekwondo, Hapkido, Kung Fun, Wushu and Jeet Kune Do to name but a few. I started out trying Tai Chi too. If you check out the newly launched Martial Nation website you can see the multitude of options.

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Photo 2: My training buddy Eveline and I at the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin dojang in California

You can choose to stay on the sidelines and dream or you can launch yourself into the fray. The choice and the decision is yours.

There aren’t always obvious invitations to create the spark that ignites us into action but if you need one then here it is!

If you’ve ever dreamed of trying martial arts – this is your invitation! The universe is inviting you – will you accept?

The only permission you need to follow your dreams is your own.

Of Martial Arts Training and Limitations

Black belt is

You are not rich until you have something that money can’t buy.

A new year brings new training schedules. It’s a year ago that I began my Kuk Sool Won journey and it has been a real roller coaster ride of successes and growth opportunities. Being a martial arts newbie at middle age takes determination and can only be accomplished if you learn to take yourself a little less seriously.

It has also been a year ago that I started this blog, along with a lovely and remarkable community of individuals because of the Seth Godin Your Turn Challenge.

I am a goal and result oriented individual while also being a time dependent personality so setting goals and making lists is an automatic practice at the start of a new year.

What is unique about 2016 though is that I did a training schedule first before writing down my goals in other key areas of my life. Given my usual approach I would add exercise and view it like a mountain that needs conquering. A necessary set of tasks on the way to taking better care of my health.

Now however I see a training schedule as so much more than a series of tasks. In the past I didn’t relish the idea of training. It just provided the means by which I could build a healthier me. Now training is like a chapter in a novel. Each one enhances the experience and within each one new lessons are learned. Taken together they all tell a story and become a collection of learnings building towards a specific end objective, in my case, a black belt before my 50th birthday.

After all, a black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit and I plan to see this journey through.

If you do what you love you never have to work a day in your life. If you train for something you’re passionate about then training is no longer a task. Every bit of training I do is leading me to a new point of growth.

It is said that an old dog can’t be taught new tricks but if the old dog is still young at heart it can still learn an amazing array of things. It’s just the willingness to do so that is required.

I am taking my body to levels of fitness that I never thought possible and it is changing my expectations with each new milestone I reach.

I expected that my age would be an automatic glass ceiling on my martial arts journey but the only limitations I’ve experienced are those I’ve imposed on myself.

How about you?

For some inspiration why not check out some of the other Your Turn Challenge Bloggers:

  1. Remarkable Runs
  2. The Positive Pragmatist
  3. Robin Estevez
  4. Women of Wonder
  5. Linens and Laurel
  6. Joyce M Sullivan
  7. Wholistic Sound
  8. Andy Stitt
  9. Listen and Hear
  10. Randall Hartman

Martial Arts Testing: California’s Got Kuk Sool Talent

Pain quote VT kick 894

November is Testing Time again. The fourth and final one for the year. It’s a time for the instructors to assess our skills and for us to establish where our knowledge gaps are.

It’s s bit like a stage performance, a live show with an audience after several dress rehearsals but it also includes a panel of judges. It could be akin to a California’s Got Kuk Sool Talent Show.

Pain is part of the process. As a previously exercise averse individual the concept of pushing your body till it hurts is counter-intuitive. I didn’t expect to discover where all my muscle groups were when I got out of bed in the morning!

Now however I know that the pain is an indicator of effort. If you’ve worked hard enough a bit of pain is a gold star on your workout sheet and if you don’t feel it you either didn’t work hard enough or its time to ramp up your routine.

I’ve been practicing my spin kicks knowing that for testing I would need to do a high spin kick to break my board. It made me very nervous. “So what part of testing causes you the most anxiety? ” our Chief Instructor, Master Saidi asked me. “Board breaking” I responded “followed by techniques and then forms.” And yes that essentially covers everything we do in testing besides body conditioning.

When considering my level of martial arts skill in relation to the task ahead, I felt like Hiccup in How to Train your Dragon saying ” you just gestured to all of me!”

Spin kicks make me dizzy, I can probably do about five in one direction before my world moves like a merry -go-round. Besides that my limited flexibility in my hips means that I struggle to get good height. So my hip flexors ache too.

The objective then is to not have to kick the board more than once.

I failed. My first kick knocked the JKN’s hand who was unfortunate enough to be holding my board. The next kick broke it but the execution left loads of room for improvement. If this had been a talent show I would not make it to the next round.

The night before in class had been one of my best kicking sessions in a while with my awesome training buddy Ramya. I was nailing the target soundly and powerfully with my heel. My leg was almost straight and my accuracy was great. It had boosted my confidence but at testing there was no hint of this history.

I could hear the voice of the Kuk Sool Won Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh in my head saying “you need more practice!”

Peaking the night before made no difference. It was only about how good you are on the day. Sometimes despite the preparation the cosmic forces deal you an unfortunate hand but that is when the show must go on.

What was heartwarming though was hearing the applause and encouragement from our fellow students. Having a martial arts family helps!

It was also inspiring to watch the more advanced belts execute their techniques. Visible indicators of what can be achieved with committed training. Watching my fellow students made it clear where the Kuk Sool talent resides.

Although failure can be disappointing, tenacity keeps us going and perseverance yields results. You do get what you work for. Masters have failed more than students have even tried. Failure and disappointment are part of the journey too but true strength lies in picking yourself up and trying again.

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.

Giving 100%, make the time and make it count!

Sir 100 Quote v2

Murphy’s law haunts me, whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first. It’s the same thinking that used to move me to action when I was in Church going through the liturgy and got to the part about what we have left undone…

It’s the reason I make lists. I always have one running. Usually it’s on auto shuffle. Parenthood means that new items get added constantly. Life happens.

Finding the spaces to fill that are not already crammed with the necessities and mundanities of living is not a simple process. It requires a firm decision. A decision to choose differently. To prioritize according to the goals you wish to achieve.

Sometimes when I become too focused on one particular goal, others can take a bit of a back seat.  I was reminded of that in martial arts class this week.

Our instructor, Master Saidi, asked us to review our techniques. My anxiety levels immediately peaked because I knew that I haven’t been giving them much attention. In fact in general my focus on training had waned.

I’d had a bout of the seasonal cold and missed a couple of classes. My focus had been more on intellectually pursuing the art and unpacking its stories rather than on the actual practice. Its easy to get distracted as a writer and story gatherer. The outcome of this loss of focus was rather telling.

I had learned about the history and personal journeys of those who practiced the art but I had been neglecting my training. “That’s an interesting technique” Master Saidi declared as I ineffectively tried to recall Sohn Mohk Soo no 3, “perhaps we can add it to our curriculum” he joked.

Chagrin ensued, not a comfortable space but one from where meaningful lessons can be learned if I choose to put my ego aside.

I needed to remember why I was here in this dojang. I had lost sight of my green destiny and my intention and mission was resurfacing in full dramatic style.

You must practice these techniques every day we were told. The Kuk Sool curriculum is vast, if you are struggling at this point the only way to improve is through more practice.

Master Saidi had reminded us earlier that “when you give 100% in martial arts training, it will deliver 100% when you need it. If you slack off during training, your martial arts will desert you in your time of need.

A vivid reminder. There is no room for excuses. I want my techniques to be good. I want them to be effective. To get there I needed focused attention and more training.

You get what you train for. Mediocrity is not an option.

I cannot give 100% of my attention to all my goals all the time. It’s simply not humanly possible. What I can do though is prioritize and give each step 100% in the time allotted to them. Make the time and make it count.

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.

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.

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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