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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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.