Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Tale of Two Medals

Attended a tournament today with the entire family. Trevor and Christine's first tourney ever. Stories there, but not right now. Briefly, everyone returned home with a bit of sparkly stuff, and some tears were shed nonetheless.

I came home with two medals. Here's a brief synopsis of the events leading to each.

1. Forms.

Advance to 5th gup two or so weeks ago. Immediately learn Pyang Ahn Sa Dan. Practice it like mad, in the morning at the gym and, at night at the dojang during regular class, and then during post-holiday/pre-tournament prep sessions. Obsess about each and every detail of the form, stressing out about the many small ways in which you could mess this thing up. Think about the form night and day. Worry and fret, but get the form solid and looking good. Attend the tournament. Get about a quarter of the way through the form, wobble on a single kick, and flake out. Start freaking out about your mistake. Forget one kick shortly thereafter, without realizing it, and spend the rest of the form trying to figure out why everything feels screwed up.

Tie for third, missing first by .1 point, and grab a bronze medal.

2. Sparring.

When registering to participate in the tournament, decide that you're going to just take it easy and not bother sparring during this tournament. After all, you've been doing physical therapy for two months for an injury you incurred while sparring back in October, so why tempt fate and risk re-injuring yourself? I mean, you're not even all that crazy about sparring all-in-all, so why push it? Show up, but bring your pads along just in case you change your mind. Run into KSM Sawyer on the way in, who persuades you to spar since there are so few guys in your age and rank range competing that day anyhow. Hit the ring after blowing your form, assuming that you'll just get your ass kicked but not really all that worried about it. Wind up getting a tie, then winning first place in a sudden-death re-match.

Win gold. Shake head in amusement.

So, lesson learned. Let's see if I can actually apply it in the upcoming year.

On another note altogether, one of the judges told me I looked way too young for my group. Specifically, while taking a rest break after tying on our first match, she told me I was lucky that I was allowed 30 seconds rest between matches since that was usually only allowed for seniors (that being anyone over 35). I told her, with a huge smile that a) I was 39 (to which she did the "Are you kidding me?" face...) and b) she was my favorite person in the entire world. I swear, someone could have taken the top of my head off with a side kick and I would still have felt it was a good day.

Mood: Happy, proud, tired, buzzed
Now Playing: Nothin'

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Loose Ends

I'm in a bit of a dark mood today. Trying to pull myself out of it, but so far I'm still kinda glum. Partly it's the now-familiar post-testing comedown. I was so edgy and amped up for this last test that I knew I was going to have a bit of a gray fog for a day or two after, but this one is a bit different.

I had this really vivid dream this morning. In it, I was initially at a Tang Soo Do tournament of some sort. It was odd, as there didn't seem to be any actual competing going on -- it was more of a social function. I remember sitting and eating with Master's Nunan and Riley, speaking briefly with Kwan Jhang Nim and meeting several fellow martial artists who I've never actually met face-to-face. This is hardly an unusual dream, really -- over the past few months my Tang Soo Do friends and family have been taking a more prominent place in my dream-life.

But then it got kind of weird. In the dream, my son Trevor was misbehaving and I told him to stop. Just as I did this, some guy at the table (who looked like a guy who recently started training at our dojang, but who wasn't "him" in the dream, you know?) told me that I should slap him in the head if he acts up. And I distinctly recall how angry this made me feel, and in the dream I came up out of my seat and got three inches from his face and stared him the eye and said "If you ever try to tell me how to raise my kids again, I swear to God I will kick your ass from here to the street and back again." The guy backed down, and then I got up and walked away from the table and suddenly, in the way dreams do, the location changed.

I was now on a sort of patio that was perched atop the stump of an enormous tree, at least 30 feet wide. And my old friend Mike McCrea was there, sitting at a table and he we sat down to have a drink. Now, I haven't seen or talked to Mike is almost 20 years. We were very close in high school, and he was probably the first "best friend" I ever had who was a guy, the first guy who I was close enough to hug and say "I love you" to without worrying whether that looked and sounded "gay" or not. At 17 that was a big deal -- the whole "what if someone thinks I'm gay?" idiocy that teenage boys go through, and so many of them never really outgrow as men. Now it seems so damn stupid.

Anyway, somewhere along the way -- either due to distance (he was in WA, I was in NY) or simply to the divergent paths our lives took -- we lost touch. I remember the last time I spoke to him -- it was just a week or so prior to the beginning of the Desert Storm back in Bush I's reign, and about 6-8 months after the last time I'd seen him, at his wedding in Tacoma (I was one of his groom's men). He called kind of out of nowhere and, after we chatted for a while, he intimated that he would probably be out of touch for a while, and that he couldn't really say why. He was a West Point graduate and an officer with the Army, so I have no doubt that he wound up going over there.

After that, we never spoke again. I doubt anything "bad" happened to him -- I think I would have heard had he been wounded or killed. Instead, I figure he just got busy with his life, and being on opposite sides of the country made things complicated. Newlywed, probably sent overseas, and very on-track for a successful career once he returned. And I was never very good at keeping in touch in those days, way too wrapped up in my own college-aged crap to write letters or pick up telephones.

So we just ... never spoke again.

I really regret that, now. I've tried to track him down, tentatively, via the internet, but really haven't ever found anything. I'm not sure that I'd get back in touch if I found him -- it's been far too long, and it would be very, very awkward.

But I hate loose ends.

So, anyway, in the dream we just chatted, and talked about old times. The details of that part are fuzzy, but it was nice. Warm. And it seemed so real, and I remember thinking in the dream that this was a good thing, that it was nice to be back in touch with someone I'd lost touch with so long ago, to finally tie up this loose end in a positive way. And then, Mike said he was going to have to go, and we had to climb down, over the railing of the patio, as there was no staircase. And in the dream I remember very specifically that I lowered myself with one arm, and that I was proud to be strong enough to do that without a problem.

And then we were walking along, and I knew that this was going to be the part of the dream where we talked about why we had lost touch. What was it? Was it something I'd said? Were we just too different, he in the military and so focused and together while I was deep in my college slacker phase? Or had we just gone on different roads? And I was so happy that I was finally going to know this, and we were going to get to see what strange and interesting turns our lives had each taken over the past couple of decades. And we were just chatting, heading toward our cars, making a few jokes, edging up to the big questions....

And then, my alarm went off. And as I woke up, my brain started sorting the details of the dream and my conscious mind explained to me, quickly and succinctly, that none of what I'd imagined had happened and that it was just another dream. And I felt the most distinct sense of disappointment, followed by sadness, as it became clear to my waking self that none of that had really happened. And then I got angry, because I really felt like if I'd just slept a few more minutes it would have all been made clear.

So, as a result I've been walking around with something of a dark cloud over my head ever since. Went to the gym this morning to work through it a bit -- I usually skip on Tuesdays because I attend an early class at the dojang so I can train with Christine, but given how close the holidays are getting and how much vacation time I have left I figure I can shave an hour of my work day here and there if I want. Hammered my way through Pyang Ahn Sa Dan and got the movements committed to memory so that I can begin working to polish it up for a competition at the end of the month. And while I felt better after working out, I'm still walking around with this vague sense of loss, weighing on me like a small stone in my chest.

Mood: Kinda down
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "A Kiss in Time"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Post-Gup Test Feelings

So yeah, yesterday was quite a day. All of the members of my family that train in Tang Soo Do tested for rank. My mom, both my kids, my wife and I -- three generations, three separate tests. A very long day, but a wonderful day nonetheless.

First, at 9:30 yesterday morning, Christine and Trevor tested for 8th gup/orange belt. Christine was enormously prepared for this test -- she could have tested three months ago, but she chose to pass on testing until Trevor was ready to advance so that he wouldn't get demotivated. Because of this, though, the last couple of months have been a bit frustrating for her, training-wise, as she is eager to pick up new stuff but couldn't really do much in the way of new curriculum until she moved up. But she hung in there and kept plugging away at her basic stuff, and her preparation really showed on the mat. Her form and technique were solid, and her attitude was assured and confident throughout.

Trevor did very, very well also. At the beginning of the test, during line drills, he seemed distracted and had trouble staying focused -- he kept watching the other testers to see what they did before he would perform a technique. But as the test got rolling his confidence seemed to take hold, he began to trust himself more, and by the end of the test he was rock solid. He made some errors in one of his forms and had to redo it, by himself, in front of the testing board, and he didn't flinch for a second. No stage fright, no frustration or embarrassment.

That was the first time I nearly cried yesterday. It was far from the last. And when he broke his board I had to wipe a few tears away before I could take more pictures.

Miranda and my mom tested in the next session, both of them testing to advance to 6th gup/green belt. Again, a solid test all around. No serious problems to speak of, and Miranda's energy and focus were top notch throughout. Mom managed to not injure herself this time around (she messed up her toes good during the last test), and despite all her jitters and habit of running herself down she showed great technique and discipline throughout the test.

Miranda wasn't able to break her board using a foot technique, but she was in good company -- most of the kids were unable to do it yesterday, and several of the adults had trouble as well. I definitely get the feeling that board breaking problems are contagious. In Miranda's case, she's just scared of the board for some reason. She has a hell of a kick, and when she's working with a practice pad or dummy she can just about kick it across the room. But put her in front of a piece of wood and she begins pulling her kicks at contact, convinced that the wood is going to hurt her foot. She got very upset at not being able to break, but pulled herself back together, sparred, and completed testing without any other problems at all.

Then, finally, at nearly 3:00, my test got rolling. Once again, I was the only adult on the mat -- me, and a dozen pre-teens. There were 5 kids going for their red belts, 5 going for 4th gup (second stripe on their green belt), and three of us going for 5th gup. I had my testing-buddy, Kayleigh, with me though, which was nice. We've tested together every time except once (when I had to do a makeup due to scheduling problems), and she's just a terrific kid. Sweet natured and a bit unsure of herself, I really enjoy testing with her as it gives me someone to focus on and encourage -- she's good, and just needs some encouragement out of the mat so that she remembers it. The other 6th gup who was testing with me was also named Kayleigh: She's a riot, and one hell of a little martial artist in the making. Frankly, I think the three of us showed up the 5th gups a bit with our energy and preparation.

I was so nervous leading up to my test -- more nervous than I've been since I tested for 8th gup way back in the beginning of the year. I'm not sure why, exactly -- I felt a bit shaky on my line drills, but overall I know I was plenty prepared. For some reason this particular test was psyching me out a bit, though. I think it was all the jump kicks. I only started really working on them a couple of weeks back, and I just didn't feel solid on them yet. Regardless, all the nervousness was just wasted energy -- the test went really well, and I only made a couple of minor errors that I'm aware of. In fact I think it was one of my better test performances.

Oddly I'm having trouble remembering details of the test, today. I kind of got tunnel vision once the test began, just listening for the commands and busting out the corresponding techniques, not really stopping to think about much of anything until after we finished our forms and had to sit off the mat for a little while. And by then all the stuff I was stressing over (line drills, forms) was complete and I just had wrist grabs, one steps, sparring, and terminology to deal with, none of which were troubling me much at all. I had to do an improvised one-step, which came out really good -- I think that, judging by a comment of two I heard from the testing board, it actually looked a bit like one of the more advanced one steps I'll be learning soon, so that's pretty cool. It was a bit sloppy, but was certainly effective.

The most significant thing I took away from this test is that I need to be more mindful of controlling my power when I'm nervous. At one point in the test I had to break out of a bear hug and get my opponent to the floor. Luckily, they paired me with Mr. Kannan for that one, because in my nervousness I really put too much power into the break (solid elbow jab to his hip/abdomen) and the subsequent throw (rolled him up and over my shoulder, onto his back on the mat with resounding and solid THUMP). If I'd done that with a less experienced student I could really have hurt them. As it was I apologized to Aravind repeatedly, because in spite of the fact that he is solid and capable of taking those sorts of hits without my really hurting him, it was still a failure of control on my part and it could have resulted in an injury.

Lesson learned. Have to apply it better next time.

Mood: A bit drained
Now Playing: The Shins, "Wincing the Night Away"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Mad Rush, Gup Testing, Latest Paper

So much to do, so little time with which to do it. The holidays season is rushing at me like a freight train, now. Full tilt. Lots of shopping left to do, and our out-of-town guests begin arriving next week. I still would like to hang more lights on our house if I can find the time. Plus we're all testing for rank on Saturday (Christine and Trevor are both going for 8th gup/orange belt, Miranda for 6th gup/green belt, and I'll be testing for 5th gup/green belt with one stripe), so there's extra time at the dojang training all week plus we have papers to write.

And this Saturday is pretty well 100% spoken for already. Due to the spread in our ranks, we'll need to be at the dojang for the entire day, with Christine and Trevor participating in the first testing session, Miranda in the second, and me in the third. If we're lucky we'll be out of there by 5:30, after which a bunch of us will be heading down to the Trail of Lights. I'm hopeful that we can wrap up the Trail of Lights early enough for some of us to head back to my place, get the kids to bed at a semi-decent hour, and indulge in some cocktails and hang-out time. With all of the approaching holiday activity this will likely be the last opportunity to just relax with friends and chill out until well into January. Whether "hang time" will be doable remains to be seen -- it all depends on how things run with the my test, and whether we can get people to meet up downtown at a fairly early hour.

And then we've got a Christmas Party at our friends place on Sunday night after which the one-week-til-Christmas countdown really begins. Guest begin to arrive. Last minute shopping gets more and more urgent. And the seemingly endless cycle of cooking and eating begins. Still, all in all I find I'm not getting my usual "Xmas Grinchiness" this year, despite of the usual holiday stress. I mean, sure, I feel a little frustrated with the whole holiday rush and tumble, but mostly the frustration I feel is because I just want to slow down and enjoy the season and time with my family and friends and can't, as opposed to my usual "get the whole mess over with" attitude. It's nice.


As usual, gup testing brings a new paper topic. This one was a challenge -- the sort of topic that initially seems fairly simple, but which I found more and more interesting and complex as I delved into it. Once again I was able to find a way to take the more abstract qualities of the topic and tie them back in with highly specific instances of my own training experiences, which really helped to lock in the concepts of the paper for me. I'm not sure I am thrilled with the actual construction and organization of the essay -- I feel like it could use a few days of simmering followed by a rewrite -- but I'm pleased with the content, and I simply don't have the time to let this thing sit on the back burner.

Overall, I'm happy with it. So, without further ado...

What Does Pyang Ahn Mean, and Why Is It Important?

Pyang Ahn, which means “peaceful confidence,” can be used both as a proper noun when referring to the name of the series of 5 traditional forms which we learn as part of our training, as well as an adjective when referring to qualities we try to develop as a result of our training. While knowledge of the history and origin of the Pyang Ahn forms are of course important for establishing context and understanding of our art, I feel the true importance of pyang ahn lies not so much in the specific steps and movements of these 5 forms but more in the personal development of pyang ahn in ourselves, both as a result of what we’ve learned and as a key to continuing to advance in this art.

“One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” Maya Angelou

The Pyang Ahn forms were created by Master Itosu, in Okinawa, in 1870. Named the “Pinan” forms in Japanese, Master Itosu created these forms from far longer, more intricate forms (Kong Sang Koon, with some movements likely derived from Bassai and other forms as well) because he felt that the longer forms were too complicated for beginning students to learn effectively. The creation of these forms are considered one of Master Itosu’s chief accomplishments, as his creation of these simplified forms was instrumental in getting karate integrated into the Okinawan public school system.

The Pyang Ahn forms are designed to bring out “peaceful confidence” in the practitioner through study, practice, repetition, and (eventually) understanding. They are associated with the turtle not just because their movements are characterized by directness and forcefulness rather than with speed, but also because the turtle behaves in much the same manner that these forms are designed to inspire in the practitioner: Patient and deliberate in action, calm and at peace in the knowledge that should it encounter danger it is protected by its shell.

“Confidence is courage at ease.” Daniel Maher

The most significant resource we draw upon as we begin to study Tang Soo Do is yong gi, or courage. It takes a lot of courage to step on the mat that very first time, and perhaps even more courage to keep coming back, week after week, in the face of training difficulties, injuries, and steadily increasing challenges. Only by tapping on our reserves of courage can we really push through these initial stages of training.

Much like our bodies change as muscles are exercised day after day, this continual exercise in courage leads to growth and change in our selves. I think that the first outwardly noticeable change can be seen in the gradual development of pyang ahn. Many people refer to the “aura” that martial arts students develop over time – a sort of atmosphere of sureness and focus that people who train in the martial arts begin to carry with them in their day to day activities. I think that this is an excellent example of the development of pyang ahn, a sense of confidence that we develop after repeatedly relying on our own courage to get through the tough times.

I think it is interesting that, once we have learned our gicho forms, the next form we are taught is the first pyang ahn form, Pyang Ahn Cho Dan, and aside from Chil Sung Ee Rho the Pyang Ahn forms dominate our forms development over the next several belt ranks. I think that the content of the Pyang Ahn forms, coupled with our own growing courage as a result of continued training, combine to create the inward sense and outward demonstration of peaceful confidence that we seek.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

While developing pyang ahn as a personal quality is certainly a worthy goal in and of itself, I think that in the context of learning martial arts it is perhaps better viewed as a stage of personal development that is necessary in order to continue learning and growing in the arts. Simply put, I think that if a student does not begin to develop pyang ahn then they will ultimately be unable to continue in their studies effectively. With pyang ahn, a student can face the increasing demands of their training with confidence and patience, sure that given enough time and practice these difficulties can be transcended. Without pyang ahn, the challenges of more difficult techniques will simply overwhelm the student over time, leading them to eventually give up and leave training rather than face the ongoing frustrations they feel.

While studying Tang Soo Do over the past year I’ve repeatedly encountered periods of self-doubt. Sometimes this was fairly minor – generalized frustration at not being able to get a particular one-step, wrist grab, or form right – while other times it was almost crippling. I recall one night about 3 months into my training, after I began attending advanced classes in order to beef up my number of hours or training each week, when I saw some of the 1st gups and dans performing some techniques that were so far beyond my abilities then (now, even!). The complexity and physical/psychological demands of the more advanced forms and the huge variety of blocks and punches and kicks I'd need to learn was really overwhelming.

Now, this ultimately led to realizing that I was beginning to develop courage and confidence, because while watching the advanced students I felt my resolve to continue training trying to slip away. I saw what some of these folks could do and my stomach just sort of ... fell. I literally had a moment of something like vertigo. And all I could think was:

”I can't imagine being able to do that. Ever.”

And part of me just wanted to stop, there and then. Quit. Give up. It seemed almost absurd that I would ever be able to do any of that stuff. It was a complete failure of confidence on my part. Still, I stuck it out and made it through class. And I went home and stressed out about it, listened to the voice of my own self-doubt telling me to just pack it in and give up, and still returned to class the next day.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

And as I look back now, I realize that that night was my own first glimpse of pyang ahn. The courage and confidence I was beginning to develop as a result of my training gave me the strength to fight back my own self-doubt and stick to things even though they were difficult. Since then, these moments of self-doubt have occurred less and less frequently, and have become less and less intense. I’ve really come to understand that learning this art is a long, uphill journey. And like any journey, it begins with a single step, and all it takes to complete the journey is to follow that first step with as many additional steps as you have to take before reaching the end. Nothing more to it than that. No need to get ahead of myself. Just worry about the next few steps, and know that there’s nothing I can’t learn. It just takes time, and patience.

Early in our training successes come fairly quickly: We get stripes on our belts every month of so and learn lots of new things -- 10 one steps! 10 wrist grabs! 3 forms! Lots of kicks and punches and stances! So many new things! But after we hit 8th gup, the rewards begin to get more spread out. Advancement slows, and more advanced forms and more demanding techniques take more and more time and practice to get “right,” The simpler things we’d learned previously could be picked up in just a class or two, but now we’re learning things that can a week or two (or longer!) of effort and practice before they start feeling correct. Without pyang ahn I think that students are certain to lose momentum and surrender to frustration and self-doubt.

And so I think it’s clear that without pyang ahn we cannot possibly progress in our training. If we don’t develop the confidence to silence our own fears and doubts then it is only a matter of time before the mounting demands of training eventually overwhelm simple things like the enthusiasm and fun of learning new things. But with pyang ahn we are able to take the difficulties we encounter during training in stride, confident that with time and perseverence we can achieve whatever we set our minds to.

Mood: Pleasantly sleepy
Now Playing: Neko Case, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chi Energy, or Seeing is Believing

Yet another fantastic, and fantastically exhausting, weekend as the holidays continue to stampede toward us. My activities for the weekend were dominated by events surrounding Kwan Jhang Nim Ferraro's visit to our dojang.

In preparation for his arrival we cleaned the dojang top to bottom Thursday night. At first I thought this was going to be a real disaster -- due to either the cold weather or the advance knowledge that they would need to scrub some floors and wash some windows hardly any students showed up for class Thursday night. Initially I was the only student there, but finally my friend Mark showed up, as did a couple of younger red belts. And then my mom and my friend Michelle came by as our class ended strictly for the purpose of helping get the dojang cleaned up. If they hadn't shown up I think I would've been cleaning well past midnight, but instead I was home by eleven.

Then I took Friday off so that Christine and I could get some Christmas shopping taken care of, and then we brought the kids to the dojang for a 5:00 class that was run by Master Cox from Dallas. Kwan Jhang Nim arrived, after having been delayed by weather for most of the day) at about 6:00 or so, and then Christine and I took part in an adult white/orange/green belt clinic that was supposed to have been run by Masters Cox and Riley, but which Kwan Jhang Nim instead chose to run himself. Now, this was a BIG deal -- Kwan Jhang Nim almost NEVER teaches students below red belt.

As I understand it he hadn't realized that the Friday night session was a lower rank session until he got on the mat, so he may not in fact have intended to teach us that night. Regardless, teach us he did, using the rough framework of the red belt/dan clinic he was teaching the next morning -- principals of learning and movement, various breathing styles and how they are properly applied to forms, etc.) but adjusting the content to be a little less difficult. It was a fantastic class, although some of the 9th gups were a bit overwhelmed and rattled by both his teaching style (which is notably more brusque than Master Nunan's) and the more advanced nature of the curriculum.

Then, Saturday morning -- prior to an entire day of running around like a lunatic helping to get Michelle's house ready for the dojang Christmas party -- my friend Rich and I videotaped the red belt/dan clinic, and I got to see what previously I would have considered magic happen directly in front of me. After teaching thee class a series of ta'i chi-style Tang Soo Do forms that can be used to train "mature adults," Kwan Jhang Nim then asked if everyone felt the buzz and warmth in their faces. Everyone agreed that yes, they did, and he said "That's the chi. Well, what can we do with that?" Then he had a couple of the students drag this big potted plant onto the mat, and he proceeded to place his hands near the leaves, and the leaves would then jump or move away from his hands. Or bend toward his hand. Or stop moving when they had previously been swaying. Master Riley had discovered just the night before, while working with Kwan Jhang Nim, that he could do it as well, and he managed to make one leaf move so suddenly and drastically that the entire room gasped.

Now, I'd always heard this was possible. I'd heard over and over that Grandmaster Ahpo can do this stuff from halfway across a room. And while I always kind of wanted to believe it, I also tend to be a skeptic and take a lot of stuff with a grain of salt. I'd always assumed there was a bit of self-delusion going on with this stuff, people seeing what they want to see, and that there could even be a bit of shenanigans going on, here. Well, I was wrong. This stuff is real.

And if seeing Kwan Jhang Nim and Master Riley do it unscripted and on the mat of the dojang where I spend a solid 8+ hours a week on a plant I personally helped clean and tend two nights before and which I know for a fact was not messed with in any way wasn't enough, then seeing Master Nunan and Kyo Sa Nim Brandt do it the following day, when I stopped by the dojang to drop off some stuff and they were just finishing up training, really made it solid and real. While I may not know Kwan Jhang Nim or Master Reily so well that I could say they would never deceive me (though why they would bother is another matter altogether), I can say without a doubt that I trust Master Nunan. And there, 1 foot in front of my eyes, I watched him repeatedly move the leaves of his plant using only the energy emanating from his hand.

I was thunderstruck. Part of me wanted to so much to try it then and there, but I could tell I couldn't do it, not yet. I was exhausted and run down from all the events and work of the previous couple of days, and I didn't want to make a half-hearted attempt to do this. So I kept my hands in my pockets and just ... watched, and simmered in this sense of indescribable wow. Watched something that science hasn't been able to explain happen, over and over, right in front of my eyes. And it made me laugh, later, thinking about how many scientific people dismiss this stuff out of hand simply because no one has yet been able to really explain how it happens. As if the fact that it's immeasurable means it has to be a trick.

But last I read no one really had a reasonable explanation for how, exactly, gravity works either, and yet no one seems to be questioning the existence of gravity. We may not understand gravity, but it's obviously happening so we accept the "what" of it and continue trying to figure out the "how" and the "why" of it scientifically.

How exactly, is this any different from what I saw this weekend? In my mind, they are the same.

So, needless to say, I went home and started messing with a plant. I raised my hand and tried to summon energy through loving thoguhts of my wife, and of my children. The plant stared back at me, silent, motionless, and uncooperative. I think I have a ways to go before I can figure out how to ask it to move.

Mood: Tired, and feeling kinda sick. Illness, cedar fever, or both?
Now Playing: Nada

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Tis the Season (Already?)

Well, we're not even into December, yet, and the Christmas season seems to be in full-swing already. We are attending our first Christmas party of the year this coming Saturday, a dojang event that is combining the dojang Christmas party with both a "post-dan test party" and a "5 year-anniversary of the opening of our dojang" party all in one. I've agreed to handle the music and the video game setups for my friend Michelle, so I've just finshed up mixing about 4 hours of Christmas music. All sorts of stuff -- traditional, modern, cajun, rock, country, pops, comedy, you name it. And, of course, I've got a healthy sprinkling of movie and cartoon audio clips thrown in, just to break things up a bit.

Listening to hours of Xmas tunes, and it's not even December, yet. Sigh.

The party should be interesting. Kwan Jhang Nim Ferraro, the head of our Tang Soo Do organization, will be in town giving a red belt and dan clinic Saturday morning, prior to the dan test, and will also (I believe) be attending the party that evening. Given his presence, I imagine that the party will have a ... well, a vibe. Perhaps a bit more formal than most folks would expect, or even prefer. It's not that I think he necessarily walks around demanding strict adherence to traditional protocol or anything like that. I've met him ,briefly, a couple of times, and he seems like a friendly and relaxed sort fo fellow. But I imagine that the folks in our dojang realize that some attempts to maintain decorum, even in a non-dojang atmosphere, can only reflect well on Sa Bom Nim's Nunan and Reilly in Kwan Jhang Nim's eyes, so I hope that folks will try to do so. I know I will, at least to an extent. I figure I'll just act as thought I'm in the dojang training during the party.

Well, training, but with beers.

This protocol stuff can be tricky business. I've managed to figure out a protocol balance between how I behave with my superiors, peers, and juniors in the dojang vs. outside of it that I am comfortable with and which I feel shows proper respect. This was tricky, since I want to demonstrate the proper respect in the proper circumstances, but I also don't want to screw up my opportunities to become closer friends with folks at the dojang by overdoing it, either.

All the protocol is great for discipline and really does help get my mind more focused and receptive to training, but it also has a way of enforcing a certain amount of emotional distance between people that can have a sort of chilling effect on friendships, I think. And honestly, as much as I've grown to love my Tang Soo Do training, I'd have a real problem sticking with it if I felt that gaining martial arts skill had to come at the expense of personal relationships. So finding a middle ground where the yessir/nossir's could be dropped was important to me.

But of course, with Kwan Jhang Nim at the party the rules are a bit different. It's probably in everyone's best interest that we just stick to protocol as best as possible, if for no other reason than to generate a complimentary comment or two toward the guys in our martial arts lineage.

Oh well, that's it for now. Time to head for training in a bit.

Mood: A bit scatterbrained
Now Playing: Nada

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wii Lust: SUCCESS!

Fifth in line. They had a total of six Wiis at the store. Both my friend Richie and I managed to snag one, though my brother and my friend Dan both showed up just a little too late (they were 8th and 9th in line, respectively) and unfortunately got shafted. Mike will probably stop by later to play around with the Wii, while Dan will just have to hold out until Sunday (when bunches of them are supposed to go on sale at all of the area Best Buy stores).

So, got the Wii, an extra Wii-mote and Nunchuk controller (both of which are almost impossible to find -- I got the last one of each of them at the store...), and a copy of Zelda: Twilight Princess (which I haven't even tried out yet). We've all created little Wii "Mii" characters for ourselves and have been playing Wii Sports for a couple of hours. It's a riot -- Miranda, it turns out, seems to be quite the golfer! Boxing is hysterical -- you hold the Wii-mote in one hand and the Nunchuk in the other and punch with them, or you can tilt them in and out/up and down to guard different parts of your body. Baseball is cool, as is bowling (Christine is a way better bowler on the Wii than in person, whereas I seem to suck in either circumstance), and tennis is pretty damn tricky. All in all, a great set of basic, fun games.

So, I get to revel in my success for the rest of the weekend. I hope to invite a few friends over to check it out and play some games together -- this thing is a riot. But in the meantime, I really need to catch a nap -- I'm exhausted!

Mood: Elated, exhausted
Now Playing: Nada

Wii Lust: Darkness...

3:45, Friday morning. Word is that EB Games will have Wiis at open this morning. Here I am with 4 hours of sleep and about 18 pounds of Thanksgiving dinner and dessert still working its way through my system, showered and waiting for my coffee to brew so I can head out and try to get one of these damn things. Will be meeting up with my brother and several friends, so hopefully this will be a fun exercise in obsession, if nothing else.

OK, coffee's ready. Updates later.

Mood: Huh? What?
Now Playing: Huh? What?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wii Lust: PS3s and Instant Karma, I Hope

OK, so I entered day three of my seemingly bottomless Wii lust with the usual mixture of hope and expectation of disappointment. 9:30, my buddy Richie and I head out to Circuit City to catch the opening, just to see if they got any in. Nope. None at CompUSA either. Just for yuks we decide to run up to Toys 'R Us and give them a swing.

So, we get there and wander around the videogame area, quickly ascertaining that there were no Wiis to be had. Then , as we were leaving, we spot the FedEx guy making a delivery. So we wander over and take a peek at his car to' stuff, and he casually says "So, what're you guys looking for?"

"Wii. Got any?" I reply.

"Nope, not here," he says, "but I just delivered 20 boxes of them to the Best Buy across the way 10 minutes ago."

WHAT! WHOA!!!! So, big thanks to the FedEx and we hightail it over to the Best Buy. Now, word is out that Best Buy is sitting on their Wiis until Sunday (not putting them out for Black Friday, even), but we figured that if they had plenty, then we might have a shot at grabbing one.

So, we get to the videogame section and I spot a friendly looking younger saleswoman who I figure I can sweet talk a bit. So we get talking and I ask about whether they've got any Wiis. she says nope, we will have them Sunday, though. And I say, "whow, hold on -- the FedEx guy just told me he delivered 20 boxes of them here not even 10 minutes ago."

So she looks at me kind of casually, smiles, and says, "Well, he doesn't know his systems. He delivered 20 boxes of ... well, something else."

I say,"What, PS3s?" She nods, and I say "And are you guys actually selling them?" And she says they're not putting them out on the floor, but if customers ask they are selling them, so ... would I like one?

Now, I have no interest in a PS3. I think they're an interesting hardware platform, but at $600 for the good one I think they're insanely overpriced, especially when that same $600 could buy a pretty damn nice HTPC instead. But my mercenary gears were turning, and I started considering just how much cash I could get by buying one and then reselling it on Craig's List or Ebay. I could easily get a grand profit on this damn thing.

And then I saw this woman with her kid, who was picking up one of the PS3s, and she was saying how she couldn't believe they actually got one and how they totally made her son's Xmas. And the kid's eyes were like little fires, he was so excited. And I realized that, well, that whole reselling thing is a pretty damn crappy way to go about this thing. Yeah, no one's forcing anyone to pay these insane markups on these stupid things, but it's like selling seriously marked up or cut down dope to junkies. You know they'll pay whatever you want to get their fix. And honestly I just think that's just a shitty way to treat people, even if no one's putting a gun to their heads.

It's the same reason I've never resold a concert ticket for anything more than what I paid for it, aside from saying "Hey, buy me a beer when we get inside and we're even." I love music, they love music, so isn't it messed up to rip off someone who likes the same stuff you do, just because you can? And while I don't really care about the PS3 on any level other than technical interest I enjoy games and presumably the people who are buying these (insanely overpriced) things enjoy them as well. So I think it's would just be shitty to gouge someone, even if they're falling over themselves to be gouged.

So, I passed. I figure maybe there's some PS3 fanatic going from store to store, day after day, hoping that maybe they're going to get lucky, and they'll wander into Best Buy and ask, with no real expectation of getting one, whether they got any PS3s today and and then their entire day will be made because the system they figured there was no chance whatsoever of being there is, in fact, about to be placed in their hands. And at the retail price, no less.

Now, if there's any such thing as instant karma then I fully expect a Wii to fall into my hands within a day or two. But even so, if one does not I know I did the right thing. But it stings, dammit!!!

Mood: Frustrated!!!
Now Playing: The Beatles, "Love"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wii Lust

OK, so, on a more upbeat note, I seem to have rediscovered my inner fanboy.

I need a Wii.

I briefly entertained sleeping out side Saturday night in order to obtain one on launch day. But, well, I'm 39, and the idea of sleeping on concrete in a sleeping bag in 40-something degree temperatures was sufficiently negative enough to overcome my geekier tendencies. But, needless to say, come Sunday morning I was regretting my (sane, reasonable, and mature) decision. So I stopped by every single retailer I figured might have one (two Targets, Best Buy, Toys 'R Us) over the course of launch day. Failure greeted my every attempt.

So then, Monday, I get to work and find out that no less that three of my co-workers are in similar straits. Suffering from Wii hunger. I mean, we all agree that it's for the kids, of course. Gotta make sure they get one, right? But anyhow, once we realized we weren't the only ones who were getting a bit desperate about laying our hands on his thing it seem ed to ... well, intensify the need to get one a bit more.

So, next thing we know, we're all trekking from store to store at opening time (10:00AM) to see whether they got any systems in. Electronics Boutique, Best Buy, Target, GameStop, Circuit City, CompUSA, and CostCo all got a visits. All to no avail.

Thwarted, we all skulked back to our jobs. But we did get a lead on a pallet of Wiis coming to CostCo Tuesday. So this morning we head on over there at 9:30, figuring we'd get on line a half hour before their doors opened (supposedly at 10:00).

Heh. Seems they actually open their doors at 9:00 for the holidays. 24 units were available. We were 28th, and up on the line. Screwed again!

I briefly entertained the idea of tackling one of the folks who got one in the parking lot, taking their Wii, and handing them $400. Happily, my inherent good nature won out and I resisted the urge. But the guy was a skinny little bastard. I could've taken him. And really, is it stealing if you pay them for it? It's really just a form of ... I don't know. Retail by force?

Regardless, now he's playing the Wii. And I'm ... waiting. We swung through Best Buy and Target, just in case, adn called multiple WalMarts, Targets, and Toys 'R Us' just in case. No luck.
And then, we luckless, hapless, sad and pathetic four skulked back tot he office. Wii-less. And now I'm sitting here with a few hundred bucks in my wallet, contemplating becoming one of those insane people who roll out of bed at 4:00AM on the day after Thanksgiving to go sit in the cold and wait for the store to pen, just for the chance to get one of these things.

I mean, I have the day off -- what else am I going to do? Right? RIGHT???

I mean, it's all perfectly reasonable. I'm not acting even slightly irrational, am I?


Mood: Most decidedly put out
Now Playing: Tan Dun, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

Saturday, November 18, 2006



So, Christine and I headed out for a nice dinner last night. Thai food at Satay. Just the two of us, the kids happily ensconced in the confines of our dojang participating in a kid's night out. And we're talking about stuff that's been going on lately with our kids and I finally just had to own up to the simple fact that I'm depressed. Not clinically, out of control depressed -- I think I'm safe without pharmaceutical or psychiatric intervention -- but I've spent the past couple of weeks in a sort of low-level buzzy fog sort of depression. I'm not terribly communicative. I feel muted. It's hard for me to get myself started on anything, or to feel terribly excited about anything right now. I'm in a sort of ... gray, damp cloud.

The reasons are simple, I think. After two years of trying to find a way around it, we've realized that we will almost certainly need to put one or both of our kids on ADD/ADHD medications. The real stuff. Ritalin, or Adderal, or Stratera, or something similar. Uppers, or anti-depressants.

I don't really want to get into the specifics of the past months or so. They're actually fairly pedestrian -- no big events, no huge breakdowns or catastrophes. Just the slowly dawning realization that things aren't getting better. They're getting worse. And for all the effort and time we've put in on avoiding artificial flavors and colors, administering omega-3 fatty acid pills, attempting to maintain a structured environment in our home and work with our kid's teachers to do the same in their school, attending Tang Soo Do classes regularly, and attending child psychologist sessions weekly to try to encourage good non-medicinal behavioral modification techniques to keep the kids on an even keel, it's just not working. Grades are falling, suddenly and rapidly. Social development is at a standstill. And, in Trevor's case, the kid just ain't happy. Days consist of a constant vacillation between generalized contentment and anger, frustration, and tantrum behavior. Dozens of tantrums and outbursts a day.

And, for my part, I find my relationship with my son, in particular, being defined by frustration and anger. This, obviously, is not good. Something needs to give.

But I feel like I've given up. I don't want to put my kids on medication. I feel like I must have missed something. But I've plugged away at this for two solid years, now, trying to avoid the easy fix, trying not to let pharmaceuticals do my job as a parent. And what I sense, now, is that ...

... well, this isn't a job I can do. I've failed.

And I wish I could say that this was all just my usual lack of self-esteem, or that I was reading too much into it. But I can tell in the silence and platitudes of friends when I mention this stuff that they think I've blown it too. That I'm taking the easy way out, here. Not everyone, mind you -- most of the folks that have been involved with us over the past couple of years know that we've exhausted ourselves trying to avoid getting to this particular space on the game board. But people that are not quite so close to the nexus of our lives -- but yet still people whose opinions I value -- have met my disclosure that we are seriously considering medication as a last resort, now, with a resounding ... silence.

Could it be worse? Hardly. If you knew these people, you'd know that silence is the worst of all possible responses.

And on one hand I want to tell them how hard we've tried to avoid this, and how it's killing me to do this, and how I wish someone, somewhere would suddenly pop out of the sky and whap my kids on the head with a magic wand that would suddenly make this all better. But it just ain't happening.

And I'm so, so tired of trying to defend myself on this. I feel like whenever I try to defend myself I just come off as self-justifying, as if this all just got to be too tough and I said screw it. And I swear on the lives of my kids nothing could be farther from the truth. I've never shied away from a challenge. I've never believed that the shortest and easiest path is necessarily the best one.

But we've run out of dead ends in this particular maze, after willfully ignoring the one direct path through all along. And I just don't know what to do anymore.

So yeah, I'm depressed. And the holidays are coming. And we have our appointment with a child psychiatrist in a few weeks to get our first round of meds. And I just want to hit myself. Make this my fault. Somehow extract a pound of flesh from myself and spare my kids this crap.

Mood: Ummm... hello?
Now Playing: Nothing

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Post-Event Fatigue, The Walls Come Down

You know, I keep meaning to find time to kickstart my blog writing again, but so far it just hasn't happened. With all of the activity running up to the party I think I just sort of ... fried the communicative side of my brain or something. I've mentioned before that I'm more or less an introvert by nature, if not by behavior, and this ongoing difficulty I seem to be having with getting myself writing again is as good an example of why this is so as any I can think of.

In spite of my sort of built-in tendency to avoid large groups of people where possible, to maintain a certain intimacy in my exchanges with other, I also have a fairly constant desire to mount the occasional party or other large-scale gathering. Maybe it's my desire to show off a bit -- I don't know. I know I throw a great party, and I know I am a good host to my guests. Whenever I throw a party -- specially a large-scale one like the Halloween Hootenanny -- I am pretty much guaranteed a few weeks of compliments and stories from guests about how much fun they had, how it was one of the best parties they'd attended, how they met such great people, etc. Like I said, I'm good at this stuff, and I know how to work the room to ensure that everyone is having a good time. So I'm certain that part of the desire to entertain, for me, comes from a need for recognition and praise.

But once the work and preparation and execution of the party is completed, I am always left feeling drained for days, if not weeks. It's not even really just the work and effort of putting on the whole thing -- it's more the post-party navel-gazing I always put myself through. My inherent insecurity, and my concern that, you know, while every seemed to be having fun, maybe they weren't really enjoying themselves. Counting names, trying to recollect specific details of the dozens of brief host/guest style conversations I engaged in over the course of the (fairly intoxicated) evening, fighting down the vague irrational certainty that my read on the room, my perception that everyone had a blast, was somehow completely wrong. Anticipating the eventual declaration and realization that all that work was for nothing.

You know, it's no picnic being me sometimes. The simple truth is that everyone had a blast. I've had several folks tell me that aside from being easily and by far the best Halloween party they'd attended it was also among the best parties of any sort they'd attended, period. It was a bona fide, 100% success. But I still need to muddle over it for a week or two, convinced that somehow it wasn't all that.



So, let's see. Christine and I spent an evening out with Master Nunan and his wife Pennie Saturday night. Went to see "Borat" (which left us all literally sore from laughter), after which we gobbled up a bunch of sushi then hung out at a Starbucks drinking coffee and discussing all
the stuff we all avoid talking to people about out of fear of rejection or social discomfort -- religion, philosophy, politics, family histories, you name it -- until well past midnight. It was a fantastic evening. I honestly can't remember the last time I spent an evening out with another couple where we clicked so well, and just felt so comfortable. I'd briefly touched on this in a previous blog entry -- how long it had been since I'd made, or had the desire to make, a close connection with anyone else. This seems to be changing. Seems to be? Is.

I'm not talking about getting to know people in general -- I've got lots and lots of social friends, lots of work friends, lots of people I can spend time with just for laughs. You don't wind up with nearly 100 people at your Halloween party by being a recluse. I've never been one to want for company -- I know how to be entertaining, am friendly, and bathe regularly. But when I was younger I really had a desire to have truly close friendships with some people, a closeness that forged something stronger than the more fragile connections of social friendships.

As can be expected, that desire led to mixed results. On the plus side, I have some very close friendships that have persisted over the years -- Gregory, Rich, Pat, Linda, Susan chief among these. On the other hand though, I've gotten pretty well screwed over by plenty of others, and finally I just sort of ... stopped trying. It really was too hard to put myself through the effort of opening up to people, and the resulting period of worry and insecurity over whether I was just setting myself up to get screwed over yet again.

But here I go again. The guard's down. Life's too short to spend it behind a self-imposed wall. And in making new friends I get to add another item to the ever-growing list of things that Tang Soo Do has brought into my life. In about 4 weeks, around the second week of December, I will have been training in Tang Soo Do for 1 full year. What a year it's been.

Mood: Really good
Now Playing: Tan Dun, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Catching My Breath, Regaining My Focus

First of all, Happy Halloween! This month has been a busy blur of activity leading up to our annual Halloween party. The party was a smashing success: We had a total of about 90-95 people over the course of the night, including kids. Plenty of food, and tons of beer-and-wine-and-punch was consumed. The music mix was a giant hit and everyone enjoyed the trivia game (although we only had one cash winner and he only won $5 -- oh well!). Nearly everyone was in costume.

I was a bumblebee dressed as a clown (the idea being "my own worst fears, combined" -- it was tremendously silly-looking):

Christine was a post-plane crash flight attendant:
Miranda created her own angel of death costume using pieces of old costumes we had lying around, and Trevor was a Red Power Ranger. Here we are getting ready to go trick-or-treating:Things wrapped up at about 1:45 in the morning, so we actually managed to get a decent night's sleep, although I awoke with a wicked sake headache -- well, really a beer-and-punch-and-sake headache... ;-). I made the mistake of attempting to "do some cleaning up" after everyone left instead of going straight to bed. We had a nice fire going in the firepit outside and I wanted to hang out until it died down. Needless to say, I was so exhausted from the run-up to the party and the drinks the second I sat down and started watching the fire I promptly fell asleep. Luckily Christine came down to check on me 15 minutes later and woke me up or else I probably would have slept in the yard most of the night!

So, after spending a few hours getting the house put back together we headed our to Sweet Berry Farms for a Halloween/Harvest Festival. The big attraction (aside from the beautiful scenic drive out through the Texas Hill Country on a gorgeous Autumn day) was a huge maze shaped like Texas. The goal was to find a dozen towns inside the maze. We managed to do so in about an hour. Then we looked at some farm animals, drank some drinks, ate some popcorn and homemade berry berry ice cream, and then headed back to Austin.

So, thankfully, things will now settle down for a while. We are staying in Austin for Thanksgiving this year, and will also not be having any out-of-town visitors anytime soon either (which is too bad -- the kids really miss their grandparent's, but I guess they'll have to wait until we get closer to Christmas for them to see them). So, we finally will have the chance to catch our breath. I've managed to get a few of my side projects off my plate as well -- finally got the computer I was putting together for a classmate of Miranda's pieced together and working well. These folks are really strapped for cash due to family illness and couldn't afford to replace the decrepit computer they had, so I went through my older equipment and pieced together a fairly acceptable basic system for them. Kids really need a computer around, and I figure I had at least one more than I needed, so....

Also got 2 video projects completed, although I still have three video projects I'm working on for Master Nunan to roll through. Luckily, two of them will be fairly simple efforts once I set aside the time to do them. One is nearly complete already, while the other is a fairly simple digitize/sort/edit effort without a whole lot of creative energy necessary. The third one, a 10-15 minute highlights loop/marketing piece I'm trying to piece together for a promotional event, will take more effort but will also be a lot of fun to work on.


One thing that has really been frustrating me is how hard it's been to focus on my training with all of these other distractions and demands on my time. Now that I've advanced to 6th gup I am attending the advanced (green, red, and blue belt) classes at my dojang and am, once again, the lowest ranking member in my class as well as the only 6th gup adult in the school. This can be really frustrating, as I am never taught new techniques alongside other students that are learning them as well -- the only other green belts around are 4th gups with at least 5-6 months of training in ahead of me, and of course they've all moved on to more advanced techniques already.

As a result, I tend to feel lost a lot of the time -- overwhelmed by the new techniques, and self-conscious at my relative lack of skill compared with those around me. It's a lot like when I first started. It's very humbling. But I was glad to see that when I attended class last night I felt like I did far better on the stuff I'm trying to learn, now. I'm starting to get an inkling of how to perform some of the new spinning kick techniques I need to learn, my hand technique combinations are beginning to tighten up a bit, and I'm getting the hang of the new wrist grabs and ho sin sul techniques as well. I've got a long way to go before I feel confident in them, but at least they are all starting to make some sense. I figure that at least part of this sudden sense of (slight) understanding can be attributed to just clearing out room in my head so that I can focus better. Hopefully this trend will continue over the coming weeks.

And once again I am in pain. The hamstring pain I began feeling prior to my last test hasn't abated one little bit, so I finally went to a doctor, who scratched his head and said "Huh.... It's not acting like a spinal injury, and it's not a muscle strain or it would be improving on its own." So he sent me to a physical therapist, who believes that I have a misaligned SI joint, which is causing all sorts of inflammation to a bunch of nerves in my lower spine, which in turn results in referred pain into my right leg. So now I'm doing PT once a week and lots of little exercises designed to strengthen my lower back and obliques and to stabilize my SI joint. In the meantime, ow-the-pain. Kicking hurts, stretching hurts, I'm off sparring for at least the next week to two weeks (until I begin to feel improvement, at least), and I keep getting other little muscle strains and pulls in my legs and sides because my body mechanics are all screwed up by the pain I'm feeling in my right leg.

So yeah, the fun continues. I think it's interesting, though, that it hasn't occurred to me for even one second that I should stop training for a while. I spoke with the physical therapist about this, and she said that stopping would probably help get it better faster, but that as long as I'm careful then training shouldn't actually make it worse. It'll just take longer to settle down. And as long as I know I'm not endangering myself I can deal with being in pain. I just don't want to stop training altogether -- I'll lighten up a bit, but just cutting myself off altogether is simply not an option I want to explore.

So, obsessive much? Yeah, I suppose.

Mood: Pleasantly distracted
Now Playing: Oingo Boingo, "Best o' Boingo"

Monday, October 16, 2006

Just Popping In

So. Damn. Busy.

So yeah, I haven't been blogging. It's not the typical "blogging block" so many folks tend to experience on a regular basis. I have plenty to say, but I'm just totally out of spare time lately. Ever since I got through the 6th gup test a couple of weeks back I've been in high gear. Tons of projects that need completing, lots of work to do, and planning for the upcoming Halloween Hootenanny is in full swing. Plus I'm still training 3 or 4 times a week, I have to bring my son to weekly therapy sessions, and now I'm in physical therapy for an injured muscle in my right hamstring to boot. It's been messed up for the better part of a year, and really started acting up about 2 weeks prior to my test. So I decided it was time to do something about it -- the doctor is stumped. It's not nerve damage or a lower back problem, which is good, but it's acting like a strain which means it should be improving on its own, but it's not. Annoying.

Add to this list the two or three video editing projects I'm juggling, and the franken-computer I'm putting together for my daughter's classmate's family and I'm pretty much Out Of Time. Squeezing all of these things into my schedule has left me fairly at loose ends. So blogging has fallen by the wayside for the most part.

However, I did want to share a few moments form my last gup test. I managed to write this stuff in a note to my friend Toni a week or so back, and since I haven't really got the time to write something new I'll just paste it here as well. Hope you enjoy it.


Briefly, the test was a blast.

Aside from one combination technique (side kick into a spinning back kick) where my head sort of went blank for about 10 seconds and I couldn't figure out what leg to kick with I nailed pretty much everything without a problem. Miranda did really well, too, as did my mom (who managed to sprain one of her toes during the test, but still completed it -- I'm very proud, although if I have to hear her story about how she "sprained her toe and still went ahead and did a board break" one more time I swear I'll strangle her). It was pretty cool having three generations testing at the same time on the mat.

Here's a picture of the adults doing outside-to-inside crescent kick line drills. There's mom right beside me, followed by Mark, Erik, and Michelle. It was really nice testing with other adults for a change -- both of my previous tests wound up being done with an 8 and 9 year old, which while fun is also a little demotivating. Younger kids tend to have some trouble keeping their energy levels and focus up for the entire test, and since this one ran over three hours having the extra energy in the room really helps.

Here's one of Miranda doing a side block in a back stance . She did really well on most of the test, although I need to work with her on her sparring techniques -- she tends to bounce around too much, not really stopping to think about how to get things done when she spars. Still, she's doing fantastic and made me really proud.

Here's a cool shot of me sparring with my friend Mark during the test -- this was fun. During training we wear head, hand, and foot pads for protection, but during the test we use only mouth guards and have to be very careful to not make any sort of hard contact -- part of the test is demonstrating your ability to control your power, so if you whomp someone accidentally you can be failed. It got pretty intense anyhow -- Mark is about 5'6" and is quite a scrapper. I have to stay low to get shots in at him, and I've gotten pretty good at rocking back out of the way of his kicks so I can come in with punches as soon as his legs clears. Anyhow, I think I look extra butch in that shot!

At another part of the test we had to demonstrate some basic break and throw technique -- it's not really required, but our instructor teaches it to the adults and has us do it as part of the test at this level to entertain the audience a bit. The kids mostly goof their way through it, but the adults are expected to do a serious break and throw. Anyway, here's a series of shots of my buddy Rich (6'6", about 250#) breaking a choke and throwing me: First, Second, Third. And here's a series of me repaying the favor: First, Second, Third.

Last thing I had to do was break boards, first with a hand technique and then with a foot technique. I did a reverse punch for the hand technique, which was fun. Most folks go for easier hand techniques at this level -- a hammer fist (basically the same thing as hitting a table with your fist) or a palm heel (hitting downward, with the base of the palm of your hand) or knife hand (basic "karate chop" -- really easy technique). Reverse punch is one of those techniques where, if you do it wrong and don't break the board it REALLY hurts. Happily I did it correctly and had no problems: Before, After.

For the foot technique, I did an inside to outside downward heel kick, or "axe kick." Basically, you lift your knee and turn it in across your body, then kick upward and extend your leg and pull it straight down. It's a pretty brutal kick if you can get height, and for a 39-year old guy I'm pretty darn flexible and can kick higher than most guys in their 20s. Kick was damn pretty, and the board never stood a chance: Before, After.

So that wrapped things up nicely -- after breaking we had about 20 minutes of round-robin terminology, history, and philosophy questions. Everyone did great, and then we were promoted. I don't have a picture of myself in my new dobakh with me right now, but it's really nice -- trimmed in green, with my dojang insignia embroidered on the back and a nice new green belt as well.


More writing when I have time. Now it's off to home for dinner, the dojang for training, then back to the computer for more video editing fun....

Mood: Harried
Now Playing: Halloween Hootenanny 2006 Mix - Semi-Final

Friday, October 06, 2006

Stories Half Told

Sometimes I really hate being so damn critical of myself.

This character flaw really manifests itself in social situations, not so much at the time of the actual social interaction as afterward, when I tend to replay the conversations of the evening and critique myself, remembering what I said and then getting pissed off at the way things might have come out, how they might have been perceived, or things I either wish I'd not said or wish I'd gotten around to saying. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to read between my own lines, worrying at how comments might have been interpreted or misinterpreted by the people I was talking to.

It's maddening. And pointless, really. But there it is -- I've done it as long as I can remember. I sometimes replay conversations months, years later, reworking them in my head, saying the things I wish I'd said, feeling fresh embarrassment long after the fact at the faux pas and gaffes.

Most often, though, I tend to realize that when I'm talking to a group of friends I have trouble getting to the point. I tend to meander, conversationally, zig-zagging around my point, going off of little topical side-trips and ducking into the occasional self-referential cul de sac for comedic effect. I think it can be entertaining, but I also tend to get a little lost in the process.And then, hours later, I'll realize that I kind of never really got to the point I was trying to make in the first place. And then the worry begins, and I start to think I gave the wrong impression, or didn't actually make the point I was trying to make. Or, worse yet, that due to my habit of frequently dropping into sarcasm I have in fact given the exact opposite impression of the one I was going for.


So this morning I'm thinking about a conversation I had with my Tang Soo Do instructor, Sa Bom Nim Nunan, and several students from my dojang. We went out for a few beers after training, which was awesome, and I dropped quickly into chatty conversational mode, rambling on at length and trying really hard to not stomp all over other people when it was their turn to talk -- that's a bad habit I've picked up from trying to be heard in my family. My mom and brother tend to drop into lecturing mode and sometimes the only way to get your point in is to just interrupt.

But anyway.

So at one point, after Master Nunan had told us some stories about some of the choices he made in getting the dojang set up over the years (including choices that really hurt him financially, at least in the short run, but which also ensured that the dojang hewed closer to the traditional martial arts that he loved) we got off on a tangent, all talking about the ways we wound up finding our way to Tang Soo Do Academy. One of the students talked about how she'd done extensive research of dojangs and arts in the area, and because she'd studied in other arts previously and had some bad experiences with non-Asian instructors (attitude and arrogance problems, not training quality problems) she originally planned on training only with an Asian instructor, period. But that when she met Master Nunan his attitudes about the arts changed her mind.

So, I hopped in at this point and told about how I found Tang Soo Do Academy completely and totally by accident. That my kids had been in a Tae Kwon Do summer camp with a really crappy local belt-mill that tried to run a hard-sell on my wife, who promptly said that they could go screw themselves, pulled the kids from the program after two lessons, and that was that. No more martial arts camp. But after some discussion we thought we'd give martial arts training for the kids a try again, and we just sort of wound up at TSDA because it was close and convenient. And that months went by where I was sort of completely uninvolved, never actually attending one of the kids classes because they occurred at times when I was in the office. And that I had a real attitude about the martial arts, thought it was dominated by overly testosteroned former drill-instructors, and that there was no way I would ever consider training in something so strict and rigid. How I had this mistaken idea that Master Nunan was stand-offish and distant. And that what totally changed my mind was when I wound up -- quite by accident -- at a dan promotion ceremony where I saw much Master Nunan truly cared about his students and how proud he was of them and of his role in their lives, and how there was no attitude and no arrogance at all.

But today, all I can think of is how I feel like I didn't wrap things up properly. I wanted to say how truly seismic an impact finding this art in general and Master Nunan and Tang Soo Do Academy in particular have had on my life. How I regret waiting so long to open myself up to this training. How important this has become to me, and that, for all my joking about the events leading up to my finding the dojang, that I honestly and truly have come to believe that God or The Universe or Fate or Whatever intervened and put me in the dojang that night, to show me a path, to show me a way to fix myself. That this is, in fact, for all the self-deprecation and goofing, really just that big a deal to me.

And that I'm so grateful for this.

Sometimes I forget that the best stories don't always end on a punchline or big finish. It's the denouement that can make them meaningful, worthwhile. Grace notes on the bold strokes. By not getting around to these parts of the conversation, I feel like the story was only half told, that the part that really mattered got left unsaid. Perhaps saying these things would have come off as mawkish, even a bit embarrassing. But they're true things and they deserve to be said aloud.

Maybe next time.

Mood: Melancholy
Now Playing: Halloween Hootenanny 2006 Mix - Beta Version

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Halloween Hootenanny 2006 -- Planning...

Well, we're in the midst of planning our almost-annual Halloween party, and this one looks to be the biggest yet. I just sent out the invites about a week ago and we've already got over 30 people attending, with about 15 maybes and over 100 invitations still out and 3 weeks to go before RSVPs are due. Plus I'm doing a general invite to all of the students at the dojang, all ages, and their families, so we'll probably get at least a dozen or two extra folks that way. I'm anticipating total attendance in excess of 120.

Ummm. Yikes. Largest previous party attendance was about 70 or so. I think part of the party supplies will be 5 gallons of kerosene and a match. I'll just burn the house down the morning after the party. Much less trouble that way. Seriously, though, this one is going to take planning and work -- already have one person lined up to work the upstairs kids' party for a few hours, after which we'll just let the kids that a hanging in there mingle at will or hang upstairs unsupervised. Mostly we like to get the kid's party going so that friends with small kids get a chance to come by and take a load off without worrying, plus it keeps our kids out from underfoot while we're trying to run the party. Our kids (and thus their peers) are getting older now, and therefore require less maintentnce, thank God.

Anyhow, as usual the biggest effort in the initial planning, for me, is to get the music selected and mixed (using MixMeister) into a grand, 5+ hour music-scary-sound-FX-and-movie-quote-trivia extravaganza. In previous years I've tended to let this go until a week or two before the party, at which time my OCD kicks in and I begin having a nervous breakdown trying to get the thing finished to my satisfaction. I can tinker with music mixes for literally weeks before I'm happy.

This year I was determined not to let the music mix get away from me -- I'm so busy between work, training, and other projects that I really need to budget my time effectively. So I knocked out the first iteration of the mix this weekend and polished off the timing and crossfades over the the last few nights. Haven't selected my movie quotes yet (as in previous years, 30-second dialogue clips from famous horror fils will be played between songs every now and then. First person to tag me and correctly identify the movie gets a scratch off lottery ticket), but that's the easy part -- it's the nuances of the cross fades and beat matching, coupled with the overall pacing and feel of the mix, that can really take me weeks to get right, and I think I've got most of that buttoned down already.

So, these mixes are always interesting efforts -- I try to get lots of cool stuff in there, but also try to avoid going to overboard on the undeerground or lesser-known artists. The crowd tends to be large and mixed, so I need to stay toward the middle of the road to keep it as entertaining as possible for everyone. But still, I can sneak in some cool stuff when no one's lookin'! Here's the current list of artists that are included in this years mix (so far -- things can always change):

A Perfect Circle; Adrian Belew; Alison Moyet; The All-American Rejects; Angels & Airwaves; The Avalanches; Barenaked Ladies; Beck; Beth Orton; Beyoncé; Björk; Blondie; Blue Öyster Cult; Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Keepers; Bow Wow Wow; Britney Spears; The Caesars; Christina Aguilera; Concrete Blonde; The Cramps; The Cure; David Bowie; Death Cab for Cutie; Deee-Lite; Depeche Mode; Disturbed; Donna Summer; Elbow; Evanescence; Fall Out Boy; Fishbone; Foo Fighters; Franz Ferdinand; Gnarls Barkley; Gorillaz; The Gossip; Grant Lee Buffalo; Guadalcanal Diary; The Hold Steady; The Housemartins; Jesus Jones; Kasabian; Kate Bush; The Killers; Kirsty MacColl; KT Tunstall; Lloyd Cole and the Commotions; Los Straitjackets; Madonna; Morningwood; Nerf Herder; Oingo Boingo; OK Go; Panic! At the Disco; Pet Shop Boys; Pink; The Pixies; Poe; The Postal Service; Prince; R.E.M.; The Raconteurs; Raul Malo; The Red Hot Chili Peppers; The Replacements; Rob Zombie; Scissor Sisters; Screaming Blue Messiahs; Sloan; Snow Patrol; Tool; U2; Violent Femmes; The White Stripes; William Shatner; XTC; Yeah Yeah Yeahs


Two days until my 6th gup test. Not really nervous, yet, but I'm sure it's coming. My technique feels solid, but I'm sure I'll still have to deal with jitters sometime before Saturday. Still, it's going to be amazing. I can't wait to put on my new dobakh and green belt.

Mood: Warm (A/C is on the fritz again kit seems)
Now Playing: Halloween Hootenanny 2006 - Alpha Version

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hellacious Sleepover, Test Prep, What is Mu and Why is it Important to Me?

Too damn busy to blog lately. So much going on, and just so many hours in the day....

A bunch of friends from my dojang and I went to see the World Combat League Friday night -- fights went until about midnight, and then a few of us hit Kerbey Lane Cafe for some late night breakfast and chater. Service was horrible and slow. Didn't get home until almost 2:30. When I got home, the dogs flipped out and woke everyone in the house up, including my daughter, who then proceeded to get so excited about her birthday party today that she couldn't get back to sleep, instead coming into our room every 15-20 minutes to let us know how excited she was and that she couldn't sleep. She finally dropped off at 4:30 or so, and I finally dropped off shortly afterward, and slept all the way until about 7:00, when the kids got up. Ack. And then there were the neverending preparations for the birthday party, the party itself, the afterparty, the sleepover party, and all the accompanying drama that is unavoidable when you have a bunch of 8 year old girls in the same room. Happily, by Sunday night everyone was so exhausted that I was able to just hit the pillow at 10:00 and sleep like the dead.

This week will largely be dominated by work (duh) and final preparations for my gup test this Saturday. Trained last night, and will train this evening and tomorrow as well. Will then take Thursday night off, and attend a test prep class Friday night to sand off any rough edges. I feel pretty much ready to go, but I need to keep focused or I'll start getting nervous.

I've also completed my test paper, and went a little more afield than on previous efforts, trying to stretch out and explore how much of the philosophy of Tang Soo Do I've managed to grasp, or at least glimpse, instead of just spewing what I read in the gup manual. I think it's pretty good. -- the writing could be tighter, but I like its sort of lope and flow so I've decided to let it be. If you' re curious, go ahead and read, below.

Anyhow, time to roll -- training in an hour, and I've got stuff to do in the meantime.


What Does Mu Mean, and Why Is It Important To Me?

Mu (or “moo”) is the Chinese character that appears on the flag and emblem of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association. It’s prominence on our flag is indicative of the significance of Chinese influences in our art, but its meaning encapsulates the core purpose of training in Tang Soo Do. According to Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee, “the primary purpose for studying and teaching Tang Soo Do is to prolong life beyond its normal means through the focus of preventing conflict both internally and externally; thus, creating world peace one person at a time.” Mu represents “prevention of conflict,” and thus Mu represents Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s vision for Tang Soo Do in our lives: a method to halt internal and external conflict, resulting in global change.

But how? That’s the real question, here, I think. How can training in our art have such a profound effect on ourselves and the world around us?

Some people look to martial arts as a great way of blowing off steam, releasing stress and tension through exercise. But the mental and physical relaxation brought about by physical exertion alone is temporary. Once the post-workout buzz wears off you’ve still got the same issues that caused the tension and stress – internal and/or external conflicts – in the first place. Training solely to relieve stress is sort of like treating a splinter with an ice pack: The pain subsides as long as the ice pack is in place, but once the numbness wears off you’ve still got the splinter. Since Mu represents the transformative goals of our art, it is obvious that these goals extend beyond getting sweaty and out of breath a few times a week. We need to look deeper.

An argument can also be made that training in self-defense and martial combat techniques eliminates external conflict by acting as a deterrent to violence (“Let him who desires peace, prepare for war,” from Vegetius Epitoma Rei Militaris, or, more simply put, “the best offense is a good defense”). While there is certainly some blunt truth in this argument, I think it is also very outward-directed, accepting external conflict as a “given” and failing to take our own internal conflicts and their consequences into account. While making ourselves strong and demonstrating a willingness to fight back when attacked may prevent us from being directly affected by conflict, it in no way addresses the existence of conflict itself. Instead, this approach focuses only on passively avoiding conflict through a show of force instead of actively working to prevent it. Once again, I think this is a fairly simplistic answer to a complicated question, and a perspective that fails to adequately reflect Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s far more inclusive beliefs about the world changing potential of Tang Soo Do training or the true meaning of Mu.

In order to better understand Mu and its importance, I think we have to look to the origin, nature, and consequences of internal and external conflicts. In doing so we can better understand the ways in which our training helps to prevent these conflicts, and better appreciate just how significant an impact prevention of conflict can have on ourselves and on those around us. As I see it, internal and external conflicts are intimately linked and interdependent. By this I mean that people experiencing internal conflicts tend to express these conflicts through negative external behavior toward others, while experiencing external conflict with others tends to bring about internal strife in one’s self.

For example, consider a typical bullying scenario. Usually a bully is a kid who is troubled or feels insecure for some reason – in other words, a person who is suffering from an internal conflict. The bully makes himself feel more secure by victimizing someone who is weaker than him – an external conflict directly caused by the bully’s internal conflict. Needless to say, though, this action in no way relieves the internal conflict. Because the victim wasn’t the cause of the bully’s internal conflict in the first place the bully still has the same internal conflict, and will likely continue this cycle of internal/external conflict, victimizing others in a vain attempt to quiet his own fears.

Worse yet, these cycles of internal/external conflict tend to propagate, like viruses. Consider the victim of the bully’s violence, above. In addition to the internal conflicts that resulted in the bully’s aggression, the bully’s victim likely feels insecure or frightened now, and justifiably so. And so we’ve now got a new person suffering from internal conflicts. This victim may very well express these new internal conflicts via additional external conflicts (violence, self-destructive behavior, you name it), which in turn can beget additional internal conflicts in themselves or others, and so on.

And so we see that internal and external conflicts are not simply individual, self-contained events. They are in fact part of a larger self-sustaining and self-propagating process that creates and ensures discord. Consider this quote from a more recent – though certainly less prestigious – source than Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee: Yoda’s warning in The Phantom Menace: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I’d only add that suffering in turn leads to more fear, bringing the process full-circle. This is, in essence, the exact opposite of Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s statement about the purpose of Tang Soo Do. Instead of prevention of conflict, we instead see the assurance of its spread. Instead of world peace, we instead see an unchecked cycle of self-perpetuating conflict that can lead only to widespread suffering.

But where does Tang Soo Do (and, therefore, Mu) come in? Well, a defining quality of interdependent processes like the one described above is that if you remove one part of the process, the other part necessarily tends to fail. Remove the internal conflict, and you in turn eliminate the root cause of the resulting external conflict. Prevent the external conflict, and you eliminate the source of a resulting internal conflict as well. In our bully’s case, if he were to recognize and take responsibility for correcting his internal conflicts then the resulting external conflict (the bullying behavior) would not occur. Likewise, if the target of the bully’s aggression were able to defend against or prevent the external conflict brought about by the bully’s behavior, they would prevent the formation of the additional internal conflicts that result as a consequence of the conflict in its victims.

As a classical martial art, Tang Soo Do is concerned with far more than martial exercise, and we are striving for far more than the simple physical benefits of training in a sport. Through physical training and discipline, coupled with our ongoing efforts to understand and embrace the philosophical underpinnings of our art (such as The 8 Key Concepts and Sip Sam Seh/Thirteen Influences) we prevent conflict both within ourselves and around us, thereby breaking the cycle by which conflict propagates.

It is clear that Tang Soo Do can aid in realizing Mu within ourselves, but how can it bring about “world peace one person at a time”? Can Mu propagate and spread like internal and external conflicts tend to? I think so, but not in quite the same way. The process by which inner conflict erupts and spreads into external conflict is essentially defined by the passivity of those involved. Experiencing internal conflict doesn’t force anyone to engage in external conflict with others. Doing so instead represents a failure on their part to choose to actively deal with their own conflicts, instead surrendering to internal conflict and allowing it to manifest in negative external ways. Conversely, failing to actively oppose external conflict – against one’s self or against others – virtually ensures additional internal conflicts in those that are impacted. As the (author unknown, often misattributed to Edmund Burke) saying goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In much the same way, all that is necessary to ensure the spread of conflict is for people to make no effort to stop it in themselves and in others.

In committing to train in Tang Soo Do we take an active role in attempting to stop the spread of conflict within and through ourselves. No one is free from internal conflict at all times, and we are often on the receiving end of varying degrees of external conflict from those around us. Martial artists take an active role in dealing with conflict within ourselves and in the world around us in a constructive manner. Rather than passively letting conflicts work on and work through us, we instead work to eliminate existing internal conflicts and prevent new ones. As we progress in the arts, the preparation and confidence we gain in training can act not just as a deterrent to conflict, but also as a beacon to others. It’s in this manner that we can “create world peace, one person at a time.” We strive to “fix” ourselves, and then in demonstrating the benefits of our training in our daily lives we inspire and encourage others to do the same.

And so, what is Mu? In the final accounting, it’s the short and simple answer to “why?” Why do we train? Why do we study philosophy as well as technique? Why is it important? Why does it matter? The answer is, simply and profoundly, Mu.

As for why Mu is important to me, that’s easy. Given all that I’ve said prior to this, how can it not be? It’s important to me for my own peace of mind and enjoyment of life, and it’s important to me because it provides a method by which I can help my family live more happily in what is hopefully a better world. Mu represents some fairly lofty goals, but they are clearly worth the effort.

Like all of us, I am flawed. I tend to let internal conflicts – self-doubt, anger, frustration, you name it – run me in circles on a regular basis. Over the years I’ve certainly allowed my share of internal conflicts to erupt into external conflict in my life. But sometime late last year I realized that I needed to take a more active role in dealing with the negative influences in my life. I was spending far too much of my time passively allowing my internal conflicts to run my life. Once I recognized this as a problem, I started trying to take a more positive approach to things, to not dwell so much on the negatives all the time. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am dealing with the negative things in my life far better than I did just a year ago, so that’s progress. I am not as quick to anger as I used to be and I am getting better at ignoring my tendency toward self-doubt. I find I’m also getting better at letting anxiety go instead of letting it run roughshod over me.

What’s interesting is that, while I knew that I needed to find my way to a more positive perspective on my own life, I didn’t realize when I stepped into the dojang for the first time that Tang Soo Do was going to be the path that would help me to get there. As the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This was certainly true in my case, so in closing I’d like to suggest that my own experience in finding this art serves as a simple example of Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s vision for Tang Soo Do in action. In recognizing my internal conflicts and seeking a way to address them I actively opened myself up to training. In creating a place where people can come to train and in representing the ideals and goals of Tang Soo Do with consistency and clarity Sa Bom Nim Nunan acted as a beacon, leading me to the arts. When I was ready, my teacher appeared. And so now here I am, on the path, slowly learning and striving to understand. And so it goes for everyone, one person at a time.


Mood: Good
Now Playing: Snow Patrol, "Eyes Open"