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”.

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?

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.

Pushing Boundries

Dear readers, I have been neglecting you I know and this blog has not been updating as it should. Please accept my deepest apologies but be secure in the knowledge that there are more entries to come lovingly crafted by my own fair typing fingers! Anyway, read on for hijinks with my daughter and buses!

A few months ago I took Beth on the Park and Ride into Cambridge. She was in her pushchair so we took up occupancy in the space by the door, much to her delight there was a button at just the right level for her to push. Her eyes light up and her finger immediately stretches out towards it. Almost as if I have suddenly become Cassandra I see the future spreading out before me, a future filled with bus button pushing and irritated drivers and an extremely annoyed Beth at having the fun prematurely curtailed by her evil mother. But I am not Cassandra, and I can put a stop to it right now. “Beth” I warn, her finger millimetres away from the button, “No.” and I shake my head to make sure my meaning is clear. She stops, her mouth forming a little “oh” and eyebrows raised in innocent surprise, slowly her finger is withdrawn and she goes back to babbling and waving at the people across the aisle from us. However, the siren call of the button is too strong for her to resist and once again it draws her in. Her little hand reaches out once more, but as I open my mouth to tell her again it comes to rest underneath the button and she looks at me with a little grin. Now the cynic in me says that she’s being cheeky and deliberately going near the button, reminiscent of a certain game that children play. As I breathe in to tell her again the realisation suddenly hits me that I didn’t actually tell her what she wasn’t allowed to do. She wasn’t being cheeky she was trying to define what she could and could not do. As far as she was concerned I could have been telling her not to touch the entire side of the bus, not just the button. Quickly I revise my warning and smile saying “That’s okay, you can touch the wall just not the button” and elaborate whenever she goes to push the offending article saying “Not the button” instead of just “No.” By defining these boundaries for her we both have an enjoyable bus trip composing an impromptu musical number with the side of the bus doubling as a makeshift drum for our combined lalalas. Personally I found this a much better use of my time than constantly saying no and leaving her to figure out the rest on her own.

As her mother I am naturally biased towards thinking Beth is a) adorable beyond all reason and b) a GENIUS. Therefore whenever she starts showing that she has developed more awareness and understanding of the world around her I have to fight the inclination to over praise her for something that is actually completely ordinary and well within the bounds of natural development. Her development amazes me because every step is just as new to me as it is to her, however this is just the natural progression that most children show. As they grow older it is natural for them to question and not accept things at face value just because that’s what we tell them. Testing limits and pushing boundaries is a good thing (within reason), it teaches a child how far they can go, what is and is not acceptable at certain times and can improve their relationship with the authority figures in their life.

Many parents would say that arguing with their teenage children is a source of stress and they feel it means that their relationship is not as strong as it could be. Look at it from the teenager’s point of view and you could see quite a different perspective. Arguing with their parents (particularly when it comes to rules about curfews and parties) shows them that their parents are willing to listen to them and their opinions about a certain issue. They respect the teenager for the person that they are becoming and allow them the possibility of bending the rules or even changing them e.g. they are allowed to come home later because they are going out for a special event or can now walk home from school on their own because they are older. Even if they lose a few arguments the possibility for change in the future is still there for the teenagers to attempt again later (check out Nurture Shock for more elaboration on this).

It has been shown that taking a more authoritarian approach (the rules are set and not subject to change) leads children to be more likely to secretly rebel against the rules. They come to realise that no matter what they say the parents won’t change their opinion and so they hide their behaviour, rationalising that what their parents don’t know can’t hurt them. Even should their behaviour be discovered and punished this does not deter them, rather than stopping they simply take better precautions to ensure that their parents do not find out again. By taking an authoritative approach (the rules are clearly defined, but can be changed later on) the relationship can stay more open. The child is aware which rules are unbendable and which are open to the occasional breaking. But most importantly they know why the rules can or can not be changed, it isn’t merely because that is what they have been told and that is what they will do.

As Beth gets older I’m trying my best to make sure that everything I ask her to do, or tell her not to do (playing with laptop cables, leading innocent toys into a life of crime) has a reason behind it. Getting into reasons right now will overcomplicate things for her understanding, but by keeping this in mind and being specific (and flexible) about my expectations it will not only help me to develop a good relationship with my daughter but hopefully will transfer into the classes I teach.

In a bout of solidarity my parents sent me a book on toddler taming, apparently it kept them sane when I was a Satan spawn (which was all the time). Now Beth is by no means a difficult child, but is rapidly approaching the time of independence (terrible two’s) which is going to involve lots of frustration for her as she tries to do more and more things for herself without help from either one of her parents. What has helped me in leading up to these times of potential strife is following what Dr Green has written; really paying attention to what Beth is doing, being present there with her (as in physically and mentally), acknowledging that she is feeling frustrated and rather than taking over and doing the task for her enabling her to complete it with a minimum of aid (NOT an easy task for a control freak like me). So far we’ve managed to cope with a fairly harmonious household and a minimum of timeouts (the same can not be said for certain trouble causing toys…..mouse I’m looking at you), but these guidelines can be applied to much older children as well. Children can tell when you’re not really paying attention to them or their needs, it’s too easy to get distracted and try to focus on the bigger picture rather than taking the time to zoom in and pay attention to one part of a multi-layered activity. That’s where I think our instructors are amazing! They each have the skill to stop what they’re doing and really listen to what a child is trying to tell them, by utilising this skill they are able to take an authoratative approach and allow the child to question why we do things in a certain way and explain what we need from them without the child feeling the need to negatively draw attention to themselves, or try to break the rules and hope that we don’t find out.

In our classes we work on the principle that respect is earned, not given. By expecting the children to do something just because their instructors have told them to is not earning their respect, it’s commanding it.

Articles of Interest

Mothers’ and fathers’ parenting styles and associations with toddlers’ externalizing, internalizing and adaptive behaviours – Christina M. Rinaldi, Nina Howe

Personality and parenting style in parents of adolescents – Rose M.E. Huver, Roy Otten, Hein de Vries, Rutger C.M.E. Engels

The Relationship Between Parental Perfectionism And Parenting Styles – Kooroosh Azizi, Mohammad Ali Besharat

Finding the eye of the storm

It always happens doesn’t it? One day you can handle everything that life throws at you, you’re calm, you’re organised there is no problem too big or too small for you and your super duper efficient approach to everything.

Then the next day rolls around. Everything is sent to try you, nothing works right, everything is piling on top of you, there are jobs and chores left right and centre that need doing right nownowNOW and you feel like you’re drowning while everyone else calmly moves on past you getting on with everything in a way that makes you want to claw out their eyes for being so calm when OBVIOUSLY the world is ending all around you (or is that just me?).

Now I will fully admit to being of an excitable nature, usually I need a moment to have a quick rant about how horrible and awful the situation is now and then I calm down and get on with it. It’s not the most efficient way of dealing with things but over the years I have found that if I don’t vent straight away I repress the feelings and they bubble underneath the surface for DAYS afterwards. This is extremely trying for my poor partner Tom as it then comes out in little bursts constantly until I’ve finally expressed everything I felt, this happens regardless of how big or small the situation was. I’ve found this to be especially the case now that I’m a mum and back working full time. I’m sure other parents can agree with me that when there’s a small child in your life there is never enough time for everything you need to do, let alone all the other things that you want to do. You often find that you’re so busy getting everything else ready for the house, for the child, for everyday life that you neglect yourself. For example I often try to be efficient and make my lunch the night before, but am so busy in the morning that I leave it at home, d’oh! Any tales of rushed around absentmindedness to share from anyone?

But back to my excitable nature! Recently I drove up to Coventry for a childcare expo, they were doing sessions about games on a budget and some seminars which looked pretty relevant to my job (more to come on that in another entry). Now I am an okay driver over long distances, even by myself. What gets me wound up and anxious though is going somewhere I do not know, specifically in big cities. I learnt to drive in Norwich so I became intimately familiar with it’s one way system and which lanes were best for which direction. I fully remember the frustration caused by people who didn’t know where they were going and would often switch lanes at the last minute or proceed at a snails pace trying to figure out which way to go. When I drive in a city I am unfamiliar with, I remember this frustration and I cringe every time I go wrong knowing that the driver behind me is undoubtedly rolling their eyes, heaving a deep sigh or even cursing the very day I was ever awarded a drivers licence. Add in the the fact that I’m often trying to get somewhere for a certain time and am convinced that I will be lost forever and therefore late, and there’s some major anxiety going on in my little Tallulah (what? Everyone names their cars don’t they?). So given all this you can imagine how calm and serene I was whilst on the work placement for my Social Work degree, which involved navigating the back roads of Norfolk at times, and then in my first job in Cambridge as a Gymboree instructor, which involved finding nurseries in places I had never even heard of let alone know vaguely where they were! My old house mate Rob has my eternal gratitude for letting me have his SatNav on permanent loan until I could save enough money for one of my own (code for steal my boyfriend’s!).

So how do I calm myself down? First things first, know thyself. I know for a fact that if I’m running late then that will wind me up before I even start heading anywhere, so I make sure I leave in plenty of time. Even if leaving at that time means I’ll be early, it gives me a buffer for if I do get lost and need to find my way again. I also make sure that if it’s somewhere I’ve never been before I’ve looked up the route on google maps, written down directions/addresses and also have a satnav to prevent me from having to slow down too much in order to read street names etc. I recognise that these are all props but they help me from descending into a whirlwind of “ARGH” . The second step is to recognise when I’m becoming stressed out and to talk myself down, to carry on with this example, if I miss the exit on a roundabout just go around again. If I miss a turning it’s not a big deal just find a safe place to turn around and go back. So what if it takes a little bit of extra time, that’s why I left early. The final step occurs when I reach my destination, I take a minute to just breathe. Particularly if it’s been quite a stressful journey, a few minutes just to myself are enough to ground me again and I’m ready to go ahead with whatever I need to do.

In our classes you may have noticed we regularly do an exercise with the children called Silent Masters. We use this as a way to calm them down after a high activity class and game, it’s also another way for them to learn how to control their bodies. As those of you with young children will know, getting them to stay still is just as hard as getting them to perform certain movements. With this exercise they are learning how to keep their bodies still and under their control. It’s a good opportunity for them to destress, particularly if they’ve found some of the new form moves that week quite difficult. When I run silent masters I like to encourage the children to imagine they are breathing in their favourite colour and breathing out their least favourite colour. When they breathe in they are breathing in positive feelings like happiness, being relaxed, feeling energised etc. When they are breathing out they are getting rid of any negative emotions they might have like being upset, frustrated or angry so that they can experience the rest of the day without having those feelings weighing them down.

However sometimes a situation is too much for a child in class and it needs to be dealt with before Silent Masters. In these instances our instructors give them some one to one attention so the child can tell us what is wrong e.g. they’re scared to join in the game, someone keeps pushing them on skyscraper or they’re having a lot of trouble with a particular move, and we do our best to help them resolve the problem so they can join back in with the lesson. Sometimes however that is not enough and they need what I need occasionally: some time away from the situation. If this is the case we give the child the option to sit out and observe the class and to join back in when they feel ready.

All of these techniques that we use are nothing special, but we hope that they make the classes feel like a safer space for the children while they are with us. They are also easily transferable to everyday life and can be used by anyone not just children. You don’t need to lie down to do silent masters, just sit back in your chair now, close your eyes and take a deep breath imagining that everything is relaxing and all of the tension is leaving your body. Bad day at work? Don’t sit there and stew in the toxic environment, take a walk and get away, when you come back you’ll have a clearer head and will be able to approach the situation much more calmly.

If you would like to do Silent Masters at home with your child here are some tips that I have personally found useful that you may want to include in your practice:

  • If you are only just introducing Silent Masters at home don’t expect your child to naturally fall into it. Allow them to find their own way to be comfortable rather than insisting they sit or lie in a particular position. You will find they start focussing much quicker that way!
  • Try not to go too fast through each step. Allow your child some time to get used to one idea before progressing onto the next. For example, allow them to focus on their deep breathing first of all for a few minutes (which naturally relaxes the body) before then asking them to visualise something. Moving too quickly means they can’t get used to one thing before having to move on.
  • Meditating is a hard skill to master. You need to show the same patience you are expecting of your child. I have often found trying to push them into one aspect of silent masters then sabotages everything else you try to do. Rather than getting irritated that they are not listening or focussing for the length of time you think they should be, shorten it down and increase it gradually. Like any skill, meditation will become easier the more it is practiced.

Now if you don’t mind I’m off to do some relaxing of my own. The deep relaxation that can only be brought around by a box of chocolates and the developing love of a Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and a Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Poor Mr Darcy condemned forever to look like Colin Firth….although in my opinion I don’t really see that as too great a hardship.

Exercise can be fun…..no, really!

It never fails to amaze me watching the children I teach just how much energy they have! They run around like maniacs before we start our classes then they do an hour with us where we run around warming up, doing our forms and playing games. Afterwards some even head to more activities; tennis lessons, dance classes, football the list goes on and on!

I vaguely remember being able to maintain that high level of energy. Now my exercise consists of weight lifting (carrying Beth around counts right?), kung fu classes, yoga, pilates and Tai Chi (not really known for their high cardiovascular effect) and my (almost non-existent) marathon training. Until I started working for Cambridge Kung Fu I never really analysed my attitude to exercise, I proudly viewed myself as one of the ‘sane’ people. 6am for a run? No thank you! Killing yourself on gym machines and continuous cardio and strength classes? Well I’ll dabble every now and then but heaven forbid it should interfere with…well, let’s be honest, anything else that didn’t involve getting sweaty, disgusting and tired in a room full of 20 people with an endlessly energetic perky instructor!

With this job has come the realisation that the most important factor for me when it comes to exercise, is fun. It seems like such an obvious factor yet it is one that is constantly  overlooked in people’s efforts to combat the indulgent coffees (guilty), cakes (also guilty), chocolate bars (yup) and the desire to get our children into the best habits possible to avoid becoming part of the obesity epidemic (I’m pretty sure my future self is guilty).

So where has this attitude of mine come from? Funnily enough, childhood. I am a forces brat and having opted out of going to boarding school ended up changing schools every 3-4 years. I suffered quite badly from being bullied and so withdrew from anything that would draw quite a lot of attention to myself, this included getting involved in school sports besides the required P.E lessons. The only exercise I truly enjoyed was (and still is along with my Tai Chi) dancing, the great thing being it didn’t feel like exercise. It was fun, it was something I could laugh at while I was doing it and it constantly changed. The advantage being the better I got the less time I had for other sports at school. It’s now gotten to the point that if I can’t laugh while I’m doing the exercise, or if I’m out of breath cackle maniacally in my head, then I can’t stick with it long-term.

The commonly accepted explanation for why exercise makes people feel good is “endorphins”.  Research has shown that endogenous opioids (“peptides that have biochemical properties similar to exogenous opiates such as heroin and morphine”*, otherwise known as endorphins) are increased by exercising, this increase also coincided with an improvement in mood after acute exercise. However studies that then blocked the opioid receptors showed that this did not stop the mood improvement after exercise from occurring. So endorphins on their own can not fully account for the “feel good” factor when we exercise, what else can? There is also a psychological aspect to exercise, who hasn’t vowed that this year will be different and started a whole new exercise regime only to slowly drop it over the next few months (I know I have!)? It takes dedication and determination to stick with something new to the point of it becoming a habit, especially when it’s not always pleasureable (helloooooo red puffy face, breathlessness, sweat and aches and pains). The level of intensity at which you exercise can have an effect on your mood levels, low intensity can improve mood and high intensity can actually increase negative mood states**. However it has also been shown to have no effect at all, this could be attributed to the fact that we all have our own comfort zones when it comes to exercise. Some people take pleasure from high intensity levels of exercise (like my nutter of a Spartan neighbour!), and others find this highly uncomfortable and prefer lower levels of intensity (like yours truly). It seems that people experience more pleasure from exercise when they are allowed to choose the intensity each time, some days you feel capable of tackling a 5 mile run, other days you can barely get down the road.

In order to achieve a “pleasureable state of consciousness” (Yeung) during exercise you need to enter into the flow. This is achieved by challenging yourself at “the very edge of your skill level”***, too hard and you become frustrated and angry, too easy and you become bored. The effects are the same however, you soon stop. Jane McGonigal tells us that being in a state of flow is so engaging that even if we do stumble while attempting the challenge we immediately want to get up and try again. We are “optimistically engaged” (McGonigall) within the task and so are more inclined to think positively about our abilities within it rather than negatively.

So combining a state of flow and the release of endorphins can then create a state of mind which helps us to maintain a new exercise regime and to stick with something we find challenging because it is fun for us. This is the type of environment we try to create within our classes every week, if it’s not fun what’s the point? But combining this state of mind with laughter makes the effect even more powerful, did you know that the act of laughing releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine into our brains? Dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward, by laughing while attempting and succeeding at a task you are setting yourself up to be more prepared for any increased effort required to succeed in the future (however should you stumble remember kung fu means success achieved through hard work and that this can apply to anything, not just martial arts).

This need for laughter and fun is what drives us here at Cambridge Kung Fu when we teach or talk about developing the children’s’ classes. The classes were already amazing when I got hired at Cambridge Kung Fu, my job (and my desire) is to support our Programme Coordinators to take them from amazing to spectacular! You may have noticed, if your child does classes with us, that we play quite a few games in the classes, even with the older children. Well why not? Yes they are games rather than kung fu drills designed to discipline and strengthen, but guess what. Our games help to encourage the same values as these drills. If you watch closely all of the games we play require some level of teamwork (dragon’s lair, stealth, Eskimo island), body control and awareness (skyscraper, terracotta warriors), a degree of physical fitness(Indiana Jones and the temple of cones, ladder legs, pad tag, circle of doom) and some self-defence (defend the base, el presidente, shaolin crossing). The best thing about these is that the children are having too much fun to realise they are actually being taught these things.

Our main motto is: “It’s about who you are, not what you’ve got that matters.” Children are still discovering who they are, why should we control and dominate how they see themselves by making them do endless drills and exercises? Why not give them an opportunity to shine in the ever-changing environment that is a game? Some of the best suggestions I have had for game alterations and class activities have come from the children I teach. Our main motto may be focussing on our own integral resources, but the one I always try to keep in mind is that children are not little adults, so why should we make them train like one?

* Lessons in Exercise Neurobiology: The Case of Endorphins Rod K. Dishman, Patrick J. O’Connor

** The Acute Effects of Exercise on Mood State Robert R. Yeung

***Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World Jane McGonigall