Martial Arts Class Review: Classic Tiger System Kung Fu

Wednesdays 7.30 - 9.30, Fridays 8.00 - 9.30 All Saints Church Hall, Lime Walk, Headington

Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, they all hard to start somewhere. And as Oxford doesn't have a Peking Opera school, we'll have to make do with one of Oxford's martial arts classes. But which one? Whether you're mad-keen on kung fu or just want to learn some healthy self-defence, there's a good amount of choice. With some trepidation I tried out the Classic Tiger System Kung Fu class up in Headington - and rather to my surprise enjoyed it very much. First off, it's a sociable and varied class- teens, college-students, people at Uni, working folk, men and women. And it offers a flexible approach to a flexible art. Here are a few things that appealed to me.

Led by Sifu John Turner, there's a two-hour session on Wednesdays, a shorter one on Fridays. You can do both if you're keen, or either, and you pay as you go. The classes are structured but it doesn't matter if you miss sessions here or there. Sifu Turner makes everyone feel involved and that no one's left behind. Occasionally the class might split into two groups, so more experienced people can practice some advanced technique. But mostly everyone's together, either learning for the first time or - just as importantly - rehearsing moves again. So there's no need to fear you'll be either held back or overawed.

Each session starts with important warm-up exercises. Light jogging, stretching the arms and legs, and getting the cardio-vascular system working is essential prep for the kicking, punching and blocking exercises. Bruce, Jackie and Jet would certainly approve. At the centre of it, are the ancient tiger-style forms - based on the power and technique of the tiger - which you'll learn and which incorporate a series of practical moves. You do some work in pairs - defences against kicks, grabs and punches - and, when you're established enough, you can do some supervised safe-environment sparring. You also work against pads, learning a variety of kicks (side, front, reverse, spinning) and effective punches. Being a martial arts class, though, you do have to be prepared for some physical contact with others. If you're okay with that then you'll find the pair-work and exercises no problem.

Optional extras include taking the recognized 'gradings' where you can gain your 'sashes'. Plus occasional masterclasses led by Sifu Turner's own teacher.

It's done barefoot, but happily you don't need to shave your head like a Shaolin monk or have the surname Lee/Li. You just turn up in a t-shirt and trackie-bottoms , bring a bottle of water and give it a try. And you can join any time. I can tell you now, though - if you want testosterone-fuelled pummeling, look elsewhere. But if you want to learn a martial art for life and for fun, in a friendly but professional class, this one could well be for you.

Glenn Watson 06.10.05