Monday, July 03, 2006

Confidence is Fragile

Been kind of in a blogging slump the last week or so. Mostly I think I'm just a bit preoccupied right now. June was a crap month, overall -- deaths and illness seemed to abound in my social circle, and things have been insanely busy. Since the calendar flipped over to July I've found I'm sort of holding my breath, waiting to see if the run of bad luck that defined June has gone on its way, or if it's just luring in the background, waiting to pounce as soon as my guard is down. So far, so good, though I still need to get in touch with my friend Mark to see how his daughter -- who, as of last week had developed a mysterious ailment that was causing very high fevers -- is doing. No news so far, and since it's been 4-5 days since I heard anything I'm hoping that no news=good news.

My test for 7th gup is fast approaching -- the make-up exam is Friday night, and Miranda and I will both be testing for our respective new ranks (she's testing for 8th gup/orange belt, while I'll be testing for my next stripe). I'm feeling pretty OK on my techniques, I think, although I'm still a bit nervous overall. I felt so much more steady and prepared last time I tested,, but this time I'm still a bit iffy.

I guess this is normal. The stuff I had to do to get 8th gup is, in retrospect, far less demanding than the techniques I've learned over the past few months. At first I was feeling really uncomfortable about this -- I thought that since I felt like I was solid in everything I was testing on last time, that meant that being ready for this test would mean feeling the same way, feeling like I had no issues or difficulties in performing any of these techniques with little trouble. Based on my experience with testing, that's what it means to be "ready." And since I still feel like I'm struggling with at least a few of these techniques, and I hardly feel like I'm "solid" in any of them (give or take a kick/punch/block or two), I just feel like somehow I'm not really ready to test.

But something Sa Bom Nim said in class the other night helped settle down some of my worry a bit. He mentioned that, aside from some more advanced applications of some kicking techniques (adding jumps and spins, for instance), that as of 7th gup Tang Soo Do students have learned the rudiments of EVERYTHING that they will need to learn through cho dan level. That once we hit 6th gup (green belt, which I'm hoping to attain by the end of this year) the rest of the beginning stages of training (i.e. the next few years) consists of refining our ability to perform these very same techniques.

Yes, the applications get more advanced, harder, more complicated and demanding. But the building blocks -- the hand and foot techniques that I am currently struggling to get a grasp of -- remain essentially unchanged, and will be the basis of at least the next few years of my training. So, given that perspective, it hardly seems odd to not feel solid in these techniques just yet. I get the basic idea of most of them, and a few of them I am getting pretty good at, but I now see that more or less that's just about right for right now.

Sometimes it's so hard to stop myself and remember that this is a slow process. It's not just "learn new technique/pin it down/move on to next technique." Rather the process consists on a gradual and continual refinement of what's been taught, combined with the slow introduction of new information and technique to complement that which has gone before.

The fact that I have to keep reminding myself of these facts tells me just how far I have to go in learning the finer points of our art, in taking the philosophical underpinnings of Tang Soo Do into my heart and mind. While I know that shin chook, relaxation/tension, presents the most significant general challenge to me at present, the most obvious way in which it manifests (aside from way more soreness than I should have to put up with -- throwing punches and kicks when you're all tense is a great way to be sore pretty much All The Time) is in my tendency to lack patience with myself, and with my training. I work hard, and practice often, so my tendency is to assume and expect that I will therefore master these skills quickly. And when I don't have a sense of confidence about them I feel frustrated, as if I'm not trying hard enough. Or, worse yet, when my confidence is low, I tend to talk myself down, to doubt whether I'm all that good at this stuff, to question whether I'll ever really be able to be more than just middling in ability and execution.

Sometimes I really wish there were another student in my school who I could reasonably judge my own progress against. Someone who had started training at the same time as I did, who was of a similar age, and who also had no previous martial arts training. Just so I could get a level set, some sort of reassurance that I'm keeping up, or doing well. Typically I am either training with people I know a lot more than (just because at my level, 3-4 months of training equals "a lot more") or I'm training with people that know way more than I do (again, because while 7-8 months of training feel like a lot at my level, the vast majority of students I'm training with have at least twice that). So, I tend to have no idea whether I'm doing ... OK? Better than average? Worse than average? Are the extra hours I put into training paying off in better performance, a surer grasp of the techniques than would be expected of someone who is training at the minimum level (typically considered 2 sessions a week, compared with the 3-4 I attend, plus outside practice as well)? Some reference point that would tell me that yes, the extra efforts I put in are making a difference.

Unfortunately, as I've noted before, I'm the only adult of my rank at my school right now, and short of a new student coming in and cross-ranking to 7th gup that's not likely to change. It'll all even out in time, of course -- once I get to green belt my own advancement will necessarily slow, and my peers will catch up so that we wind up learning a lot of the same techniques regardless of the difference a stripe or a few extra months of training on my part may have imparted previously.

But until then, I have to just be patient and trust that if my instructors say I'm doing well, then I am. Still, I wish I had enough experience, enough confidence, enough patience, to view my own progress with something less that criticality and doubt.

Mood: Preoccupied
Now Playing: Pet Shop Boys, "Fundamental"

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