Bye for now to possibly my favourite martial artist in the world

He is moving to another part of the UK so will see him but less. I have known him since I was a martial arts baby. He is ex special forces, likes a philosophical discussion but has little time for martial arts wisdom about the world – martial arts know how to do martial arts and that’s where they can talk knowledgeably. 

Don’t entirely agree but seeing much martial arts bollocks… He also gave the most sensible reason I have ever heard for not joining the army – “people shoot at you!”

Has a fantastic operatic singing voice. I used to watch in fascination, awe as he performed martial arts patterns in class. He was probably the physically strongest in the class and always treated everyone with respect, he seemed to have intuition about how much force anyone could take, regardless of belt colour.

He once did what a fellow stydent described as the best demonstration he has ever seen of anything. I think it was a roundhouse kick that I was messing up. He stopped our small group and asked me to hold the kickpad. He kicked and the kickpad flew out of my hand and hit the top corner of the ceiling the furthest away from us. Glad it wasn’t my head.

If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have made it to black belt.

Occasionally he and Master Worsfold used to randomly do Morecambe & Wise impressions using back kicks. 

The beginning of an end of a phase and beginning of another phase. I will miss him. 

Interesting Brits in Russia

Attended part of a very well organised Russian Heritage conference yesterday at Rossotrudnichestvo Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Kensington.

Several presentations in Russian where not able to follow yet but they had slides / artefacts. Have taken notes and will publish when I’ve had a chance to research further. Full details of the conference to follow but snapshots from Russian Heritage UK twitter so far.

The presentations in English included

1. Lady Sybil Grey who set up a red cross hospital in St Petersburg, Russia 1916-18 and also a field hospital in front line. She had no prior Russian skills but set off to Russia aged 33 and established the hospital. She recorded impressions in letters sent back home both of the hospital, Russia and the days of revolution. There’s a Rasputin murder connection but you can buy the book to find out more. 

She treated mostly wounded Russian soldiers (not officers). She thought that she would be a revolutionary had she taken part from seeing the food shortages and suffering at first hand.

2. Daniel Wheeler a Quaker who lived in Russia. Tsar Alexander I had heard of quaker farming and asked the Quaker movement for a representative to come to St Petersburg to plan & assist with draining the marshlands. They have found gravestones intact for the Wheeler family just south of St Petersburg which have survived everything. 

Taekwondo colour belt grading

Returned to taekwondo training today albeit with back not 100% but ok enough to train. We have regular Saturday junior class, senior class the grading shortly after that. This gives everyone extra practice before their grading so thankfully a somewhat lighter than normal session.

At one point we were in hogu (chest armour) and shinpads and practiced a shin kick then grab. Apparently this is also in judo – I was with an ex judo practitioner and he could kick my shin, grab outside of arm, hold and then do a throw (he didn’t do full throw – just partial takedown). I couldn’t quite replicate it due to lack of time but he had a much better understanding of balance & timing. A variation for taekwondo after the outside arm grab is follow up elbow strike or possibly chest/face kick but that’s probably too slow. The judo move was very effective though.

The president of our association was over from Korea so did the grading. I was on the judging table for first time ever (not as judge but as admin assistant really). Gradings are from junior to senior with most junior not requiring a pattern but have to demonstrate a range of blocks, kicks, punches and strikes. Everyone passed today but our president who is very down to earth,  gave them all a short talk about practicing more outside of class amd general discipline. He has trained several Olympic & world champions and he sees things in everyone from how they first come onto the mats until they leave.

One person double graded from white belt to yellow whom I’m thrilled about as he works really hard and has great temperament. His form has really improved in the last month. You particularly notice the difference in grades with side kicks which is one of the most difficult kicks and the strength / positioning changes somewhere further in. 

Although one of our white belts is already doing exceptionally good round house kicks and one of our yellow belts may make it into either the next British kyorugi or poomsae nationals if he carries on as he is. Possibly others too but his rate of improvement is more rapid.

I’ve made notes of the sequences so that I could run the grading next time if needed. Master Worsfold continues to do a phenomenonal job in spite of all the different Parkinson’s medications he is on and the effect on his brain – demonstrates excellent technique and notices very specific details in students –  a true inspiration! 

PAIN:LESS British Pain Society looking for partners 

British Pain Society – a UK charity have launched a new campaign this week – looking for partners (not just cancer but all chronic pain)

Russia trip – gaps 

The crisp air after leaving the plane on arrival in St Petersburg, my driver talking about how he doesn’t drink vodka any more but likes whisky if he drinks (not whilst working). Also apparently there is a museum of umbrellas and museum of mittens.

After leaving the hotel, everyone still out shopping,  some bands playing music on the street, children captivated by human statues on stilts.

Trying to answer the automated alarm call at 5am. The station looks a bit like Leeds with shopping hall before platform and a fab wall map

On arrival in Novgorod, the packed city feel disappears. The hotel (Volkhov – recommend) which has a homely feel on the floors with stuffed bookcases and sofas / tables. I’ve stayed in 5* in PwC days but this felt much more relaxed and sense of space.

The efficiency of the pedestrian crossing with drivers who stop. Russian older ladies mostly wrapped up in woollen hats and scarves, the men with thick possibly sheepskin /leather coats and caps or thick fur hats.

Two street accordion players on either side of entrance to the Novgorod Kremlin playing different songs at the same time. An eternal flame burning brightly in the rain inside the Kremlin and ladies reflecting / possibly praying near the flower wreaths.

A fantastic wind tunnelling across the Volkhov as you get to the middle of the bridge from the Kremlin. Hundreds of brightly coloured padlocks. Excited children like beautiful small angels zigzagging along and a few cyclists navigating the narrow spaces at speed. Some Sunday strollers gazing into the Volkhov before turning into the park. 

Men and women praying in the churches and cathedrals, like UK they sell religious items such as icons and the warm but tired looks on the sellers faces.

Everyone taking photos whilst walking round the Kremlin, some group selfies but mostly of buildings. Everyone talking in lively but calm tones all the time producing soothing rhythms against the patter or rain and swoosh of the wind.

2nd night of undisturbed sleep then ambling along to bus stop with commuters briskly criss-crossing the city centre roads. That global look which people have when waiting for a bus – waiting for buses to turn the corner with hope building before you can even see the number.

The fog smothering outside sounds until you walk along tree lined roads and birds flying overhead. The occasional neighbourly dogs coming to have a curious sniff before finding somewhere interesting to sit or a car to bark at.

A few people fishing by side of Volkhov / lake Ilmen. Visibility is about 2 metres of water. A small ‘crocodile’ of schoolchildren and teacher head off into the monastery. 

A few dog walkers in a local park back in Novgorod and a group of mothers with prams clustering around a kiosk. Buying what I thought was a type of bread roll – do you want it heated – no – wander off and then bite into cold cabbage inside – different – wouldn’t eat cold again.

Wandering back through Kremlin with a female group that looked a bit like Pussy Riot doing a shoot by the memorial statues outside the state museum (NB know nothing about Russian non-classical music)

An engineer in the hotel who looked like a Borg with shaved head and a black strap round back of his head with a red light on it.

Getting bus ticket this morning with platform number on the ticket. Yes!  One less question to ask. Quite a few people with larger bags and one women with flowers waiting for bus – feels suddenly like an overnight coach trip to Bodrum but without the summer heat. It’s quite clear night and some stars popping in and out.

Seem to be permanently saying ето вон там? over last few days whilst finding anything varying from cafes, bus stops, churches and monasteries. Always helpful directions back.

Back at the bus station one young woman chain smoking with couple of friends and trying to act cool but without some of the additional drama that you can find in UK. 

This trip, postcards will be posted in Russia with Russian stamps (my brother particularly will be happy and probably twin niece & nephew). Now everyone will know привет.

Smiling older women, it is permitted here (was told by friend who was born & spent childhood in St Petersburg not to in St Petersburg and to look like you’re about to murder someone if walking in Moscow).

Not everything is pretty, people have health problems e.g. older people stooping but this is same as UK. Didn’t see much obvious poverty that is different to UK (of course am in tourist areas) but it seems like quite a lot of people are fairly content compared to TV news feeds, movies of Russia in 90s and earlier. They walk and talk in a relaxed way. The police are not especially visible, no idea about others but guessing not completely dissimilar to Turkey and other countries. 

Another reason why we should be collaborating in a friendly way – people are looking beyond traditional boundaries and whether future is going to be a Russian national internet managed entirely by algorithms or some connection to global cables, infrastructure and global Icann – depends what other countries do too, level of government involvement /regulation,  what Russian developers decide based on their own biases.

Back on the train – 4 younger teenage boys in seats in front of me and they are not showing off (maybe too young and the presence of parents etc). Who knows what wonders they will achieve in Russia and elsewhere. удачи but being smart and well brought up, they won’t need much.

St Peterburg – so friendly for a big city #Russia trip 4

International tourism awards well deserved. Only had the morning & woke later than planned but walked from hotel in centre to Russian Museum of Political History – an educational visit here should be required for foreign media as part of their visa (their wealthy elite media owners can afford it).

My niece and nephew will need an in depth Russian perspective on it’s history as they go through teenage years and become more familiar with global politics. 

You easily need a day here but I only had a couple of hours barely started. However viewed modern day political campaigning (top floor) and descended through floors of political history.

Some local campaigns and international events, complete with 80s hair in one photo

Very moved by accounts (audio available in different languages incl English) across pre WWI, revolution, Stalinism, WW2.

They have extra exhibitions about the revolution including a Women of the Revolution.

Once again struck by many similarities between Bolsheivik actions establishing a dictatorship, with the current UK conservative government since 2010. There was an account discussing the concept of 2 faces so Boris Johnson should fit in well on his visit shortly, am sure Sergey Lavrov will enjoy talking with whichever one Boris chooses to present at any given moment. 

The museum has hundreds of artefacts, drawings, photos, letters, speeches on vinyl LPs as well as official documentation, there is great attention to detail and descriptions translated into English.  

On the way there this morning, I rounded the final corner of the St Peter & Paul Fortress which had snow on the beach; and there were 2 guys getting changed after a swim in the Neva. No wetsuits and it’s the Neva!  Wouldn’t want to mess with those two! 

Had to get taxi back to hotel from Winter Palace and very friendly taxi driver told me I spoke some Russian quite nicely. Ridiculously pleased – I’ll take that, thank you very much. 

St Petersburg mosque – from a distance looks like a knitted tea cosy – in this weather 

St Petersburg looking as beautiful as ever and getting ready for Christmas – should be wonderful for anyone going in December

Novgorod,Valday, St Petersburg

The bus left Novgorod at 6.50 and sunrise around 9.15 (due Valday 9.20) so got to see dawn as we neared valdaisky national park which was a fairyland of snowy forest and snowy wooden dachas.

Valday is smaller than I imagined but pretty with snow by the lake side. It wasn’t too cold, I was able to sit with 2 thermal tops and no coat for quite a while on the lake edge of the pier opposite a monastery.

It must be stunning here in the summer. Very quiet at the moment – like Bodrum used to be with seasonal business probably.

Back to Novgorod and present buying, catching a train to St Petersburg. After several days here with incredibly warm, friendly people and beautiful sights, it’s a shame that UK press and unfortunately people who should know better are using Brexit politicking and the forthcoming Russian presidental election to scream abuse at Vladimir Putin, Russian government and Russians in general.

Russia is beautiful and sometimes deliberately misunderstood,   the many Russians I’ve now met are deeply thoughtful, caring and passionate. I think Vladimir Putin is same, overall a kind, busy man with more than enough issues for one lifetime. I can’t read newspapers really yet and not watched Russian TV but wish him great success and sanity at all times if he decides to stand.

Some young people I’ve met who criticise Russian government (yes, it’s allowed) are convinced that the UK is very different to Russia in terms of society and politics – the grass is always greener – I was probably like that too at their age.

I’ve decided to stay on social media until after the election, to play whatever role I can in correcting fake info from US/UK/EU etc, however crappy it gets – to quote Mastermind – I’ve started so I’ll finish. I have kept promise made to myself to return to Russia this year and kept promise to family to keep myaelf as safe as possible (in light of my earlier behaviour in life).

Off to St Petersburg in a few minutes, then fly back tomorrow afternoon, exchanging the mighty Volkhov for the majestic Neva or vice versa. One final post probably for this trip.