10 October, 2010

Wax On, Move On.

Still hoping I'll be able to fit in a few visits to new clubs over the coming months. But in the meantime please visit my new blog here.

22 September, 2010

Every end is a new beginning.

I'm writing this post slowly. It was only a matter of time before something gave and last night it was a hyper-extended elbow. Typing, lifting, opening doors and driving are all activities which will involve some pain for a couple of weeks now and it's all thanks to a very hard dan-grade workout at Leicester Karate Association.

Chand Schools of Martial Arts has several clubs in Leicestershire and has formed it's own independent association. Something I'm very wary of, as affiliation with one of the big boys (AMA, NAKMAS, WSKF, JKA) reassures of the quality of the grade awarded. It doesn't look like a money making machine or a McDojo from the website though so I made my usual enquiries via email to the club advising that I had been a shotokan student in my teens and would like to try Traditional Wado-Ryu.

When I arrived Sensei Chand's first question is "what grade?" so I admit to being graded shodan in 1990 but suggest that I should be treated as a beginner as I don't have the fitness or speed of a black belt at the moment and the class begins.

Sensei Chand is an accomplished karateka who works the class extremely hard from the first minute. One of the exercises "the Row Boat" involves sitting, legs outstretch on the dojo floor, and pulling your body using the arms only, to the other side of the room, and back again, and back again, and again. Whilst I'm not as fit as I once was and am often caught out of breath in sessions, my arm strength has always been good and I've been working on it lately with the 100 push ups challenge so I was surprised at how slow I was compared to the other students, this is clearly a very fit bunch.

Once the exhausting warm-up is complete we begin Kihon practice. Sequenced kicks and punches. After a few Maegeri, Mawashageri, Gyakuzukis (front kick, round-house kick, reverse punch combo) I'm moved from the back line to the front and asked to join in the senior sequences. This becomes a slightly more complex shuto (knife hand block) front leg maegeri, gyaku-zuki, half-step junzuki (lunge punch), gyakuzuki, shuto, gyakuzuki... try it!

The truth is over the last year visiting a dozen clubs I've found things difficult and challenging at times but this combination of challenging but familiar is really attractive. We move on to kata and whilst the subtle differences between the Pinan kata in Wado and the Heian kata in Shoto wrong-foot me, again the memories of some sections come flooding back and I can almost make my way through them.

The class rounds off with sparring practice. I'm taken in hand by another Sensei and at one point am placed firmly on my arse. I'm slow in comparison to these wado boys and would have to work hard to catch up in this class to avoid some speedy (but thankfully gloved) fists. 

As always I can only judge a school by my own knowledge of karate and what makes a good club but I can definitely say that this club seems no worse off for it's small association size, the standard of the dan grades is high and the junior grades have good technique and excellent attitudes. Chand also offers courses with senior instructors - the next on the 10th October with Sakagami Sensei (7th dan founder of The Wado-Ryu Aiwakai Karate-Do Federation) which I would love to attend.

For me this class was exactly what karate should be about. A solid teaching of the three Ks (Kihon, Kata and Kumite) with equal time given to each and with varying expectations according to grade so everyone learns something and no one gets bored. The etiquette and quality of the students was some of the best I've seen in Leicester and I think for now at least I've found my new martial arts home.

I'm going to try to train at Chand's and continue to go to other classes when I can but I'll also be blogging seperately about the transition from Shotokan to Wado Ryu as I think changing styles is a challenge that many Martial Artists have faced, I hope people find that journey as much fun as I have found this one.

So for now, Yasume!

10 September, 2010

怖いの?Orega kowai no ka?

Oh dear. It seems I've put a few noses out of joint, without throwing a punch!

Firstly a bit of a moan from one of the Gannon brothers (I've posted the comment unmoderated) offended by my posting the "thumbgate" photo, I'll let you read his comments and judge his motives...

I have also had my first flat refusal.

A webcontact form completed to request a taster session at Shane Varney's Karate School was responded to with:

"Sorry you are not welcome at my school"

What a shame. Particularly as the majority of my posts are positive and I usually recommend the clubs visited.

It would have been great to get a message from either of these chaps saying: "Hi, let me show you how great we are, please come to my club and review it, I'm confident you'll be impressed by my students, my style, my instruction, and my affiliations"

So no review of Shane Varneys Karate School (aka martialartswigston) -
click here to see what I'm missing...

08 September, 2010

Finding my form - Taijiquan

There are a few Martial Arts that I’ve always wanted to try; Kendo, (because you get a sword), Judo (because in the seventies Brian Jacks always won Superstars) and Tai Chi (because it's just so different from all of the others).

I haven’t been able to find a taster session for Kendo in Leicester, and although I’ve been invited to watch a session at the Urban Martial Arts centre, I’m not ready to part with £65 for a full beginner’s course. With Judo, my attempts to find a class that trains when I’m available have so far not been successful but I will keep on trying. My friend Mahiee has just been selected for the National team so I’m inspired by him to do at least one class. As for Tai Chi, I’d tried to visit a club in Wigston but that had closed, however I kept in touch with Instructor Nasser who has just begun classes at a new venue off Narborough Road. Last night I went along to a 5.30pm form class to try it out.

I’ve always loved form, (or kata/ patterns) and enjoyed learning the execution and presentation and understanding the bunkai (application of each move) so I hope I’ll feel at home practicing Taijiquan. The Fa-Jing Chuan School based on the second floor of an industrial unit, is a large, well lit space which is slowly being transformed with panelling and paint into a large well-lit dojo. As I’m waiting for Nasser I meet up with long-term student who has been studying tai-chi for a couple of years and her son who has just started, and she is enthusiastic about the benefits of Tai Chi. The three of us make up the class and Nasser arrives at exactly 5.30 to start the class.

There is something both disconcerting and calming about moving so slowly. We start with some very gentle breathing exercises rather than a warm up and the whole session is relaxed and informal. This form has over 100 moves and these Tuesday sessions are designed to teach the first third of the form. There are other sessions to learn the second and third part as well as classes in the fighting arts. Each move is rehearsed over and over again with Nasser explaining the timing, subtleties of movement, alignment, balance and application of each. In over an hour we practice just six actions and two steps. At one point Nasser gives excellent explanations of why each step lands heel-first, so as not to commit to the step, and the generation of torque in the body. I’m confident that Nasser has a very good understanding of biomechanics and the fighting arts as well as the more gentle internal ones.

If anyone is interested in Tai Chi or just wants an activity that is low-impact and low-burn then this is an excellent choice and if you’re a perfectionist so much the better. I felt I would miss the work-out that’s offered from other higher impact classes and this would not be my recommendation for reward led or externally motivated people who want a shiny belt to demonstrate their skill and knowledge. What I would say is that as a Martial Artist this is a fantastic accompaniment to your weekly high-impact class. An hour focusing on how the body creates power and eliminating the flourishes and tells we all pick up when we learn kata for competition or gradings is an hour well-spent and can only complement other training. I hope Nasser fills his classes with a range of learners. I would particularly recommend this for black belts of any style who are between dans to broaden their horizons and to older or injured Martial Artists who can no longer rely on sheer power and need to hone their techniques.

My one and only complaint? The class over-ran by 30 minutes and I was late for my beer.

04 September, 2010

"Desperately Seeking Sahota" OR "On the bench"...

Sometimes you should just trust your instincts...

The faithful reader will recall that I tried to find Mr Sahota's Taekwondo academy once before, but incorrect information on their website about training times and an elusive venue meant that it was a no go. Not one to give up without a fight, I found a facebook group relating to the Sahota club and got accurate training times and directions from a very helpful chap. Friday's at 6.30pm (not 6pm as the website would have), through the carpark and up the stairs.

Despite having reservations from my first attempt, and still nervous about a club that promises:

"YOU a BLACK BELT THIS TIME NEXT YEAR
YOU CAN BE BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR WITH THIS REMARKABLE TEACHING METHOD. Becoming a Blackbelt takes 3 to 6 years. What you may not realize, is that it doesn't have to take this long. You now have a unique opportunity to be taught Taekwon-do by Master B.Sahota VII Dan"

I arrived and stood waiting outside the dojang door with a group of young taekwon-doers. And we waited... Mr Sahota arrived just after 6.30 to let us in.

I introduced myself and asked if it would be alright if I attended the class to see what it was like. I have to say I have never been so discouraged from joining a club. Mr Sahota, who is a VII degree black belt and very high up in the ITF asked me if I knew any Taekwondo. I explained that I had done a few different Martial Arts before, and had studied karate "for a while". He assured me that TKD was "completely different" to Karate and advised me that I should just watch for now. I took this to mean "for the moment" and went to sit at the side of the class, removing shoes and socks for later. I watched as the class filed in, 2 yellow belts, a few orange, assorted reds and greens and 3 black belts. There were about fifteen students in total and most were under 16 years old.

My naked feet must have betrayed my eagerness to get involved because Master Sahota came over to me again to assure me that I could only watch. I was, understandably put-out, as I'd never not been allowed to join in before. I tried to negotiate; "I'm quite fit" I weedled, "and a quick learner". But Mr S was adamant, if I joined in I would have to pay to enrol so I could only watch until I decide if I want to join. Quite how anyone is meant to judge whether they want to join a class when they can only watch is beyond me. I'm also suprised because when I checked that website it said "FREE! Uniform & 1 MONTH FREE!"
but not wishing to be impolite, I sat back down and put my socks on.

To be honest I should have left then. It was such a disappointment to watch a class run by someone with such a high grade and so well thought of in a major organisation, full of some very poorly techniqued students. Lower grades aside, two of the black belts seemed unable to perform even the most basic Tul with any commitment or ki. Punches were loose, knifehands left open and execution of kicks and blocks was sloppy. Even allowing for differences in style, these two would not have risen above 4th or 5th kyu in many clubs and to award the coveted black-belt to poor quality students on length of service devalued the club, the teaching and the ITF to me. I can only hope I just saw a poor class, and that these students are capable of much, much more.



This is a very negative review, and I don't doubt that many students are very happy there and value their grades and teaching. To be fair Mr Sahota's own demonstrations were excellent and one of the black-belts had decent technique and was working hard at the back of the class. But a class that does not invite new starters unless they pay up, makes promises about how quickly anyone can become a black-belt, and seems to keep those promises regardless of the students own ability is not for me. I've been a bit disheartenened by this, and would certainly recommend any of the other TKD classes I've visited over this one. I just hope that next week I can find somewhere that lets me break a sweat.

27 August, 2010

Krav Maga Total Combat - or Tom and Suze join the Israeli Military for the evening

This is great! I have a Martial Mate... a Fighting Friend... Bushido Buddy?

Meet Tom

Tom is my friend from school and he's just contacted me to say he's looking into trying out a Krav Maga class in Leicester. As I've just spent two weeks eating Cream Teas and Pasties in Cornwall this is a much needed work-out so I've invited myself along.

I briefly spoke to Roger the instructor on the phone and arranged to turn up for a free introductory session with Tom on Thursday. The address given is the Gannon Karate Academy on the High Street but it turns out this is a temporary home and not afiliated with the Gannons or in any way.
I met up with Tom just before the class was due to start and exchanged news (his is way more interesting than mine) and then we introduced ourselves to Roger. Roger is a very pleasant and amiable chap who smiles a lot. Not what one would usually associate with an efficient and brutal Martial Art taught to elite special forces around the world but perhaps he has a dark side.

The class starts with a warm-up: the usual stretches and exercises before moving straight on to pad work, and combination punches. Roger explains the mechanism of the punch, striking area and torque well and spends time with each pair making sure they have understood the distance and force required. After basic punches we move onto adding an exit to the strike. This is where KM really seperates from all of the sport Martial Arts. The techniques are short, fast and always end with an escape, so it really is much more self-defence oriented than many Arts purport to be. Once we've mastered two strikes and out, we move on to adding a counter-strike on the exit to debilitate the attacker.

Roger also briefly covers the psychology of using anger appropriately and encourages us to work up our aggression in the moment. This is one area that I felt I needed to understand more about and hope it's covered in more detail in future classes. As well as hand-to-hand combat, the syllabus also covers weapons and there is a grading system based loosely on belts although belts are not worn (I believe there are 5 or 6 grades to Instructor level)

I'm impressed with the amount of useful, practical information and technique that has been offered in just this first half-hour, and as we move on to escapes from choke-holds and learn hammer-blows and knee-strikes it becomes clear than Krav Maga does exactly what it says on the tin, it's hard and fast, there's no finesse and it teaches practical street fighting which is exactly what Tom was looking for. 

There's no real etiquette in the dojo, students go off to take a break, drink water or even answer their phones throughout the class, but Roger commands a healthy respect and everyone is polite and friendly. For those of us who enjoy the artistic side of the Arts, or who want a little Kata and competition this isn't for you. But if your motivation for going to class is to learn practical self-defence skills then I would heartily recommend KM over Karate, TKD or Kung Fu and it's also a good workout for your upper body too.

Tom was impressed enough to want to sign up for more classes, and I think Krav Maga will appeal to people who want techniques that work, and none of the slightly effected methods that some Martial Arts can develop.

I do know that after a few more classes I'll think twice before tapping Tom on the shoulder in the street!

06 August, 2010

Another Do-Jang in another hall...or The Littlest Martial Arts Hobo

Having not had much success with Zenyogkido (!) or Tai Chi I resort to another Taekwondo class on my ever-shortening list. This one is in Birstall, although calls itself Leicester Taekwondo club. It's run by another Freer, this time Andy, a recently promoted 4th degree instructor. Phased by my two recent 'sit in a car and waste half an hour of your life you'll never get back' experiences I rang the number on the website and spoke to Karen in advance, who in very friendly tones reassures me that despite being in a school during the school holidays, the class is definitely on, and for adults as well as kids. 6.30pm to 7.30 at Riverside School.

I arrive first but am soon joined by some very young children (but none of them more senior than yellow belt) a couple of teenagers and some adults. The class is to be taken by Karen, who's a third dan, as Mr Freer is only going to be able to join us later. As well as Karen, there is one other black belt, a red and black (1st kup?), and some assorted blues and reds who I take to be between 2nd and 5th kup grades or thereabouts).

We start with a gentle warm up (although this unfit karateka as usual finds it all a bit of a struggle to keep up with the 8 year olds) followed by some punching technique and pad work. The pad work continues in the form of more punching and kicking for most of the rest of the class and I get to partner with most of the adults throughout the hour long session. The techniques of all of the students are good and it looks like they're getting some excellent instruction. Most of the second half of the class is led by black belt Sally as Karen takes the youngsters through their pattern for an upcoming grading and this might account for the lack of variety in the session. I think most seniors stay on from 7.30 to do the complicated stuff and use the first session as a warm up. This is an excellent work-out but I get very little chance to do anything more than a kick and a punch. Fine for beginners of course but frustrating for me and I would have liked to have stayed for the senior class so I could have had a go at some sparring and Tul myself.

Am I experiencing a blogger's plateau? As always I enjoy being in the class, practising techniques with enthusiastic individuals, but this was the first class that I would happily recommend in which I didn't learn anything. That's no criticism of the teaching, more an awareness that there is only so far I can go trying new things as a beginner before I stop being a beginner.

Part of me can't help thinking that if I'd chosen a Martial Art when I started the blog, I could be grading for my 4th belt and competing by now and I have to remind myself that that was never the point of all this. The point was to get fit (hmmmm), find a new club, and share the journey.

So onwards and upwards. Birstall TKD looks like a good club with sound teaching whether you're 10 or 50 - go along if you're in the area and try it out. Classes are free for the first month and the students and instructors there are very approachable, helpful and supportive.


For me, well I'm going to keep on keeping on!

"maybe tomorrow..."

28 July, 2010

Wax On, Wash Out!

Two disappointments this week. Old Yang style Tai Chi and Zenyogkido.

The website for Fajing Chuan internal chinese boxing (tai chi to you and me) offers several classes and I choose the nearest; Thursday, 2.00pm - 3.00pm at The Walter Charles Centre, in Oadby. But after waiting 15 minutes it's clear that the centre is closed and no one is coming to run a class there. When I email Nasser Butt the chief instructor he advises that they no longer run any classes except one on Friday mornings.



So this Wednesday I decided to try something new and plump for Zenyogkido at Guthlacs rooms on Holbrook Road. There's no email address or phone number posted on their site but it invites potential students to turn up at 7.30pm on Wedneday night and I dutifully do so. Again, no signs, a locked door and a very pissed off Martial Arts Blogger.

I'm not sure why people don't keep their websites up to date, as it can only put people off, even a quick hand-written poster on the door advising if the closure is temporary or permanent would be something...

So nothing so far this week from me, but I'll keep trying.

24 July, 2010

Kuk Sool Won - Reps, Flips and Slips

The Leicester and Hinckley School of Kuk Sool Won is based in a small single-purpose dojang building in Hinckley so involves a 20 minutes scoot along the M69 for me to attend the 7pm class on Thursday. Before researching into the art I'd never heard of Kuk Sool Won and hope, like Tetsudo a few weeks ago, it will offer something different to the standard basics of Karate or Taekwondo and further change my view of the quality of "new" Martial Arts. KSW has it's roots in Korea and encompasses hand to hand combat, locks and throws, acrobatic break-falls and weapons.

I'm welcomed by David, a recently promoted 5th Dhan black belt, and entitled to the rank of Master within the association. He's a friendly and encouraging figure, and whilst he doesn't immediately look that fit, I'm later to see that his techniques more than make up for this. Straight onto the mat at 7pm with a class made up of Black, brown, blue and white belts we begin with some promisingly strict etiquette, bowing to the founder, flag and master before we start with a circuit training style set of ten reps each of press ups, sit ups, jumps, star jumps and squat thrusts. Twice.

Still not as fit as I once was I do struggle with this and it seems the fitness level in this class is extremely high with senior grades upping the reps to 30 of each, each time. This is followed by breakfall and acrobatic practice which shows that these guys are not only very, very fit but also very bendy! One by one we are asked to cartwheel across the floor and not having attempted anything so much as a handstand in thirty years mine are pitiful, again the senior grades seriously impress with one-handed and no handed cartwheels, backflips and breakfalls. Despite the embarrassment of being quite clearly the least able in the class (not something that sits well with me...) I do enjoy trying to flip myself about onto the mat and the rest of the class are supportive of my attempts.


After a ten second water break I'm taken to one side by David to be shown how KSW approach stances, breakfalls, and three wrist escape techniques. Stances are very low and in-line so not particularly practical which is difficult to justify, one of the seniors later explains that they are taught this way for conditioning and relaxed when sparring but he agrees that karate is more effective in this area. The techniques are clearly demonstrated and explained and David is a good teacher. But having been pretty rubbish at the fitness, flexibility and gymnastic side of the class, I'm thrilled to be allowed to learn some of the first pattern Ki Cho Hyung which places me firmly back in my comfort zone and reassures me that if I were to enrol as a student of Kuk Sool Won there would be one thing I could quickly grasp whilst I floundered with the rest.

The class ends as it began, and I finish with an informal chat with David about costs and gradings and so on. £50 a year for licence and membership, plus £4.50 a week per class doesn't seem too bad, and if it wasn't for the distance to the class I would be very tempted to join as this is a class where the style is so different to Karate that my black belt would really mean very little and I could happily start at the beginning and work my way up. My only criticism is one that only strikes me two days later when I'm struggling to lift my arms, there was no warm-up! Whilst regular members may know they need to warm up fully before the class starts as a newbie I came straight from sitting in a car to doing reps and flips and that became a real concern that stopped me wanting to return. Otherwise, if the class were closer, I would be going back next week.

17 July, 2010

Judo'nt!

A disappointing non-training day today. I had hoped to attend the Leicester Leys Judo Club at the leisure Centre in Beaumont Leys but it wasn't to be. The website of the leisure centre states the class starts at 9.30am for beginners, but having had some interesting experiences with websites in the past, I decided to give them a ring and double check. "Yes" says assistant David, there is a Judo class, it starts at 10am not 9.30am and it's for beginners of all ages.

With my trusty Martial Arts blog-bag packed (wallet, phone, keys, sat nav, bottle of water, knee bandage) I set off for the Leys and arrive in plenty of time.

I speak to Johnny who like everyone else there is not in a Gi, and he informs me that a class starts at 10am, but it's for juniors so could I come back at 11.30am? Er no, (much as I would like to spend 90 minutes staring at a vending machine and not return home until nearly 2pm...). To their credit they do offer to let me me stay and train with the juniors, and there may be a 13 year old turn up who I could partner with. But this looks more and more unlikely as the clock ticks on. As the oldest judo-ka now appears to be about 10 years old I would be so afraid of snapping him that I wouldn't be able to use any real techniques.



So no account of the training quality of this club today. I think the lack of proper uniform put me off instantly but I may go back at some point. I'm still determined to attend a Judo class and have seen another club at Aylestone Leisure centre which I hope to go to in the next few blogs. As it is I have the excitement of Kuk Sool Won and Old Yang Taijiquan to keep me busy over the next few weeks.

Sayonara.

09 July, 2010

Anything Taekwon-do I can-do better (or The Anti-Karate lesson)

In my younger, fitter and more arrogant days, we used to sing "Anything Taekwon-do I can-do better" at inter-discipline tournaments to taunt our rivals. Because when you're a fourteen year old brown belt, your Martial Art really is *your* Martial Art, and all of the others feel like pale imitations waiting to be shown up for the imposters they are. Basically it all gets a bit 'Cobra Kai'

As you get older you realise you have so much to learn from other arts and that's partly why I'm on a mission to experience as may as I can. So far, all but one of the sessions I've attended have offered an opportunity for me to learn something new, and having only had one hour of Taekwondo instruction so far, James Freer's Taekwondo Club had been on the radar for a while. As usual I was just waiting for a free Thursday to try it out.

With an informative website they offer TKD as a method of self-defence, discipline and fitness much like many other clubs but as Freer is a 6th degree black belt with the TAGB, I am expecting great things from him.

The class runs 7-8pm (for beginners) at the YMCA sports hall. When I arrive I am welcomed and given a starter pack which details plenty of information about TKD and also about Freer and his club. I'm told I have a month of free lessons to look forward to at any of the clubs in the region before deciding if TKD is for me - which is the most generous offer yet.

The class is made up of several black belts, two greens, a bluey, couple of yellow and some ungraded, the weighting was definitely towards the higher grades so James could use some more beginners which is a difficult ask in the warm summer evenings. Seems to be that it's only the most commited practicioners of any Martial Art that willingly turn up when the alternative is a bbq in the park... I particularly liked the placement of the class, with lower grades at the front and seniors at the back (as the trend is usually high grades left, low grades right). This allowed us newbies to be "spotted" by a senior grade which was really helpful and also prevented copying your neighbour so you had to really focus on what was being taught (great for the kids).

The warm up is effective, well-rounded and lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, it's narrated with short explanations about Taekwondo and the body, all very well covered by Master Freer.

When the class proper starts we are worryingly placed into teams... I'm chosen (eventually, must not look my fittest?) by a smiley 1st degree black belt and there follows what amounts to a beep-test relay up and down the hall with punches and kicks at the end. At this stage the focus is on speed (it's a race) rather than technique, and of course my team wins. I must reassure you that there was at no point anyone over-competitively screaming "RUN!" or any football-goal style celebrations *blush*.

It's a good introduction to the main part of the session and completes the warm-up. It gets the group working together and is fun for the kids so a winner all round. For the rest of the class we work in pairs (senior grade to lower grade) to practice kicks and punches. This is where I find Taekwondo really hard, because my Shotokan deep stances and whole body kicks and punches are not what is required. Nathan (whom I'm paired with) is a good teacher, and friendly and enthusiastic with it, as I fail again to complete another hook punch or a top-of-the-foot snap kick.

"Oh God", I think, "it's like someone invented Anti-Karate"!

The hour passes quickly and I enjoy the work-out, I'd certainly recommend this class to younger beginners as it's interesting, fast-paced and fun but I'm not sure that older dedicated students (let's call ourselves the over 25s) would stick at it. Because despite James reassuring us that the path to black belt is paved with good techniques, there was very little focus on the basics (how to make a fist, stance and posture etc). Also the requirement stated in the manual to do 24 classes before a grading would make the road to black belt a very, very long one for those of us with jobs and kids who can only train once a week at most.

As always it's incredibly difficult to make a judgement on one hour in one class but I think if you are a genuine beginner then this would be a fine starting point for you, and certainly one of the best classes for younger students I've seen so far.

toh poepkeseoyo reader.

19 June, 2010

Tetsu or not tetsu...do

Despite being full of aches and pains from my first session in months, I was determined to keep up the pace of attending new clubs as often as possible. Before last week I had never heard of Tetsudo, a tibetan martial art, but a quick visit to the website confirms that there are about forty clubs in the UK and at least 10 in Leicestershire and the surrounding area.

Tetsudo is an offshoot of Goyararu, itself a very modern combination of several arts that are tibetan, asian and western.

So is tetsudo just another MMA club?

Nope!

Training in a small primary school hall with just four other students I was welcomed by instructor Bill, who had not been expecting me (I did my usual email and text combo but both went unanswered...) he was very gracious in having to abandon his planned session (as his class are all green belts and above) to accommodate this new beginner.

Bill's teaching is outstanding. Every elements from the bow to the warm up was explained and had a purpose and meaning. His technique is pretty much flawless and his application and explanations are clear and effective. He quickly rumbled me as no beginner, but was not afraid to highlight my strengths and weaknesses politely and firmy as he did with the other students. I've always had a problem with rooting my feet on turning kicks and limiting my range, I hide it well and it's rarely picked up on, but Bill saw it instantly (offering me a bit of a shit-sandwich by complimenting my front kick first). Similarly a lazy knee during a roundhouse kick was gently chastised.

Bill allowed me to join in with the basics, asking me to step aside for the sparring and kata or "keds". I was a bit disappointed not to be allowed a go, but he sensibly explained that I was uninsured. As a teacher Bill is self-efacing, good-natured and jolly without losing etiquette and discipline, his students clearly have the utmost respect for him and he in turn for the art and the association to which he belongs. He talks too much, that's my one tiny negative, but only because I'm struggling to find one.

As an art Tetsudo is not massively different from karate, the stances are low and strong for the most part and the elements of kicking and punching are the same but it's the nuances of technique, the precision which is taught from the very beginning which makes this so intriguing. Perfection is key right from the start, so bad habits (even my 20 year old ones) aren't allowed to sneak past. So if you want a black belt in the next couple of years this is not the association for you. There are only five or six belts before Black but the standards and knowledge required at Blue/ Purple/ Brown are extremely high, and there are no "basic" patterns.

I genuinely want to go back to Tetsudo and I'm torn between doing so and continuing to get a wider picture of martial arts in the county. For me basically 5 stars. If you're looking for a club for all the right reasons join now. Join Wigston Tetsudo, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

16 June, 2010

Thumbs down for this club...


This is a quickie. Just pootling around facebook and looking for new Leicester clubs, I find another Gannon Academy: This time led by Paul, and a photo of two young black belts.

What's wrong with this picture? - answers on a postcard please!

15 June, 2010

Doppelgannon?

Adopt, adapt and improve! Refusing to be wrong-footed by my failed first attempt to reignite the mission, I rip the shiny leaflet from the fridge, scattering magnets assunder.

From 7.15 to 8.15 beginner adults are welcome to a free trial of Karate / Kickboxing to improve discipline, co-ordination and fitness...Right Then! 15 minutes to get to Lancaster boys school, which is fabulously just across the road from my house.

This could really work for me, 10/10 for convenience...

I arrive just as the junior class is finishing, a good turn-out of kids in shiny uniforms and belts of many colours, there don't seem to be too many midget masters so far but then I spot the club tee-shirt: John Gannons Karate School. And I nearly walk away.

The constant reader knows that my last experience of a Gannon was not great, and I've heard rumours that the Gannon schools might all be McDojos. But having already missed out on one chance tonight I'm buggered if I'm going to miss this one, so in I go.

John is finishing up with some juniors, handing out grading invite letters and sorting out paperwork, he doesn't really register my presence above a curt nod and I assume this to mean that I should just join in.

Most surprising is that about 15 seniors turn up to train, on a sunny world cup evening! There must be something about this club and I'm ready to find out what it is. The warm- up is aerobic followed by stretching and then straight into basic technique, blocks and punches, followed by kicks. I'm not given any instruction, just expected to copy what the others do, so I quickly lapse back into my shotokan ways.

This is a very informal gym, it's not a dojo as there is no etiquette to speak of and no japanese or korean to master. Whilst that's not to my taste, it's a valid and modern approach and it attracts the kids. I was mightily unimpressed with some poor practices though, like students wearing outdoor shoes in the training area, not removing watches, rolling up sleeves etc, all of which could cause injury.

When demonstrating techniques John is very accomplished. He has excellent flexibility and style and has a power and precision in his attacking and defensive moves. He can also do a few things that I have never been able to master (flying kicks for one) so I'm very hopeful I could learn something from him. The downside is he doesn't really explain the application of any of the techniques, so many of his students are poor copies, and whilst he occasionally pulls up some the black belts on lazy technique, the lower grades are pretty much left to flounder.

Like any club, the quality of the students varied greatly. I saw three black belts, one of whom was brilliant, one who had great attitude but poor application, and one who was frankly rubbish. As there was no heirarchy on the order of the class I couldn't really work out which stripey belts were high and which were low, certainly there was little to choose between them, but this is not wholly just a criticism of John, but also of the unavoidable lazinees of your average teenage karate-ka.

It does suggest however that the youngsters don't have to work too hard to grade. At the very end of the class the group as a whole went through some patterns. These seemed to be exclusively from Taekwondo and not Karate so I'm not sure why the club calls itself a Karate club. I know I'm old-school and lay a huge importance on patterns, so I may be biased, but there was very little quality there, and some of the younger (14years?) seniors, were had very weak stances and dance-like moves.

Also my personal feeling is that £30 to grade is alot compared to other clubs, what are the belts made of? Platinum?

But John is a really impressive practicioner, just not necessarily an excellent teacher. I didn't get a chance to see if John's school had any genuine afilliations, licensing or insurance though, so I would advise checking that out if you go. Best of all - he doesn't play music whilst you're warming up! All in all you could do worse than attend this club and if informality and self discipline are your thing then gambatte kudasai!

Next in the crosshairs (I hope) will be something shiny and new to play with: Tetsudo.

The elusive Mr Sahota

Excited at the prospect of my first martial arts session in several months I had plumped for Mr Sahota's Black Belt Academy of Taekwon do.

The website insists that Mr Sahota VII can train me to be a black belt in anything from 12 to 30 months depending on my commitment and dedication, and whilst I'm naturally sceptical about any such promises, the club is clearly well afilliated so it's worth a go. and I try not to judge the photo of the 1st Dan 8 year old...


Plus, I haven't been to a taekwon do class since KSTKD so I very much feel it's time to return to the style.

I send my standard enquiry email to the address on the website, just checking that's it's okay to turn up and see how I like it, but there's no answer before the class is due so I diligently turn up anyway, hurtling from work to get to my destination; 66 Friday Street for 6pm.

So there I am at 6pm, outside an abandoned factory...

I ring the number advertised on the website, and it rings out...

Worse, I am accompanied by partner Sam who had offered to come with so we could test it out together, (Sam having done some TKD a few years ago.)

6.15pm...

We give up.

I don't know if Mr Sahota has moved or disbanded his club, but a little note on the website would not have gone amiss.

Not easily disheartened, and remembering that a leaflet inviting me to beginners classes in Karate and Kickboxing at Lancaster Boys School is stuck to my fridge, I turn tail and head for Knighton.

14 June, 2010

It's been a long time coming...


Hello you!
After a hiatus caused by not having a free evening for the last 6 months I'm ready to crank it back up.
Basically we had a break, I missed you and now I'm back, we can make it work this time baby!
On the horizon: Master Sahota's Tae Kwon Do - the first report will be published this week.

15 October, 2009

Please hold, your blog-following is important to us...

Thank you for calling...This mission is currently on hold following flu and childcare issues...please try again later.

26 September, 2009

Leicester Jiu Jitsu Club




This week: Seishin Mizu Ryu Tatakai Jutsu.
Leicester Jiu Jitsui Club train at the YMCA in Leicester at 7.30 on Thursdays. [http://leicesterjj.co.uk/?page=about_us ] After my exciting and exhausting session of Kung Fu (and my barely fading new "Kung Fruises") last week I wasn't sure what to expect from Jiu Jitsu, I confess to being pretty ignorant about this martial art, believing it to be a bit like Judo and Aikido combined. When I arrive I'm warmly welcomed by Nish, the senpei, who, like most instructors I have met so far, assures me that his style is the one that "draws the best from all of the Martial Arts". We are joined soon after by two chaps, a yellow and a green belt and after the obligatory form-filling, we get out the mats to cover the dance floor and the class begins. Nish, our instructor, doesn't seem too put-out, or surprised that he has only three jitsu-ka in his session.
The warm up is hard and fast, press ups, sits ups, burpees, star jumps and stretching, with lots of running around the mats. This progresses to a few rounds of a warm up sparring game, where we try to tap our opponents without being caught ourselves, this is a free-for-all, one versus many game which gets us thinking about attack and defence before the class-proper begins.
Half of the regular class (the yellow belt) has a grading due on Tuesday so Nish works with me demonstrating basic locks and defences, whilst these are made more complex with finishes and throws for the others. In the 90 minutes that follow I learn effective escapes and defences from wrist and head grabs, some I'm familiar with, and some that are completely new, but they all work and are demonstrated with a good balance of explanation and support. Towards the end of the class I begin to run through some simple break-falls from kneeling. Whilst I'm no stranger to falling over (and have done so quite spectacularly on several occasions) there is something really difficult about falling over on a prescribed side, at a prescribed time. Unfortunately I am still incapable of falling over on request, and completely fail to land as required, although near the end I do manage some quite funky cage rolls.
There was something very comforting about the use of Japanese in the class and being a step ahead in understanding the Dachis, Ukes and Tsukis but the almost exclusive focus on defence is quite a change if you're used to Karate. It was a shame that the class was so small but Nish is a very confident and accomplished teacher, and as a 1st Ryu, more so than many black belts I've seen. From a brief chat about grading syllabus, and from watching what's expected of the yellow and green belts it's obvious that the knowledge and skill required to grade is in excess of that for some Martial Arts clubs, and Nish spoke about a wide range of local and national events for the estyle leaving me with a very positive feeling about the quality of this club, which also trains with the universiaty during term time.
Personally, I don't think Jiu Jitsu is for me; the up close and personal style is great for self-defence but I feel I want more than just throwing and grappling. I would recommend Leicester Jiu Jitsu to anyone looking for self defence or confidence as their motivators for joining a Martial Art, or if they want to avoid training with youngsters, as Leicester JJ has an over 16s only policy. Plus, if Nish is an example of a brown belt, the instruction of the seniors must be excellent.
 

19 September, 2009

Chun Seh Dau Shaolin Kung Fu (and the skinny chinese horse)


I was born on October 2nd 1974... the number one single of the day? Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas. Clearly this was meant to be!
I have mixed feelings about the website for the Shaolin Kung Fu school, [http://www.chun-seh-dau-school-of-shaolin-kung-fu.co.uk/] it seems to protest a little too heavily that it is not a Shaolin Temple, and sat as it is in the centre of Clarendon Park, I'm not too shocked by this revelation. There is plenty of information on the site though, and it's photos and biogs of the Grandmaster, Master and Sifu instructors looks very promising.
I arrive as instructed (by a swift reply to my email) at 6.30pm at the Geeta Bhavan Hindu Temple and follow a lady with a likely looking sword bag up the stairs to a slightly unkempt bare room. I'm given a quick overview of the school by a jean-clad Sifu and quite quickly I'm filling in forms and being relieved of my £8 introductory lesson fee (no freebies here!).
When Grandmaster Dhiman arrives, I'm expecting something quite special, everyone in the room is highly deferential and refers to him only as Grandmaster throughout but I'm still undecided about the huge but softly spoken man, who took no part in the sesssion that night other than to collect money. It would have been nice to see what he was capable of, however I understand he had recently had an operation so I was not able to witness any skills on Thursday.
On to the class itself which started eventually at around ten past seven. At this point I admit to being thoroughly unimpressed with the lack of punctuality and discipline and looking forward to my scheduled 9pm beer.
The warm up was led by a competent green belt (sash?) who spent 45 minutes going through some gruelling but effective stretching and fitness exercises, including push ups, sit ups, squats, star-jumps, crunches and stretches. I felt suitably loosened up (and not a little knackered) when the grade work commenced at around 8pm.
Myself and another novice were taken to one side to work on two basic techniques, the whipping branch block and snapping punch. Both almost polar opposites to my own style of low and hard, these were relaxed but close contact moves for maximum impact. I found the punch easier to master than the blocking but was chided for using my hip and legs to give the punch more power - "stand still!". Hmm, time to admit to that several years of punching very differently is hard to shake?
The block - a low pressing and high sweeping windmill combo - is very Bruce Lee but looks less effective than a good old solid gidan barai. Stances are hard for me too; when asked to sit in horse stance my version is too wide and impractical for the Sifu - chinese horses must be a lot skinnier than Japanese ones...
The class closes with about 30 minutes of sparring. I expect to be left to watch so am delighted to be allowed to have a go with my new found Kung Fu mastery. I'm immediately battered by a stocky green-belt as I try to evade his snaky punches and peevishly resort to a bit of big fisted Karate to even things out.
We end, exhausted, bruised and sweaty, at 9pm. This was easily the most enjoyable session I've attended. Well structured and with a lot of genuine skill and passion in the room. If I stopped my mission now, and Chun Seh Dau became my new home I wouldn't be disappointed, but perhaps, given the implied level of commitment Grandmaster intimated he expected from his disciples (twice a week training, home practice, regular training weekends etc) they might be disappointed in me.
I'll be checking to see there are any other Kung Fu classes in the area for comparison but for now, with only three schools visited, Chun Seh Dau comes top of the pile.
Until next week, Zái jián!

12 September, 2009

Michael Gannon’s Black Belt Academy



You can't live in Leicester without seeing the Gannon name. There is Paul, Michael and a couple of other brothers (Frank, John?) too, who all seem to be masters of martial arts. I have to pick one, and the winner, by virtue of training at a reasonable time on a Thursday is Michael.
Michael's website: http://www.mg-bba.co.uk/ tells me some interesting things: Master Gannon has "studied the Martial Arts for 30 years and has been teaching Adults & Children for over 20 years. Among his many qualifications, Master Gannon is a qualified P.E Teacher"! For adults it promises to "Make Massive Changes Almost Overnight!". Right then!
I fill in the online web form and am almost instantly texted back about my free tester session booked for the 10th. Before the session I get two further texts and a phone call from Michael. This, in comparison to the lack of contact from the last class seems to be a big bonus - they want me!!
It's quite a schlep from my home in Knighton to Bradgate Street near Blackbird Road but I arrive as agreed at 6.50pm and watch the end of the previous session. A group of student are in a circle defending themselves from a rubber knife. The venue is an industrial unit which has been well adapted to a dojo, with matted floor and a good sized space.
Michael greets me warmly and asks me the same medical questions and what I'm looking to get out of the class. I say I have done some karate as a child and I'm looking to get fit. The other participants seem friendly and range from un-uniformed newbies like myself to two gentlemen weaning 2nd dan black belts and a couple of ladies in 1st dan belts.
The class starts with a slightly cheesy reading of the tenets of tae kwon do (relabelled the tenets of Martial Arts) and then straight into some punching, blocking and kicking combo's. I'm quite pleased at first that Master Gannon doesn't feel the need to correct any of my techniques despite this being my first lesson, when I look around several of the students are making a pigs ear of the techniques (bent wrists, sticking out thumbs etc) and he isn't correcting them either... Sadly, a teenage girl, sporting a shiny black belt is one of them.
The rest of the class appears quite unstructured and focussed around techniques into a bag / circuit training and fitness. Whilst these are fine and enjoyable, again Master Gannon neither joins in nor corrects any of the techniques and, personally, I can't stand that he plays music during the session. It seems that most of the taught elements are from Taekwondo rather than karate.
All in all, when Mick asks me at the end whether I will be coming back I am very non-commital. I can't find any evidence that this school is linked to any recognised association for the martial arts, the only affiliations quoted are to marketing and networking groups. In my opinion, the teaching is not up to te standard of te other classes I have attended and any belt earned there may be worthless at another school if the new instructor had to correct the bad habits these students are being allowed to pick up.
On a positive note, one of the second dans had good technique (possibly better than Gannon himself) so good luck to him and apologies to anyone who attends Mick's classes who is offended by this, it's not a rant, it's an opinion but my advice would be to see if your grade is accredited anywhere just to protect yourself and you future if you move elsewhere. Next week: Chun seh dau Shaolin Kung Fu in Clarendon Park...

Krystyna Sargent's Tae Kwon Do Oadby



First thing to mention is that Krystyna advertised a beginners class on her website: http://www.ksi-taekwondo.com/ and although I tried to ring the mobile number provided twice there was no answer. I turned up anyway but I wan't that surprised to see that I was alone - a little more investment in newbies may be required.
Based at Parklands Leisure Centre, KSI Taekwondo is affiliated with the International Tae Kwon Do Federation, one of the bigger associations and Krystyna is a Fifth Degree Black Belt. I arrived as the junior class was wrapping up, lots of kids but no gangly useless 10 year olds wearing black belts their Mummies had paid for so an excellent start. The kids seems well versed in the basics and etiquette and best of all tired and happy at the end of their class.
Despite being the only beginner for her class Krystyna was happy to provide a free 1 on 1 session and sensibly asked some medical questions to start before beginning a good series of warm up exercises. We went through basic kicks, punches and blocks at which point Krystyna asked how far I had got with Karate, I confessed that I had first dan but had not studied for years. She proceeded to work thorugh the patterns/ forms of tae kwon do from white belt: Chon-Ji to the black belt pattern Kwang Gae for the rest of the session explaining the differences between Karate and TKD and giving meaning to the movements.
Overall the session was a good balance of instruction, tailored to my ability and with a friendly and knowledgeable instructor. The venue was noisy (a quartered off section of a sports hall in the leisure centre in which trampolining and badminton were also taking place) and the costs of the lessons (around £35 per month) seems steep.
Personally I would be more than happy to attend this class again, although I would struggle with the start time of 6pm on a Thursday.
If this is the quality of Martial Arts instruction in Leicester generally I think we're okay.
Next week: Mick Gannon's Black Belt Academy

Starting out: On a mission to find a decent Martial Arts Club in Leicester

So, my motive is twofold and I confess one is more worthy than the other. Firstly I will visit a different Martial Arts club in Leicester weekly and review it, in the interests of sorting the wheat from the chaff and attempt to find my new Martial Arts home. Secondly I will hopefully get a free taster session with as many of these clubs as possible and get several months of free work outs!
A few things to bare in mind: I already hold a black belt in Karate (my first dan was awarded in 1990 with the AKA) and since I started training in 1986 I have been fortunate enough to have trained in Shotokan with Enoeda Sensei (9th dan KUGB) and Leicester's own Sensei Tony Conroy (VII), in Traditional Tsuyoi Karate with Hanshi Gerry Bryan (founder of Tsuyoi) and in Goju Ryu under Higaonna Sensei. BUT I am very unfit, slightly overweight for my height and about as flexible as a stick of Brighton Rock so I need a class where some ability but beginner's fitness can be taken into account.
I'm not too bothered about the style of Martial Art just whether is is well taught and enjoyable and I've set a few ground rules to start off with: I won't mention that I am experienced unless specifically challenged, but I won't lie if asked, similiarly I won't mention that I'm visiting alot of clubs unless asked. I'll be commenting on the quality of teaching, venue, style, structure of the class, quality of the senior grades, etiquette and anything else I feel like mentioning. Sometimes I might not be very nice but I will be honest, and sadly, if the club doesn't run a class on a Thursday it probably won't be included as that's the only evening I have free.
See the first two blogs: Krystina Sargent's Tae Kwon Do in Oadby and Mick Gannon's Black Belt Academy, Blackbird Road...