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!

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?