Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Sometimes anti-climaxes are the best endings of all. After a brief 2-3 minute hold time I got through to iPod support this morning. After a brief conversation with the nice support person she informed me I'd been bumped to a high-priority queue, which means I was going to be taken care of by one of their 2nd level support chief types. So, after another fairly brief (5 minutes or so) hold time, I was on the phone with Mark.

I explained the situation, and Mark did some quick research (2-3 more minutes on hold) after which he said "obviously there's something going really wrong with the quality assurance on the refurbished models we're sending out, and we don't make the U2 model anymore so there are no new ones that I can easily send out. So how would you feel about an upgrade?"

I said "I'm listening...."

In short, he offered to replace my defective series of U2 iPods with a brand new upgraded one -- nice 30GB iPod Video model, as opposed to my 20GB U2 non-video model. Plus they come in black now, which is the main reason I wanted the U2 one in the first place. It should be on its way to me within a day or so -- I just need to get my defective one shipped later today and send him the tracking number.

So! Damn! Happy! It's nice to encounter a company that actually takes customer satisfaction this seriously. I'll be buying more Apple products in the future.

Mood: Happy! Really!
Now Playing: Depeche Mode, "Playing the Angel"


Annoying. My iPod is causing me all sorts of stress and anxiety.

Background: I got an iPod (the really cool U2 special editions one. And it's not so much that I needed a U2 iPod -- I'm a fan, but not that kind of fan -- but I definitely needed a black iPod) for my birthday back in August. It is my constant companion at the gym and whenever I get the all-too-rare opportunity to go shopping by myself. It was doing just fine for a while, but then, back in December it started locking up on me during usage. Hard drive was going bad. It would sort of hang for a while. Then it would refuse to restart and I'd get the "Sad iPod" image, but I found that if I tapped it on the side it would usually get itself up and running within a few tries. However, it became progressively worse, and I finally decided to put in a service request at the beginning of this month.

The request went swimmingly: I was suitably impressed with how smoothly the process went. They sent a nice little overnight shipping box to me that arrived the very next day. I sent them the iPod. The diagnosed it, said it needed to be replaced (duh) and sent me a "new" one -- "new" in that it could be new, or it could be a refurbished unit. I honestly don't care. Just so long as the damn thing works, right?

Yeah, well, there's the catch. I get the new iPod, and after a few busy days I get around to plugging it in overnight to charge so I can use it the next day, and lo and behold ....

Almost no battery charge the next morning. It dies within 25 minutes of starting to use it. I try to charge it again, this time by leaving it plugged in all day at work. Same result. Sigh. So, this happens on a Thursday, I do another service request the next day, and within a couple of days get another nice overnight package to ship this latest iPod back for service, diagnosis, and replacement. Several days later, I get a notification that yet another iPod will be shipped to me. And Friday it arrived.

I plugged it in, noted that it charged up nicely. Hooray!

I plugged it into my computer, updated the firmware, and then loaded about 10GB of music onto it. Hooray!

And then, yesterday morning, I went to use it at the gym and ... hrrrm. It seems to like to spontaneously restart when I use the click wheel for anything. Adjust the volume, sometimes it makes it louder, sometimes it stops working and reboots. Navigate menus, sometimes it works, sometimes it stops working and reboots. Skip a track, sometimes it skips ahead, sometimes it stops working and reboots.

Unreal. Two iPods, meant to replace a defective unit, that should never have made it past QA. Either I'm astonishingly lucky (or unlucky, perhaps) or their QA of refurbs is essentially worthless. I have to assume these are refurbs, because the likelihood of 2 defective units going to the same customer fresh from the production line is almost nil -- and if for some reason it's not almost nil then Apple will wind up going out of business real soon now. All these shipping charges are adding up, and by now they have certainly not made any money on my particular purchase.

So, anyway, last night I'm on the phone to them, waiting and waiting and waiting. I hate using phone support, but I really want them to make sure that this is the last time I have to do this damn dance. After a while I get a kinda grumpy service guy, we walk through the reset/restore/test process (again: this is exactly what I'd done 3 times earlier in the day), he says it sound like it need to be replaced. I ask if he can kick off the replacement process on his end so I don't have to go through the web page crap and he says no. I say thanks, head to the web page enter my info and ....

Now they want me to pay shipping. Because now, after nearly a month of trying to get my defective iPod, purchased back in August, replaced with a functional one, I am now a couple of days past the 6 months mark in my 1 year warranty, after which you are responsible for shipping the unit back and forth. To the tune of $32 or so.

And that just ain't gonna happen. This wouldn't be happening if they would just send me a functional replacement iPod ferchrissakes!

So, it's back on the phone. This time, after about 15 minutes of hold time I get a nice service gal who is very sympathetic to my plight. She pulls up the case info, sees what's going on, agrees that there's no reason I should be paying for the shipping in this case, and tries to put the order through for me. But of course, the freakin' system won't let her do it. She needs to bump me to a shift supervisor.

And needless to say, they all left at 5:00. So I'll need to call tomorrow. Lots of apologies and sympathies, yet another note in the service file regarding the status of this particular product debacle. I'll be calling them again in about 20 minutes, once it crosses over to 9:00AM PST. So I waits and sees.

Mood: Grumpy
Now Playing: Fall Out Boy, "From Under the Cork Tree"

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hornets! Hornets!

OK, something is ... amiss.

Three times in the past week, I've woken -- suddenly, and in a state of alarm -- from nightmares involving bee stings.

See, I'm at least a little bit -- nah, a LOT -- phobic about bees. It's not the pain of being stung: pain doesn't frighten me, really. Instead, it's something about their look, you know? Those weird, martial stripes and the fact that they'll sacrifice their own lives by ripping their own guts out in order to inflict pain on you.

They're just not like us, you know?

But yeah, on three separate nights this week I've woken from nightmares in which I was stung by a bee a) on my lip b) on my thumb and c) on my eye. In that order.

Typically these sorts of dreams accompany periods of extraordinary stress in my life. I'll have an otherwise placid dream experience -- cooking dinner in my kitchen, for example -- and then I open a drawer to get a spatula and OH LORD IT'S A BEE FLYING STRAIGHT AT ME!!!

But I don't feel stressed. Regardless, the rapid recurrence of this phenomena is obviously meaningful. I mean, typically I'd only have this sort of dream 3, maybe 4 times a year, tops.




Mood: Frisky
Now Playing: Gray's Anatomy (is this the most absurd, yet most entertainingly intelligent, soap to come along in years or what?)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

You know, I've discovered something about participating in the advanced classes: Exposure to too much knowledge can be terribly discouraging for a novice. A lot of the initial stages of my training, for me, have been like learning to walk. Teaching my body to reproduce a series of movements performed by someone else or visualized in my head.

Try, and fail. Try, and fail. Try, and sort of succeed.

This try-and-try-again routine is not discouraging at all, anymore. At first I got frustrated and angry with myself when I couldn't perform what I perceived to be simple actions, but I know now that I've made significant progress. I can see it when I practice, and when I compare myself against other students of my own rank, even against some students of higher ranks as well. I am more disciplined than a lot of the other students, I drive myself harder than most, and I've come a long way in a fairly short period of time.

Needless to say, these gains are not without cost -- my legs and ankles are friggin' killing me most days, and ever since I began free sparring I have to walk like Frankenstein's monster for about 2-3 minutes when I get out of bed in the morning before I'm limber enough to move comfortably -- but at least I know the effort has not been for naught. Far from it.

But man, do I know I'm 38 these days. My entire body is like an insistent, sadistic chorus, dedicated to reminders of this simple fact.

Even so, the pain and recovery time I've added into my life these past 2-3 months is fairly inconsequential. I'm used to achiness and pulled muscles, and while the locations of the aches and pains has shifted around, the severity of discomfort is nothing I can't handle. However, last night's class was a little ... overwhelming. Not in what I was asked to do, but in what I've yet to do.

During the regular white/orange belt classes the tasks the sorts of drills and techniques we practice are, obviously, more typical of what I am currently capable of achieving. But when I take an advanced class, that all goes out the window. Typically, when I attend the advanced classes I am the only white belt who is doing so. There are two other "beginner" students, orange belts (Kelly and Mike), who sometimes attend as well, but they are both a) more advanced (obviously) than I and b) have military/police and/or martial arts and/or boxing training to supplement their Tang Soo Do training, which clearly lends them a greater degree of confidence in their physical movements.

So, as a result, typically I wind up being the only person doing certain techniques, because the rest of the class is doing far more advanced techniques. Aside from feeling a bit self-conscious this isn't really an issue either: I worry far more about the other students feeling distracted or annoyed with the time Sa Bom Nim has to spend giving me alternate instructions than I am about looking silly, unskilled, or uncoordinated.

But what did freak me out last night was seeing and hearing some of the skills that I will need to master in the process of advancing toward dan membership. The complexity and physical/psychological demands of the more advanced hyungs. The huge variety of blocks and punches and kicks I'll need to learn to integrate smoothly into cohesive attack and defense sequences. The pure physical demands and testing requirements for red belt advancement.

There was one moment when I felt my resovle to train shake a bit last night. There was some goofing around going on during our warm-up, and one of the advanced red belts was doing some very high jumps in place. Astonishingly high jumping. This guy, Mr. Pfaff, is like 6'4", at least, all arms and legs. Great guy. Teaches Trevor's "Li'l Dragons" class at the dojang. So anyway, he can jump really high, which isn't discouraging at all. Some people can, some people can't. But then, in fun, Sa Bom Nim asked him to do some sort of a double jump split kick -- basically jumping straight up and then kicking both legs out in a wide "V" directly in front of you. OK, hard, but I can see learning to do that as well, given a lot of practice.

And then Sa Bom Nim mentions, casually, that breaking two boards, held aloft, by doing that kick, is part of the requirements for the dan test. And my stomach just sort of ... fell. I literally had a moment of something like vertigo.

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

Now I know, rationally, that when Mr. Pfaff was a white belt he would probably have felt the same way. I know that this is a process, a gradual accumulation of skills and ability gained through repetition and guidance. I know that there was a time, less than two months ago, that performing Ki Cho Sam Bu seemed almost impossible to me. Jeez, 3 months ago I could barely figure out how to do a low block correctly. I know, inside, that learning this art is a life-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 steps 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 this is the reason why. I got a really good look at how far I have to go, how much I have to learn, how hard I'll need to work over the next few years. For a second I grasped the enormity of how much I have to learn when contrasted with the thimble-full of knowledge and skill I've scraped together, and in that brief moment I heard something in me say ...

"Give up."

"You don't belong here."

"You can't do this."

It wasn't easy, but I didn't listen. And I won't listen.

But I can tell that I'll need to prepare myself for these sort of doubts a bit better in the future. This is a side effect of immersing myself in the more advanced classes, one that I hadn't anticipated, but one which I should expect to recur periodically. This will be far from the last time I see the advanced student's doing things that are so far beyond my current abilities as to seem almost superhuman. Almost magical. I need to learn to not let this sense of relative inability undermine my resolve to continue training.

Happily, my confidence was restored somewhat at the end of last night's class, when we did some free sparring. I sparred with 4 opponents. One dan member, Mr. Vasquez, who I am fairly certain I never even touched. One green belt, who I actually did pretty well against. One red belt, a very skilled but thin young teen who I was able to use my height, strength, and reach advantage over to great effect, and Mike, the orange belt with extensive military, martial arts, and boxing training, who spanked me good. I didn't dominate anyone -- far from it. And I was totally owned in two of my four matches. But I held my own in the other two, and actually managed to get a few hits in that I planned. Unlike last time, this time around I actually was able to initiate some attacks, do some basic combinations that enabled me to score a few tags, actually force my opponents to defend.

And that's progress. Two weeks ago, I couldn't see myself here. The idea of free sparring made me nervous as hell, and yet here I am, free sparring, and actually sensing improvement. My doubts are just that: doubts. They mean nothing. I need to appreciate the gains I've made, and let the future take care of itself.

Mood: Ouchie. And I still have training tonight and tomorrow!
Now Playing: Brian Eno, "Lightness: Music for The Marble Palace"

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Patience. Patience.


I've been training a lot this week, and it's not done yet. Interesting week, though.

After a couple of weeks of anxiety and anticipation, I finally got to free spar this week. First time was Saturday morning, at the all ages/all ranks family class. Which was funny, I suppose: my first free sparring experience and my kids got to see it. They also got to see my first free sparring injury, although it was a minor one and was entirely my own fault. I was sparring a don member (for the uninitiated, more or less the same as a "black belt") who threw a nice leisurely kick at my head. Being the newbie I am, I see the kick coming out of the corner of my eye and ... look right at it. Whap, foot to the eye, and a nice little rub/scrap on my cheekbone from his foot pad to remember it by. Didn't hurt all that much, really, and when he ducked in to apologize and make sure I was OK a second later I tagged him on the head to make myself feel better. Cheap shot, to be sure, but hard to resist all the same. The rest of our two minute match was fairly uneventful, with my opponent getting in 4-5 shots for every glancing blow or kick I managed to land. But fun.

Then I sparred again, but this time with a new student who has just joined our school. She holds a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and decided to change things up and try a new discipline. However, her sparring technique/protocol is different than the one we follow in our school. See, sparring for us is kind of formalized, with the opponents stopping and bowing whenever a hit has clearly been given or received. In her school, however, sparring must have been more akin to a boxing match, with hits being thrown without interruption until the match time has expired. So she tagged me once or twice and I backed off and bowed, and then I managed to actually land a couple of decent head shots ... and she kept coming, even though I dropped my gloves. Got a good shot to the chin as a result. Meh, whatever. Didn't hurt. Just confused me a bit.

So then more free sparring last night, but this time with two guys closer to my rank. Orange belts, one a teenager with previous martial arts experience and the other a middle aged guy who is unexpectedly quick for a larger man. Both of them soundly handed me my ass, although I still managed to get a few jabs in and did a fairly decent job of blocking a lot of shots. But it's frustrating, mostly because I just don't have a clue how to get started. I get in a fighting stance and then .... what's next? How do I start attacking? How do I decide when to go on the offensive, and when to just wait for an opening and be defensive? I spoke with Sa Bom Nim Nunan afterward and just flat out asked "How long does it take? How long before I have a friggin' clue how to do this?" and he was typically encouraging in his response: "It just takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it will be for you to spot openings." Plus he suggested I work on some basic free-sparring combination moves (backfist/reverse punch/front kick and the like) so that I get more comfortable with them, therefore not having to "think" so much and just attack with some fairly effective opening moves.

Sigh. I just feel so damn slow when I'm out there. Lumbering. Clumsy. But my forms are looking pretty darn good, and I've got all the basic movements down to a reasonable degree, so I'm pretty well along the way to getting a grasp on the building blocks of the art. I need to work on my patience a bit, I think. I feel ready to test for my belt, but the next test isn't until next month, so the earliest I can expect to see my next belt would be late March. This shouldn't matter: I'm still learning new things, and while I have gotten the hang of the basics there is no such thing as mastering them, no matter how long you work at them. There is always room for improvement, for enhancement of skill and deepening of understanding, no matter how simple the movements might seem. But I'd be lying if I said that I'm just fine with having to wait another month to test: I want to do it now.

But it's not my decision. Patience. Patience.


Tonight is advanced class, which will probably once again involve some free sparring. At the end of class the students will be sticking around to get the dojang super clean in preparation for tomorrow night's promotion ceremony. Sa Bom Nim will be officially promoted to 4th Don tomorrow night, so it's a big deal for the school. His instructor -- Master Riley -- will be visiting our school to hold the promotion, after which he and Sa Bom Nim will be co-teaching the students (all ranks) a bunch of advanced elbow techniques. Should be a blast, although that will bring me to 4 training sessions this week. Plus I still plan on attending the all ages/all ranks family class Saturday morning with the kids. At this rate I'll probably be in traction by Saturday night -- my hips are tired, and the hamstring in my right leg is aching a bunch. But these are all unique opportunities, and I won't let a little discomfort get in the way of taking part.

Mood: Antsy
Now Playing: Raul Malo, "At Last"

Friday, February 17, 2006


It's been a weird 12 hours. Not bad, just weird. Funny events at training, followed by strange dreams and nightmares during the night, followed by laughing so hard in my car on the way to work that I probably almost drove off the road.


Even though I had considered skipping my class last night, by the end of the day yesterday I was itching to get to training in spite of still having a bit of cough. Other than the cough I felt just fine, plus I had spent the better part of the entire day in meetings, discussing interface design improvements, aesthetic changes and whatnot. The discussions were pleasant, although the subject matter was bland. A productive day, but by the end of it I was getting twitchy and knew I'd benefit from some exercise.

So anyway, I head home, grab the kids and my uniform, and three of us head over to the dojang. Trevor has a 30 minute Lil' Dragons class (classes for kids 4-6 years old), followed by Miranda's 45-minute Black Belt Club class, followed immediately by the Advanced class I've started taking once a week. My mom stops by and shuttles the kids home so I can start class on time, which is great.

But anyway.

So, last night's class was cool -- lots of line drills (different types of punches or kicks while advancing) which is always good practice. But it was funny: I was the only "junior" member (i.e. white or orange belt) there, so I was typically not doing the same movements as the other dozen-plus students. The main difference was usually that I'd be doing a single kick or punch, while they were stringing 2 or 3 separate punches and/or kicks into a sequence. So it was kind of cool, trying to maintain focus on just what I needed to be doing, and not worrying about the other students.

So class goes on, and after about 45 minutes of line drills we move on to hyungs, or forms. In simplest terms, Hyungs are basically a highly structured series of movements that allow the student to practice an extended series of offensive and defensive moves. They also function as a form of meditation and as a tool to sharpen concentration and focus. They require a lot of discipline, and are considered in many ways to be the heart and soul of Tang Soo Do as a martial art. They are also rapidly becoming one of my absolute favorite things about my training.

Anyhow, the entire class is working forms. I'm working Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu, Ki Cho Hyung E Bu, and Ki Cho Hyung Sam Bu (basic forms 1, 2, and 3 -- although I was having a problem remembering which one was 1 and which one was 2 last night. Blonde moment...), and the rest of the class is working more advanced and complicated forms in groups, while the one don member (a.k.a. black belt) who was there was doing an even more complicated form. My forms last 44 seconds when they are done correctly: his forms easily lasted 2 minutes, and they were truly intense and physically demanding forms: kicking, jumping, elbows, knees. Amazing to watch. Beautiful, really.

The reason the varying lengths of these forms is relevant is that when you're doing forms by your own count, and you finish before more advanced members, you are expected to hold your last position (for a student at my level, this is always a front stance with a punch of some sort) and stand still until the other students have finished their forms as well. Not doing so would be disrespectful, plus it would also deprive you of the chance to just stand and watch more advanced students doing some far more advanced things. Pretty fun, plus a good opportunity to work on self-discipline.

So, the entire class is holding their last move, still and silent, watching the don member work through his form when my damn cell phone starts to ring.


I must have the volume set at Max. And when you consider that my ringtone is the theme to The Exorcist (a.k.a. Tubular Bells), you can imagine this started having an effect on the class.

Eyes start darting around, people start grinning, eyes are rolling a bit, one of the student's mom's -- who was watching the class -- is staring, puzzled, at my gear bag. And within 10 seconds all concentration is broken, people are smirking and talking, and I'm sheepishly letting folks know it's my phone and apologizing, promising to silence my ringer next class. Which led to a slew of jokes from Sa Bom Nim. Which was cool, actually. I can take a joke, especially when one is so deserved.

He stopped me for a second at the end of class to make sure I wasn't pissed off or anything, which was unnecessary but appreciated. I mean, I chose that ringtone because it makes people look at me weird and gets some laughs -- someone poking fun at me about it is entirely the point. I was more concerned that he might think I was some sort of deeply negative freak or something, when anyone who knows me knows that I am a far more positive sort of freak.

I won't argue the freak part.


During the night, I had a series of somewhat disturbing dreams. They're unclear, but they all had to do with work or school (college, I think), and with being undermined or lied about or betrayed by co-workers or peers. One of them became quite violent -- a guy who I think was a housemate of mine or something had said some terrible things about me which had led to me being thrown out of school and abandoned by friends and family, and I was hitting him and screaming at him to take those things back -- which is really disturbing to me, since I almost never dream of violence, let alone being the one inflicting the damage. And in my dream I felt very upset, watching myself from outside myself.

I haven't struck someone in anger since I was about 16. I awoke disturbed. Interpretations are welcome.


I purchased a Sirius satellite radio for my car a few months back. I chose Sirius largely because Howard Stern was moving to it in January, and while I'm not a big Stern fan or anything I liked knowing that any new subscriptions that coincided with his move to Sirius would be considered a show of support for Free Speech and against censorship.

Anyhow, I do listen to Stern on occasion, just because he is very, very funny at times. Yeah, it's mostly potty humor, but every so often something comes along that is drop dead, gut bustingly funny. And this morning, on their Friday "clip show" (highlights from the past week's shows) had one of those moments.

Briefly, there is almost nothing funnier than listening to the sound of a man getting a Brazilian bikini wax. 'Nuff said.

Have a great weekend, y'all.

Mood: Laid back
Now Playing: Kate Bush, "Aerial"

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Hey all. Nothing particularly interesting to report on this end. I've been sick for most of the week: basic head and chest congestion yuck. Mostly over it now, so that's good. My wife, on the other hand, is having a really hard time kicking it: perhaps her asthma-oriented lungs make it harder to clear congestion. Dunno. Hopefully she'll get an appointment with her doctor today so she can be helped along on the road to wellville.

In spite of getting sick, I dragged myself to class Monday (wasn't quite sick yet, but I was feeling off-kilter I noticed a serious lack of stamina in both my morning run and my evening TSD training) and Wednesday. While I was feeling somewhat better Wednesday I was still hacking up a lung for the first 15 minutes of class, which garnered me a stern (and deserved) rebuke from Sa Bom Nim about a) taking time off to heal when we're sick and b) not coming in a making everyone ELSE sick, too. Yeah, fair enough. While I'm fairly certain b) isn't an issue (I am not feverish or anything -- just dealing with lots of phlegm issues) a) should be obvious. So unless I'm feeling 100% by this evening I'll be skipping on this week's advanced class.

Speaking of which: In spite of my nervousness my first advanced class went swimmingly. It's a large class -- at least 15-18 students altogether -- and there were a number of notable reactions by some of the younger red belt students at having a white belt (me) and an orange belt (my classmate Kelly) in attendance. Not rudeness exactly -- more of a "huh?" sort of attitude. But otherwise, the class at large was terrifically supportive and helpful. It was funny: Sa Bom Nim could tell that Kelly and I both felt a bit overwhelmed, perhaps out of place at the class and made a point of telling us both, in no uncertain terms, that he would never have invited us to attend the more advanced classes if he didn't feel we were both capable of and ready to learn from them.

I think that's a quality that I've really responded to in this art: an overarching sense of humility and respect that is practiced and enforced across all ranks, by all members. For years I assumed attending martial arts school would be more akin to basic training -- an experience I in no way desire. Perhaps other schools are like that. But not this one. Finding this school was a stroke of luck.

Mood: Sniffly, but up
Now Playing: Beth Orton, "SuperPinkyMandy"

Thursday, February 09, 2006


As I mentioned in a previous post, the number of classes offered at the dojang for beginner (white/orange belt) adults was recently cut somewhat drastically. At first I was kind of frustrated and alarmed -- I try to attend class three nights per week, as well as training with my children at the once-weekly family all ages/all ranks class -- so I contacted Sa Bom Nim and asked whether there was anything that could be done. As it turned out he had anticipated this concern, and to compensate for the loss of class time he invited all of the adult beginner students to attend addition classes with the adult green/red/black belt students as desired.

They're longer classes, with way more students attending. Obviously, due to the advanced level of the various students, the techniques that will be studied will certainly be beyond my ability to safely attempt at this stage. But that's cool -- in mixed classes Sa Bom Nim and the other instructors have always been careful to adjust instructions for lower-ranked students to ensure we don't get in over our heads. However, a big significant characteristic of the non-beginner classes is that they prominently feature free sparring as part of each session, typically at the end of the class.

Free sparring.


If this isn't a classic example of "careful what you wish for" I don't know what is.

See, I haven't done anything resembling "fighting" since I was about 16. In spite of my size (I'm not a small guy by any means) and fairly boisterous personality, I'm not a physically aggressive person -- never have been. And while I knew that free sparring would eventually become a part of my training I sort of pictured it being a more "far far off on the horizon" sort of thing that I would gradually work up to and feel all "prepared for" when I got to it. Like one day I'd walk into class and the idea of putting on head gear, a mouthguard, fist and foot pads and "soft fighting" wouldn't feel like a big step. Like, maybe once I got to my next belt or something I'd magically not be nervous about this stuff. Sure seemed like something I could keep at bay for a while.

Well, looks like that was a bit premature. If I want to continue training more than a couple of (short) nights a week, then advanced class is the only option. And that means free sparring. So I've gone and purchased all of my basic sparring gear and will be attending the advanced class for the first time tonight.


I was talking with a few other students after class last night about how nervous I am about this, and one of the students (an extraordinarily dedicated red belt who often helps out with the white/orange belt classes) tried to boost my confidence a bit by noting that only a couple of the students aren't controlled enough when sparring, so getting hurt was a fairly minor possibility. And the boost was certainly appreciated.

But what's funny is that getting hurt isn't what worries me at all. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about accidentally catching the occasional punch or kick. I mean, this is martial arts, not jazz tap class. It's not fear of injury that's kinda freaking me out. It is, once again, that good old fear of blowing it. Of looking like a fool while I try to "get it." Of accidentally hurting someone else with my fairly dangerous combination of significant strength and utter lack of control.

In other words, fear of having to learn something new. Fear of stepping, once again, outside of my comfort zone. Pretty much the same fear that resulted in me spinning my wheels for months before finally deciding to take the plunge and join the Tang Soo Do Academy in the first place.

Well, looks like I won't be spinning my wheels this time. I've got my gear. I'm going to class tonight. There will be free sparring. I will almost certainly get my ass handed to me most sincerely. Should be fun.



Mood: On edge
Now Playing: Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue"

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Promotion in Solitude

Got my second stripe last night, and the experience was drastically different from last time but equally satisfying.

Due to the highly disproportionate ratios of a) teen and pre-teen students vs. adult students and b) white/orange belt adult students vs. green/red/black belt adult students at the dojang, Sa Bom Nim recently decided to rework the schedule of classes at the dojang to better serve the needs of the student body at large. In the process the number of classes specifically for adult white and orange belt were cut from 4 1 hour classes to 2 45-minute classes each week.

Totally understandable choice, honestly -- there are only a total of about 5 or 6 adult or late teen students at the white/orange belt level that are taking classes at the school and of those student only myself and perhaps 1 other student train more than once or twice a week. So continuing to devote 4 or more hours of classtime to us when the other classes often have as many as 15 or 20 students in them would obviously be a poor use of the available resources at the school.

So anyway, last night was the first night at the new schedule, and obviously it's knocked some people for a loop while they figure out how to schedule their class time. I wound up being the only student in my class, working solo with Sa Bom Nim while a group of teen red belt students worked out on the other end of the matt. I love these unexpected solo lessons, although they can be a bit overwhelming and stressful. The tone of the class always tends to be more relaxed and conversational with less strict protocol and more banter and talk between exercises, which is a nice break from the more rigid style of the larger classes, particularly the ones where we have some younger teens (who often need more rigid discipline to keep them focused) mixed in with adults.

And I also tend to learn a lot more in these classes, since all of the instructor's attention is on me -- which is, of course, why the classes can be a bit intimidating as well. I've only been at this for a couple of months now, so I don't feel ashamed to be making 2 mistakes for every 1 successful action. That's the nature of this stuff. And while I'm not discouraged to have my many, many areas that would benefit from improvement pointed out, it can be a bit frustrating.

So yeah, it was just me and Sa Bom Nim, and he had me work through all of my basic movements. High block. Low block. Inside to outside block. Outside to inside block. Middle punch. High punch. Front kick. Round kick. Side kick. Inside to outside downward heel kick. Basic hyungs 1 and 2. One step sparring movements 1 through 10. Wrist (and throat, and hair) grabs 1 through 8. A couple of new (to me) lapel and sleeve grabs). Lots of area for improvement in all of these, but I know them pretty well.

And then we started just sort of chatting, and he told me some interesting stories about how he learned some advanced techniques, and then class was over. And he looked at me and said "you know, I really should promote you tonight. I know there's no one here, but you know this stuff and it's not right to hold it back." And so he did.

The one other person in the dojang came out of the back office, I took a knee, and I received my blue stripe. And it was funny: I felt as proud then as I did when I received my first stripe. I mean, it would have been nice to have my family there to see my promotion. But sometime in the past month I realized that -- although I began my training with the intention of setting an example for my kids -- I'm now doing this for myself, at least as much as for my kids. And while it is of course flattering to have a large group of people around applauding you when you get promoted, this accomplishment was wholly satisfying on its own terms.

So, I'm now a "9th gup upgrade" student -- an optional stage and an optional stripe, but one which our dojang uses for additional encouragement during the initial period of training from white to orange belt when it can be tough for some folks to stick with training. Tang Soo Do, unlike many other martial arts (Tae Kwan Do in particular), has fairly few belts: white, orange, green, red , and black (actually midnight blue). And the orange belt is actually a fairly recent addition, having been introduced in the 70's to help with student retention during the early training period. Before that, a new student who trained regularly would still be unlikely to be promoted to a new belt until well into a year of training. In America, we're so used to instant gratification that the whole idea of actually waiting that long for a new belt, especially for new students, was seen as a significant obstacle to retaining students over extended periods of time.

So in that light, my new stripe is kind of, well, minor. It's an optional step along the path to an intermediate beginner's belt.

And I still couldn't be prouder. And I can't wait to test for that orange belt.

Mood: Tired (sick dog, very little sleep last night)
Now Playing: Sia, "Colour the Small One"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hell On Wheels

OK, I'm not a big fan of sinking to hyperbole, but here goes: I just saw the best movie I've seen in at least a year.

And it's a documentary.

I'm still processing how I feel about this film, but you? Yes, you? Over there? You must immediately go and rent or buy a copy of "Murderball." This is, in simple terms, and with no exaggeration, a great film. Deeply moving. Truly inspiring. Resounding depths of greatness. Relentlessly exciting. Consistently thought provoking. Often hysterically funny, and yet sad without being self-righteous.

But above all, it is effortlessly entertaining.

A great film, no hair on it. A great film about men, and how they tick (yet not clinical). About true sportsmen, and why they organize their lives around "games." And so many other things. I'll be processing this movie for days before I really know how to absorb it. But this much is easily stated: I just watched a movie about a bunch of quadriplegics, and Every. Single. One of them made me wish I could be as alive as them. Or that I even knew a single person who was as fiercely, completely, absolutely devouring the life and time they have been given, with enormous, gluttonous bites.

Perhaps it's the intimate encounter with immortality, the butterfly kiss from Death that spared their lives but took away their able-bodiedness (that certainly seems to be the theme of the Canadian coach's story arc). But whatever it is, I finished watching this film and immediately thought "why the hell don't I feel half as alive as those guys? And how can I wake up that part of myself that they've clearly roused from slumber?"

See this movie. It's the definition of great.

Mood: Elated
Now Playing: House

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Archives Partially Restored

Went through my archives and picked about half of my previous entries for re-publishing. Some of them don't exactly reflect the direction I'm trying to take the blog, but contain writing that I'm proud of. Others are just fun, or funny, or simply make me smile. If you're new here, please go ahead and hit the main page to access the archives, and click around....

Mood: Good
Now Playing: Death Cab for Cutie, "Plans"

Blog Makeover

Welcome to the new blog.

After pulling down the old blog I spent a bunch of time soul searching, trying to decide what I want to share of myself in an open and anonymously accessible forum. This is trickier than it sounds, because as anyone who knows me can tell you I am not one to shy away from sharing opinions and beliefs. However, I also like to choose the people with whom I share those things. There are things I would share with my wife or with my friends, that I would not share with my mother, for example.

I'm fairly certain that I'm not unusual in this respect: we all edit ourselves to a certain degree when we interact socially. However, I somehow failed to account for this fact when I started blogging, and as a result my blog became a bit too revealing for an unfiltered audience. My bad: A common error on first blogs, judging from the feedback I've received. I simple erred a bit in thinking that blogging would somehow be different in this regard, even though I wasn't doing so anonymously.

So, anyway. The new name. It occurred to me last night, while lying in bed trying to sleep that parallel with this "what should I do about the blog?" soul searching, I've also been trying to expand my implementation of some of the basic principals of Tang Soo Do beyond the dojang and into my daily life.

Briefly put, Tang Soo Do is more of a classical art form than simply a form of martial exercise. As such, it integrates far more than simple self defense training, instead including a fairly strict code of conduct heavily dependent on discipline and respect. One part of this code of conduct is called the Eight Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Key Concepts. The concepts are as follows:
  • Yong Gi: "Courage"
  • Chung Shin Tong Il: "Concentration"
  • In Neh: "Endurance"
  • Chung Jik: "Honesty"
  • Kyum Son: "Humility"
  • Him Cho Chung: "Control of Power"
  • Shin Chook: "Tension & Relaxation"
  • Wan Gup: "Speed Control"
Now, some of these concepts come to me fairly easily, at least on a basic level. Courage, concentration, endurance, honesty, humility are all things I try to exercise in my daily life already, though I am far from a paragon of any of them. But I get them, you see? So, that leaves control of power, tension and relaxation, and speed control. As a new student of Tang Soo Do it seems to me that I have little in the way of either power or speed to worry about controlling.

Which leaves shin chook.

Now, a little background. Since I began training a couple of months back, the one lesson I have heard over and over again is the meaning of shin chook. Why? Because when I started training every single movement I made was rigid. Tense. Doing simple line drills and basic forms would leave me gasping for air and exhausted because I wouldn't remember to breathe when moving and I'd keep my entire body, every muscle, tensed the entire time. Try jogging in place while hugging yourself tight, not breathing, and not relaxing your legs to get an idea of how quickly that wears you out.

So, for my first 6 weeks or so, every time we were doing line drills or forms, at some point Sa Bom Nim would stop me and explain shin chook. Relaxation tension. Relax throughout the movement and tense only at the final moments in order to increase your speed and power and endurance. Staying tense prevents you from moving with speed or accuracy, and prevents your blows from striking with the greatest force. And over the past week, I've finally started being able to apply this principal, if only slightly. The impact has been significant, though. I can breathe, for starters. But I have a very long way to go before I can claim to actually adequately demonstrate the concept of shin chook in class.

So, shin chook clearly presented itself as the key concept that (currently) presents the greatest challenge for me in the dojang. And, while working through this issue in my head, it occurred to me that my inability to relax, and to tense only at times when tension will be both necessary and effective, in not exactly confined to the dojang. I spend far too much of my own life tensed. Ready to spring, but to no effect. And as this limits my ability to perform within the dojang, doesn't it have corresponding effects on my ability to progress in life in general? What purpose does being rigid serve? How does this overall tenseness limit my ability to move through life, to progress and grow?

So, it seems to me that shin chook is a concept that I need to explore at length, both on and off the mat. And thus the name -- and direction -- of the new blog.

Now, I'm not saying that the blog is going to be nothing but ruminations on martial arts and eastern philosophy. There might be a bit of that, since I'm getting pretty engrossed in Tang Soo Do these days. You'll note some links to Tang Soo Do sites, as well as a picture of my current gup level and belt, over there on the right. It's been ages since I've been so completely enthused with a new activity, and the depth of knowledge and study available could easily keep me challenged for the rest of my life.

But I don't want to write an entire blog about nothing but "what I learned in class this week." Instead, I think this blog is going to be a tool that I use to try to explore and exercise shin chook in my life. I'm going to try to use it as a way to relax and move without tension, except at times when tension is useful and effective.

What's that mean? I'm not sure yet. I do know that a lot of my previous writing is characterized by anger and frustration, that these were fruitless expressions that neither helped me feel better about the situations that elicited the entry, nor did anything to improve or address any of the causes of the frustration or anger. If that's not an expression of poor shin chook in day to day living, I don't know what is.

So while I may post the occasional angry or frustrated entry from time to time I will be trying to do so in a way that's constructive. That somehow makes things better, either for myself or for others. But I hope that the ratio of "relaxation" to "tension" stays high. Sa Bom Nim says that 90% or more of your movement in Tang Soo Do should be relaxed, with less than 10% tension at only the appropriate times. If I can approach those ratios in my day-to-day life, I think I'll be doing pretty well.

Mood: Upbeat.
Now Playing: Massive Attack, "Mezzanine"