“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.
‘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.
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.
Anyone who has had weight to lose knows that it’s a battle to choose to face every day. The easier option is to turn tail before the fight even begins – to announce defeat to a relentless opponent that is far easier to submit to than to hold your ground against.
When I had my first thoughts of writing about my excessive weight, about three years ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Factiously Fat-o-wacking to the day of Fit: The beginning of a better end.” The end of course being a more literal reference to the size of my generous posterior. It begins with the end in mind..(and yes I have also read Stephen Covey) this particular end was much larger than it needed to be and in need of some serious toning.
So yes I am a fan of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie (and of course Lewis Carroll’s book) and enjoyed the fabulously vigorous Futterwacken by the Mad Hatter on the Frabjous day. While I have no ambitions to have my head spinning at the top of my neck, giving my body a thorough workout to get it into better shape was definitely on the cards.
My fat is my Jabberwock, a relentless scary creature hanging around and although I have on a few occasions managed to slay it with the Vorpal sword of dieting and exercise, it keeps getting reincarnated. So my journeys down this Fat-o-wacking path had been largely unsuccessful but knowing that the creature could be slain kept my hopes alive.
I had been decently sized up until my late twenties when a series of unfortunate events drove me to emotional eating. Everyone has their poison and mine became food. Drink me! Eat me! Oh yes I will thank you very much for asking. I knew though that with each tasty morsel I was feeding my adipose tissue.
My adipocytes were sucking in fat at a furious rate due to the lovely snacks I was imbibing. They were in a state of hypertrophy and getting bigger by the day. What I did not know was that they were heading for hyperplasia. If only I had known I should stop before reaching that tipping point.
Just like those pesky Gremlins when they get wet – fat cells in the right conditions begin to multiply and once they have they never die! It’s like the scariest horror movie ever. You can’t kill them and they are always hungry. They are just waiting for the next dose of fat to feed themselves. The only way to control them is to not give them what they want. Weight loss makes them shrink but they hide in the dark always alert and waiting to grow again. It’s a war where the enemy is always watchful.
Knowing that being overweight means that I have in the region of 75 billion fat cells is a very sobering thought – I picture them like regiments of fat globby creatures with lots of little mouths waiting to be fed. Feed me! Feed me!
The way to a better perkier end is therefore the path to emaciated fat cells on the Frabjous day that I intended to call ‘The day of Fit’. My Kuk Sool Won martial arts journey however has taught me that there is no specific day just like there is no spoon. There is only more practice, more training, the next martial arts goal. My mindset needed a radical makeover and I needed to think profoundly differently about exercise and how I approached it.My focus changed from the Jabberwock slaying to finding an activity that connected with both my physical and spiritual nature and I found that in the dojang (even though I still think owning a Vorpal sword would be pretty cool)! The numbers on the scale are no longer a fixation and instead challenging myself to achieve new fitness targets is. Going to Kuk Sool Won class thrice a week does not feel like a chore, it feels like an opportunity, mainly to prove to myself that with the correct focus so much more is possible.
I am doing things now that I didn’t think this middle-aged body of mine could handle and because it’s thoroughly enjoyable and there is great camaraderie with my fellow students at the Kuk Sool Won of Dublin school, the Jabberwock has gone into hiding with it’s tail between it’s legs. My super friendly and highly skilled instructors have also been very encouraging and keep me motivated. When I get bruises from my training buddy Vineela during sparring she grins at me like the Cheshire Cat and tells me she is making me stronger. The morning after a tough class with Ma’am Shagasi last week, Ramya my other training buddy, sent me a message to say that she was impressed with my stamina. She in turn has motivated me to do more push-ups.
Training together is a circle of growth for us all.
I am steadily winning the weight loss war and just like Alice discovered Wonderland, with Kuk Sool Won a whole new world of physical and mental accomplishment beckons.