Wake up! Wake up!

So at the end of January there was the annual Escrima Concepts “Wake Up Weekend”, a glorious weekend, run by “Big Paul” and the “Devious” Tappins – Grand Master Steve Tappin and Wayne Tappin, where instructors and students of Escrima Concepts travel from all over the globe (or in this year’s case, Sweden) and gather together in London. The aim being to shift our Christmas and New Year addled brains into top gear.

This was my second year and having completed a couple more grades since last January I definitely felt more confident heading in (confident, but a lot sicker thanks to a cold that was plaguing me and refusing to let go!). Time to get the heart thumping and the blood pounding with a warm up I outwardly loathe, yet secretly love. Running around attempting to tap various parts of your partner’s body while they are defending and trying to do the same to you, I haven’t yet found another warm up that makes me laugh and despair so much in equal measure. Irritatingly, it’s so very useful for learning how to judge range and develop awareness as you desperately dodge, duck, dip and dive out of the way of your partner’s arms.

Warm up over we move into stick drills designed to train our ability to recover. Starting off with the basics we go over defending from a number 3 and number 4 strike playing around with approach and different defences. Steve then demonstrates how an attack can change and suddenly, instead of having effectively defended ourselves (aren’t we clever!) we’re now having to defend against another strike. The ease with which we deal with this next strike can all depend on a number of things; our awareness, our structure, our mechanics, our placement and even sometimes just dumb luck. Given a few variations to unleash on our unsuspecting partners we have at it! Fortunately at this point I’m partnered with Nicole, one of our Assistant Instructors, so my previous energetic attempts are now channelled into slower, more controlled attacks ensuring that my placement and structure is bang on. This is especially useful when it comes to the more underhanded attacks such as when their stick changes direction before even making contact with you (!!!!!). Attacks done hard and fast ensure that you feel pressured enough to move and are therefore approaching your defence correctly, but they can lead to panic defenses and the important basics such as footwork (my eternal nemesis!) and elbow discipline get forgotten in the scramble to feel in control. Approaching an attack slowly yet with intent ensures that you have time to correctly train the correct positioning so that when put under pressure you will automatically respond with the appropriate defence and attack them, ensuring that you remain strong rather than crumbling like a soggy biscuit.

Lunch is spent sitting staring into space while I wonder whether I’m ever going to start feeling better (I’ve started needing to sit down during the theory breaks just to make sure I can get through the next bit) and I almost cry when Steve calls everyone together just as I lie down for a rest. In spite of my increasing need for sleep the second half is a more relatable subject for me as we practice unarmed defences and our body mechanics. While I can only dream of getting to the levels of understanding that the higher grades have of body movements within Escrima, I do feel more comfortable with it thanks to my Tai Chi training. Annoyingly my first partner has much longer arms than I and it takes an intervention from Paul to help me understand that even though, in theory, my structure is correct I need to alter my approach to accommodate the fact that my partner can reach around my defending arm and still have room to smack me on the back of the head. I am very much a comfort zone type of girl when it comes to training, and sticking with the same partner during classes is “safe” because you begin to learn how they move. Weekends like this help me to appreciate the advantage it gives me to train with lots of different types of people as it gives me so many more opportunities to practice my ability to recover.

Training over we head off to the hotel over the road to relax and unwind. The evening is spent resting, enjoying a delicious Turkish dinner and catching up with friends that hadn’t been seen since the previous year.

Recharged, we arrive raring to go the next day and open with a “5,4,3,2,1” warm up. Your partner gives you 5 punches which you defend against, you then give them 4, they return with 3 etc until the final punch where you finish them off. The aim of this exercise is not only to develop your ability to defend yourself against a punch, but to learn how to position yourself around your opponent so it is extremely hard for them to throw their next punch. Wayne then gives us some stick drills where we work on aiming for specific targets, attacking short and long range and alternating defences. Col and Nicole do Cambridge Kung Fu proud by not only completing a horrific mind bending drill, but by doing so at speed while counting in both Welsh and Austrian!

After lunch the senior students separate to practice their machete work (yeek!) while Steve takes us through basic structures needed for knife defence. Now while I like to allow myself to think that training in three martial arts means I will be able to look after myself to a certain degree it quickly becomes evident that should a knife emerge, at my current level, I should be extremely worried. Steve demonstrates how our basic survival instinct to grab the arm holding the knife actually puts us at more risk by extending our arm and putting us at the limit of our reach, leaving us with less control instead of more. Maintaining a strong structure, using our knowledge of positioning from the previous warm up exercises and making the attacker come to us ensures that we have a better chance at being able to control them. A final exercise before our brains dribble out of our ears resigns me to the fate of being a practice pincushion until I ingeniously stumble onto the perfect defence by tripping over and falling behind Steve. Who better to defend me than the Grand Master!

Throughout the weekend there were students who were working hard towards their gradings and there was a number of presentations on both days with one of our own students, Gabriele, achieving his 4th Grade! With the hard earned grades given out it only remains to wearily say goodbye to everyone and head on home. I finish the weekend in the best way possible; with cuddles and reading my daughter The BFG in bed, before heading off for my own well earned rest.

Part of what appeals to me about Escrima Concepts is the inherent honesty in all of the instructors, I think it is the only system where I have heard the term “martial artist” used with the same tone as “you plonker, Rodney!” There are no flashy moves here, you train hard and honestly and let your basics speak for themselves. Train them well enough and you’ll need nothing else. This weekend is the perfect reminder for my more extravagant self, that it doesn’t need to be flashy to work (it’s also been a perfect reminder that my roof block needs a lot of work, but let’s leave that story for another day!).

A big thank you to everyone involved in the organisation of this weekend and I will definitely be back again next January!

Today was….

Today was shitty.

My daughter has a really bad cold and a high temperature and is incapable of blowing her nose or using a tissue by herself at night, subsequently little sleep has been had by all. Needless to say, tempers are short.

Today was shitty.

The sun was shining when I got dressed, but as soon as I stepped out of the house the British weather did what it always does and changed tack. I’m pretty sure I flashed my underwear quite a bit on the way to the shop as the wind in my village is “playful” to say the least.

Today was shitty.

I missed a team meeting at work and a whole day in the office because Beanie was too sick to go to nursery. It’s grading and ceremonies time and missing work means needing to cram in a lot of things over a short period of time. I’m worried that trying to get everything done quickly will mean I will miss something.

Today was shitty.

It makes me sad that my daughter only chooses to cuddle me when she’s sick. Cradling her hot, shaking little body makes me feel like I must be a terrible mother that she has to  feel so awful before choosing to come to me for comfort.

Today was shitty.

I was a lazy mother. Instead of deepening a connection with my daughter by reading stories to her and playing games, I have actively encouraged watching films, DVDs and CBeebies either on the sofa, or in our bed.

Today was okay.

Despite the fact that we haven’t had much sleep, the sleep I did get was good quality. So a day with a moody poorly toddler isn’t going to be as heinous as it could be.

Today was okay.

Yes the sun was no longer shining when I left the house and the wind was somewhat gusty. But I was wearing a skirt I had bought at a festival and reminded me of sunny days and laughter. I had done a fresh batch of laundry so fortunately had some nice pants on….and between you and me my bum is my best feature anyway.

Today was okay.

Yes I missed out on time in the office, but “Dust If You Must” comes to mind at times like this. I know the essentials that need to be done and I still got to go and teach the brilliant kids in my classes in the afternoon, so I didn’t miss out on the really fun bits of my job. As for the ceremonies and gradings, I have an extremely supportive team who can help out if I need them and a checklist crafted over time and revised with experience.

Today was brilliant.

Beanie is a very affectionate person, but only in short doses. It’s very rare that she’ll chose to sit and cuddle with you for a long period of time and so when she does it’s very precious. I’m happy to be raising a confident little girl who doesn’t need constant reassurance from me that I love her. I’m loving that I get to sit and cuddle this little person who is growing up far too fast and I know that she’s coming to cuddle with me because I can make her feel better.

Today was fun.

Yes Beanie was ill and yes we watched far too much television and several films. But I really like animated films and I love seeing her absorbing how each character moves and talks and then recreating them in our games later. She is also far too ill to be running around and expending energy that she needs to fight and get better. Films provide nice long periods where she can sit and be still and recover.

The day in question was a couple of months ago, when Beanie had an awful chest infection (a few days later was on ordered rest from the doctor!). Same activities, same feelings. The difference is in how I chose to look at these events. Sometimes days are bad, sometimes they are just downright awful and you want to lie down and cry. But seeking the good, seeing the positive, can change everything; from how you feel to how you respond. As I have said before; what’s your choice?

Vision and Values – Integration

Cambridge Kung Fu exists to enhance the lives of our students through  martial arts and mindful movement practice.

I have been living by these words for nearly six years now, but until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t fully understand it. Every month we have a Kids Instructor Meeting. Which means once a month, on a Monday, I kiss my daughter goodbye, tell her I love her, and come and learn how brilliant my colleagues have been and what we can all do to enhance our teaching even more.

This month was slightly different. We had a combined meeting of Youth Kung Fu and Kids Instructors so the meeting started before my partner arrived home from work meaning I arrived a little late. When I arrived everyone was divided into groups, some large, some small, and as I deposited my belongings by the wall I was beckoned over to the smallest group of all by two of my friends.

“Rin, come join us! We’re the ‘Integration’ group!”. Smilingly I sit down and Agnès and Josh explain to me that we are discussing the four fundamental skills we encourage people to develop in our classes. The instructors have split into four groups, each group representing the “skill” they feel is their strongest. According to the slide beaming onto the projector screen these skills are;

  • Awareness
  • Focus
  • Resilience
  • Integration

Ross is talking us through Cambridge Kung Fu’s Vision and Values so that all the Instructors can better understand our aims for running the classes in the way we do. By sheer kismet I have managed to join the group that is discussing what I feel is my strongest skill.

Each group was tasked with discussing the skill they had chosen and why they felt it was their strongest out of the four of them. As Agnès and Josh had already discussed why they felt it was their strongest, the bottle naturally spun to me. Pausing to gather myself, I think through everything that has happened to me since making the life-changing decision to move to Cambridge five years ago. I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve fallen in love, I fell in love all over again when my daughter was born, I have a job I never thought I would do but now can imagine doing nothing else, I’m pushing myself further and further than I ever thought I would or could and most of it is thanks to the influence Cambridge Kung Fu has had on my life outlook.

Looking back on the person I was, I feel like something inside me was fundamentally broken (due to all sorts of factors, some internal, some external). I was angry all the time, tiny little things plunged me into a pit of despair and I was always ready to see the negative in everything. My reactions to situations were grossly exaggerated and completely out of proportion to what was actually required. It took a complaint about my teaching for me to fully realise the negative effect I was having on the people around me and how exhausting it was to carry around this deeply negative outlook. For my own survival, my relationship, my daughter, I desperately needed to adopt the attitude and outlook we try to teach our kids into my everyday life.

In order to integrate everything I was learning into my life I needed to think of myself as a student. When a situation occurred that upset me, made me angry, or generally caused me to be very negative, I would take a few days to calm down and then think back over what had happened. I would then ask myself, if I had seen a kid acting/reacting in that way during one of my classes what would I advise them to do, what techniques would I tell them about to use in the future. Using this technique I have managed to get to a place where I feel more ‘balanced’, one of the most telling results was my way of coping with the Kids Summer Camp every year.

The first year I helped to organise the Summer Camp was massively stressful, not helped by the fact that I’m bit of a control freak. It was so stressful that I had to take a week off sick afterwards. The following years progressively got better. I was still stressed (or ‘busy’ as we call it in the office “I’m NOT stressed, I’m busy!!!”), but managed to claw my way through the week, juggling the Summer Camp, teaching and getting the other aspects of my job done as well. The least said about the Summer Camp I was pregnant the better (I was not a happy pregnant lady!). Gradually over the years I’ve managed to let a little bit more go, learned to see the behaviours in children for what they are (just being playful, not actually disrespectful) and learned to not take people’s reactions personally and react emotionally myself (for the most part). The last year was the most intense Summer Camp we have ever done, as we ran two rather than just one. Despite it being one of the hardest years to date, I was the most relaxed I had ever been during that time of year. Having worked hard at integrating the Cambridge Kung Fu mindset into all aspects of my life, I was able to work calmly with the children and my fellow instructors and recognise when I needed to step back from a situation to avoid reacting emotionally rather than usefully.

All this, and more, is why I personally considered integration to be my strongest skill. I’m not saying that I’m not good at the other three (although, between you and me my focus suuuuuuucks), but if I don’t find a way to incorporate them into my life what good are they?

If you would like to find out more about the Vision and Values we uphold, you can find more information here.

“I can’t….”

My phone buzzes and I blearily open my eyes and make a half hearted grab for it. The time is 5:30am and my phone is cheerfully announcing I have 10 minutes to get my arse up out of bed and ready for this morning’s activities. This morning I have decided that I am going to attempt running again after my abysmal attempt to train for a marathon in Amsterdam. I decided to do this six months after Beanster was born, having done no serious exercise pre or post labour and had just 6 months to go until the actual event. Needless to say, my training efforts were less than sterling, and when my running partner pulled out due to unexpected baby number two I realistically cancelled my marathon plans and haven’t even contemplated running again…until now.

I roll out of bed (literally, the only way I can get my body to move is if I’m making it think that it’s still lying down!) and shlup my way to the bathroom where I have laid out my clothes in advance knowing my early morning reluctance would baulk at having to track down where my long neglected exercise clothes are.

Clothes on, warm up done, I step outside into the dark, unwelcoming morning. Fortunately my road, which is normally a veritable wind tunnel, is nice and calm and it’s actually quite a pleasant beginning to the run. With my music blasting away in my ears encouraging me to keep moving, I slowly (oh so slowly!) make my way around the village. It’s nice and quiet, the only people I see are other runners who are kind enough to give me a quick nod as they whizz on past me. As hard as it is to get up, I love this time. The alone time it gives me to think, to plan or to just daydream as my feet, “pit pat pit pat”, along the pavement. I still have an on again/off again relationship with running, but I don’t loathe it anymore.

Thinking back to before I actually attempted to run properly (as in with a plan) it’s hard to say what my attitude to running was. I think I can honestly say it puzzled me. I couldn’t understand how I could get through hour after hour of fast paced, high intensity dance classes and yet still be winded after less than five minutes of running. These experiences made me uncomfortable at this perceived inability to run so I would mentally shrug it off and say to myself “well I just can’t run”. Even when the subject of exercise came up in conversation, my friends and I would regale each other with stories of what we couldn’t do. Looking back I want to smack my younger self in the head.

The thing is, “can’t”, is such a sneaky word. There’s a ring of finality about it and how people use it. When someone says, “I can’t do that”, there always seems to be the mental tag on of, “and I never will”. People use the word to validate the fact they have given up. Even if they return to the original goal they end up going through the same pattern and give up at the same point if not even sooner, they use these negative experiences to reinforce their original opinion and end up never challenging themselves.

I was stuck into this cycle until I came to my current job. I am so lucky to be immersed in a work environment that actively encourages me to positively challenge myself in areas where I feel weakest. Cue my discovery of Couch to 5k (C25K) around about the same time as my discovery of Jane McGonigal. The training programme slowly but surely increased the level of challenge every week so, while I felt pushed, I never reached the “can’t” zone.

This way of training made running fun for me, and that was the key to my perseverance with the programme. I got to send out updates of how I was doing to my Facebook and Twitter, I jogged along buoyed by the congratulations and comments of my friends. Personally, I saw myself getting better and managing to run for longer and longer before feeling like my lungs were going to jump up my throat and throttle me for considering such a damn fool thing. The programme was designed to constantly make me push myself to my limit, but never further than I could go, leaving me with a glowing sense of smug satisfaction that I had managed to do another ‘run’. The fact that it was helping me to keep up better in my training as well was also a lovely bonus! People so often take things seriously and I get the impression that they don’t allow something to be fun as it can seem childish to do so. Embrace the fun I say! It will lead you to amazing places!

This is an attitude we try very hard to encourage in our instructors. In one of my first posts I wrote about how important it was for the kids in our classes to have fun while they were learning. If they are having fun they are more likely to push their boundaries, challenge themselves to attempt things that they would normally look at and say, “I can’t do that”. As a child I have many memories of gritting my teeth as an adult figure would look at me and say, “there’s no such thing as can’t”, (slightly reminiscent of this little green dude). I have vowed to NEVER utter these words to a child. Firstly because it is one of the most frustrating sentences to ever hear, secondly because it is vastly unhelpful to someone who is struggling. Instead I work with them to see where they are having difficulty. I encourage them to carry on trying, positively reinforcing their continued efforts with excellent points (in CKF classes we use these points to reward children who demonstrate our key values; hard work, attitude and awareness, earning two excellent points gets them onto the Tower of Excellence where the whole class gives them a round of applause for their hard work and effort).

Sometimes progress is slow, but that doesn’t matter it’s not a race. When I talk to other instructors we all agree our greatest triumphs are always from the kids we teach who find something difficult yet still persevere; the painfully shy student who eventually starts talking to the instructors, the scared child that starts joining in louder games by themselves and the child who completely forgets to be nervous because they’re having so much fun. These are our success stories, not the scores, but the progress they make as people. The bigger the challenges they chose to face and conquer, the greater their ability to say “I can’t do that…..yet”.

Myself and I

At first, this blog entry about body image was just going to be a few self-deprecating fat jokes and a little about how I perceive myself in this job. I then remembered a book Ross had loaned me ages ago, that I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet, it’s called, “The Body Image Workbook An Eight Step Programme For Learning To Like Your Looks”. Given as I had this book I thought I should at least delve a little more in depth into a subject that affects so many people on a variety of levels, so one morning I settled myself down in the local coffee shop and started to work my way through it. After only working through a few of the exercises and answering the questions it slowly dawned on me that my body and I needed some serious relationship counselling.

You may recall me mentioning that I was bullied at school, I also moved schools quite a lot and as time went on I developed a, “fake it till you make it” attitude to confidence that just carried on as I got older. Trying to ignore the taunts floating from my past about my big nose, dumbo ears or the fact that puberty had raised it’s raging hormonal head and covered my face in spots (and never stopped). Moving on past school there are so many other body issues out there. I remember looking at magazine pictures of models and sniffing, “they’re so thin don’t they eat anything?!” whilst inside desperately wishing that I looked like that.

I could go on with different examples, but what really saddened me as I was completing these tests were all of my self-loathing habits that I had incorporated into my life to such a degree that I didn’t even notice they existed any more; the constant trying to hold my stomach in making me feel really uncomfortable because I wasn’t breathing properly, the unflattering clothes that actually make me feel worse over time because they cover everything up, comforting myself with unhealthy foods whilst mentally berating myself for being a “fat pig”, only allowing myself to focus on what I hate when I look at myself in the mirror (particularly since I had Beth) and transferring that particular habit to making sure I NEVER stand in front of the full length mirror in any of the sessions in our work gym.

Working as a Kung Fu instructor has in some ways been beneficial and detrimental to my body image issues. On the one hand I am more aware of how to start and maintain a healthy lifestyle, how to exercise more mindfully and effectively to achieve healthy goals, how to create more nutritious meals and can now look at the stick thin body types I used to aspire to and happily tell myself that it is not a healthy goal to want. Through my training I need to find a place that’s best for me and my body.

What I used to aspire to.

Beautiful Badass

My latest healthy girl crush, Nia Shanks!

On the other hand I am especially aware that whilst advocating a healthy lifestyle to the children I teach, I am the unhealthiest full time member of staff in the Cambridge Kung Fu office (not helped by my aptitude for baking full fat, full sugar, imminent diabetic coma cakey treats!). While running or jumping around with the Tiny Tigers my attention is dragged to the feeling of my spare tyre wobbling around. The fact that after only a few minutes of running around a room I am out of breath and that in comparison to a lot of our other kids instructors who train with us regularly I have no muscle strength or cardiovascular fitness AT ALL!

But that’s the thing, I am so busy comparing myself to other people that I don’t see what I have that is truly brilliant. For one thing I have pretty damn good proprioception (check me out and my big words!), i.e. I find it incredibly easy to copy someone’s movements and recreate them accurately which comes in very useful when learning and teaching the children the forms they will be doing. In turn this gives me the ability to think of lots of different ways to explain different movements, take any movement in our forms and I probably have at least 3 or 4 different explanations stored away for potential use. I have a good recovery time. Yes I may not have long endurance for running, but give me a minute and my heart rate will be back down to normal and I’m good to go! I have really good storytelling skills which comes in incredibly useful when getting kids involved and excited about a game. Now, none of these are related to my body image. But listing all of them can bring a more positive frame of mind, which in turn makes me view my body and how I look in a more positive frame of mind.

Having adopted this attitude for the past few months, my confidence has grown, I can see more and more things about my body that I like and my attitude to my training has done nothing but improved. To the extent that I voluntarily went to an Escrima Concepts Seminar a few weeks ago and enjoyed it!! Five years ago (when I started working for Cambridge Kung Fu) if you had told me I would do that I would have outright laughed in your face, politeness be damned.

Now imagine if I had been able to develop this positive attitude to an extent where I didn’t need to fake confidence as a child. In CKF classes our aim is not just to help children develop physical fitness and awareness of their environments, it’s also to help develop their confidence in their abilities and in themselves. We have a lot of children who come to our classes and don’t join in any of the games where they perceive that there might be a possibility of “losing” and others who lose any enjoyment from the classes if they think that more than one person is focusing on what they’re doing at any one time. Rather than trying to make one big change all at once, we work on smaller changes to break the overall goal into easier steps.

If we want a child to gain in confidence, we work on getting them to interact more positively within the class environment. Tackling an activity that was an issue to them before and providing positive reinforcement when they do so. Showing them that they don’t need to prove that they’re better than anyone else, they just have to work as hard as they can and let their efforts speak for themselves.

I believe in this so strongly that as soon as Beth was old enough she started training with us. I want her exposed to this attitude, I don’t want her resilience to tough situations to derive from, “fake it ’till you make it”. I want her to be able to stand tall and proudly say, “I did my best” and know that’s enough. There is so much negative media surrounding children these days about how to look, how to act, what’s ‘cool’ and what’s ‘wrong’. They are so vulnerable to these suggestions as they forge their path through life, they need to develop the resilience to say to themselves, “I am fine, the way I am”. The knowledge to enable them to chose the healthier path, to recognise unhealthy behaviours when they rear their ugly heads and the confidence to stand by their decisions. Every child deserves that.

My Choice

Over the weekend we at Cambridge Kung Fu had our 2013 Tai Chi Summer Camp. It was amazing! It also over one day really helped me to clarify how I see my life right now and how I see it progressing into the future.

My Tai Chi Summer Camp experience started a day late as I was finishing off the second Summer Camp we were running for the Kids Programme on the Friday. Arriving at Ferry Meadows I was a little apprehensive. The last time I had trained with these men, two years ago, I had broken down in floods of tears in front of them due to an infuriating inability to punch softly but with power. Fortunately my journey on the way down had been absolutely hilarious courtesy of my traveling partner, including getting lost on the many, many roundabouts that Peterborough has. So despite my concern of a repeat performance I felt ready to begin.

Once we were there and had gotten all of the, “Oh my god I haven’t seen you in ages how are you?”s out of the way we got down to training; starting with Tim running us through his adaptations of the first section of the endless river. Tim Waterschoot is an instructor from Belgium who, among other things, teaches Escrima and Tai Chi. He’s also been training since the age of 7 and has a wealth of experience to add into his current Tai Chi training.

What I loved about him taking us through the form were the many different martial applications he could think of for us to use with some simple movements. He also gave me some really good tips to help in my own personal development as my strength lies in making the form ‘look pretty’ and not necessarily in the more martial aspects of it.

What really struck me though was his willingness to stop and listen to me in case I had anything to add, as I had been training in Integrated Kun Tao for longer than him. It really reminded me of something I had read once telling me that there is no ego in martial arts training. Tim, as a much more experienced practitioner, was prepared to listen to me, and I, as a senior student, was eager to take his feedback and advice to improve my own training.

This realisation set the tone for the rest of the Summer Camp for me and I no longer worried about looking like I didn’t know what I was talking about, deciding to put aside my ego and settle firmly into learning as much as I could while having loads of fun.

Unfortunately that Saturday the weather wasn’t quite so supportive and we had to relocate to a nearby Martial Arts School to carry on with our training. This training turned out to be with live blades (for those not in the know, live blades means sharp! EEK!). I would be lying if I said the thought of waving a live blade around didn’t terrify me to the point where I felt rather sick, but taking a deep breath and heartily embracing the advice to go slow, I started practicing the various drills.

My partner for this particular part of the day was Kenny (also over from Belgium) and he was fantastic with me. When it comes to drills, like the ones we were running through, my main fear is that my lack of control will lead me to cut and hurt my partner. However I reassured myself that everyone in the room with me had been training with weapons for much longer than I had and that given the choice I would happily trust any of them with a live blade working with me as a partner.

Again I needed to put my ego to one side to be able to get the most out of what people were telling me. So my footwork’s good, great, but it could be better. So I’m quick, awesome, but my knife and stick control is sloppy. If I’m not willing to listen to this because I’m too attached to the image of me being a graceful demonstrator of the form, I am not going to develop at all as a martial arts practitioner. Part of the training is discovering where your limit is, where your fear and your poisonous ego lurks, staring them in the eyes, and telling them to bring it on. Once I’d done that, what we were doing was actually a lot of fun (never mind the fact that by the end of the day my heartbeat sounded like a hummingbird and I’m pretty sure my adrenaline levels were fairly unhealthy!).

Rounding the day off with a meal and a drink with everyone was just the icing on the cake. By the end of the meal I just wanted to go home. Not because I had had enough, but because my face hurt so much from all of the smiling and laughter and my heart was full to bursting from the good feelings that came from everyone who respected each other so much being together in the room.

I may be waxing somewhat lyrical about this Summer Camp, but here at ‘Fu Central’ summer is a pretty extreme time for us. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time it was my turn to head to Peterborough; ready to see the bad in any word, in any action. But I choose to surround my self with friends and training partners who are a positive influence on my life, who bring nothing but laughter and support with them. Because of them it is much easier to make the choice to see the good, the well-meaning behind feedback given, the joke behind a serious face, the joy in the training despite the fact that it is tough and sometimes nigh impossible.

A good friend told me that it is easier to believe a single insult than it is to believe a thousand compliments. Now, speaking as one of the many, many people that has experienced low self esteem, I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. But I also believe that is a choice we consciously make, we can choose to see the truth in the compliments, to take them as they are meant. We can choose to allow the insults to wash over us, acknowledge the hurt they have given and then let them go.

With my training I have two paths to choose from; stay as the graceful dancer or accept that things are going to be hard to learn and demonstrate but to do them anyway. Only one of these paths allows me to evolve and while I am sad to leave behind my dancing life I choose to evolve as a martial arts practitioner. I choose to embrace this crazy, busy, emotional roller coaster of a job, because to choose any differently is to lie to myself and keep me floating and stagnating in one spot for the rest of my life.

This job has led me down some scary personal development and I can’t lie and say it’s been easy, but it has been worth it. But it all starts with just one choice to see the good. What’s yours?

Breaking The Routine

As a first time mum it’s been driven into me a lot that young children cope well with having a basic routine for the day. It makes them feel more secure, they know what will happen and everything is not changing all the time. Speaking as someone who likes to have a plan in place (regardless of whether it changes later on) I can more than relate to this. However, sometimes the routine you create can be a rod for your own back rather than an aid to a peaceful (somewhat) and enjoyable day. Worrying about what they need to be doing and when makes you stressed out and irritable and can lead to a somewhat peevish child as right now they don’t want to be eating lunch and would much rather be playing, drawing or running around in circles (a favourite at the moment with the beanster). So while routine is important, mental flexibility is as well. Is it really important that they stop reading that book right now and eat their lunch? Forcing them to carry on drawing because they insisted on getting it out for half an hour and were interested for only five minutes before wanting something else can do nothing but cause friction (trust me I know!), instead show some flexibility and leave the activity out for them to return to when they’re ready.

Without a doubt we have had a routine as a family regarding nap times and meals. Now Beth’s a bit older we also have some regular activities we do during the week (bouncy castles for the win!!). However there is a certain thing that has insidiously crept its way into our daily routine, something that is a blessing and a curse in disguise, something that practically every parent of a toddler in the UK will know about….and that thing; is CBeebies.

It starts off so innocently at first, an episode of “In The Night Garden” before bed (developed by child psychologists to encourage sleepiness, but most people suspect acid trip) here, watching Zingzillas before the morning nap there. Then comes the discovery that the child sits still (actually SITS STILL!) enabling you to do useful household chores or getting everything you need for the day ready without said child clinging to your leg or running in front of you. You rationalize it of course “It’s educational” you say, “This one’s only 5 minutes long and they’re enjoying it so much it can’t hurt” and before you know it there are certain programmes that are a must have every day. They’re part of the routine. Suddenly, time gets that much tighter, there are more deadlines to hit, more things to do to make sure that your child feels safe and secure, you start feeling rushed and turn to your savior and oppressor CBeebies to help you through those tight spots where you need to spend time doing all the little jobs that are so much easier on your own. Before you know it the TV is the babysitter and while you might be able to get all the housework done (a rarity in this household at the best of times) there’s a sneaky guilty feeling that it’s at the cost of something a lot better. Know how I know this? Because slowly, but surely, I am heading that way with Beth.

Those activities I mentioned during the week that we do are more often than not in the morning going into her lunchtime nap. After breakfast I need to get lunch ready for Beth, make sure that the changing bag is ready, get myself ready (breakfast and being handed my clothes item by item by Beth), find shoes, debate the merits of walking vs pushchair and finally go. A fair few of these tasks were made easier by just some episodes of whatever was on “Beebies”, all of these tasks were completed with some breathing time with a lot of “Beebies” (and seeing it written down has just given me a cold shudder of shame). It has gotten to the point where Beth has her own spot in the living room. Well enough is enough.

Did you know that the recommended time for watching television for young children is two hours a day only. Strictly speaking as Beth is only twoandabit she shouldn’t be watching any at all! Watching television for an abnormally long amount of time has been linked to increased liklihood of Attention Deficit Disorder (however studies are unsure whether this was present in the children beforehand), increased likelihood of obesity due to the fact they’re sat in front of a screen rather than moving around and an incapability of dealing with lower levels of stimulation and needing to concentrate (for example when needing to focus in lessons at school). These effects are blamed on the way that programmes and adverts change focus very quickly and “wire” a young child’s developing brain to expect and need more stimulation than is normally provided in every day activities. In my mind I see it akin to my caffeine fix in the bad days of dissertation writing, after a few days of using coffee to help me stay awake and concentrate I couldn’t focus without it, without the stimulation and constant changes that they can get from watching the television a child finds it hard to focus and concentrate because their attention simply can not be held.

A few months ago our little family was away camping in a field full of buttercups and bar the usual discomforts of camping (which aren’t many given the size of our tent!) it was LIBERATING! All of a sudden we didn’t have time limits bar whenever food was required, there was no lingering murmur of “Beebies”, there was no mad scramble to get dinner ready and given to Beth before Driver Dan was on. There was no pressure. Admittedly we were more relaxed because we also didn’t have to work, but just being able to not have that option of TV distraction somehow made me more able to think of other ways for Beth to be entertained and for us to interact throughout the day. Turns out ripping up grass and putting it in stuff is an activity that can go on for hours (we’re thinking of hiring her out as a landscaper).

Now we’re back home I’m trying to make a conscious effort to rely less on children’s TV to keep Beth quiet. I’m trying to communicate more with her about what I need when I’m doing something (a task that can only become more effective the older she gets), I’m making more of an effort to be organized the night before to avoid that rushed “Oh crap where IS everything?!” feeling and now more forgiving about the fact that the dishwasher/washing/any form of housework hasn’t been done…it’s not usually done anyway, but I give myself less of a guilt trip about it. I am in no way saying that you should ban the television all together. Sometimes there are days when I or Beth are not feeling completely 100% (something which happened quite a few times since starting writing this particular blog for you all) and only Cbeebies will do for those all important necessary quite times. We still avail ourselves of the nighttime hour although with the warmer months  she’s watched that even less because sunshine means we can play in the garden (and by play I mean make adorable videos of the Beanster doing the latest Tiny Tigers Kung Fu form with me).

But for the me effort is to make sure that it is appropriate viewing time that she has when we do sit around the glowing box. Considering what else is out there on the networks available now, a few children’s programmes (that in the end are actually designed more or less to be educational and developmental) aren’t so bad.

Happy viewing.


Hi guys!

You may be heading here because you got notified about an update called “Myself and I”, which you may now notice is not here. Don’t worry it’s not a mistake, I was drafting that quite late last night and accidentally hit publish instead of save draft (D’OH). So consider that a free sneaky peek into what’s coming up for you guys :D.

Sorry for the mistake I shall now take extra double care when pushing buttons on this thing!!!!



TED Extravaganza

Dear readers, when you are reading this I shall be getting gloriously sunburnt/desparingly soggy (delete as weather dictates) camping with my partner and our one and a half year old daughter in a field full of buttercups (it’s gonna be AWESOME!). Rather than leave you with no update I thought this week I would share with you some of my favourite TED videos.

Here at Cambridge Kung Fu HQ we are ever so slightly obsessed with TED videos and always on the hunt for one that our colleagues haven’t seen as of yet. The ones that follow are some of the ones that have inspired me (professionally and personally) and I hope they have the same effect on you.

Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to re-engage boys in learning

Being a martial arts company we have a lot of boys in our classes, as a female instructor I sometimes struggle to see things from a young male perspective and this video really helped me to start seeing activites in our classes from their point of view.

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

These two talks I absolutely love with a passion! In fact I often contemplate having his creatively educated babies (shhhhhh don’t tell Tom!). These videos help remind me to look at alternative ways of providing learning opportunities for the children in our classes.

Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself

This one struck a chord personally for me. I realised that I have never followed through on any really big ideas I have had outside of work as I have already received the positive stimulation of congratulations from everyone I tell about the idea. Now I keep my personal goals more to myself to inspire myself to actually achieve them.

Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves

This particular video reminds me to just LET GO! You may remember that I am a bit of a control freak, but this shows me that kids can learn anything if you just give them the opportunity to do so! Set aside my preconceptions on what the children I teach can and can’t handle in the class and just give it a go, they can (and very often have) amaze me with their response.

Gabe Zichermann: How games make kids smarter

Embrace the skills that (child appropriate) video games can teach the kids. This talk helps me to see how trying to keep children completely tech free at all times in this day and age is fighting a losing battle. By engaging with children while they are playing their games and encouraging them to apply those skills in every day situations away from the game can lead to a harmonious household and a more adaptable child. Please take this talk with a pinch of salt I am not advocating suddenly letting children play video games whenever they want 24/7, but instead using games as an additional learning opportunity.

And finally I leave you with two very awesome videos by my boss, our head Wing Chun Instructor and our only (at the moment) Circular Strength Training Instructor. Here is Ross Sargent advocating and demonstrating the benefits of intelligent and mindful movement.

Blindfold Kung Fu

Mindful Movement

Enjoy the sunny weather and I shall see you all in a couple of weeks!

The Importance of Stories

Those of you who are familiar with our club will know that we run a summer camp for the kids every year when the summer holidays start (this year we have some kids coming all the way from Hong Kong…how AMAZING is that?!). When I first started working for Cambridge Kung Fu we ran the summer camp to work on our kung fu values, but not at the expense of having fun.  We taught a form created specially for the summer camp, played games for much longer than we normally got a chance to in the lessons and did some crafting activities that sometimes involved challenges and sometimes just because they were silly. It was loads of fun and the kids and instructors got a chance to bust out some truly spectacular moves that normally would never see the light of day in our regular classes. So, this is what we’d do every year….until one day (almost a year ago actually) I saw this video:

Now the title alone appealed to me, I’m a bit of a nerd and yes I like to play games (Munchkin anyone?). Being told how my sitting around playing games with my mates could help me improve the world was instantly going to grab my attention. So I grabbed my earphones and settled down to watch her at work. What I heard completely changed how I viewed our classes and eventually led to us approaching the Summercamp in a new and exciting way!

What Jane tells us is that rather than viewing online roleplaying games as something negative, they can actually inspire positive, world altering values and attitudes in the people who play them. People who play online multiplayer games (such as World of Warcraft) are used to cooperating with a massive number of people in order to achieve their goals, they receive constant feedback about how they are doing in regards to achieiving their goals and (now pay attention here’s the REALLY important part) they are constantly challenged to the edge of their ability, and no further. They are never given a world saving quest that is completely impossible for them to do, tantrum inducingly difficult (ahem), but not impossible. It is simply not possible for them to be given a quest that is beyond their characters level to complete. This constant feedback/validation of their progress and always being appropriately challenged, as well as being able to see the changes that occur in their environment due to their actions engage the player in the game and they experience “flow“. Being so engaged in the game makes its reality much more appealing than actual reality, the world they create with their character belongs to them in a more real sense than the life they create outside of the game.

It was this concept of engagement that completely changed how I looked at our kids classes. It was so OBVIOUS! Yes we have lots of fun playing the games and making the form practice funny and interesting, but we didn’t really have anything that meant the kids could claim the classes as their own. Nothing to completely engage them and allow them to experience flow on a regular basis. We needed stories, we needed a quest, what we needed, was an underlying purpose for everything that we were doing. Enter the summercamp and our willing guinea pigs students.

Together my fellow instructors and I created Zhe-Xian (pronounced chuh-zien) a former Cambridge Kung Fu student who had been thrown out of the summercamp many years ago for being lazy, dishonest and generally not a nice person. He had stolen all of the certificates and badges that the children would receive at the end of the week because he felt that if he (the most talented, amazing and disciplined student of all din’tchaknow) didn’t deserve a reward for his hard work then no one did. Via an angry SiJi Rin (SiJi is the title for a female instructor meaning older kung fu sister and teacher) demanding to know who had played this extremely unfunny joke on everyone, downloaded “security footage” a written ransom note and an e-mailed video we set the scene for the children.

Zhe-Xian had taken the certificates and badges and the children would only have three days to prove that they actually deserved to receive them at the end of the Summercamp. The children were provided with two chests (one for the older class, one for the younger class) made by Kung-Fu masters in the neutral dimension, these chests would judge each day whether the children had put in enough effort and focus and shown the Cambridge Kung Fu work ethic worthy of certificates and badges. If the children had demonstrated this then the chests would form a portal and give them a clue as to where Zhe-Xian had hidden the certificates and badges.

Throughout the week we did certain activities related to this storyline such as creating guardians for their badge and certificate once we found them and designing our own bracers to protect ourselves from Zhe-Xian’s mind control gauntlets (fat lot of good it did our instructors though!)

At the end of the week we put together all of the clues and had a treasure hunt around the school we were using. The children had to logically work out what the clues (little riddles about locations around the school) were telling us and help the instructors find whatever was hidden in that location. What we all found were not the expected certificates and bages, but a map! A map that finally showed the children where the prize was, but alas! Our instructors had been brainwashed and it was up to the children not only to recover the stolen goods and rescue the instructors, but also to reclaim their bracers that Zhe-Xian had sneakily stolen.

Needless to say the Cambridge Kung Fu children were victorious! The badges and certificates were recovered in time for the ceremony the next day, the instructors were saved and Zhe-Xian was shipped off to China to get some proper instruction.

The children got so involved with this story! From the start during their breaks they were hunting for Zhe-Xian to see if he was still hanging around, they were giving us ideas on what we could do to catch Zhe-Xian, every day when we got a clue they were talking to each other and the instructors about what it could mean, parents were coming in asking about who it was that had stolen from us (one of our instructors in particular had to console his daughter for the whole of the first night….I was not very popular with him), and to this day nearly a year later we have children asking us about Zhe-Xian.

They were engaged in the summercamp, they worked together. The older kids helped the younger kids, all the kids helped the instructors, they came up with their own versions of why Zhe-Xian was doing this and (most telling of all) I managed to hold 40 children enthralled in an activity for nearly half an hour without them noticing the other instructors sneaking off one by one because they had been “kidnapped”. But my point is this, none of this would have been possible without the underlying quest for them to complete. The “bad guy” to unite them together in achieving one purpose. At no point did they believe they couldn’t do it, we gave them a challenge and they smashed it beyond our wildest dreams!

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the importance of stories. How else are you going to convince children that they can defeat an ego maniacal bad guy? How else are you going to encourage them to willingly use their logic and puzzle solving skills to achieve an outcome? How else are you going to encourage them to stand by a fellow child and help them unbrainwash a teacher? Without the story all of the activities the children did had no purpose other than giving them something to do, with a story they had a purpose, they had a goal and with that they were truly unstoppable.