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.

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