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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.

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Tournament training: small moments matter

Quote small moments

Raindrops were falling on my black dobok as I walked to the dojang for my first tournament training class. As it fell harder I thought that perhaps I should hurry it up a bit so as not to be soaked by the time I got to class.

While waiting to cross a busy intersection though I noticed drivers looking at me standing in the rain in my black uniform and white belt and felt compelled to stand tall and pretend that the rain was not bothering me at all. You can’t let the art down by not showing good character in an awesome uniform!

I reached the training hall a bit soggy but with my pride intact. Class began and Master Saidi lectured us on the importance of tournament as a developmental opportunity.

Needing a training partner

“Tournament is a chance for you to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself” he said then continued “if I give 100% then I expect you to do the same. I want to see your lowest stances and hear your loudest kiai, now is not the time to be shy. Growth happens when you are out of your comfort zone.”

The Pacific Coast Kuk Sool Won Tournament is several weeks away in Folsom.

My training partner had been to an earlier training session with her daughter so I needed someone different to practice with today.

Forms and techniques

We were given the names and numbers of the forms and techniques we would be doing. We were also taught how to introduce ourselves to the judges. Etiquette is a very central element in Kuk Sool Won.

We had some time to practice our forms and then moved on to techniques where we had to face our partners. Only thing was I had no partner so I stood quietly while everyone else paired up waiting for my next instruction.

Another student who did not have a partner, a red belt, caught my eye and asked me to join him. Usually we are partnered with students of our own rank.

We were told which techniques to practice and one of them I had just learned and the other was new. I would be doing Ki Cho Hyung 1,2 ,3 and Ki Bohn Soo 1, 2 and 5.  We started practicing and then it was clear for me to see how effectively the joint locking techniques work. How cool is this I thought!

A different perspective

The various groups were asked to perform their techniques and watching the energy displayed by the more advanced students was awesome! It was like being in a live martial arts movie!

Oh to be able to fall like that! I would need lots more practice!

Small moments

I collected my shoes and was about to leave when another black belt Rick said hello while taking his sword out of its scabbard. I had to smile. It was the perfect reminder as to why I was putting myself through this extended learning process. My unfulfilled goal of learning a complete sword form and finding my green destiny.

Small moments matter – especially when they remind you of big dreams!

 

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.

Tai Chi – that’s how we roll

My Saturday mornings are reserved for Tai Chi. Often when I enter the studio I think “First learn balance“, the rest of the quote is “Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up, go home.” as Daniel was taught by Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid (1984 release).

I try to find balance in my form and balance in my mind – both of which are not easy.

Following warm-up we get to practice some techniques and martial art applications of the form.

With today being Super Saturday where people get to try out any class they like, there were quite a few visitors. While our teacher, Tim Gnazale, gave the visitors an introductory talk and demonstration, one of his advanced students, Bob Dari, gave us warm up exercises and a techniques session.

We covered three key areas 1. the gates, 2. redirection and 3. rolling.

Tim always refers us to the “basic model” which involves standing in a grounded relaxed posture. All other movements rely on the basic model being firmly in place. This reminds me of another lesson by Mr Miyagi “First learn stand, then learn fly.”

Interestingly Tim is also the author of the book “Tai Chi for Stilettos“,  a percentage of the book’s profit will be donated to Born This Way Foundation, supported by Lady Gaga and her mother, Ms. Germanotta. Using the power of Tai Chi, Tim, unveils simple external and internal techniques to heighten one’s mind/body integration.

There are 8 gates associated with Tai Chi and they represent characteristics or special movement patterns for a particular objective. Every posture of tai chi has at least one of the eight gates (or, bamen) dominating the movement and each of the 8 gates has a certain martial “energy.” Centering, holding to one’s center, maintaining equilibrium, settling, moving downward, and staying balanced at one’s centre was what we focused on yesterday.

We needed to note where our centres of gravity were and recognise our partners gate to identify where it would be easiest to get them off balance. We also needed to feel when we were off balance and to practice rolling to regain our centres or redirect applied forces. In essence for me the lesson felt like applying the Law of the Lever by Archimedes “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Tai Chi shows that small forces can move large weights when you have the correct leverage.

Learning to get these movements to be intuitive in real life situations to prevent falls or injury will take time and practice. Each student learns at their own pace and needs to discover how their body works and when it is grounded and balanced.

Bob said that he used to enjoy BART surfing to practice maintaining his balance. As the carriages rock and pitch from side to side on the uneven tracks and grind to a stop at each station, he would stand in a good posture while not holding on to anything and keep his balance. An interesting exercise.

Martial arts is a journey of self discovery and in Tai Chi being able to centre yourself is key, that’s how we roll.

How do you roll?

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