Lives: St Genis, France. From: Larnaca
Sport: Kung Fu
Style: Wu Shu Kwan (WSK)
3 Favourite Things: Sun, Beach, Dogs!
Fun fact: I like adrenaline and speed... So one of the things on my to-do list is getting a skydiving certificate!
Dr Androula Alekou
Kung Fu Black Belt second degree
CYPRUS GIRLS CAN chats with Andri, to learn about her passion for Kung Fu and what it takes to get to Black Belt - and beyond!
Interview by Natalie Christopher
Tell us, what exactly is the Wu Shu Kwan style of Kung Fu?
Andri: Hi! Nice to meet you! So, Kung Fu is a Chinese Martial Art. There are actually numerous Kung Fu styles.
Wu Shu Kwan (WSK) is a full contact martial art. We learn how to defend ourselves and counter-attack.
In WSK Kung Fu, you are allowed to strike the opponent wherever you like. We learn how to break legs, punch in the groin. However we are always taught to respect our opponent.
Natalie: Hi Andri! It’s great to meet a female Cypriot who is so highly qualified in Kung Fu!
Wu Shu Kwan is a martial art
with a culture of respect, honesty and goodwill.
What is Wu Shu Kwan (WSK) Kung Fu?
Translated from the Chinese language:
Wu means martial or fighting;
Shu means the art, the way or the method;
Kwan (or Guan in Chinese pinyin system) means a centre or an association.
Put together, Wu Shu Kwan therefore means: Chinese Boxing Centre i.e. Academy of Martial Art.
Some people may be more familiar with the term Kung Fu rather than Chinese Boxing. They describe more or less the same thing
- however -
Kung Fu usually refers to the flowery, sometimes irrelevant type of Chinese martial art often seen on the screen,
Chinese Boxing originates from the oldest name used by non-Chinese to describe the systematic and pragmatic self-defense art of China.
some practitioners liken Kung Fu to fireworks for display
and equate Chinese Boxing with the real dynamite.
N: How long have you been interested in martial arts?
A: I always wanted to get involved in martial arts, something just drew me to it. I tried Judo when I was 10 years old.
Fast-forward a few years, to when I was studying Physics at the University of Cyprus. I went to a meeting related to my Bachelor studies and I heard kicks and shouting coming from a room… Out of curiosity I stuck my head in the door and saw there were people kicking targets. I was so excited! I had stumbled across a full contact Karate class.
I asked them if I could have a go… I kicked the target so hard, they asked if I was angry! I just loved it! I joined the club and trained with them. The really great thing was that the classes were filled with women!
N: That’s great to hear! Where did you take it from there?
A: After I finished my degree, I moved to the UK to start a PhD in Particle Physics. I could not find any full-contact Karate classes, so I looked around and I ended up finding a Kung Fu class. I loved it from day one: I never missed a class!
The classes were on the weekend. From then on for me, the weekends were just for Kung Fu, never for visiting friends or doing anything else! Since I never missed a class, I progressed quickly.
Just after I finished my PhD, I got my Black Belt in Kung Fu. That was really a great period of my life!
N: Wow, congratulations! You are a lady of many talents! So what did you decide to do once you’d gotten your Black Belt?
A: Well, for my first Postdoc, I got a fellowship at CERN. There was no other martial art I wanted to do in my spare time other than Kung Fu and as there were no WSK classes near me, I started teaching!
After that Postdoc finished, I went to Oxford for my second Postdoc where I had the chance to drive to London and attend classes. After Oxford, I was in Manchester for 3 months and I was driving every week to Liverpool to attend the class there. Two years later, I was back at CERN and I restarted teaching my classes!
At the moment I teach Kung Fu at CERN every week. The classes are open to public and CERN provides the space, free of charge.
Gender should not play a role when doing martial arts, however most of my students are employees at CERN and as a result mainly male.
People pay to attend, but as I volunteer my time, all the money goes back to students and goes towards things like buying equipment.
The students can be examined every 3 to 4 months; we specifically bring examiners over from the UK. We also hold demos when the examiners are there, to try to attract more students.
N: What can someone expect if they come to one of your classes?
A: Every class is 2 hours. The format of every class is the same in all countries where Wu Shu Kwan is taught - we follow the same schedule week per week. During class we learn to do blocks, kicks and punches in the air and then we spend time on our Forms. At the end of class, students can practice their free sparring.
The Globe of Science and Innovation, a visitor centre designed to inform visitors about the significant research being carried out at CERN (Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire; 'European Organization for Nuclear Research' in English).
Andri is a Accelerator Physicist and conducts research at CERN. She holds Wu Shu Kwan Kung Fu lessons at CERN once a week.
Andri (3rd from left, back row), with her WSK students (front row) and examiners (back row) at an examination held at CERN.
what Does a wu shu kwan kung Fu Class consist of?
30 minutes: Full stretching
We do the same stretches each time, so it is easy for the students to see how they are improving.
30 minutes: Practice specific blocks, kicks punches and combinations
This allows the students to learn the movements.
There are specific sequences; after you learn what the moves are, you become faster and your punches become more
accurate and more powerful.
The 3 Objectives: Speed, Accuracy, Power
60 minutes: Practise choreographic movements, known as “forms” and fixed-sparring
Forms contain a sequence of defensive and counter-attacking movements.
Each level has different "forms". Beginners do more repetitive forms, while more advanced students do more
Fixed-sparring is a group of attacking and defensive movements pre-known to the attacker/offender.
Those more senior beyond black belt are allowed to use weapons in their forms, such as sticks or knives.
At advanced levels, fixed-sparring can involve knives, three-piece-sticks, or even swords.
A WSK demo held at CERN in June 2017
Left: Gustave Salako (5th Degree Black Belt) performed a side-kick that smashed through 9 breeze blocks. Middle: Andrea Farmer (5th Degree Black Belt) and Gustave took part in a stick vs stick performance. Right: Lucy Outred (3rd Degree Black Belt) demonstrated part of the 3 section form
To pass the black belT exam,
you need to be able to:
- Demonstrate your FORMS, FIXED- and FREE SPARRING
- CHOP breeze blocks*
- PUNCH through ceramic tiles**
- KICK through wood
*To prepare for this, you need to work on conditioning so that you toughen up your hand. To do this you need to practice chopping on the floor with the small muscle on the side. You can also repeatedly chop a martial arts pad.
** You have to condition your first two knuckles by hitting them on the floor/ground. To practice breaking the ceramic tiles, you repeat the smashing move, stopping just 1cm above a spot you think of as a target.
Beyond Black Belt, come the ‘Dans’,
which are represented by a white stripe on your belt.
Black belt is 1 Dan.
For each exam you pass after that, you get 1 more Dan, with the maximum being 5 Dan.
Very few people have that.
Beyond that, you can get honorary Dan;
Grand master has 8.
N: What you have described so far sounds like it could be quite aggressive, learning how to harm others. Do you think such training makes you irritable or prone to starting fights?
A: I’m actually a pacifist; I avoid getting in a fight at all cost.
In Kung Fu, we don’t learn how to attack someone, we learn how to counter-attack. In Wu Shu Kwan we never initiate a fight.
With this martial art, you know you can damage, but you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. If someone is an ass, you just smile and leave!
Those who have 5, 6, or 7 Dan are so calm.
They have been so polite and calm when they have hosted me, then I see them smashing through 15 ceramic tiles! It makes you think “Woah!” It does feel like a contradiction.
However, staying calm and focussed is so important. When you are fighting someone, you have to react to the other person. Your psychology can easily get in the way. You can imagine – if you get punched, you get upset… And then it is easy to fall into the trap of not controlling yourself anymore. But you have to be able to stay calm and focussed in order to succeed. Your movements depend on your psychology, for example being able to break bricks, so staying focussed is crucial.
In classes, we always try and match people to the same level, then weight, then height. In Wu Shu Kwan you are supposed to show that you can control your power. If someone is obviously bigger than their opponent, it is considered disrespectful to just use this to overpower them.
Control is something you need to learn. That’s why beginners are the most dangerous! In big classes in the UK, beginners are always paired with Black Belts, as they have more experience.
N: You must have to be very organised and dedicated to your training to have gotten so far.
A: In the month leading up to my most recent exam, I had to fly to London every weekend so that I could attend 3 classes in 2 days. As I am the highest Wu Shu Kwan Kung Fu student in Switzerland, I enrolled in boxing to get in some
practice and I would fight with the instructor. In boxing you are not allowed to kick, but it was my reflex to do that, so I had to really think hard to stop myself.
My second Dan exam was the most demanding thing I have ever done.
In preparation for it, every day I would run or skip rope, I would practise breaking and practise the Forms. I did this mainly alone, as there was no one in Switzerland to help me. Spending time in London and Liverpool during that period was definitely helpful.
During the exam, you have to show that you know how to spar and that you know your forms. My second Dan exam took 8 hours, others are shorter/longer. You also have to perform breaking.
Breaking is my favourite.
It is just you and the brick/tiles/wood blocks.
You and your psychology.
You have to visualise your hand going through those tiles.
You have to be focussed.
I would never be able to take my second Dan without my coaches. I am so lucky to have Steve, a super motivated trainer in Liverpool - he was so determined for me to get the belt. He would drive me from Liverpool to London. He helped me realise that it was not IF but WHEN I will get my second Dan.
He planted the seed that I could do it. With his help I trained so hard. I also received a lot of help from Gustave, my London instructor- he provided accommodation, food and extra training!
I’m very grateful for all the help I received from everyone in London, they were all so supportive whenever I was flying over from Geneva.
N: Have you ever used your Kung Fu skills outside the classroom?
A: My primary goal is not to fight. It is to increase the chance that in case something happens, I can defend myself.
My muscles will remember and react - muscle memory. This gives me more confidence to walk alone for example.
Being able to defend yourself, especially for women, is very important.
Yes, Cyprus is very safe, but it would be a good idea for girls to gain the confidence to know what to do if something happens.
By practising Kung Fu, I am able to defend myself and it also means I stay super fit while doing something I enjoy! There are also many mental health benefits too.
Training is a place where you sweat, produce endorphins and release stress,
while learning to defend yourself.
N: What advice do you have to women in Cyprus who would like to learn Kung Fu?
A: At the moment there is no-one in Cyprus who works on Wu Shu Kwan, but there are opportunities to learn other martial arts. I came from Karate to Kung Fu. Many of my students do Taekwando and they pick things up quicker – some of the elements are transferable.
Once, I was at a club when someone groped me.
Instinctively I reacted with a left punch, right punch and a knee.
I did it with control.
Then I twisted his arm and told him to leave me alone.
Andri (front), with her WSK students and their examiners, during a tour of CERN - June 2017.
N: What are your family and friends in Cyprus opinion of your involvement in Kung Fu?
A: My friends like what I do and will always introduce me as "aPhysicist that teaches Kung Fu" – they are very proud of me.
My parents were a bit worried I will get bulky, but my now Father’s screen saver is me breaking tiles! My brother supports me. My sister would like to learn, my aim is to teach her.
N: Body image is a concern for some. Do you ever worry about getting bulky?
A: No! I think muscles are beautiful. Being strong is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to aim for :)
Once, when I told someone in Oxford that I do Kung Fu, his reaction was
“Girls do that?! Aren’t you afraid you will get big shoulders?”
What’s bad about having strength? I’m happy to see more women are getting involved in martial arts and that it is becoming less frowned upon. Things are definitely changing. There are more muscular women on TV and in the media.
If you are are strong, it means you are active, you eat well, you look after yourself.
Being strong is not a bad thing, it’s a GREAT thing!
Once a guy told me my muscles are too big. I told him his are too small.
Who said women shouldn’t have biceps? Why? Who defined that?
N: How does your husband see your involvement?
My husband does Hapkido, a Korean martial art. So he appreciates all that I do with and for Kung Fu.
He says his favourite part of my body are my strong legs.
The way my body is, is how I want it to be.
I feel secure with my own self and I chose people who embrace me and support me for being strong.
N: What reactions do you get from men when they find out that you are a Kung Fu teacher?
A: Sometimes stupid people try to provoke you to see if you really know Kung Fu.
I’ve been poked in an attempt to try and make me react.
So in fact I don’t go around advertising myself.
To be honest, I am used to people being shocked when they find out I’m a 2nd Dan Black Belt in Kung Fu, I get this type of shock from being a female Physicist. I break a few stereotypes I suppose!
People do annoy me sometimes though with the things they say. The most common comment:
“Oh my God! So we should be careful around you and respectful.”
Why?! Otherwise you wouldn’t be like that with me? People don’t realise how weird that sounds.
N: What are your goals for the future?
A: Maybe I will start thinking of obtaining third Dan. It sounds like a dream!
My students' next exam will be held on 10th February 2018. As with previous examinations, there will be examiners of high degree flying in from the UK.
For more information, check out:
The Official Wu Shu Kwan page
CERN Wu Shu Kwan Website
Thank you for sharing your interesting story Andri!
All the very best for the future and CYPRUS GIRLS CAN wishes you the best of luck with your future in Kung Fu!