(It was in September that I discovered Achaea, a text RPG, and got rather geeky about it until stopping about three months later. Still, managed to fit in some training back at uni with my ZSK club, and more recently popped down to a Hapkido class advertised in the Metro newspaper that you get free on British public transport. Kickcatcher joined me to experience HKD...)
Chang's Hapkido Academy, (Hapkido), Tammy Parlour, London, UK - 26/11/2004
Last night, Kickcatcher and I went down to try out Tammy Parlour's club at Top Notch in Blackfriars, due to a free taster session adverstised in an article in 'Metro'.
Tammy is very pleasant and friendly, keeping her class relatively informal and trying to be as helpful as possible. She was clearly well-intentioned, not conceited, and believed in what she was doing. Unfortunately, what she was doing fulfilled Kickcatcher's pre-conceptions of the class - typical TMA 'self-defence', focusing on wrist-locks, non-contact and compliant drills.
As Tammy had suggested in her email, we arrived early, as appeared the norm judging by the small knot of white Hapkidoka already present. Tammy greeted Kickcatcher and I with a smile, and proceeded to launch into a brief spiel. We swiftly commented on our martial arts experience, and unsurprisingly she had no idea what MMA was, and also said that there was 'no contact' sparring. I then brought up the question of lineage and history, which she responded to rather reticently with comments about politics not mattering, and how she didn’t really get involved with that side of things. She also mentioned how her master - the Chang of the title, an 8th dan with a string of clubs in the US - had trained in Korea at 'the Temple', so apparently this was the 'pure Hapkido'. When I eventually pinned her down, asking whether or not she thought it was thousands of years old, she responded 'definitely thousands of years', dismissing any links to the very obvious Japanese base art of daito-ryu aikijutsu ('Hapkido is Korean, ju-jitsu is Japanese' was her unwavering opinion). She then directed us to her senior student, who ran through some basic strikes from a sort of semi forward stance, after which the class proper began.
Everyone sat in meditation to start off with, followed by 'ki breathing', which consisted of inhaling, moving your arms up, down and around, holding your breath, ‘bringing down the chi’ from your chest, and finally breathing out (making sure you had your ‘anus constricted’ to ‘hold in the chi’). Some basic stretching followed, though it was done at speed, only occasionally holding the stretch for a few seconds.
Moving on to something more dynamic, it was time for the basic punching we’d been shown at the start. This was your average formal linework, though there was a bizarrely exaggerated hip motion for all the strikes, twisted completely round on the back foot in a rather awkward pose. The kicks were telegraphed, with a short step first, including the unusual ‘swing your leg forward with foot pointed outwards’ kick. More conventional taekwondo front kicks and side kicks followed (though it appeared that the aim was to strike with the side of the foot rather than the heel, judging by at least one senior grade), eventually moving to alternate kicks facing a partner.
The rest of the class then demonstrated for a while, including a spar between the instructor and her senior student, which seemed to involve a lot of slapping, almost to the point of choreograpy. Following this, the four ‘Metro’ people were taken to one side, where we were shown four escapes from someone grabbing your wrist, which again was exactly what you’d expect from a TMA class.
Next came another period of watching the regulars go through two man drills and blocks, after which we were again paired up with some seniors for a classic wrist lock control. Rather compliant, I thought, no squeal of pain, just jumping over and down, and they also seemed reluctant to apply the same lock on us. Still, we were new, so that's to be expected.
Then we watched again, this time the instructor acting out an approximation of an attack, where she literally ran slowly at her opponent with hands raised in a strangling motion, waiting to be thrown. A strange exchange followed where she tried to throw her senior grade, but couldn’t seem to lift him - three tries, failed, managed one, then another three tries straining unsuccessfully again. I didn't know what the point of this was initially, but kickcatcher later mentioned on TF this was some kind of throw defence test.
This prompted a return to the two man drills, though more methodical and grade by grade. Eventually it was our turn (as white belts) to come back on, the task being to face your partner, taking it in turns to go up and down the room using whatever kicks you wanted.
At the end of class, we watched some sparring, which ranged from no contact at all to a few more senior pairs reaching about semi-contact level, but not really pushing it too competitively. A few graceful kicks from the senior red belt guy, and two people kicking each others arms, was about as intensive as it got. Once again, no different from the average TKD class.
Class ended, and everyone bowed out. Kickcatcher and I chatted briefly to the instructor before we left (having been called over, as clearly she wanted to know if we had any questions). Kickcatcher asked if her class worked some kind of response to adrenaline, which caused Tammy some confusion, eventually going ‘rawrgh!’ at Kickcatcher in her imitation of a street encounter. She did say that the class used pads, which were lying in a white bag, although judging by her punching technique, it would appear she herself wasn’t overly experienced at belting the pads (according to Kickcatcher at least, who inquired about hand positioning for a punch after seeing her own tilted wrist).
So, this class lived up to all the TMA stereotypes, and is no doubt well suited to people looking for that kind of thing. I don’t think Tammy was trying to exploit anyone, coming across as friendly, welcoming, with earnest belief in her style. All in all, the class felt very much like the TKD class I attended earlier in the year in Bristol - pleasant people, unrealistic technique. I wouldn't recommend it for efficacy, but the atmosphere was great, so if you're keen on traditional martial arts, this may well be up your street.