Active Girton: Martial Arts
Girton is definitely not a warlike place - and yet it can claim not one but two martial arts groups, meeting most weeks in the village. The martial arts these days are of course nothing to do with militarism, but physical and personal development, rooted in the traditional martial training disciplines of the Far East, now practiced world-wide in numerous variants, which are not so much a sport but more a way of life.
The Girton Wing Chun classes are based on a variant of Kung Fu, which was originally created some 400 years ago in Manchuria by a woman Yim Wing Chun, according to legend as a tactic against unwanted marriage to a warlord. It is a form of self-defence, and more recently has been popularised in films, developing into a discipline emphasising trained response and spontaneous creativity. It relies on a code of movements which allow you to 'flow around' your opponent. Wing Chun emphasizes firm but flexible posture, an avoidance of rigidity and tension, and a sensitivity to bodily stance. The risk of injury (even minor) is very small, and Wing Chun has a singular grace and harmony. Classes meet and go through the training routines as a group, in pairs and individually, but there is no obtrusive formalism, elaborate uniform or protocol. Grading of proficiency is through a system of belts awarded after testing, ranging from red (the primary level) through green and blue to black (the highest level).
Since 2007 three main groups of Wing Chun classes meet in the village, all led by Matthew Courtney-Jones, who lives here, practicing as an osteopath. For the youngest enthusiasts, two classes are held weekly after lessons for pupils at the Glebe School, supported by the Girton Town Charity. A teenagers' group meets weekly at the Pavilion on Wednesdays at 6.00 pm, and the adult groups (14 years upwards) meet on Wednesday evenings at the Baptist Church from 7.30 pm onwards and on Sunday mornings at the Pavilion at 9.15 am.
The essentials of Wing Chun can be learned quite quickly in less than a year, although to master it takes you up to five years. Equally suitable for men and women, currently there are few female students in the classes here other than youngsters at the Glebe, due to the misconception that it requires strength and stamina. Age is no deterrent, and present class members range from 7 to 50. It is not a physically damaging activity, and people join classes to learn self-defence as well as to improve their physical fitness. There are no entry tests or joining fees - just a modest class fee which includes insurance and affiliation to the Amateur Martial Association.
New members are always welcome at the teenagers' and adult groups - just come along to the Pavilion or the Baptist Church and meet the current enthusiasts. Matthew Courtney-Jones has 25 years of experience in the martial arts, including 14 years in Wing Chun. Matthew holds the title of 'sifu' which in Chinese means teacher, and leads the classes with relaxed and cheerful encouragement.
By contrast, Tang Soo Do is a much more formal activity, although founded on similar concepts of self-defence and self-discipline within Korean culture. Classes (all non-profit) meet on Saturday mornings under the strict but friendly supervision of Master Jason Miller, who is a 5th Dan Master with some 30 years of experience in the art. The group of a dozen or so men and women pupils range in age from a minute but remarkably proficient 6-year old to an agile experienced Green belt, blue Tag in his early 50s. They all keenly watch and listen to every command of the Master, and respond in unison with practiced precision. Even minor indiscipline is met with penalties - press-ups!
For Tang Soo Do combines physical demands with mental and philosophical self-discipline, self control and social responsibility to an impressive extent. It requires endurance and concentration and after 20 minutes pupils are physically drained as well as mentally focused on their art. The Eastern courtesies are nevertheless maintained: pupils work in pairs and groups of four, stylistically exchanging blows with the hands and high-kicks with the feet, but always maintaining the protocol of bows of respect for one's opponent at the start and end, and a (very western) handshake after the manoeuvres. The combination of balletic grace and military precision is distinctive and striking.
All participants wear the Tang Soo Do uniform of white trousers and white tunic, with the relevant belt to indicate their achievement level, plus badges of their membership of the Tang Soo Do national association. Commands from the master are responded to by the whole class, who all together shout their acceptance of the Master's authority. A grading system of belts exists in Tang Soo Do, and numerous members of the class have made considerable progress up the scale of Dan grades. The Girton class competes against other clubs as well as practicing, and in the National Tang Soo Do Championships in 2011 won many awards. (See Girton Parish News December 2011). They meet on Saturday mornings at the Pavilion from 10.00 am to 12 noon.
The assistant instructor of the Girton group is Craig Phillips, a 2nd Dan Black belt, who has been teaching the art for some 15 years, and also runs his own classes at the Leiston in Haverhill. Master Jason Miller ranks second in the Cambridgeshire Tang Soo Do hierarchy, and is an enthusiastic proponent and teacher of the art.
The class fees for Tang Soo Do are modest, and the welcome is warm to potential new members. You can make progress in six months and decide whether this distinctive and demanding personal mental and physical discipline is for you. Just come along to the Pavilion on a Saturday morning and see the action.
So there you have it. Two very different martial arts groups meeting weekly in the village, composed of very capable and experienced teachers and very enthusiastic members. If this sounds like you, be in touch or come along and see for yourself. Be active!
Address: The Pavilion, Girton Recreation Ground
Girton Wing Chun
Telephone: 07989 412908
Girton Tang Soo Do Club
Telephone: 07920 063330