Thursday, March 30, 2006

New Portrait!

Oh, yeah -- be sure to check out my new self-portrait over there in the right-hand corner of the page.. In keeping with the overall, all-encompassing martial arts theme of the blog these days, I felt a South Park Dobahk Portrait was appropos. Plus, I totally dig the facial expression. The drops of sweat were a given, especially if you've seen me training or testing....

Events, Moods, Glimmers of Light

I've been trying to kickstart a journal entry for a couple of days, here, but so far no luck. Just don't seem to have the wehrewithal to pull together something coherent right now. The last few days I've been in a sort of unfocused state of mind: Kind of listless, kind of relaxed, kind of over-sensitive and self-reflective. Not a bad thing, overall, but not a state that is terribly conducive to getting a whole lot of stuff done, you know? I think it's just a sort of extended comedown from the tension I felt over the couple of weeks leading up to my gup test.

So anyhow, my first copuple of classes as an 8th gup have been highlighted by learnign a new hyung (Pyong Ahn Cho Dan) and by FINALLY getting the opportunity to break a real honest-to-goodness wooden board in class. The board break was actually a bit of an anti-climax. All bragging aside, it was just too damn easy. And apparently it was a pretty tough piece of wood, too: I had asked if I could try breaking it with a straight punching technique, but was told it was too dense and "sappy" a piece of pine and that would be too risky for a gup like me. So I had to make do with a hammer fist technique. One shot and the board split like nothing. Easy break. And I didn't even prep my hand properly -- it's bit sore from the hit, which just means my fist was loose and I wasn't flexing the muscles in the side of my hand properly at the moment of impact.

Should have tried for a foot technique. Maybe next time.


Otherwise, not much happeneing. Work rolls along at a mellow lope: I'm being underutilized right now due to the way our schedules have worked out. But later this year I'll be swamped, once the "big" projects have progressed enough for me to begin work on documenting them. Probably will be taking a work trip to St. Louis in a few weeks to meet with some members of my extended team and to get more familiar with some of the processes that are used by our New Overlords. Never been there, so that should be interesting at least.

Is it weird that the only thing I've thought of regarding this potential trip is "I hope it doesn't make me miss too many Tang Soo Do classes?" Ahh, the face of obsession, staring fixedly out from the looking glass.


On a happy note, it was really nice to see this news item this morning. A spark of light in an abyss, but light all the same.

Mood: Pensive, bemused
Now Playing: Kate Bush, "Aerial"

Monday, March 27, 2006

Scenes from My Gup Test

A few choice moments from Saturday's Gup test. My kids took a bunch of the pictures, so the framing on some of the pics isn't so good, and unfortunately when Christine tried to get some of the trickier pictures our digital camera took so long to focus that she wasn't able to actually capture any of the faster actions, like my one-step or wrist grab techniques. She'd get ready to take the picture just as the technique started, and by the time the camera had focused and decided to grab the picture I'd have finished the technique and returned to choon bee stance. So, instead of action shots she got a bunch of shots of me standing at attention and Mr. Hill preparing to punch. Like 9 versions of exactly the same picture. Sigh. Might be time for a better digital camera....

Anyway: Here I am standing at choon bee, preparing to begin, not yet drenched in sweat. This unmoistened state will not last long:
Line drills: Here I'm doing an inside-to-outside block in a back stance. The sweating has begun.
Line drills: Round kicks. Here, I'm kicking with my injured left leg, which didn't feel so great. I think the discomfort is evident in my expression. Still, my technique was solid. Behind me is Kayleigh, who trains with my daughter. Great kid. Note: Completely drenched.
One-step Sparring: Here's where the slow camera really messed us up. Basically, Mr. Hill would throw a punch at my face and I would simultaneously do 1 of a series of 10 defensive/offensive techniques in response, each of which involves moving to the side, blocking the fist in some way, and then throwing punches or elbows in response. They were really cool, and went by way too fast, due both to my nervousness and Mr. Hill's intensity. Anyhow, we went through the one-step techniques so quickly that Mrs. Nicholson, who was the dan member grading me, asked me to re-do one-step #4. I asked her if I'd done it wrong, and she said she had no idea because I'd gone so fast she'd missed it. This is me trying to figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing:
It was actually a good thing. It's kind of hard to tell during the test, though.

Here are the judges. Left to right we have Mrs. Nicholson, Mr. Vasquez, Sa Bom Nim Nunan, Mr. Kannan, and Ms. Hill (Mr. Hill's daughter, an extraordinarily talented and focused child who has, at age 8 or 9 -- not sure -- already attained dan membership and won a national TSDMGK award for her focus and discipline). To the far left is Mr. Nicholson, Mrs. Nicholson's son, who is, if I recall, the youngest person to attain dan membership in the history of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan:
A little while later, after testing on terminology and some kind and encouraging and very complimentary words from Sa Bom Nim Nunan and the rest of the judges, I received my orange belt:
And here I am with my fellow 8th gups. I call this image "Small, Medium, Large."
Adam, at the right, is a soft spoken kid who nevertheless had great intensity and focus that was definitely notable in a kid his age. Kayleigh is a terrific kid as well, and both of them will prove to be terrific martial artists I am sure. I was proud to stand beside them and lead them in our hyungs, even if I felt a bit, well, older. I even did the "kid's version" of the Student Creed with them, which includes a whole series of hand movements coordinated with saying "This! Is! A! Black! Belt! School! We're dedicated! We're motivated! We're on a quest to be the best!" finished off with a low block and center punch and really loud "kiyaps!" It got a big laugh from the judges and the audience, but that wasn't really why I did it. Honestly, I figured why the hell not -- they're up there with me, why not do everything together? Why should I get to skip out on it? Besides, it was fun.

Anyway, a great day, and a great first step in what I hope will be a long and satisfying endeavor.

Mood: Good
Now Playing: Nina Simone, "Feeling Good: The Very Best of Nina Simone"

Sunday, March 26, 2006


So, my test went well. Very well. And I am now an 8th gup in Tang Soo Do Mi Gu Kwan and the proud owner of a nice orange belt.

Some highlights:
  • Walking the mile or so to the dojang before my test, by myself, with Kate Bush's "Aerial" on my iPod. A clear, crisp morning, the sun shining and not a cloud in the sky. 30 minutes of solitude for focus and clarity. I think I will do this before all of my future tests.
  • Preparing to test, and slowly seeing the room fill with the faces of people I know from the dojang, including several friends I train with who just came in to encourage and support me and my fellow testers.
  • Beginning the test, and then having to hold front stances, like a statue, for what seemed like 3 or 4 minutes at a time, while the judging panel corrected the errors that the other students that were testing had made, but which I hadn't. My weak left leg shaking and throbbing, and thinking over and over that I want to relax. And then ignoring that desire and just persevering.
  • Making my first mistake -- blowing a punch combination -- and realizing that Mr. Pfaff was right: once you get your first error out of the way, it gets easier.
  • Beginning my foot techniques, knowing that my messed-up hamstring would prove problematic, and then managing to nail nearly every technique anyway. Yeah, it hurt, but I managed to do nearly everything correctly anyhow. Well, aside from a left-leg inside top outside downward heel kick, but even so I managed to fake it pretty good.
  • Realizing that once the leg techniques were done, I was already home free.
  • Blowing through my one-step sparring techniques so quickly that my judge, Mrs. Nicholson, had to ask me to do them again, because I'd gone so quickly she missed a few. And then realizing with some amusement that this was, in fact, a really good thing.
  • Doing wrist grab techniques with Mr. Hill and realizing, half-way through, that he was hurt and I was really messing up his jammed finger because due to my nervousness I was using way too much force. He gave me a good-natured punch in the chest later on as payback, and it felt amazing.
  • Acting as the ringer for the testers when it came to Tang Soo Do terminology, and thereby enabling all of us to avoid having to do push-ups for screwing up answers.
  • Being soundly mocked for pronouncing "Tang" like the orange stuff the astronauts drink.
  • But most of all,the biggest highlights was when, after I began testing, I glanced at the door and saw my brother, sister-in-law, nice, and nephew enter the dojang, to join my wife and kids and my mom in watching me test. Everyone came! My heart went straight to my throat. And then I had to pretend none of them were there because I knew if I looked up and saw all them over there, watching me, I would have lost it.
I'm walking on air.

Mood: Elated
Now Playing: The Hold Steady, "Separation Sunday"

Friday, March 24, 2006


K, so tomorrow morning, 9:30, I test to advance to 8th gup/orange belt. I'm a bit nervous -- actually more anxious, really. I mean, I know my stuff pretty much front to back, with only a couple of minor exceptions, and I'll be attending a test prep session tonight to sand off those rough edges. I feel like I've been ready for this for a month, and I've been anticipating testing daily since receiving my invitation a few weeks back.

I just want to get on with it already.

It's weird, feeling this "student feeling" again. Having to write a paper, having to demonstrate what you've learned before peers and judges, being graded and evaluated and granted advancement as a result. And as usual, my innate insecurity is making itself known in odd ways: difficulty sleeping and early waking, of course, but also this creeping dread that I'll freeze up and go blank when I get on the mat tomorrow. I know that won't happen, but still, that little nagging voice pipes in and reminds me that It Could All Go Horribly Wrong all the time.

Damn, I hate that voice!

But I know I'll do fine. My only real concern is my leg, which is feeling OK today but which I re-strained a bit at training the other night. I need to focus on not overdoing it, not kicking harder I need to, demonstrating knowledge and technique but holding back on power until this damn injury is healed. I'vwe decided that I'll walk to the dojang in the morning (it's alittle over a mile from my house, so nothing insane) to get it warmed up good before I begin stretching and then, when testing, I'm just going to have to maintain my focus and not try to show off. Remind myself again and again that discipline must come before personal desire. The satisfaction of showing off is petty. Just do what needs to be done, and heal.

So, anyway, wish me luck, and send me some reassuring vibes tomorrow morning if you can spare the energy.


And now, for your entertainment and edification, my advancement test paper:


What Does Tang Soo Do Mean to Me?

Deciding to begin learning Tang Soo Do was, and continues to be, a bit nerve-wracking. Several times each week I look at the accomplishments of folks who have been training far longer than I have – most of whom are way younger than I am – and I find myself wondering whether I will ever be able to do these things. Lately, when these feelings manifest, I’ve tried to focus on this quote by football player/actor Alex Karras to help shore up my resolve:

“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more ‘manhood’ to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.”

When I’m feeling self-doubt this quote helps remind me that while I may have a long way to go, the growth I'm seeking in learning this art will come as much from committing to this journey as from achieving goals along the way. Also, it encompasses some of the things I’ve learned about myself through these early steps in my training, the personal meanings I’ve found in Tang Soo Do.

Since beginning my Tang Soo Do training back in December 2005 I’ve maintained a journal that is largely concerned with my thoughts, feelings, and experiences in these early stages of my training. In many ways this journal can be regarded as an unstructured, growing exploration of the topic of this paper, so I went back to my journals, re-read my Tang Soo Do-related entries from the past few months, and some conclusions about my Tang Soo Do training:

  • My role as provider for my family can make it difficult to share meaningful experiences with my children. Tang Soo Do enables me to forge a closer relationship with my children through shared experiences and challenges.
  • Becoming a parent and moving to Texas has distanced me from friends and community, and I’ve suffered from this loss. Tang Soo Do provides an environment in which I can find camaraderie and community with like-minded peers.
  • Covering my own latent lack of confidence and social discomfort with brashness and loud behavior only nurtures my own weaknesses. Tang Soo Do provides an opportunity for reflection and self-improvement that can lead me to true self-confidence and can help me become a stronger person physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

Now, I don’t necessarily feel that any one of these experiences is unique to me: I’ve met plenty of other students of all ages and ranks who have expressed similar sentiments about this art. What I’ve found interesting, however, is that these meanings have revealed themselves to me progressively over time. Initially I only realized the importance of the role that Tang Soo Do could have in my family relationships. But as the past few months have gone by my training in this art has prompted a lot of self-reflection, and I became aware – to some surprise – of areas in my life that were lacking, but that my Tang Soo Do training was addressing. These unexpected areas of discovery and (hopefully, in time) growth have deepened my appreciation for and drive to succeed within my Tang Soo Do training.

Tang Soo Do Means: A Stronger Relationship with my Children

As the sole income for a family of four, my role within my family is clear: breadwinner. I am fortunate in that my job pays me enough to provide a nice standard of living for my family. However, for the past 5 years the responsibility of maintaining my career to ensure my income often came at the expense of my relationship with my kids. This is not to say that I never spent time with them. But I found that more often than not, due to the time constraints, the activities we’d choose to do together often amounted to little more than entertaining distractions: Going to the movies, playing miniature golf, playing video games, and so on.

In short, I felt as though the time I managed to scrape together to spend with my kids was often … well, not wasted, exactly, but not terribly important or meaningful in a grander sense. Once the money was spent and the current diversion, whatever it was, had finished, there was nothing left to do but move onto the next distraction.

When my kids began taking Tang Soo Do lessons last Fall, I realized that joining the school could provide an opportunity to do something fun and exciting with my kids that would give us a common experience and the opportunity to pursue a common goal both separately (in our own classes) as well as together (in the weekly family training sessions). In other words, Tang Soo Do could provide us with a shared pastime that we’d all enjoy, but that we’d also all benefit from. Something that is challenging and entertaining, continuous and ongoing. In other words, something that is meaningful. Tang Soo Do has been a perfect fit for this goal.

Furthermore, my participation in Tang Soo Do gives me an opportunity to set an example for my children in terms of what behavior was expected in class: By demonstrating that I, their Dad, methodically and consistently respect my instructors and peers at the dojang, it provides a model from which they can work to do the same. I believe this has proven true, and that their performance in class and in school has improved as a result.

Tang Soo Do Means: Camaraderie and Community

One thing that I’ve grown to realize during the course of my training is just how much I missed feeling that I was part of a larger group of people with similar interests and goals. I’ve always been a friendly guy, and my wife and I used to have a fairly sizable group of friends and a very active social circle. However, this aspect of our lives took something of a backseat once we started our family. While we’ve never regretted our decision to have kids, it would be a lie to say that doing so had no effect on our ability to socialize and maintain friendships as we previously had, or to claim that we didn’t feel a certain sense of isolation as a result of this.

To compound this problem, five years ago we chose to pursue a job change halfway across the country – from North Carolina to Texas – to a city where we had no family (other than my brother, who moved at the same time) and no friends (other than a few folks I had worked with previously, who while nice weren’t necessarily folks with whom we had anything in common). This, in particular, was tough. We managed to make some friends thorough our church, but while the individual friendships we managed to establish were great, in spite of becoming involved in a variety of socially-oriented ministries within our church we never really managed to find a sense of community there. I began to just assume that a small circle of family and friends was going to be pretty much it for us, for better or for worse.

Training at the Tang Soo Do Academy has changed my perspective on this. As I’ve met more and more students at the dojang, and have interacted with them both in class and outside of the dojang, I’ve realized just how much I missed the sense of camaraderie that being part of a larger group of people with similar interests can bring. Added to this, I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the amount of encouragement and support the instructors and other students have shown me as I struggle to make these first few steps in my training. These first few months have uncovered some issues of self-doubt and self-confidence that I hadn’t quite recognized before (more on this in a bit), and without the ongoing support of the Tang Soo Do Academy community I might not have been able to focus and push through some of my own weaknesses and doubts.

I never expected to find, in this school and in this art, such a warm and welcoming place. I am thrilled at my good fortune in this. And as I’ve tentatively explored the larger Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan community, both via interactions with students and instructors from other schools and with the online Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan community, this sensation has only been compounded.

Tang Soo Do Means: Self-Improvement and Self-Confidence

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve come to realize that Tang Soo Do means, for me, is that it is a way in which I can develop true self-confidence. Most people don’t realize when they meet me that despite seeming to have a very outgoing personality I am, at heart, an introvert. I'm one of those guys that makes up for an inherent lack of confidence and a certain degree of shyness by talking louder and acting brash. Not aggressive, by any means – I’m not an aggressive person, despite being a fairly big guy – but I tend to rely on clowning around to get through social situations, joking around and entertaining people to reassure myself that people like me. Basically I’m a wiseass, although a good-natured one. It works, but it's also a fairly exhausting form of social self-defense.

When I decided to begin training in Tang Soo Do I realized quickly that there’s just no place for these behaviors in my martial arts training. So I had to leave my usual defenses at the edge of the mat and just try to get through it. As a result, for my first few classes I felt scared to death. Knees unsteady and shoulders hunched, coiled and tensed, feeling too big and too small in equal measures, awkward and embarrassed and utterly lacking in confidence.

Interestingly, though, on further reflection I started to realize that I feel that way a whole lot of the time anyhow, and it’s not because I’m doing a bunch of exercises in white cotton pajamas. And that my brashness and goofing around mask these feelings so that people don’t see them. I realized that a lot of what I experience while training on the mat reflects the ways in which I experience life while off of it. And as I followed this line of reasoning, I realized that if the nervous and awkward guy on the mat can gain confidence and make advances in Tang Soo Do, then it follows logically that these achievements will percolate into other aspects of my life off the mat.

So, perhaps the greatest thing I’ve found that Tang Soo Do means, for me, is that it offers me a way to develop the self-confidence that I lack. I’ve realized that, by hiding my fears and social discomfort behind my own bluster for so many years, I’ve protected and nurtured my own weaknesses. I hope that by stripping away false defenses I can finally let that fear and worry wither away, enabling true confidence to grow in their place. And while this can be neither a simple nor painless process, I am certain that it is a worthwhile one.


Have a great weekend, everyone.

Mood: Anxious
Now Playing: Vangelis, "Blade Runner (Esper Edition)"

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Things & Stuff

Not much to blog about the past few days, so this will just be a sort of random update....

The weekend was busy, but uneventful, and the work week has been equally so. Mostly I find my thoughts obsessively drawn to the 8th gup test I'll be taking this Saturday morning. This test is necessary in order to advance from 9th gup upgrade -- white belt with 2 stripes -- to 8th gup and an orange belt. I'm fairly certain I'm more than adequately prepared -- of all the stuff that will be on the test there's just a couple of techniques I could use some fine tuning on (there're 2 wrist grab techniques that I just can't seem to nail consistently, and 1 one-step sparring move that I feel unsure of my footing on). I have training tonight and a test prep class Friday night to work the kinks out, so no real worries.

Happily, my leg seems to be on the mend. I was able to execute all of my required kicks for the first time, yesterday, so that was a relief. I'm being careful not to put too much force behind them, just to be safe, but I should be able to demonstrate what I've learned effectively during the test and will hopefully be back in sparring shape within another 1-2 weeks.

The small number of white belts that enrolled around when I started training has had an interesting effect on the test conditions: Apparently, while there are lots of orange belts and green belts testing for advancements, I am one of only two students that are taking the 8th gup test. The other student is a kid of about 8, who is perhaps half my height and probably about a quarter of my weight. Should make for some amusing photos, especially if we have to do one-steps or sparring against each other.

We've had a sudden influx of new white belt students in the past few weeks, which has done wonders for my confidence. After my initial "bad night" of training with the new students a couple of weeks back, I've had the opportunity to work on basic techniques one-on-one with several of them and it's been really gratifying to see that I actually know this stuff, and can demonstrate it fairly effectively to other students, even teach it. So that's been a bit of a confidence booster.

One thing I realized the other day is that once I complete my test, I will likely become the ranking class member in the beginner level classes. The two orange belts I typically train with are both testing on Saturday as well and will almost certainly advance to green belt as a result, after which they will be training in the advanced classes. There were two other orange belts who I used to train with, but they've both gone missing in the past month or so. So, whoa! I get to be the big dog for a change.

Well, the biggest of the little dogs, that is. But still!

Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Massive Attack, "Collected"

Friday, March 17, 2006

Him Cho Chung

Over the last six days, since hurting myself during training last Saturday, I've been trying to scale way back on any unnecessary exertion on my leg. No gym workouts in the morning, and only two training sessions (and light ones at that) at the dojang. But this lack of exercise and intense training has been making me a bit batty (well, battier than usual, I guess). As a result I've gotten all introspective. What does this injury mean? Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? Could I have avoided it? Will it affect my ability to train in the future? Will I be able to kick with my left leg again anytime soon? What is the lesson of this? Is this an indication that I may not be cut out for this art?

Self doubt, clearly, is my constant companion.

So, this morning, on the way to work, I was replaying the moment when I hurt myself last Saturday. Again. For about the hundredth time this week I suppose. As usual, I was beating myself up over it, over my vanity and over how silly the injury was, over how I threw this great high kick and hurt myself. So, I'm reliving the moment. Kicks, punches, mixing things up, getting to the end of the mat, deciding to do the jumping front kick...

And suddenly, I had a realization about the moment of the injury. And then I had something of a revelation, in you will, about the significance of this, of how I can place it in context.

Context is important to me these days. What can I say.

So first, the realization: For the past week I've been telling myself I threw this amazing kick, that it was a great kick except for the end of it. Well, this morning I realized a simple fact that should be self-evident, but which for some reason I was not admitting to myself: Any kick that hurts you can't, by definition, be a great kick. It might look cool, but it's not great. After all, let's assume I was attacking someone and I used that kick. Well, unless it knocked them out, my resulting injury would have left me extremely vulnerable to a counter attack. So, not a good kick. Fancy, not good.

So, once I admitted this little, but obvious in retrospect, fact to myself, I thought on it for a bit and then ... the light went on. Revelation. If it was a bad kick, and one that hurt me, what made it bad? I mean, a jumping front kick isn't really much use in real life or in sparring -- it looks great, but it's too easy to see coming, takes too much preparation to be effective against a real opponent. But still, it's not a dangerous kick, and I've done it bunches of times without incident. So why did this one hurt me? And what I realized this morning was that, at the moment I threw that kick, all I was thinking of was throwing this really high, hard kick.

I wasn't kicking at anything.

In my distracted state of mind at the moment I threw that kick, I wasn't executing a kick. I was doing nothing other than flinging my foot up, really high, to no purpose. I wasn't thinking of a target. It was, in short, a really good example of force without purpose or direction. Energetic futility. My injury came as a result of not focusing first on a target, real or imagined, and then preparing my body as necessary. A release of power without direction or control.

Which brings us to Him Cho Chung.

Him Cho Chung is, like Shin Chook, one of the 8 Key Concepts of Tang Soo Do. It means "Control of Power." Up until now I thought of Him Cho Chung in terms of how to control my own power against an opponent, or against a sparring partner. Conservation of power. But now I see that controlling my own power is just as important when it comes to focus, discipline, and self-exertion. In my haste to show off for my family I unleashed way more power in a kick than I needed, largely because I hadn't considered a purpose for the kick in the first place, or the destination of the kick at the end of the motion.

And as a result, I've had 6 solid days of reminders of the importance of Him Cho Chung. And I'll have at least a week or two more daily reminders before my left leg starts getting back to normal. It's just another aspect of the training, although a less direct and more painful one than I'd prefer.

And thus endeth the lesson.

Mood: Cranky
Now Playing: The Postal Service, "Give Up"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Resting, Recovery

So, my left hamstring was feeling marginally better, so I decided to go to class last night just to see how it felt and to talk with Sa Bom Nim Nunan and the other students and instructors to get their opinion on how I should proceed. As it turned out, Sa Bom Nim wasn't feeling well yesterday and didn't come in to the dojang, but he passed along word to Mr. Pfaff for me: "Tell him to take it easy. He knows his stuff, he's ready for the test, so don't let him aggravate his injury."

Well, I decided to do the class anyhow, but I took it really easy and let Mr. Vasquez (who took the class for Sa Bom Nim last night) know that I'd be excusing myself from some portions of the class as my leg warranted. Seeing as he was running the class when I injured myself there was no explanation necessary. Mostly, the goal in taking part in last night's class was to get a feel for what portions of my performance are most affected by this injury, so that once I'm feeling better I can focus on these areas. The good news is that most of what I need to do for the test seems pretty solid, in spite of the injury. All my hand techniques are fine, although my balance in my front and back stances has been thrown off a bit by my weak leg. My hyungs feel solid, although Ki Cho Hyung Sam Bu was a bit shaky, mostly when I turn around from a front stance into a back stance. I don't anticipate these being a problem for very long.

My kicks, on the other hand, are less than great. Front kick I can manage fairly well with both legs, as long as I don't kick too hard when I use my right leg (balance issues) and by focusing primarily on form and using little or no power when kicking with my left leg. My round kick is so-so -- when I kick with my right leg the twisting motion puts a bit too much stress on my left leg, and when I kick with my left leg it feels wobbly and loose. But my side kicks -- both regular and cross-under -- are totally out the window right now. I can sort of do one with my left leg, but the twisting and stress on my weak leg to do a right foot kick felt way too risky and I decided not to try it at all.

So, now I am trying to take Sa Bom Nim's advice to "take it easy." I know he's right, of course. It's just easier said than done. I've become accustomed to working out in the morning before work (stretching and then running, weights, or practicing Tang Soo Do depending on my mood) 4 days a week and then attending Tang Soo Do training 3 nights and one morning each week, and while I know my body needs a break, it's hard to step back, even though I know I've been overtraining. I mean, the hamstring pull is clearly the main issue right now, but I've had pain in my back and neck, shoulders, knees, and ankles off and on for 2 months now. I'm not a kid. I clearly need a recovery period. And needless to say, had I taken one a few weeks back I might not be injured now.

So, I'm trying to just not sweat it. I need to remember that recovery is a part of training, not a break from training. I just need to focus my energy elsewhere for a week or so. Catch up on some reading (just picked up "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" for myself, plus Miranda and I are working our way through the eleventh "Series of Unfortunate Events" book together). Work on my paper. Maybe try to memorize the hangul terms for the techniques I am going to be tested on. I will probably attend some classes, but will just observe rather than work out, just to keep myself in the proper mindset. And hopefully, by next Wednesday my leg will feel steady enough to get back to training for a couple of sessions before my test.

I mean, it's only 7-9 days off. How hard can that be?

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

Sunday, March 12, 2006


As usual, attended the Saturday morning Tang Soo Do family class with my kids yesterday. Class was going great -- my hand and foot line techniques are looking solid. The only real criticism Mr. Vasquez had for my form was my typical lack of shin chook: I was tense and inflexible for much of the class, in no small part due to the presence of an audience (my wife and her parents were watching us in class this time). I don't worry about being watched, but it made me want to excel, which got in the way of my relaxation.

So we get to the middle of class and we start mixing things up, doing improvised combinations of foot techniques and hand techniques. I was doing really well until I tried to mix the two. For some reason, combining hand and foot techniques, both offensive and defensive, really fogged my head. I think it's because I have trouble visualizing myself fighting an opponent -- instead, I tend to formulate a series of movement ahead of time, and then just execute them. With all the choices available when mixing both hand and foot techniques I was a bit overwhelmed. But anyway, I worked my way -- haltingly -- across the mat, throwing different punches and kicks, filling in gaps with defensive hand techniques, and when I ran out of mat I decided to go for a big finish.

OK, so have you seen "The Karate Kid"? You know that kick? One knee raised, pump the leg up and throw the opposing leg up for a high front kick? Jumping front kick, I believe it is called. Anyway, I decide to do one of those. It doesn't occur to me as I'm about to perform this move that I will be doing the kick with my left leg, which has been feeling iffy and sore the past week or so. I've been overtraining, and it's feeling the brunt of it, so I've been trying to avoid using it for more aggressive techniques.

Until this one moment, of course, when I'm a bit confused and frustrated with chaining techniques together and I'm not thinking clearly.

Well, I prepare, pump my right knee high in front of myself, and then switch my weight and propel myself off the mat, swinging my left knee up and then extending my foot high -- and I mean high -- above my head. Really high. "Highest kick I've ever thrown" high. High enough for Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Kannan to both react with a shouted "WHOA!" Awesome kick.

Unfortunately, at the apex of the kicking motion, I felt my entire left hamstring complex sort of go ... "thwang." Not a ripping sensation, exactly, but more like my hamstring shifted to one side and then snapped back into place, like big rubber bands. And when I landed my left leg just sort didn't want to work so much. I excused myself from the mat and tried to walk it off, but I could feel that my entire left leg was just weak now. The pain was tolerable -- nothing sharp, nothing throbbing -- but when I tried to get back on the mat for some light one step practice I found that twisting movements were causing some real jabs of pain in the center of the back of my thigh, and I had to call it a day.

So now I'm worried. It feels ... OK-ish. I can walk fine, although I feel some achiness. There's no visible bruising (whew) which means it's not a large rupture or tear, and probably only qualifies as a mild strain. I do have tenderness throughout much of the rear of my thigh, though. And while I feel better today, the sense of weakness in the leg remains.

Argh. I have no idea how long it takes to recover from these things. I am testing for my orange belt in less than two weeks and here I am gimping around with a screwed-up hamstring. I think it's safe to say that free sparring is off the menu for the time being, but I also have to talk with Sa Bom Nim Nunan and ask his advice on ordinary training in the upcoming weeks. I think my white belt-level technique is pretty solid, and I have only a couple of areas that will be covered in testing about which I'm unsteady (a couple of the one-steps and wrist grabs still throw me for a loop), so missing some classes shouldn't present an huge obstacle to testing, I shouldn't think. But I also don't know what level of activity I should be undertaking to speed healing, as opposed to hinder it.

Arrgh. I'm just so pissed at myself. I couldn't resist doing a flashy move for my wife, my kids, my in-laws, and now I've got my first real injury from training. I mean, I know I need to get used to this stuff. Tang Soo Do is a physically challenging and demanding art. Injuries come with the territory, perhaps even moreso when one is a beginner in their late-thirties with an innate desire to over-achieve. I need to accept that I will sometimes injure myself in ways that require me to stop training for a while to recover. But the timing of this injury really concerns me. I do not want to miss my test. I should never have done that kick.

But man, it was a great kick.

Mood: Tense
Now Playing: Thievery Corporation, "The Cosmic Game"

Friday, March 10, 2006

Yet Another Friend Going Over

Sigh. Found out yesterday that yet another friend of ours is being activated for service over in the Middle East. First our buddy Tim was over in Afghanistan a couple of years back, then Rich's stint in Iraq last year, and now our friend Mike found out 5 days ago that he has to leave for training in 10 days, followed by a full year in Afghanistan. He'll be leaving behind his wife Rachel and their three kids.

Rachel is, understandably, not doing so well with this. She's always been a bit tightly wound -- one of those folks who holds it together, but when she's under stress (like when Mike has been travelling a lot for business, for example) you get the sense that she really needs to go in her room and scream into a pillow for minute. Like she's putting on the brave face, but really needs a break. This is going to be a very, very hard year for her.

A few years back, in an effort to connect with a larger community in our area, Christine and I joined a Young Families Dinner Group ministry at our church. The first year was stressful, but turned out to be a great experience because we met Mike & Rachel and Dave & Ginny (the success of that first experience is what led us to tempt fate and try a second run at the group the next year, with fairly disastrous results). As a group we were fairly diverse -- an interesting mixture of midwestern resoluteness and northeastern brass, with political and soical views that span a generous range across the middle -- but the blending of views, attitudes, and styles really worked with us, when we managed to get together, because all of us are genuinely nice people and we genuinely like each other.

We still get together with Dave & Ginny frequently -- they live right in our neighborhood and our kids attend the same school, so it's way easy -- But Mike & Rachel tend to be so damn busy that often months go by where we never hear from them or manage to catch up. We finally caught up with them yesterday and this was the news.

So, next weekend we have a Going Away party to attend. We're taking quite a bit of comfort in that he is going to Afghanistan instead of Iraq, but clearly this is a "lesser of two evils" scenario. Meanwhile, Christine and Ginny are starting to put plans in place to make sure that Rachel is kept close: she has no family at all in this area of the country, and isn't a big fan of the majority of her neighbors, either, so she tends to be a bit of a loner, which is probably why she gets so tense when Mike's away. This is going to be tough on her, and we need to help her through it however we can.

Mood: Glowery
Now Playing: William Orbit, "Pieces in a Modern Style"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Something weird is in the air today.

So, I'm at lunch with my buddy Baba. Just the two of us, and we're having a semi-animated discussion of the film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." We're eating at Pluckers, this chicken wings place we frequent at least once a week, usually twice. Awesome wings.

But I digress.

So, as we're talking, suddenly a large-ish woman, 30s-40s, plants herself down right beside me in the booth, puts her arm around me, and pulls me in close in a semi-hug. I know lots of folks at this restaurant, so I reflexively half-hug her back, assuming it's one of the folks I know, before getting a look at her and realizing ....

Ummmm. No idea who this person is.

So, anyway, it's not like I've never been snuggled by complete strangers. It's just unusual for a Tuesday afternoon in broad daylight without any alcohol involved. So I'm like "Hi" and she's like "Hi! I just had to ask you a question!"

So I say "OK, shoot." And she says, quietly in my ear, with a big smile on her face "So, are you the kind of guy that likes to pull a woman's hair and spank her ass hard in bed? Cause you look like that kind of guy to me!"

I admit, I was a bit ... at a loss. But I recovered.

"Well ... no. It's not really my thing. I'm not physically aggressive in the bedroom. But I mean, if people are into that that's cool. As long as everybody is on-board, you know?" And she says "Oh, really?" and I say "Yeah, really. It's not really my thing." And she says "Cause I really thought you looked like the kind of guy that would be into hair pulling and ass slapping! OK, bye!"

And she got up, stopped to hug one of the servers, Brent, on the way out, and left.

Now, Baba is sitting across from me, with a quizzical sort of "what was that all about?" look on his face, as she hadn't spoken loud enough for him to hear: he'd only heard my "not aggressive in the bedroom" comment which is certainly a perplexing, if engaging, snippet to work with. So I explain quickly (his eyes sort of went "huh?") and then I waved Brent over. After all, I assumed he must have put her up to it.

"Hey Brent! So, listen, who's that girl?"

"Oh, her? She's ... well, she's crazy is who she is."

"So, wait. You didn't send her over to ask me something?" And he's like "uhhhhh.... no."

So I filled him in and he just about dropped his tray. Nope, he absolutely had nothing to do with it. She's just kind of a local wackjob who apparently wanted me to ... well ... pull her hair and slap her ass a bunch, I guess. In bed. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if it's your thing. But me? Nah. Not so much. I'm vanilla, baby.

But I apparently throw a "mad crazy hair pulling ass slapping" kinda vibe. Whoodathunkit?

Mood: Bemused, in a surreal sort of way
Now Playing: Kate Bush, "The Sensual World"

Official Invitation / Self-Doubts and Vanity

I've officially been invited to test for my orange belt on March 25th. Got my invitation, along with a Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association membership enrollment sheet and copy of the white belt test score sheet (for my reference in practicing and preparing for the exam I assume) at the end of class last night. I also received a paper assignment that must be completed and turned in to Sa Bom Nim Nunan before the test: "What Tang Soo Do means to me." Fairly open-ended, which is of course the worst sort of paper for me, since I tend to over-analyze everything and will now spend an absurd amount of time addressing what is ultimately a fairly simple topic. I should just jot down the URL of this blog and tell him to start reading in mid-to-late December 2005 and judge for himself.

It's funny: While I'm excited (and nervous) to be testing soon, I was kind of bummed out when I received my invitation because I was just having a really "off" night at class last night. I wanted my first invitation to be the high point of a great night, but instead my energy was really low, I had a lot of trouble staying focused, and I was getting bent out of shape about silly stuff.

We had two new white belts in the class and I kept getting caught up in all sorts of negative thinking about myself while working out with them, mostly because they were already doing the basic line drills that I really stumbled on early on (low block, high block) without any problems. What's really stupid is that I shouldn't be surprised that they are catching on quickly -- both of these women have kids who have been studying Tang Soo Do for years, so they have been repeatedly exposed to these techniques for a long time. More important, I shouldn't be concerned about their performance vs. my own. I should be happy for their gains and not sit here comparing them against myself. It's foolishness and vanity.

And yet I kept getting this sense of frustration and self-doubt, wondering why they were doing so much better at these moves than I felt I did at the same point in my training. Wasting energy and focus on something completely inconsequential. Honestly, I don't even know that they were doing better than I did on my first lessons. They may have been messing up left and right. It's not like I was staring at them and judging their performance. I wasn't really watching them so much as going all internal and negative on myself.

And then there was another issue, with a young student (11 going on 12 -- he trains with the adults due to some pretty serious ADHD issues that would be heavily disruptive to a kids/teens class) whom I outrank accidentally being placed ahead of me in rank last night. This student has a yellow belt, which is not a "real" Tang Soo Do belt. He comes to our school with some previous training from another discipline (Tae Kwan Do I believe) and the yellow belt signifies this previous training. But now that I've received my second stripe Sa Bom Nim considers my rank to be higher than his assumed cross-rank.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pfaff (our instructor last night) did not know that Sa Bom Nim had made this decision and placed this student ahead of me in the lineup. I didn't want to contradict Mr. Pfaff on the mat, so I let it slide and hoped that my classmate would correct the error. But he's a kid so needless to say he didn't speak up either. At first I tried to just do the techniques and not worry, but as the class wore on and I was being given really simple line exercises while the "colored belts" were being given more interesting combinations to try -- nearly all of which I was capable of performing, and few-to-none of which my classmate was performing correctly -- I felt angry. Which, needless to say, screwed up my performance on the simpler tasks I was being given, which added to my frustration, which further eroded my focus and performance, and so on.

So by the end of the class I was just a wreck. I had managed to blow nearly all of my defensive turns during line drills (I kept turning them into offensive turns), my stances were all over the place, my preparations on punches were sloppy. You name it, I was messing it up. Simple, simple stuff that I've been doing correctly for 2 months suddenly was tripping me up left and right. Finally, at the end of class I managed to get myself a bit more pulled-together, when were started doing some advancing kick combinations, but all in all my performance for the night was quite poor.

And that's when I get invited to test. And of course, that's when that negative little voice in the back of my head pipes in "Man, he must not have been watching you tonight. He'd have shredded that invitation then and there...."

Which is, of course, completely not true. My skills, my training are more than one bad night in the dojang. I know I've earned the privilege of testing for my next belt. I wish I knew why these doubts, this reflexive need to compare myself against everyone else are surfacing so strongly right now.

So anyway, once my classmate left and I had a private moment with Sa Bom Nim and Mr. Pfaff I asked about the rank issue and cleared that up. Mr. Pfaff was very apologetic -- which made me feel like kind of a shit, because while I told myself I was just clearing things up and didn't want to confuse my classmate, I knew deep down that what I really wanted was validation for the way I'd felt during class. I wanted someone to know that my nose was out of joint and to make me feel like it was justified. His apology satisfied that selfish need, and I immediately realized that what drove my attitude the whole night, that what messed me up repeatedly was nothing more than pettiness, pure and simple.

I hope that recognizing this will help me avoid it more in the future.

Mood: Reflective, Somber
Now Playing: Thomas Newman, "The Road to Perdition"

Monday, March 06, 2006

Confidence Grows

The last couple of weeks my confidence in my Tang Soo Do abilities has been shaken up a bit. Not for any external reason at all -- my instructors and classmates continue to encourage me at every turn, and I feel completely ready to successfully test for my orange belt. But my inherent lack of confidence continues to pop up whenever I watch the red and midnight blue belts work out at the dojang. After my last advanced class I decided I should sit down and talk with Sa Bom Nim Nunan sometime soon, let him know about these doubts and frustrations and concerns that tend to surface when I work out with the advanced students, if only to give him the opportunity to bolster my confidence a bit or guide me away from this negativity. Again, it's nothing rational -- I know I'm doing well for a student at my level, but watching advanced students can make me feel like a guy, climbing a steep cliff, who makes the mistake of looking down (or looking up, for that matter) a bit too often. It's not fear so much as it is feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of what I've yet to learn.

But this weekend I at least got a brief moment of reassurance. As usual, the Saturday family class was somewhat less structured than the usual classes. The activities during these classes tend to be a bit more random, with our instructor (Mr. Vasquez, one of the senior dan members at the dojang) trying out training techniques to see what will engage all of the different ages/ranks that he has to deal with that day. Obviously, if you've got everything from green belt adults down to a not-even 6-year-old yellow-stripe Lil' Dragon on the mat at the same time, figuring out exercises that will work for everyone is a bit of a challenge. So things tend to sort of roll along at a more relaxed pace, with a bit more goofing around than would typically be permitted in a class with Sa Bom Nim.

So, after a nice lengthy warm-up we practiced some new (to me) kicking techniques that can be useful when sparring, which was fun if exhausting (lots of hopping in place -- really wears on the calves after a while). Then we did some kicks and elbows with pads for while, and then Mr. Vasquez broke out the rebreakable boards.

Now for whatever reason I've never gotten a chance to break a board of any sort in class. I broke a white rebreakable board during my first lesson -- it's a required part of earning the right to wear a white belt -- and it was a cinch. Strength is not a problem for me, plus I only had to use a hammer fist to break (basically the same motion as you'd make pounding your fist on a table) so technique wasn't a issue either. Plus, the white boards are the easiest to break -- the color coding of the boards go from white to black, the difficulty of the break following the belt color system, with black being the hardest to break.

So when Mr. Vasquez and his two assistant instructors (Mr. Kannan and Mr. McKee) brought out the rebreakable white and orange boards to punching and kicking practice I was excited -- Something new! Plus, I like hitting stuff. And within a few minutes it was pretty clear to everyone (including myself, for a change) that the white and orange boards weren't providing a whole lot of a challenge for me or the other adults in the class.

So, Mr. Vasquez decides it's time for the men in the class to see what they can do. Now, there was just me and one other guy, Mr. Malick, a green belt about my age who tore his ACL a few months back and has been going easy on his leg as a result. Strong as an ox with the good leg, though, and a solid fighter. So anyway, Mr. Vasquez tells everyone else in the class to sit in An Jo, and then, because I'm the junior student, I have to go first in what he's calling a spotlight challenge.

So then he pulls out a black rebreakable board and tells me I'm to try to break it with a side kick. Now, I don't know the force that is required for one of these boards, but it's considerable: the white board is rated at 22 PSI to break it -- that's the generally accepted amount of force necessary to break pretty much any bone in the human body -- and this board is 6 levels "harder" to break, whatever that means. Basically, two guys have to hold it with both hands when you try to break it, because that's how hard you have to hit it -- one guy would almost certainly be knocked backwards, and possibly hurt, by the force necessary to snap it.

So now I take a look at Mr. Kannan -- he knows how strong I am, and I can tell he's a bit nervous. And he has every right to be: I have no control yet. I worry, constantly, about hurting other folks while training or sparring because I know I could, if I'm not careful. So then he and Mr. McKee brace themselves and move the board into place. I smile and bow to let them know I'm ready. Mr. Kannan looks at me and says "Just please don't kick my hand." I take a deep breath, focus, step into a fighting stance and ...

... to my own surprise, as much as to anyone else's, I throw a textbook side kick with my right leg, right on target to the center of the board, breaking it easily. First try, first success. That applause felt really, really good. And I applauded Mr. Malick loud and long when he did the same thing a minute later.

Maybe I can do this, after all.


My confidence continued for a bit longer, with a fairly good bout of free sparring against Mr. McKee. He even complimented me on successfully using some of the new kicking techniques we learned at the beginning of class, and I was able to defend myself against nearly all of the punches and kicks he threw (he was using white belt level techniques, of course -- he was fighting down to my level). So that was exciting as well.

Of course, all good things must eventually come to an end: Next I had to spar Mr. Vasquez. And while I actually managed to get a shot or two through his defenses (weak and ineffectual shots, by and large, but at least they counted) our match was characterized by a) his repeatedly throwing kicks that seems to come out of nowhere and b) my attempt to block a kick using an outside-to-inside block, which resulted only in my steering his foot -- which had been headed toward my side -- directly into my crotch.

Whuff. Good thing he pulled the kick or I'd have been puking on the side of the mat for the last 15 minutes. Still, I was feeling pretty achey for the next 3 or 4 minutes. But I finished sparring and got through it. And I think I'll be more careful in how I block kicks next time. Accidentally inflicted pain can be a great learning technique.

Mood: Feelin' Good
Now Playing: Fishbone, "The Reality of My Surroundings"