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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

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.

Kuk Sool: What it’s like to be a Martial Arts Mum at forty something

So much fun training together! Together at the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin dojang in California after an evening class

So much fun training together! The kids and me at the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin dojang in California after an evening class

Mum could you hold the target please?” It’s the summer break and the first thing on my nine year old son’s mind is kicking practice when he wakes up.

Testing Day is about two weeks away and while my children are taking things in their stride I am rather anxious. I need to break a board at this Testing and I need to do it with a spin kick. Unlike jump front kick which gives me a real thrill I have struggled with getting the balance, power and accuracy required with spin kicking.

My training buddies are also working hard on their kicks but as Vineela managed to break a board earlier in the week she is feeling more confident than I am. Ramya popped in yesterday so that we could do some practicing together and her kick is pretty great and consistent so she doesn’t have anything to worry about either.

About the only thing setting my mind at ease is that I don’t only get one chance to break my board.

A stack of boards at the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California dojang all ready for Testing Day

A stack of boards at the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin, California dojang all ready for Testing Day

Despite my anxiety though I love facing these challenges. There is always something to push me. Something else out of my comfort zone that needs to be faced and conquered.

I have bruises on my arms from last week’s sparring, I have aching stomach muscles from body conditioning exercises in my last class too. I am trying to increase my flexibility to also assist my kicking and doing the various stretches is challenging to say the least! With hindsight I should have trained my body better about thirty years ago so that it wouldn’t have been so hard now.

I’ve never been an athletic type. Making my body work hard and building up a sweat was something my sporty husband did – not me! My mindset has shifted so much now that I have started Kuk Sool Won. Thanks to Instagram I can easily see that I have been practicing this traditional Korean martial arts system for 23 weeks now. What a journey it is!

There are also so many techniques to learn. Pressure points and joint locks are clearly very effective when executed well but I am having a great deal of difficulty memorizing each technique and I haven’t even learned that many yet! It feels like I forget them the moment they are taught to me. “You are very creative with your techniques” our instructor, Master Saidi chuckles. On numerous occasions he has to remind me to use my “other left”. Thankfully he is very patient and my training buddies, including my husband and kids, are great at helping me too.

Kuk Sool Won is not something I envisioned doing in my forties. I’ve always liked martial arts and started Tai Chi several years ago but when my Sifu immigrated I stopped. It has been a dream of mine to complete a sword form.

When we are warming up in class my son and my seven year old daughter try to encourage me to get my head to the ground during stretches. I can only smile and say I’m doing my best. It hurts but it also gets better with each passing week. Pain is certainly where the growth happens.

My son in action during Kuk Sool Won form training

My son in action during Kuk Sool Won form training

I watch my kids confidently lead warm-up and inwardly cringe at the thought of having to do it myself soon. Speaking in front of people I’m quite accustomed too but doing physical exercises is a completely different kettle of fish.

There are so many lessons to be learned both through learning the martial art and in the situations and discussions it leads to with my family.

You’re treating Testing the same way you treated your University exams!” my husband said to me last week. I had discovered so many mistakes in my     forms and I was practicing hard to fix them. “I don’t like to see you struggle” he added.

That’s really sweet” I responded “but struggling and then practicing is the only way I’m going to get better!”.

Starting something new is a challenge at any age but more so when you’re older and have so many demands on your time. My forty something year old neighbor recently went back to study and successfully changed career paths and is thrilled with her accomplishment despite how tough it was to achieve.

For this martial arts Mum, practice won’t make perfect but just like fear leads to anger then anger leads to hate which leads to the Dark Side, perseverance leads to improvement and improvement leads to encouragement which in turn fuels my aspirations for a healthier body and mind.

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 101: We only regret the paths left unexplored

Path Poppies unexplored

It was a chilly evening but I didn’t need anything to keep warm. Nervous energy consumed me as I drove through the evening traffic.

The dojang (training hall) loomed large before me. The previous class was still in session. I tried not to focus on what the students were doing as I knew it would only escalate my anxiety.

My lizard brain wanted to retreat. What was I thinking? A 40-something year old with a very unsuccessful track record in anything sports related, starting a martial arts class where the average student was likely to be at least 30 years younger!

A sense of trepidation gripped me but I knew I was going to have to do this one scared! Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Our instructor, Master Seyd M. A. Saidi, has practiced martial arts for over 35 years and has developed numerous teaching methods and techniques designed to aid students of all ages become accomplished martial artists.

“What size uniform do you think? 3 or 4?” asked Master Saidi. “Is there a size short and round?” I responded. I was handed the size 4 and went off to change.

There was no turning back now.

Standing in the changing area donning my dobok (uniform) felt strangely exciting. I saw my reflection in the large wall mirrors – you’re all kinds of crazy I thought!

The rest of the hour past in a blur of stretches, kicks, breathing exercises, punches and sword play. I felt rather self-conscious – the only white belt in a sea of browns and blacks! I couldn’t keep up with all of it and lost my balance a few times.Other than that though – it was exhilarating and I felt like I was connecting with my inner Cynthia Rothrock.

Respect and etiquette was palpable. Controlled discipline permeated each exchange which thankfully meant I was not taken down by the more advanced students. A fellow student even handed me a training sword so I didn’t have to fetch one myself. It was a kind gesture.

After the class the trainers were very encouraging. It was kind of them not to mock my lack of flexibility or dexterity.

Although I still felt the weight of my inexperience, I knew that I was embarking on another journey of self discovery. Guess I would keep being terrified but I would also keep trying.

We only regret the paths left unexplored.

When was the last time you tried something for the first time?

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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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