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"

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