Andreas Vogelsang interviews Percussionist and Krav Maga Professor, Frank Colon about how he has integrated Indian Clubs into his daily training.
Hello, Frank. We have known each other for a couple of years. I have always admired the way you do things. So I am delighted that I can interview you for Paul’s web page.
Hi, Andreas! Hey, man, thank you for taking the time to reach out to me, all the way from South Africa! And, I must say that through the course of our meeting online, which I’m proud to feel that it’s developed into a sincere friendship, I have also admired your lifestyle philosophy and the innovative manner that you have developed your club-swinging skills.
I don’t know if you are aware of a dichotomy in the club swinging world, Frank. The U.S.A. and the U.K have a historical precedent of club swinging. Indian clubs are readily available, either new or second hand via garage sales, antique shops, and deceased estates. The situation is different in countries like Brazil and Korea. I consider you and Julio Diniz to be Indian Club pioneers in Brazil. Can you describe the difficulties you experienced, and how you overcame them?
Well, the manner in which I got into Indian club swinging is curious, mainly because it was almost by accident! My good friend, fellow musician/drummer, and Indian Clubs Brazil©™ partner, Julio Diniz, is the individual who is “guilty” in this sense. It all started about two years ago, as we were musically brainstorming the arrangements for a percussion trio show production that we put together with our colleague, Robertinho Silva (one of Brazil’s most accomplished and creative drummers!).
So, Julio came over to my home and, at one point of our rehearsal, he happened to notice one of my kettlebells over in the corner of the room. About ten minutes later, he interrupted the rehearsal and asked me, “Hey, man …what’s that?” So, I told him about the kettlebell and described a bit of its history and what could be done with it…which led to the end of our music rehearsal, as he insisted on seeing a demonstration and trying out a few swings himself. And, sure enough, about a week later, we had tracked down an 18kg kettlebell in Rio for him to begin his own training.
Julio and I are similar in that, once we embrace a discipline or a hobby, we both like to research every aspect of the subject as far and as deep as we can. And, we are living in a marvelous age when the internet resources can assist us in this endeavor …don’t you agree? In this sense, I always like to challenge and stimulate my good friends to take what we do towards higher and higher degrees of excellence. So, following this philosophy, Julio dove into learning everything that he could find concerning kettlebells and, as luck ( …and Youtube!) would have it, he happened to unexpectedly discover these things called “Indian clubs”.
He started talking to me about this “new thing” but, at the time, I told him that I was satisfied with my training methods and really didn’t have time to get into something else that obviously required technical training. Well…. my friend, however, was relentless in his enthusiasm! He soon after made his first clubs out of some empty plastic bottles filled with gravel…and then, he discovered another ancient tool referred to as… “Gada”.
As you can imagine, Julio wasted no time in making his own Mace/Gada… and bringing it over to my place for me to check out. At this point, perhaps because of the easier aspects of Mace training, I began to get more interested in the entire subject. So, we started to research these ancient “Vedic” tools together, spending hours surfing the web, gleaning every bit of information available. At this point, we began thinking about locating a wood-turner in order to make our first wooden clubs…
And then, all of a sudden, we had the “Eureka!” moment, when we landed on your site, Andreas, where you explained and demonstrated how you carved your own clubs, fashioned from salvaged wood! Hey, man, when we saw this, we both (literally!) jumped out of our seats and did high-fives, for we now realised that we could simply carve, whittle, and sculpt our own Indian Clubs! Which is exactly what we did. And, within one week, we each had our first clubs.
I have seen you and Julio swinging clubs in public places. How do people react to your club swinging? What kind of questions do they ask?
It’s actually kind of funny because while we attract the gaze of most of the people who see us training, not many people approach us to inquire about it. I would even venture a guess that, on average, one out of thirty people actually talk to us, asking what we’re doing. Once we do get the opportunity to talk to someone, they are curious as to;
- The origin of this concept.
- Who we learned this from?
- Where did we get our clubs?
Living in Brazil means that you would have had limited exposure to Indian clubs. So how did you get started? And when was this?
Yeah… these two questions are similar to the ones that we are asked when we practice in public places! I believe I already answered how we became aware of the existence of Indian Clubs, Gada/Mace and Persian Meels… which was via YouTube, your Cococlubs website and Paul Taras Wolkowinski’s excellent blog site on the subject. After much encouragement from my friend, Julio, I decided to learn these tools approximately two years ago.
How do you integrate Indian clubs with your other activities? Are they complementary in nature?
What I’ve done is re-organize my training regimen so as to include these tools. As it is, I haven’t been to a conventional gym in 20 years, as I really don’t like the “social gym culture”. Besides my self-defense training methods (technique rehearsal, heavy bag and speed bag work, free sparring with colleagues and students), I stay in shape by doing body-weight calisthenics: push-ups, squats, pull-ups/chin-ups, abdominal exercises (sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts)… also adding jump-rope and kettlebells.
Meanwhile, as a percussionist, I have always approached my instruments with the mentality focus and physicality of an athlete. As such, I make a point of rehearsing intensely every day for a minimum of three hours. During this time, I push myself to perform harder than I would normally play on stage, working on speed as well as well as endurance. And, I must say, in this sense, while Mace and Meel training have taxed and increased my muscle strength and aerobic endurance, I feel that I can definitely affirm that Indian Clubs have improved my movement reflexes, limb independence and coordination, and general mental organizing! And, this has definitely improved the ambidextrous performance of my multi-instrumental percussion set-up.
I have seen you show others how to swing Indian clubs. How quickly did they learn? Has your background in music and martial arts given you an advantage in speed of learning different moves?
Yeah, man, you’ve been seeing me teaching others because of the fact that I believe that the overall benefits from swinging Indian Clubs are something that everybody should enjoy! At first (… and, I believe this must happen to most people!), when I decided to take up the practice, I thought that I needed to make the art more “manly”, in the sense of going for swinging heavy clubs. I couldn’t imagine a guy obtaining any real benefit from swinging the light clubs that I saw being used in a lot of the videos that I had come across. Therefore, the first set of clubs that I whittled weighed in at almost 2 kilos. But, I then made sure that the next pair that I sculpted would be much heavier… and they came in weighing a whoppin’ 4.5 kilos! Ha!! They were basically short, chubby Meels! And, I remember how you, Andreas, commented on having to have plentiful stamina in order to swing “those meaty clubs”! But, yes! Swing them, I did! And, let me tell you…. they are definitely not for the “faint of heart” when used as Indian Clubs!
But, I soon realized that the advanced circles that elevate the rudimentary moves to the nature of “art” – the pretty and elaborate techniques as demonstrated by Paul T. Wolkowinski in Australia, Helder Gandra in Portugal, Terry Sanchez in Denmark, Tamas Kaczmarski in Hungary, Izzy Barish in Philadelphia, USA, Julio Diniz in Rio de Janeiro, and yourself (South Africa) – were simply not possible for me (at the time…!) with these short Meels! So, I got some plastic juggling pins and filled them with sand until they weighed 700 grams and, voila! Now, I could begin to train these move “intellectual” circular trajectories without needing a double-shot of espresso coffee and wrist and elbow wraps!
I trained briefly with these but soon became disillusioned with the shifting sand and the “feel” of the plastic. It was at this point that I reached out to Helder Gandra and ordered three sets of his clubs: one set of 600 gm. “Pino de Riga” (“Riga Pine”, a beautiful and fragrant species of pine, from wood that may be 80 to 100 years old!), a set of 600 gm. “Scepter” model clubs, with flat knobs, and a set of 1.3 kg. triple-wood clubs (wood from Portugal, Angola, and Madeira Island).
This is all to say that, it took me a while to fully realize the multiple benefits derived from practicing the lighter Indian Clubs. For, not only do they tax one’s muscles, based on training for “time cycles” rather than for “repetitions”, they also challenge one’s mind in terms of memory, coherence, organization, and creativity!
I found that as one gets into a groove… practicing with no concern for time (… somewhat of a luxury in today’s society, wouldn’t you say, man?!), one’s mind slips into a meditative state. This, by definition, would signify that one’s brain waves have gone from the Beta frequency (one of high activity alertness) to the Alpha frequency, which is how our mind pulsates when we are doing Transcendental Meditation or when we are performing a task (such as performing music) “in the zone”. As such, it is a healing and knowledge-inducing mental and spiritual state of being, as we are, in effect, devoid of the usual “mental chatter” and spiritually connected to the “Unified Field of All Possibilities”.
So, it’s in this sense that, just like I love to teach people how to meditate or go deeper into the “inner realm of Tai Chi”, I am ready, willing and able to initiate anybody who wants to learn into the pleasure of swinging Indian Clubs!
That, my friend, has proven to be “easier said than done”! For, yes… I do believe that my experience with performing well on various musical instruments plus my decades of martial arts training gave me an edge on sorting out the basic moves and (relatively) quickly move into the more elaborate circles. The fighting arts give one an exceptional eye-to-hand coordination, so I can rapidly decipher body movements, even while interpreting them from “mirror view”. And, just like learning or teaching a new karate “Kata” (choreographed self-defense sequence), one must begin at slow speed before attempting to perform it correctly at a rapid pace. I’ve always told my students, “If you can’t do it slowly, you damn sure can’t do it fast!”
From years of teaching experience, I’m fully aware that everybody has their own pace in learning a new skill. Even so, I was, at first, very surprised at the almost total perplexity on the part of ALL of the people to whom I have introduced to Indian Clubs. Some have found it extremely challenging to coordinate both limbs, some have had major difficulties in “going with the flow” of the club’s own weight, and others can’t seem to calmly sync their entire body and reconcile with the small wrist circles as the larger arm circles are happening. At times, it would seem like I have asked them to rub their tummies in circles while tapping the top of their heads! Curiously, the most intellectual friends (like a cousin who’s a lawyer with a couple of doctorates under his belt…) are the ones who get frustrated the fastest! I guess it’s because, as we know, from afar, Indian Clubs swinging looks simple…… but it really ain’t!
I have seen you swinging different shapes and styles of clubs. What is the characteristic of your favorite Indian club?
Since me and my buddy, Julio found a couple of lathe-turning craftsmen, we’ve been designing our own clubs. We’ve come up with a few different shapes, based on personal preferences and the different types of wood available over here. As you probably know, Brazilian hardwoods and extremely dense and beautiful… but my own favorite is red Maçaranduba. And, while I like the 53 cm. “tear-shaped” Riga pine model (like the one that I bought from Helder), my favorite is the 55 cm.“Scepter”-style, which to me, provides the opportunity for both a physical and intellectual workout. I also like the handle to go smoothly all the way to the knob, which I prefer to be round.
I have tried learning Indian club patterns from instruction in the old Indian club books. But I find the diagrams and instructions quite confusing. Do you have any favorite books? How do you go about learning a new move, Frank?
To tell you the truth, Andreas, I have found those old manuals to be cryptically confounding, at best. Some of the drawings are cool, in an artistic sense but trying to follow their instructions and dotted-line trajectories is like trying to learn Seven-Star Praying Mantis kung-fu from an illustrated manual written in Mandarin!
As such, I have relied almost entirely on studying videos published by Paul Taras Wolkowinski, Terry Sanchez, and Helder Gandra. I think that Helder is really quite “gifted”, as he keeps pushing the limits of how one can get more and more elaborate with the Indian Clubs. Man, there are some moves that he does which, to me, come close to defying the conventional concepts of kinesiology. It’s sort of like admiring an Olympic acrobat…and then finding out that they’re also a contortionist! Besides, I like the fact that Helder also subscribes to the anti-establishment “street fitness” concept! Kevin Rail and Rocannon MacGregor (aka, Zenkahuna) also have some interesting takes, from which I sift what I think might enhance my own training… and there’s another guy from a YouTube channel titled, “5 Rings Fitness”, who has an interesting take on “the snakes”. And, again, I must say, I get a lot of different and creative ideas from the peculiar things that you, Andreas, seem to regularly come up with!
If you were to be cast away alone on a desert island, which pair of clubs would you choose to have with you?
This is a “trick” question, my friend. For, very much like potato chips, it’s nearly impossible to have “just one” pair of clubs. However, if I were really shipwrecked on a desert island, similar to Tom Hanks in the movie, “Cast Away”, I would be content to have salvaged my 1.2 kg. slightly-sceptered, Maçaranduba wood clubs with their oval knob. Although these are not exactly “light” clubs, there’s something about their smoothness that, coupled with their extreme density, actually makes them aerodynamic as they twirl above and around the body! Besides, they’re just heavy enough to be used as a bludgeoning weapon, just in case I encounter a wild animal or a crazed shipwreck survivor on this island! Ha!
I know you are a professional musician and teach martial arts. Can you tell us some more about your background?
Yes, of course…I’ll give you a brief biographical run-down, if that’s ok with you…
I was born in Washington, D.C. – totally by chance, as my father was there pursuing a Law Degree at the George Washington University. Both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico, and that’s where we went, once my dad had graduated. I spent my childhood and adolescent years living in various parts of the island. My extra-curricular activities during this time were mainly sports (basketball, volleyball, and football), music (classical piano and pop guitar), and theater.
Upon turning 18, I moved to the States to attend The American University, where I pursued a college degree in Political Science, with minors in Psychology and Anthropology. It was during this period that my musical interest shifted towards rhythm and percussion instruments, so I also used this time to research ethnomusicology, digging up old field recordings and out-of-print Cuban and Nigerian publications on religious and folkloric drumming.
As soon as I graduated, I moved to New York City, where my first years were devoted to performing the Afro-Cuban music and rituals within the Latino community, under the tutelage of the greatest drum master of the time: Julito Collazo. This drum master/disciple relationship eventually provided me with an introduction into the world of Latin music. As my wife, Margo, is Brazilian, our relationship provided me with a direct link to the Brazilians who were making their mark in the New York Jazz scene. But, it still took about three years before I began to get calls from international musical personalities., the first one being Michael Babatunde Olatunji, a Nigerian Master Drummer with a Doctorate in Philosophy, who also recorded the very first stereo all-drumming-and-chants LP (“Drums of Passion”, released in 1960.
Once on NYC’s jazz scene, I began performing with Walter Booker, Chet Baker, Jaco Pastorious, and Michel Camilo. I quickly went on to perform and record with Gato Barbieri, Harry Belafonte, Weather Report, Tania Maria, Flora Purim, and Airto Moreira.
On a record session in Rio de Janeiro with the well-known Brazilian vocal band, MPB4, I introduced the Afro-Caribbean instrument known as the Shekere into Brazilian music.
This recording caught the attention of singer/composer, Milton Nascimento, who then asked me to join his band. In Rio de Janeiro, I also performed and/or recorded with Gilberto Gil, João Bosco, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Ney Matogrosso, Elba Ramalho, Marina Lima, RPM and Robertinho Silva. I also took part in the 100-year anniversary celebration of the Brazilian classical composer, Heitor Villa Lobos, touring all of the state capitals in Brazil.
Upon returning to the States, I was immediately enlisted by The Manhattan Transfer band.
We subsequently toured and performed together all over the world for 12 years, during which time I recorded three CDs with them. As a sideman with the Manhattan Transfer, I collaborated with his creative sound for a few of their Grammy awards and was voted in 1988 as one of the top three “Most Influential Percussionists of the Year” by the readers of Modern Drummer Magazine!
My other collaborations in performances, TV specials, DVDs and/or CD recordings include Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, George Benson, Paquito D’Rivera, Larry Coryell, Billy Taylor, Azymuth, Dianne Reeves, Thalia, Nestor Torres, and Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead), among many others.
I also participate in the musical documentary movie “Calle 54”, directed by Oscar-winner Fernando Trueba. My two albums as a leader are: “Frank Colón -Live at Vartan-Jazz” and “Latin Wonder”, both of which have received very good critical reviews. I’m also featured as principal soloist in a DVD with the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra from Moscow, in a symphony commissioned for me entitled “Adoracion al Ritmo.”
Now, as you inquire about my dedication to the Martial arts… first of all, I’m a certified Tai Chi Chuan instructor, having studied and trained with Sifu Willy Lin, Robert W. Smith, Master Don Ahn, and Prof. Wolff Lowenthal. I’ve been practicing and teaching this wonderful Chinese “moving meditation / inner martial art” since 1970, and I published a Tai Chi illustrated workbook in 2015, available through iBooks. I’ve also trained in boxing, Brazilian Capoeira, Tomiki Aikido, Philippine Arnis/Eskrima/Kali, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
However, I’m one of the American pioneers in the adoption and dissemination of the Israeli self-defense style known as Krav Maga. I began my training in this style, with the highest ranking Israeli living in the United States, Grandmaster Rhon Mizrachi, in 1995…became a certified instructor in ’98 (tested and certified by the world’s absolute 10th Dan Grandmaster, Haim Zut!) …achieved Black Belt ranking in 2000 – again, tested and certified by Grandmaster, Haim Zut, who awarded me with my 2nd Dan ranking 2008! As such, I represent the Krav Maga Federation in Brazil, operating my school from the facilities of the Faculdades Integradas de Jacarepaguá university.
And, in passing…I also enjoy the international ranking status of Divemaster, certified in 1995 by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’d like to thank you, Andreas, for providing me with this intelligent discussion about a subject that I’ve taken such a fond liking to! Although in person, I’m actually a quiet individual, I can get a bit verbose when I’m writing about disciplines that I’m passionate about. Meanwhile, if you think about it, we’ve only scratched the surface of what this blog and site ( …generously provided and maintained by Paul Taras Wolkowinski) is about, as our dialogue here, this time around, has concentrated on Indian Clubs. As it is, I’m also regularly training with Maces/Gadas of various sizes and weights, and have recently begun training in earnest with Persian Meels. You know, as life just doesn’t stop teaching, I’m just grateful to be able to continue learning!
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