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)"

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