Dr Mike Simpson, A Personal History of Indian Club Swinging
Dr. Mike Simpson, Indian Club enthusiast, teacher, and maker in Sheffield England, was kind enough to give a brief history of his experience working with the timeless art of Indian Club Swinging.Mike is one of the leaders in bringing this once popular art back to the public eye. For more information see his website at www.indianclubswinging.co.uk
Mike has also created an extensive series of YouTube tutorials and demonstrations well worth a look. Posted after the article is an excellent demonstration of one handed club swinging. Refer to his website for more in the series.
Dr Mike Simpson – Indian Club Swinging
My Background with Indian Clubs
I first encountered Indian club swinging over 25 years ago (circa 1985) at a local Judo club where one of the club members, Dr Colin Hughes, gave a short demonstration for anyone interested in watching. I was interested and impressed simply because of the unusual form of exercise being shown with what appeared to be quite large and fairly heavy clubs. This one demonstration alone awakened something in me that found the whole thing fascinating. A few years later I moved to the University of Sheffield where again I encountered Indian club swinging being run by Dr Colin Hughes at lunchtimes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at the University Sports Centre on Northumberland Road in Sheffield. Colin was using Indian club swinging as the basis of a fairly comprehensive fitness regime in which skipping, running, stretching and all forms of exercise were being used. This was a really great class for getting fit and cross training for my martial arts classes.
Indian club swinging had been introduced to the lunchtime classes by someone working at the University sports centre that had been in the armed forces and had learnt the art there. Colin and the lunchtime club swingers had picked up these skills and read further on the subject to develop their skills and continued the practice. Later Colin moved to the University of Manchester and I lost touch with him. At that time we were only doing a few techniques and routines. For example, the heart shaped swings, single and double handed, were the main elements taught but later routines with one club and some simple strength exercises such as shoulder rotations, curls and holds and so on were used. It did not take long to get the basic movements but the coordination required for the alternate outer (and inner) heart shaped swings was more difficult and took some effort to achieve. It took some people years to get the hang of some movements but we all progressed at our own pace as this was an open class and it was not a competitive activity.
My progress in Indian club swinging was relatively slow at first because it was quite an unusual form of exercise for me and was not my main interest. I worked hard on these moves in my own time at lunchtime and in the evenings in the summer. I was helped by a number of people in the fitness class such as Professor John Norman, Professor Rachel Davey and of course Dr Colin Hughes. My progress has really increased in these last few years as I have mastered the basic elements of club swinging and extended my knowledge further by reading old manuals and contacting other club swingers around the world via our web site: www.indianclubswinging.co.uk. We set up the web site rather naively thinking that people in Sheffield would be interested in buying clubs when they came to the classes. Within the first few months of having the web site Mr Krishen Jalli contacted us from London and he was an obvious expert in heavy club swinging. Then Russell Ogata, a physical education teacher in Hawaii contacted us and more people got in touch. We did not think we would be contacted by people all over the World but now we have contacts in the USA, Europe, Australia and South Africa.
I am still learning, particularly the heavier club swinging and also the more intricate moves with lighter clubs. Sometimes I can study an old book by someone that practiced a hundred years ago and see the moves and do them immediately without hesitation because they are similar to the techniques I learnt. At other times I have to really work at the moves to see how they work. Usually I try light clubs with a new move to see the movement and recently I have obtained some light plastic juggling clubs to try out some fancy moves. Once you have the movement with light clubs it is relatively easy to move on to heavier clubs (within limits). Once you can do a move it stays with you. A recent experience of mine was at my local gym (Pine Grove Country Club – now closed unfortunately) when I was doing some sit-ups with a club and was asked by a young woman what the clubs were. Before I could reply an old chap (70 years plus) picked up the clubs and did some very expert swings with them to the amazement of the younger people at the gym! He had not swung clubs for over 30 years!
Making a good pair of Indian clubs is an art.
It started by copying the clubs I bought in the 1980s and selling those online. I looked at other potential designs in books and we experimented with those. My own designs were poor attempts and I made a detailed study of the shape of clubs to get the balance right for the British military style of club swinging which I was most familiar with. We were then asked to make some repairs to some old and antique clubs and while we were doing this we made copies of these various clubs simply out of interest. It then occurred to me that some of these antique clubs were very nice and felt good to swing and were nicely balanced. So over the last few years I have put some of these designs on the web site. The Sim D. Kehoe replica clubs were the result of a meeting with Paul Wolkowinski from Perth when he came to Sheffield and getting to know his style (based on Lemaire’s book). He then put me in contact with Izzy Barish in the USA who had made some detailed measurements of an antique club originally made by Simon D. Kehoe in the 1860s. Now Simon D. Kehoe had written a manual on Indian club exercises in 1866 which is still available today as a photographic reprint. This manual was based on Sim D. Kehoe’s travels in Europe where he saw Indian club swinging and he returned to the USA and started making and selling clubs and equipment as part of his gym equipment business. The measurements of this 12 pound (5.5 kg) club were sufficiently detailed to allow us to make a replica of those clubs. These clubs were wonderful to swing, if a bit heavy. So with a little ingenuity we made two smaller versions a 4 kg and a 2.8 kg clubs with the same basic shape. These were just as good and really well balanced. The problem with swinging antique clubs is that they are generally dry inside, very weak and will break and damage quite easily. So it is better to have a new club of the same weight and dimensions as the original club and preserve what is left of the antique club. This is how we started making replicas of antique clubs and selling them to club swinging enthusiasts.
So, there we are, I have been swinging Indian clubs for over 20 years, learnt a lot of techniques and routines and have made a lot of friends doing this. I have put some videos on YouTube. We are now able to make virtually any club to any design and I have produced a handbook and DVD. We are in the process of making a second edition of the handbook and a larger set of DVDs by collaborating with experts all over the world. This is quite an achievement as it is only a hobby of mine.
I am particularly indebted to Mr Krishen Jalli for the insight into really heavy Indian club swinging.
Dr Mike Simpson, August 2011.
Below is a beautiful demonstration from Dr Mike Simpson on one handed swings.