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.