Friday, November 27, 2015

Learning Kung Fu with a Shaolin Monk in Wexford

Shaolin Monks Wexford Kung Fu Niamh Griffin

I'm always up for trying new sports but it doesn’t always mean I'm any good at learning them as I found out when I had my first ever Kung Fu lesson!

It was pretty special, as I learned with Master Zheng Xiaohong from the Shaolin Temple. He and one of his students Wang Jinlei spend three months in Wexford every month at Monart Spa. Most people do Qi Qong and meditation with them, but how could I turn down learning a little Kung Fu from the very best?

Master Zheng was so polite, he smiled and clapped his hands when I got anything even half-way right. He said: “I like teaching, I love even with the people who cannot do it, it’s fun.” Hmm, very polite. And good-humoured for a man so long away from his wife and two children.

The hour-long lesson it felt more like 15 minutes. We went through Bow, Horse and Crab stances (confusing!) and then together in a sequence. He looked amazing, so elegant and swooping close down to the ground. Me? I did a pretty good imitation of Kung Fu Panda as I scraped and twisted my way across the floor.

I would have been fine except there were full-length mirrors so I couldn’t avoid myself! What a treat though. And a serious work-out, these moves may look gentle but my quads and biceps were aching next day.

We went outside after the class to take photos (see more on my last Wordless Wednesday post). The two monks were so serious, but I couldn’t stop laughing at how surreal it all was.

I was writing about the spa for the newspaper I work at – have you ever managed to drag sport into your everyday job??

Disclaimer: I spent the day at Monart Spa in Wexford courtesy of the Spa for my job with a newspaper. This is my honest opinion!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Kung Fu in Wexford

Wordless Wednesday  - I spent a lovely day learning Kung Fu and a few other things from Master Zheng Xiaohong from the Shaolin Temple recently  - come back on Friday for the full story!

Kung Fu Shaolin Monks Monart Niamh Griffin

Kung Fu Shaolin Monks Monart Wexford
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Waterfall Kung Fu Shaolin Monks Monart Niamh Griffin
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More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.           And here on Image-in-ing

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dr Fionnula McHale on women and lifting weights

Dr Fionnula McHale weights Invigorate Clinic Fitness
International Fitness champion and medic Dr Fionnula McHale via @DrFionnula
When you’ve won silver at the Powerlifting World Championships, but your body is telling you that elite level of lifting is just a bit too far, what do you do next? Turns out there is a new sport in town, and one that Dr Fionnula McHale has fallen in love with.

Twice European Powerlifting champion (yep, as well), I talked to her a few days ago because I heard ** she's won the International Fitness Championships title in England. She's training now with Englishman Mark Coles, and just a little focused on this new type of competition which mixes power-lifting with showing-off a toned physique.

Fionnula said: “I like looking the way I look, and I like being physically strong. I love weights, I fell in love with them the first time I tried it. I tried a competition that was just about physique but I missed the intensity around weight training and competition.”

The IFC championships is five one-minute rounds of lifting, and she cranked out an astonishing: 

  • 27 squats
  • 18 chin-ups
  • 37 bench-press repetitions 
  • 44 push-press repetitions 
  • 45 deadlifts 

Of course I asked her what she tells her clients about weight-lifting, and why she thinks women should do it. Once she started talking on this she couldn't stop!

Dr Fionnula McHale weights IFC Fitness champion power lift
International Fitness champion and medic Dr Fionnula McHale via @DrFionnula

Reasons women should lift weights 

  1. Weights will revolutionise your training
  2. You can change your body shape completely but “still look nice in a dress” 
  3. Lifting helps your muscles, your joints 
  4. It’s even good for women around the time of the menopause, or much older
  5. She’s seen a woman in her 60s competing in power-lifting: something must be right! 
  6. You need to eat well and eat a lot to maintain strength: any excuse will do, thanks! 
  7. With good training you can lift the same weight as man: ego points!
Fionnula did say more than a few times as we talked that a GOOD TRAINER and GOOD FORM are so important. And in case you're wondering she competed at 58.2kgs in that photo above so you can park any fears about bulking-up. (I know, we shouldn't think like that but we do sometimes, don't we?) 

More shots from that tournament and more on her Instagram DrFionnula.


Want to Powerlift? 

Fionnula describes in excruciating detail her first experience at the Irish Drug-Free Powerlifting Association tournament, read it and wince at UltimatefitCrew. 

**Thanks Aoife Murphy MMA for telling me about Fionnula!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Elite women's boxing in Dublin this weekend

katie taylor boxing olympics ireland london2012
Katie Taylor London2012
Irish boxers are competing today in the National  championships with the finals on the 27th. It’s fun to think some of these women could be flying home from Rio next year with a medal.

We’re still living off the Katie Taylor memories from London2012, but hopefully many more to come.  At the time it seemed as if every girl in the country was discovering boxing.

Unfortunately the big numbers are still not at this level, with some fighters receiving a bye into the final due to lack of competition.

IABA posted this online last week before the prelims: ‘Please note that due to the small entry there may be no boxing at the National Elite Women’s Championships at the National Stadium in Dublin this weekend.’

Former pro-fighter Deirdre Gogarty told me she encourages every girl to take up boxing, confident hardly  anyone at all will actually fight and risk injury!

But the big names are all there; Ceire Smith, Kelly Harrington, Dervla Duffy and Taylor herelf. Maybe the “Taylor Effect” will come next Olympics?

In the meantime former Irish coach Billy Walsh has taken up his new job in America. I spoke to women’s boxing expert Malissa Smith from Girl Boxing blog during the Olympic Trials, but she was very coy.

When I asked her thoughts on Walsh, she just mailed back: “As for Walsh. I don't know enough to say! :;)”

She praised Claresa Shields, saying: “Truly there is no one to beat Claressa who was masterful. Even with Tika Hemingway's pressure in the final, Shields just up'd herself to another gear.”

Claressa Shields PIC AP Photo/Rick Osentoski
And it looks like Katie Taylor won’t have things all her own way if she faces Mikaela Mayer. She fought the same opponent three times to qualify; a win, a loss and a hard-fought win. Sounds like champion material to me, especially as her opponent JaJira Gonzales “crumpled” her in the second according to Malissa.

(PS: Malissa has a lovely piece on Holly Holm vs Ronda Rousey  I know, I know you've read a lot on THAT kick but this one from a true boxing fan is fascinating).

UPDATE: IABA post here with named fighters and details on how National Championships feed into the Road to Rio. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: the power of learning

Wordless Wednesday:  the power of learning!
                                  this week's photos in a slidehow by Emanuel Rudnicki
( MuayThai seminar run by Tiffany Van Soest, with Caley Reece and Darren Reece at Riddler's Gym, Perth.)

More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.           And here on Image-in-ing

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jorina Baars Muay Thai fighter learning from the hard times

Jorina Baars muay thai muaythai thai boxing netherlands Lion fight
As blood streamed out of a deep cut under Jorina Baar’s eye, the doctor said if it got worse he was calling the fight. Up to then her head wasn’t really in the fight but on hearing a loss was in the offing, something lit up inside. 

That something you see in the picture above was more than enough to win yet another belt; Lion Fight World title (65.6kgs). That by the way took her record to 38 wins 0 losses. Now the Dutch MuayThai fighter is searching for a major sponsor so she can focus on training. 

She lives, trains and works near her family, a strong support system for a professional career. I’ve followed Jorina from the sidelines, but it was only when we spoke that her respect for her father’s memory became clear.
She said: “My father passed away in 2006, two days after my European title fight. At that moment the European title was worth nothing at all, all I trained for was for nothing. I lost my dad whom I loved and still love very much, it certainly puts things in perspective of what is important. My dad was at my side for most of my fights - I miss him every day and every fight.”

And there’s been quite a few fights, mostly abroad. Unfortunately in spite of her success, she still works full-time. Jorina works for PPS Security, and it makes me smile to think of some drunk guy trying to push her around and getting a bit of a shock! 

She said: “My training schedule varies every week, because I work as security and bouncer in a concert hall and nightclub. I work evenings and nights. I live an hour from my workplace and work about 40 hours a week.”

Jorina Baars muay thai muaythai thai boxing netherlands Lion fight

In an ideal world she trains twice a day, four or five times weekly. But she adds glumly: “It happens frequently that I can only train three or four times a week and once a day. That's why we don't only train hard, we also train smart. It’s always a challenge to find a balance between work, training, and family.”

For your typical fighter that’s not such a big deal. But now twice-winner of the Lion Fight title, fights pop up all the time.

“I have to keep up with my training. When they call me, I'm ready at a moment’s notice, that's what champions do, stay ready and be ready to fight, this is my train of thought as I am always coming to win and would hate to lose, that's why I will always give it my all,” she says.

Jorina Baars muay thai muaythai thai boxing netherlands Lion fight Martina Zinkova
Jorina Baars Vs Martina Zindrova Lion Fight World title October 2015
So how did she deal with that cut? Pictures from the fight went everywhere on the internet, and even though it was below not above the eye, it was still potentially a game-changer for her Czech opponent Martina Zindrova. 

Jorina says: “That was the moment when I woke up and start the fight.  I did not have the preparation for this fight that my trainers and I had planned on.  I got busy with work and could not train as what we had planned. 

“The moment the doctor said ‘I let you fight but when the cut gets bigger and opens up further or doesn't stop bleeding, I will call the fight’ that obviously that got some fire under me. I had to turn up the pace; the word losing is not and will never be listed in my dictionary.”

Jorina Baars muay thai muaythai thai boxing netherlands Lion fight

So yes, for now she is happy with what she’s built. Happy and grateful to the team who’ve gotten her this far: family, friends, trainings partners, supporters, trainers Dennis Hekking, John Jongepier Edu Hogel, Andre Mannaart and her manager in the United States Johan DeLeeuw. 

Jorina says: “Besides being a fighter I am also a family person, I have everything in the Netherlands. My family, friends, work, gym, my life is here. Of course when things change in the future I will consider moving but for now I'm happy in the Netherlands.

“Thank you all for reading this and supporting me, I am fighting for you! Osu!”

You can find out more about Jorina at her website (where these pictures are from):  Jorina Baars 

She's also on Twitter @JorinaBaars  and Instagram @jojorinab

Friday, November 13, 2015

How can we promote women in sport more?

Holly Ferling, Australian cricketer    Ursula Jacob, Irish camogie player

Team sports and individual sports don’t often pull together but I read an interesting piece last night by a cricket-player calling for just that. 

Australian Holly Ferling thinks women in sport are maybe a bit too focused on worrying about media space, and should instead support each other in getting better. This, she reckons, will lead to a sports pages take-over.

Holly says: “Females make up half of our population, and many do watch some form of women's sport. If we can combine our following, and the disciplines unite, women's sport as a whole will win.”

I have to say I agree with her. I've a lot more time for any woman involved in sport who is also out there promoting her friends, and team-mates online and in the media instead of carping on the lack of coverage.

It’s hard to do, but that’s the place we’re in – playing catch-up with the men. And it is hard, I've done interviews when I was so tired from training the nonsense I was talking might have been better kept quiet! But you do it, don't you?  You can read the rest of Holly’s piece on the Sydney Morning Herald. .

And as it happens I got an email last night through the Union of Students in Ireland with some positive thinking from Wexford camogie player Ursula Jacob (above). I don’t often talk about team-sports here but maybe I should do a bit more now and then.

Anyway, Ursula’s points about why sport is so good for you could just as easily be said for combat sports, swimming or running or whatever you're having yourself. She's calling on students to mix sports and study because: 

  • Sport releases positive endorphins
  • Sport allows you to de-stress from your studies
  • Sport encourages positive interactions with your peers while also
  • Sport allows you to communicate and engage with a wide variety of people
  • Sport can later help you with your career path because many businesses and corporations recognise the important presence sport and physical activity can have in people’s lives
The next bit made me roll my eyes just a little though, she says: 

  • If you’re doing sport, you’re not actively engaging in continuous alcohol related activities.
  • If you are committed and dedicated to training then you recognise the importance of getting a healthy balance between studies and sport rather than spending all your free time drinking


What do you do to promote women’s sport? Online? Telling your friends and family? Sharing pictures? Going to games and fight-nights?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Disrupt Ageing

Wordless Wednesday:

Today's photos are Alex Rotas' powerful shots of women aged from 70 to 90 but still rocking it on track and field. She tags them with #disruptageing and #mastersathletes on Twitter where we met.

Dorothy McLennan from Ireland (79) sprinter, pole vaulter

Dorothy McLennan (79) stretches out

Hildegund Buerkle from Germany is 80 and is 100m sprinter at 18.16 seconds

More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.           And here on Image-in-ing

And more of Alex Rotas' photographs on her blog here. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

MuayThai and boxing training in London with Simone Harvey

I first heard about the woman in today’s post through Lisa at boxing blog The Glowing Edge. Then director Garreth Carter got in touch, and he connected me with his sister who also trains with this inspiring coach.

And really you all need to meet former MuayThai fighter, personal trainer and coach Londoner Simone Harvey.

I loved Simone’s intro to Garreth's short, so honest. She’s standing there, grinning like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and says she discovered fighting at 16. ‘Yeah, going out at night, having a little fight. Going to nightclubs, having a little fight, making a bad name for myself. That’s when the police came to the door, and that’s when I chose …’

Simone Harvey, Coppa-Doc from Garreth Carter on Vimeo.

One of her students Kathleen Carter is a self-confessed boxing addict. She told me: “It’s a stress reliever and counteracts all the other crap that goes with living in a big city. I've found it's the perfect way to 'empty mind'. I originally did taekwondo then found boxing, and specifically personal training with Simone.”

When I asked if she’s ever fought, she said: “I would love to get more time and train to do one day. Let's face it when there's someone facing you in a ring looking at every way to catch you with a left hook there's no way you can think about anything like your work, laundry, rent or any other worries!”
Too right, mindfulness comes in many forms.

We talked about the difference between training with a regular personal trainer, and with a former boxer. Kathleen said: “Simone inspires women from all walks of life, she makes everyone feel at home boxing.

“I've watched formerly nervy people really come into their own and relish pounding the pads. Women love learning how to get the punching technique correct and since Simone was a Thai Boxing champ she has the kudos, and she takes time to teach people proper punching techniques. I’m sure as a Thai boxer you'll agree they know how to make some damage!”

Ehm, yes. We certainly do, and even if you never fight knowing how to use that power is so much fun, it’s empowering. And with Simone’s warm-up being a full-on boxing pyramid of burpees, star jumps and press-ups, women get a real taste of fitness. 

I haven’t trained with Simone, but when students make a Coach of the Year video nomination for London Sport, you know something good is going on. Worth watching this short clip to the end …

Simone Harvey - Mind Over Matter from Kathleen Carter on Vimeo.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Your thoughts on Badass female fighters in films?

I was writing about Kung Fu for work this week, which of course sent me looking for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for research.

That came out in 2000 when I was still actively fighting in MuayThai. I still remember the excitement of seeing the fight scenes when Michelle Yeoh took on Zhang Ziyi. It was one of the first movies to gave actresses a central fighting role.

That film one of the reasons why I still have a hankering to learn fencing or some sword skills. You’ll be hearing more about my Kung Fu adventure, but I’ve also been reading about Filipino Escrima/ Arnis fighting at The Stick Chick blog if you’re tempted by this clip.

While I was poking around for the best clip to show you, I also found this montage below. Now this is a lot more violent as it features action women characters from a range of films including Hanna and Alien as well as martial arts movies.

It was interesting to me that I noticed how violent it is. I probably see fictional male characters shooting people most days, even flicking channels when the news gets too grim usually brings up male policemen or soldiers doing unspeakable things.

And similarly in the real world people expect the Kurdish Peshmerga to fight against Islamic State, but when female soldiers join them it becomes headline news. Military services like that in the UK army or Israel's IDF where women play an active role are constantly examining this.

I’d love to know how you feel watching this –  Inspired? Uncomfortable? Interested? Proud? Something else??

Action Women Movie Montage from ClaraDarko on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

Do you throw up after working out?

Warning: this post contains vomiting references! 
Aisling Daly pre UFC Dublin PIC: Twitter Jerry McCarthy

Yesterday morning Irish MMA fighter Aisling Daly was interviewed on Newstalk radio as part of a segment on ‘body-shaming’.

They somehow ended up talking about training so hard that you throw up, after one of the interviewees (a model) said:

“It does happen, it’s not that uncommon. If you push your body that hard, it’s basically a release.” ~

I was listening to that rolling my eyes.  I come from a fairly tough sports-background: MuayThai gyms in Thailand are not known for taking it easy on students.

So yeah, I’ve felt ill in training (say after someone threw a massive kick or punch that I decided to block with my stomach!!) and dehydrated after long sessions in the sun but thankfully no full-on projectile vomiting.

Then Aisling came on the line. She got straight in there with:

“As far as I’m concerned healthy is the bottom line on everything. Just back to what Lynne was saying there, I’m obviously a high-level athlete. Vomiting while training hard is not normal. I’ve never once thrown up while training. That’s a level too far with your body, that’s not being kind to your body. That’s a little bit of a step too far, I just think it’s a bit backwards.
"I think you should be kind to your body. Exercise, look after it and treat it like the beautiful machine that it is. Healthy should be the main goal.”
Thank you! Let’s move past this idea that pain and suffering is the way to be healthy and successful. It’s especially dangerous for young girls and teens to hear women saying pain and vomiting is normal – because then they will do the same.

Or girls will avoid exercise because it sounds horrendous.

It’s hard enough to get women and girls doing sport as so many studies have shown. Let’s focus on the fun and healthy parts, not frighten people out of the gym with chatter about throwing-up.

What do you think – how much pain is acceptable? Which side of the debate do you fall on?