1/22/2007

The British martial arts scene

This posting is on request.
Coming back to Britain, I was sceptical about the opportunities I'd have to train in martial arts, especially outside of London. It turns out that there are actually a lot of martial arts classes around. In the city of Bristol, there are quite a number of Taekwondo classes, 2 Aikido classes, 2 Wing Chun classes, a Judo class, a few obscure Chinese martial arts as well as a couple of kick boxing classes, Tai Chi and boxing and perhaps a couple of others I have missed. There are lamentably ZERO Hapkido classes in this region, which is really what I would wish to continue training in.
From initial survey, there does seem to be quite a lot of quality tuition in these classes, but my suspicion of sub-standard venue quality was confirmed. Most of these classes have to rent a small space in a school hall or a sports centre for just an hour once a week because it's not profitable for an instructor to have their own gym. Some places have a few mats which can be put down, but the matted area is really quite small to do free practice such as somersaults or sequences. The space for maneouvre when you are elbow to elbow with other students is pretty restricted and you spend a lot of time apologizing for bumping into people. However, there are some exceptions.
I managed to get a free trial class in several places. One was a trial Tai Chi class, which surprisingly had about 500 people turn up for the trial. I could never have believed so many people would be interested in Tai Chi in the particular district I was in. Later, I stumbled upon Master Davies' Black Belt Academy which is just around the corner from the place I am staying in. Now, this was a surprisingly good place. This is one of the few places that has its own purpose built gym complete with matted floor, hanging bags and large tumbling mats. The main activity in this place is Taekwondo, and it runs similar to a Korean style class - with the kids in your class to boot! The standard of the students on the particular night I went there didn't seem very high, but it didn't really matter to me. The instructor was good, and I felt I would be happy to join this gym. I did find it strange, though, that the students addressed the instructor as 'Sir' and had to explain the meaning of the Poomsaes on request. In Korea, I bet nearly all students couldn't tell you what each Poomsae represented. I know I certainly can't remember without the aid of my Taekwondo Diaries for reference!
I have signed up this month for Aikido class, as I initially thought this was going to be the only martial arts class within walking distance from where I'm staying - the cost of the bus fare here in Britain now is exhorbitant, it is a national scandal, and I'm only prepared to travel out on the bus if it's only absolutely essential. Thus, I'm pretty much housebound these days, which without a job, is kind of a gloomy time for me right now, especially compared to all the activities I got up to only before the start of this year. I also can't bear that it gets pitch black outside by 4pm, and that there is virtually nothing to do after 6pm. All the shops are shut and there is nothing but a pub, a Chinese take-away and now, it seems, 2 martial arts classes to go to.
So, back to the Aikido account. This class is only once a week, sharing a small area adjacent to some badminton courts in a sports centre within walking distance from where I stay. I joined it thinking that it would just be an extension of Hapkido. I went into the first class thinking that it would all be so easy. How wrong I was. Aikido is turning out to be one of the most difficult martial arts I have yet to experience. I feel like I come out of class having just sat a quantum mechanics exam. My brain has been put through the mill in a bewildering set of coordination instructions which actually are soooo different from the Hapkido moves I learnt. Yet, my body feels like it has done nothing. I'm really frustrated that I cannot use my Hapkido knowledge at all in this class. Everything is different. I'm starting from square one again. The other students are really of a very good standard, but quite honestly, I find the class boring because I go through this mental torture, but physically feel like I've done nothing. There is no sense of a workout. I'm not breathing heavily or feeling like I've been pushed to my physical limits. Furthermore, there is no kicking included in Aikido. That is the ultimate deciding factor as to why I will vote for Hapkido over Aikido. I need the sense of physical challenge to feel satisfied in the class. Aikido is simply not doing anything for me. I respect Aikido as a martial art, but I've decided firmly that I don't like it. I will not continue it beyond the end of the month.
I will also not continue Aikido for another reason: I will be spending February and March in Korea! I cannot seem to find a job here, and as I have no home and no idea how I can manage things here in the foreseeable future, I'm going to use up the return portion of my flight ticket and sit things out in Seoul. I will try to engage in Taekwondo training and perhaps Gongkwon training again. I have an offer to take back my previous job in Hong Kong, but it will take at least 2 months to sort out the work permit, so Korea will be cheaper to hang around and wait in than the UK. I don't know if I am doing the right thing, but in Hong Kong I will have the chance to complete an MA course in English teaching, and I think I need to start to address my professional needs if I am to have any chance of finding a decent job in the UK when I do eventually call it quits abroad. This is some crazy route...

7 comments:

Kevin said...

Gracias.

Amanda said...

Well shoot, maybe I can take that KT book off of your hands this time! Ha ha ha!

Anonymous said...

'Sulkido' is quite like hapkido. The founder branched it off from hapkido some years back when he wanted to set up his own dojangs. As I remember, they have clubs in London and some other cities, try googling it. I had fun learning it and it sent me to S Korea in search of true hapkido :)

Anonymous said...

'Sulkido' is quite like hapkido. The founder branched it off from hapkido some years back when he wanted to set up his own dojangs. As I remember, they have clubs in London and some other cities, try googling it. I had fun learning it and it sent me to S Korea in search of true hapkido :)

kuTTer said...

Hi zzZ -
Looks like you have been bouncing around trying different style of martial arts - I think thats a great idea. I think most people dont "shop around" when it comes to studying the arts. Look around to see what fits your time schedule, body type and location. I am sure that you will find something you like. Have you trained by yourself or looked into books/DVDs? <- NOT trying to sell anything, just offering another idea.Hope you find something that fits your needs.
Good read, thanks!!
_______________
kuTTer
Contemporary Fighting Arts
http://www.sammyfranco.com/phpbb

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that britian had so many opputunities to train in the martial arts. I would have thought that they didn't have many schools. I've been there a couple of times and everytime I go there are hardly any places except China Town. Funny. who would have thougt.

Here's a great place for martial arts and supplies. www.blackbeltshop.com and www.taekwondosupplies.com, check it out.

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