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Shooting a martial artist: The point of view paradox

Master Seyd Saidi from Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

Master Seyd Saidi from Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

The scene in the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the lost Ark where an assassin  is wielding a very deadly looking scimitar and dramatically displays his prowess with it only to promptly be shot by Indy is a memorable one. This post however is not about that kind of shooting – it’s about portrait photography.

I am passionate about floral photography and it’s a subject that fuels my creativity but I find photographing people stressful and nerve wracking. Flowers tend not to object if they don’t look perfect in a shot.

My friend Sharon Cohen is a professional portrait photographer and although I’ve seen the striking images she produces I had not seen her in action at a shoot before. I had engaged her services to capture images of my martial arts instructor, Master Seyd Saidi, for a journalistic piece.

Master Saidi is one of nineteen 6th Dahn Kuk Sool Won Masters in the world and has a remarkable life story. He is passionate about teaching martial arts and has done so for over 25 years. He continues to inspire young martial artists and has a flourishing Kuk Sool Won school based in the Bay Area of California.

We arrived at the dojang and I helped Sharon to unload her equipment. It took several trips to do so. The lighting was going to be critical. The training hall has vaulted ceilings with fluorescent lights and since the training area is surrounded by mirrors all sorts of crazy light bounces happen.

Sharon took some preparation shots to test the lighting and asked me to pose in front of the backdrop. I was not comfortable on the other side of the lens but I had great fun playing with the swords.

Vanessa Thomas, student at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

Vanessa Thomas, student at Kuk Sool Won of Dublin. Photo courtesy of Sharon Cohen (The Vanity Flare)

There was plenty of activity both by the subject and the photographer. Stances were changed, kick height and position were altered while Nikon lenses were swapped and lighting altered and backdrops re-positioned. I had both sword envy and lens envy!

Once the shoot was in progress some interesting dialogue occurred that reminded me of Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 habits of Highly Effective People” and the Point of View Paradox with  the young and old woman.  The example demonstrates how a conditioned mind affects how we perceive things and that two people can look at exactly the same image and see completely different things.

Sharon was concerned about capturing his face, eyes and expression sharply with the best lighting and minimal shadows while Master Saidi’s concern was ensuring that the stances, hand and foot positions and angles of the weapons were technically correct. Thank goodness for modern camera technology and previews. They could discuss the captures and decide when a retake was necessary. However since both are highly skilled professionals there were actually very few retakes.

This process was a valuable prompt. Since being made aware that my own conditioning also affects my perceptions I do still wonder whether I consciously recognise it often enough when dealing with others. Do you?

 

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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Crystallizing my Green Destiny

Green destiny_edited-1

Swords have always fascinated me, I’m not exactly sure why. There is something about the beauty and the power they yield and the potential to be destructive and deadly while also being aesthetically pleasing. As Taylor Swift sings in Blank SpaceDarling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream“.

Due to my fascination with swords it has always been a goal of mine to complete a martial arts sword form. I started learning a Tai Chi sword form about 12 years ago but my Sifu relocated and I never got to complete the training. It has always felt like unfinished business.

I loved practicing my form with the sword outdoors and watching the blade gleam in the sunlight. It felt like an extension of me. Beautiful and deadly. Graceful and unflinching.

At the end of last year I finally had the opportunity to start Tai Chi again and found a great teacher in California named Tim Ghazaleh who has been teaching Yang Style Tai Chi for more than 25 years. He was taught by late master Wu Ta-yeh, a disciple of the late Tai Chi master Tung Hu Ling. I was told that in 2-3 years I could become proficient in the sword form and that filled me with excitement!

Then I had a conversation with my children’s Kuk Sool Won instructor, Master Saidi and he said that with hard work I could learn a black belt sword form in three years! It was music to my ears! My Green Destiny was calling!

For those of you wondering about Green Destiny I discovered it in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that tells the tale of Master Li Mu Bai a great warrior and swordsman. His sword, the Green Destiny, is legendary, powerful and mystical and he decides to retire and give the sword to his old friend as a gift – only it gets stolen.

I was also thrilled to discover that the sequel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend is going to be released this year! An interesting convergence of thought…

My Tai Chi sword has been tucked away in its hockey case for 12 years. Today I took it out for a photo for this post. I still enjoy holding it. I have plans for it.

At my first Kuk Sool Won class I thoroughly enjoyed the sword play even though they were padded training versions. With Tai Chi I never had someone come at me blade in hand, we trained side by side in harmony. In Kuk Sool Won I had to strike and block and get out of the way and I wasn’t really fast or controlled enough but it rocked!

At the end of the class one of the senior black belts named Rick commented that I went “all bushido” on him and I had to smile. Bushido was the code of conduct followed by Japan’s samurai warriors.There is a sad but beautiful Japanese legend retold in the movie the 47 Ronin. It’s a story of honour, courage and loyalty.

Unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business can either be catalysts for regret or stepping stones to help us crystallize our visions for our futures.

What will you do with yours?

 

 

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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