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Pay attention 007: Situational Awareness and martial arts

KSW Quote Q 007

Situational awareness is a useful skill and it requires paying careful attention to your surroundings. Since we were Bond movie fans as kids my brother often used to tell me to “Pay attention 007” and I even use it on my kids now too.

In the Bond movies Q (the Quartermaster) famously says to James Bond “Now pay attention 007” and then in one exchange says   “I’ve always tried to teach you two things: First, never let them see you bleed;” Bond responds: “And second?” and Q says: “Always have an escape plan”.

It’s remarkable how scenes and lines from movies spring to mind in various situations. I happened to be parking my car on the way to the dojang and my Kuk Sool Won Master walked across the tarmac and picked up a nail and said to me “Why don’t other motorists notice these things? I often have to pick them up.” He then proceeded to scan the area for anything else potentially dangerous and found some other nasties too. It was a small moment but a lesson nonetheless. Especially as I didn’t notice it when I parked my car.

Must be a martial arts awareness thing I said – just like Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity. I had recently read a mixed martial arts thread discussing How to Develop the Situational Awareness of Jason Bourne and that’s probably why it came to mind then. I am usually so involved in my lists that I don’t pay attention to much else happening around me unless I have my camera in hand.

My camera increases my mindfulness since it focuses my attention. When I walk or even drive somewhere I often remember the locations of a particular flower or tree in bloom. It seems to me that martial arts training does the same. Intention gives focus which in turn makes one more mindful.

There is a Korean term called “Jung Shin” that means focusing your mind and heart 100% on the moment. It’s not always easy to do. When we are involved in sword play or practicing techniques there are a number of bodies in motion simultaneously and sometimes in an attempt to get out of the way I inadvertently move into the path of another student.

The busyness of life and our emphasis on the next task does not usually allow this attention to permeate our days.

I would love to be able to do what Jason Bourne did. To be so aware that as you move your mind automatically registers the detail. Perhaps technological advances will allow us to have the scanning abilities of the Terminator at some point so we can speed read and analyse our surroundings. I know that it can be learnt to a certain extent because when I have my camera I scan for interesting details all the time. It’s also clear that when you are a martial arts expert like Master Saidi then situational awareness is part of the package.

The more attention you pay the better your situational awareness will be. It seems as with most other types of learning, the more you practice, the better you become.



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.

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.

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.

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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