Students Explore the Hard and Soft Sides of Martial Arts

Originally posted on The Purchase Brick in 2010.

Mondays and Wednesday nights, as well as Saturday mornings are where martial art enthusiasts here at Purchase College like to spend their time trying to learn the craft of Cuong Nhu with Sensi Heidi Goldstein-Sidley.

Founded by O’Sensei Ngo Dong in 1965, Cuong Nhu is a Vietnamese martial art that takes a combination of mixed martial arts and blends them into one. Considered the original “mixed martial arts” amongst its followers, it has its roots in Shotokan Karate and combines aspects of Aikido, Judo, Wing Chun, Vovinam, Tai Chi Chuan, and Boxing.

Cuong Nhu means “Hard & Soft” which means to blend hard styles, where the student generates force and puts it into a target, with soft styles, where the student takes another’s force and turns it away.

There are plenty of clubs, organizations, and activities to do on campus, but still many go by the wayside because nobody is aware that they exist. Free for all Purchase students, the adult classes meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:00pm to 8:00pm, and then Saturday from 11:00am to 12:00pm in the Matt Room on the lower levels in the Physical Ed building.

Sensi Heidi Goldstein-Sidley has been teaching Cuong Nhu, as well as Judo since 1991. She has a black belt in both Cuong Nhu and Judo. She explains how Judo happens to be one of the seven main styles of Cuong Nhu. She has trained in Atlanta under one of the founder’s first students, Master Mary Davis. The Sensi also had a six year stint in France where she founded and ran a Cuong Nhu school there. She can fluently conduct classes in both English and French. However this just happens to be her side gig. Her day job consists of being the executive vice president and managing director for Madison Pensions Services Inc. in Purchase.

Students learn all different types of techniques such as sparring, matt work, weapons training, kata (pre-arranged movements), and other defense drills. There is the physical challenge of strength, agility, balance, and endurance. Because of Cuong Nhu’s equal emphasis on soft styles, students also improve fluidity, posture, flexibility, and reaction time. The spiritual and philosophical aspects of this practice includes things such as The Three O’s (Open Mind, Open Heart, and Open Arms) as well as The 5 A’s (Awareness, Alertness, Avoidance, Anticipation, Action).

A diverse group of people get involved in Cuong Nhu. Goldstein-Sidley comments by saying, “I think it has a good balance of philosophy with the martial arts. It’s very balance and it applies to everybody; the children, women, men, people who are athletic, people who aren’t, it has something for everybody it offers something for everybody so we teach to people’s abilities to learn. And it is very excepting to other styles and backgrounds and influences because this is sort of an open arms, open mind mentality.”

Talking to two Purchase students who have been with Cuong Nhu since it started at Purchase last fall, they are both equally excited about this new school year with hopes of expanding their class.

Hunter Share, a sophomore here at Purchase as well as a Creative Writing student chirps in, “I think it’s important to be a part of the class because why the hell not? It’s free. Who wouldn’t take a free class that teaches you how to fight?”

Giving a few words of encouragement to the Purchase community, Melissa Galvin, a sophomore and Math & Computer Science student who also has previous experience with six years of Isshinryu Karate says, “I would say, try it, because it’s a great sport that helps you learn focus, history, self-defense, philosophy, and fitness. We always say, Gang! Which means effort, it Vietnamese.”

Beside the two students rejoining the class, Cuong Nhu was able to attract a couple of more students one of them Austin Lipson. The sophomore who has only been here a couple of weeks says, “I’ve been doing taekwondo for a few months, I actually come from taekwondo on Mondays to here.” He still doesn’t mind the back to back schedule because he knows that he is getting a good workout along with the fact that he “would join every martial art if he could.”

“I definitely have learned so much from the club, I really enjoy it because it’s a good thing to focus on besides schoolwork. It reaches every part of your life, it’s a physical, mental and spiritual sport.” says Galvin.


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