After learning of Dubai’s newest self defence class, Mark Griffiths takes a lesson in looking after himself.
We hear it said all too often: ‘Dubai is such a safe place to live’. While it may be comparatively true thanks to lower crime rates than many other cosmopolitan cities, it also doesn’t pay to become complacent.
Move over Jackie Chan, welcome the dawning and enter the era of Eldrick Bongcawel (cue a crescendo of Asian tunes over a strangely loud gong).The Filipino personal trainer is now offering self defence classes at Zen Spa and Healh Club at the Radisson Royal on Sheikh Zayed Road. They’re ideal for anyone looking to mix exercise with some potentially life-saving moves.
After just one class you’re hardly prepared to take on Chan or even Jaden Smith (although I’m pretty sure most could handle the 14 year old sans any martial art training) but you’re certainly better armed to deal with danger.
‘I would recommend eight classes before anyone is really able to exercise what they have learned,’ says short but well-built Bongcawel. ‘It’s also about practice, channelling the skills as well as the mind.’
Now I’m the first to admit I’ve never been a huge fan of the more spiritual side of sport, but this time it’s different. Martial art expert of more than ten years, Bongcawel begins the class with some stretching and what he calls ‘mind clearing’. Bongcawel explains more than 50 percent of martial arts is understanding the world around you as well as the discipline of focus.
‘There are two parts to self defence,’ he says, while holding me in an arm lock and staring me straight in the eye. ‘The first is physical. You improve strength, fitness, flexibility and general health. The second is more internal. It’s learning to spot danger before it finds you, avoiding danger.’
The assumption, especially among parents, is martial arts training encourages unnecessary violence. In fact the opposite is true. ‘Martial arts lessons can help avoid the need for physical confrontation in most cases,’ said Bongcawel.
Originally inspired to train by his now deceased father, 38-year-old Bongcawel started self defence classes because he believes it’s becoming fashionable the world over.
‘There are many forms of martial arts, most of which are available across Dubai,’ he said. ‘But I wanted to offer specific self-defence classes aimed at people who want to protect themselves rather than perfect an ancient art form.’
Don’t be fooled, however. While you pick up holds, pushes, grasps and kicks, which one day could save your life, the heart gets a good work out too. Calisthenics – simple, rhythmical movements – had me more out of breath than a military-style bootcamp warm up.
So far, mostly women have signed up to Bongcawel’s classes but the groups are open to all.
‘It’s always going to appeal to females first,’ he said. ‘It’s natural. Many women feel threatened by the environment they live in due to the fact that in more cases than not they are the weaker gender.’
With just two easy moves I’m taught how even the most petite of ladies can over-power a man.
Mind focused, Bongcawel grabs my wrist forcefully and I panic. He wins. ‘Try again,’ he kindly encourages explaining the worst thing anyone can do in a troubled situation is panic. He grabs again and I remain calm before going through the motions he just taught. Arm over, push down, force back and knee to the crotch. Amazingly, Bongcawel is defeated.
Jackie Chan, I’m ready.
Dhs1,000 for eight introductory lessons. Spa Zen & Health Club, Radisson Royal Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 308 0000).
Three more self-defence classes to try
Dubai Karate Centre
One of the longest-running clubs in the UAE, the Dubai Karate Centre offers it all. Founded in 1983 guests can study judo, karate, taekwondo, aikido, muay Thai, kudo, iaido, wing tzun and self defence.
Family Martial Arts
Martial arts has far too many benefits to be a spectator sport so why not sign up the whole family? Rather than mum and dad watching little Johnny kick away, Family Martial Arts offers packages for parents and children to train and learn together.
Hapkido is a Korean martial art. Its immediate aim is the welfare of the practitioner but the ultimate goal is the development of mind, body and spirit in unity with the universe. Metin Sayer offers classes in Dubai.