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"

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