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!


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