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INDIAN CLUB SWINGING
By Ruth Frost, October 2013
Recently I spent a Saturday as the only female participant in a group of around 25 swingers...
Not quite as scandalous as those of you with active imaginations may be picturing (possibly as tiring though!). I was attending the first day of the International Indian Club Swinging weekend course in Sheffield (held September 14th and 15th 2013).
Indian club swinging is just starting to see a resurgence in popularity as an exercise form. Wooden clubs of differing weights, depending on the exercise and students’ ability, are swung in a huge variety of patterns, sometimes in singles and sometimes in pairs.
Great for developing mobility and strength in the shoulders and arms, dexterity in the fingers and flexibility in the wrist, swinging also encourages good posture, body awareness, a strong grip, and can give a cardiovascular workout. Depending on the style it can be developed into anything from a mesmerising routine of flips, catches and twirls of light clubs to music, to a punishing full body workout.
Swinging came to Britain via the Army in India in the 19th century, where the strength and stamina of the Indian soldiers had been noted, and became popular not just in the ranks but in schools and even ladies’ academies. The Brits’ development of the exercise form is known as British Military Style. Meanwhile other forms had originated in Persia and Iran, where wrestlers used heavy clubs to build fearsome upper body strength. By the early 20th Century swinging had spread throughout Europe and the US, and was included in the 1904 Olympics. It remained popular for the next few decades, until fashions moved on and swinging was all but forgotten in the Western world.
I have a go at swinging
Today club swinging is starting to become more popular again, thanks in particular to martial artists using the clubs to increase shoulder mobility, and a growing interest in moving away from fancy gym machines and reviving traditional forms of ‘physical culture’. Metal version of traditional wooden clubs are appearing and being renamed ‘power clubs’ by the likes of functional fitness kit specialists Wolverson Fitness. Purists however claim the wooden clubs have a different feel and balance, and the tried-and-tested traditional exercises are still best performed with a well-made wooden club.
Leon Baillie, head trainer at Highgate Fitness Studios, had just one or two pairs of clubs back when I was a client of his, and we used them occasionally for some basic moves and combinations. Gradually his collection grew as he himself became a student, of revered clubs teacher Krishen Jalli (still swinging heavy clubs into his late 70s). But then I graduated as a trainer myself; Leon asked that I not use the clubs with my clients until I had proper instruction in them; and busy diaries meant time passed and clubs weren’t encorporated into my clients’ routines.
The International course was a chance to change that. Leon gave me an instructional session in the basics (I really didn’t want to show him up by not having a clue at all!), then a week later I was on my way to Sheffield.
I had wondered whether I would be the only girl on the course, but I was enthusiastically welcomed as such. At the moment traditional club swinging still has something of a ‘exercise geek’ feel to it, and the tutors seemed pleased attendees to the course included both a woman and younger guys in their 20s. It was good to be in a room of people serious and eager to learn and with such respect for the tutors.
Those tutors included Mike Simpson, who was hosting the course and who runs www.indianclubswinging.co.uk, has authored books and DVDs and makes beautiful wooden clubs by hand (I purchased a 1.2kg pair); Paul Wolkowinski, a clubs and gada expert from Australia (more on the gada later); Russ Ogata, a tutor from Hawaii; Colin Hughes who fuses clubs with tai chi style moves; and Harry Allick, a master of the fancy styles, still swinging in his 70s. Also in attendance was Krishen Jalli himself. Leon was also there.
Colin demonstrating outside Paul weilds the gada
I attended workshops with Harry, Paul, Mike and Colin. All were totally different and I learnt from each one. Paul’s session included heavy work with the gada, a rather intimidating mace-type item encorporating a weighted sphere on the end of a long pole. This is swung in patterns, some of which take it behind the back, recruiting muscles ordinary gym kit never will! It was fascinating to watch how different attendees from varying fitness backgrounds handled it and clear that a core of iron was needed. I did have a go, but only with the lightest gada, still a significant challenge.
Colin Hughes took his workshop outside in the afternoon, and swinging clubs in the open air (with so much space and no fear of damaging them if they dropped, on grass) allowed us to really stretch into the movements and feel how they can liberate tight shoulders. I’ve been taking my practice outside as much as possible since I came home.
Towards the end of the day Colin and I had a very interesting chat about the benefits of ‘mindful exercise’ such as club swinging – that which engages the brain as well as the body – and in particular its usefulness in older populations. [He has since passed on to me some useful links to academic articles on the benefits of exercise to mental function and training courses for the older population – thank you Colin.] If one can fuse the physical and the mental in a workout – with exercise which requires concentration, skill and learning – both mind and body benefit.
By the end of the day I was tired but still keen to learn – I wish I could have attended day two of the course, but had a full day of clients to train in London the next day. But I was happy to be leaving with some great new skills and routines to use with clients, which I know will benefit their mobility and strength, particularly in the upper body.
Harry demonstrating with fancy swords My new clubs Mike tutoring
I also feel I left with the start of a new hobby for myself, having been mesmerised and inspired by some of the demonstrations I had seen. Prior to the course I had thought clubs may be ‘the new kettlebells’, with pink, yellow and green plastic ones from Reebok sure to be arriving in commercial gyms in 2014 or so, and at I was jumping in early on what clients would consider a new trend. But the course has made me feel instead that I want to respectfully learn and continue an existing art form, and pass it on as such. There will only be wooden clubs in my studio.
Copyright Ruth Frost 2103
www.IndianClubSwinging.co.uk - comprehensive site by Mike Simpson, read about clubs history and order hand-made clubs plus books and DVDs.
www.IndianClubs.com.au - Paul Wolkowinski's site, with video tutorials for clubs and gada/mace.