Thursday, September 28, 2006

Halloween Hootenanny 2006 -- Planning...

Well, we're in the midst of planning our almost-annual Halloween party, and this one looks to be the biggest yet. I just sent out the invites about a week ago and we've already got over 30 people attending, with about 15 maybes and over 100 invitations still out and 3 weeks to go before RSVPs are due. Plus I'm doing a general invite to all of the students at the dojang, all ages, and their families, so we'll probably get at least a dozen or two extra folks that way. I'm anticipating total attendance in excess of 120.

Ummm. Yikes. Largest previous party attendance was about 70 or so. I think part of the party supplies will be 5 gallons of kerosene and a match. I'll just burn the house down the morning after the party. Much less trouble that way. Seriously, though, this one is going to take planning and work -- already have one person lined up to work the upstairs kids' party for a few hours, after which we'll just let the kids that a hanging in there mingle at will or hang upstairs unsupervised. Mostly we like to get the kid's party going so that friends with small kids get a chance to come by and take a load off without worrying, plus it keeps our kids out from underfoot while we're trying to run the party. Our kids (and thus their peers) are getting older now, and therefore require less maintentnce, thank God.

Anyhow, as usual the biggest effort in the initial planning, for me, is to get the music selected and mixed (using MixMeister) into a grand, 5+ hour music-scary-sound-FX-and-movie-quote-trivia extravaganza. In previous years I've tended to let this go until a week or two before the party, at which time my OCD kicks in and I begin having a nervous breakdown trying to get the thing finished to my satisfaction. I can tinker with music mixes for literally weeks before I'm happy.

This year I was determined not to let the music mix get away from me -- I'm so busy between work, training, and other projects that I really need to budget my time effectively. So I knocked out the first iteration of the mix this weekend and polished off the timing and crossfades over the the last few nights. Haven't selected my movie quotes yet (as in previous years, 30-second dialogue clips from famous horror fils will be played between songs every now and then. First person to tag me and correctly identify the movie gets a scratch off lottery ticket), but that's the easy part -- it's the nuances of the cross fades and beat matching, coupled with the overall pacing and feel of the mix, that can really take me weeks to get right, and I think I've got most of that buttoned down already.

So, these mixes are always interesting efforts -- I try to get lots of cool stuff in there, but also try to avoid going to overboard on the undeerground or lesser-known artists. The crowd tends to be large and mixed, so I need to stay toward the middle of the road to keep it as entertaining as possible for everyone. But still, I can sneak in some cool stuff when no one's lookin'! Here's the current list of artists that are included in this years mix (so far -- things can always change):

A Perfect Circle; Adrian Belew; Alison Moyet; The All-American Rejects; Angels & Airwaves; The Avalanches; Barenaked Ladies; Beck; Beth Orton; Beyoncé; Björk; Blondie; Blue Öyster Cult; Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Keepers; Bow Wow Wow; Britney Spears; The Caesars; Christina Aguilera; Concrete Blonde; The Cramps; The Cure; David Bowie; Death Cab for Cutie; Deee-Lite; Depeche Mode; Disturbed; Donna Summer; Elbow; Evanescence; Fall Out Boy; Fishbone; Foo Fighters; Franz Ferdinand; Gnarls Barkley; Gorillaz; The Gossip; Grant Lee Buffalo; Guadalcanal Diary; The Hold Steady; The Housemartins; Jesus Jones; Kasabian; Kate Bush; The Killers; Kirsty MacColl; KT Tunstall; Lloyd Cole and the Commotions; Los Straitjackets; Madonna; Morningwood; Nerf Herder; Oingo Boingo; OK Go; Panic! At the Disco; Pet Shop Boys; Pink; The Pixies; Poe; The Postal Service; Prince; R.E.M.; The Raconteurs; Raul Malo; The Red Hot Chili Peppers; The Replacements; Rob Zombie; Scissor Sisters; Screaming Blue Messiahs; Sloan; Snow Patrol; Tool; U2; Violent Femmes; The White Stripes; William Shatner; XTC; Yeah Yeah Yeahs


Two days until my 6th gup test. Not really nervous, yet, but I'm sure it's coming. My technique feels solid, but I'm sure I'll still have to deal with jitters sometime before Saturday. Still, it's going to be amazing. I can't wait to put on my new dobakh and green belt.

Mood: Warm (A/C is on the fritz again kit seems)
Now Playing: Halloween Hootenanny 2006 - Alpha Version

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hellacious Sleepover, Test Prep, What is Mu and Why is it Important to Me?

Too damn busy to blog lately. So much going on, and just so many hours in the day....

A bunch of friends from my dojang and I went to see the World Combat League Friday night -- fights went until about midnight, and then a few of us hit Kerbey Lane Cafe for some late night breakfast and chater. Service was horrible and slow. Didn't get home until almost 2:30. When I got home, the dogs flipped out and woke everyone in the house up, including my daughter, who then proceeded to get so excited about her birthday party today that she couldn't get back to sleep, instead coming into our room every 15-20 minutes to let us know how excited she was and that she couldn't sleep. She finally dropped off at 4:30 or so, and I finally dropped off shortly afterward, and slept all the way until about 7:00, when the kids got up. Ack. And then there were the neverending preparations for the birthday party, the party itself, the afterparty, the sleepover party, and all the accompanying drama that is unavoidable when you have a bunch of 8 year old girls in the same room. Happily, by Sunday night everyone was so exhausted that I was able to just hit the pillow at 10:00 and sleep like the dead.

This week will largely be dominated by work (duh) and final preparations for my gup test this Saturday. Trained last night, and will train this evening and tomorrow as well. Will then take Thursday night off, and attend a test prep class Friday night to sand off any rough edges. I feel pretty much ready to go, but I need to keep focused or I'll start getting nervous.

I've also completed my test paper, and went a little more afield than on previous efforts, trying to stretch out and explore how much of the philosophy of Tang Soo Do I've managed to grasp, or at least glimpse, instead of just spewing what I read in the gup manual. I think it's pretty good. -- the writing could be tighter, but I like its sort of lope and flow so I've decided to let it be. If you' re curious, go ahead and read, below.

Anyhow, time to roll -- training in an hour, and I've got stuff to do in the meantime.


What Does Mu Mean, and Why Is It Important To Me?

Mu (or “moo”) is the Chinese character that appears on the flag and emblem of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association. It’s prominence on our flag is indicative of the significance of Chinese influences in our art, but its meaning encapsulates the core purpose of training in Tang Soo Do. According to Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee, “the primary purpose for studying and teaching Tang Soo Do is to prolong life beyond its normal means through the focus of preventing conflict both internally and externally; thus, creating world peace one person at a time.” Mu represents “prevention of conflict,” and thus Mu represents Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s vision for Tang Soo Do in our lives: a method to halt internal and external conflict, resulting in global change.

But how? That’s the real question, here, I think. How can training in our art have such a profound effect on ourselves and the world around us?

Some people look to martial arts as a great way of blowing off steam, releasing stress and tension through exercise. But the mental and physical relaxation brought about by physical exertion alone is temporary. Once the post-workout buzz wears off you’ve still got the same issues that caused the tension and stress – internal and/or external conflicts – in the first place. Training solely to relieve stress is sort of like treating a splinter with an ice pack: The pain subsides as long as the ice pack is in place, but once the numbness wears off you’ve still got the splinter. Since Mu represents the transformative goals of our art, it is obvious that these goals extend beyond getting sweaty and out of breath a few times a week. We need to look deeper.

An argument can also be made that training in self-defense and martial combat techniques eliminates external conflict by acting as a deterrent to violence (“Let him who desires peace, prepare for war,” from Vegetius Epitoma Rei Militaris, or, more simply put, “the best offense is a good defense”). While there is certainly some blunt truth in this argument, I think it is also very outward-directed, accepting external conflict as a “given” and failing to take our own internal conflicts and their consequences into account. While making ourselves strong and demonstrating a willingness to fight back when attacked may prevent us from being directly affected by conflict, it in no way addresses the existence of conflict itself. Instead, this approach focuses only on passively avoiding conflict through a show of force instead of actively working to prevent it. Once again, I think this is a fairly simplistic answer to a complicated question, and a perspective that fails to adequately reflect Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s far more inclusive beliefs about the world changing potential of Tang Soo Do training or the true meaning of Mu.

In order to better understand Mu and its importance, I think we have to look to the origin, nature, and consequences of internal and external conflicts. In doing so we can better understand the ways in which our training helps to prevent these conflicts, and better appreciate just how significant an impact prevention of conflict can have on ourselves and on those around us. As I see it, internal and external conflicts are intimately linked and interdependent. By this I mean that people experiencing internal conflicts tend to express these conflicts through negative external behavior toward others, while experiencing external conflict with others tends to bring about internal strife in one’s self.

For example, consider a typical bullying scenario. Usually a bully is a kid who is troubled or feels insecure for some reason – in other words, a person who is suffering from an internal conflict. The bully makes himself feel more secure by victimizing someone who is weaker than him – an external conflict directly caused by the bully’s internal conflict. Needless to say, though, this action in no way relieves the internal conflict. Because the victim wasn’t the cause of the bully’s internal conflict in the first place the bully still has the same internal conflict, and will likely continue this cycle of internal/external conflict, victimizing others in a vain attempt to quiet his own fears.

Worse yet, these cycles of internal/external conflict tend to propagate, like viruses. Consider the victim of the bully’s violence, above. In addition to the internal conflicts that resulted in the bully’s aggression, the bully’s victim likely feels insecure or frightened now, and justifiably so. And so we’ve now got a new person suffering from internal conflicts. This victim may very well express these new internal conflicts via additional external conflicts (violence, self-destructive behavior, you name it), which in turn can beget additional internal conflicts in themselves or others, and so on.

And so we see that internal and external conflicts are not simply individual, self-contained events. They are in fact part of a larger self-sustaining and self-propagating process that creates and ensures discord. Consider this quote from a more recent – though certainly less prestigious – source than Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee: Yoda’s warning in The Phantom Menace: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I’d only add that suffering in turn leads to more fear, bringing the process full-circle. This is, in essence, the exact opposite of Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s statement about the purpose of Tang Soo Do. Instead of prevention of conflict, we instead see the assurance of its spread. Instead of world peace, we instead see an unchecked cycle of self-perpetuating conflict that can lead only to widespread suffering.

But where does Tang Soo Do (and, therefore, Mu) come in? Well, a defining quality of interdependent processes like the one described above is that if you remove one part of the process, the other part necessarily tends to fail. Remove the internal conflict, and you in turn eliminate the root cause of the resulting external conflict. Prevent the external conflict, and you eliminate the source of a resulting internal conflict as well. In our bully’s case, if he were to recognize and take responsibility for correcting his internal conflicts then the resulting external conflict (the bullying behavior) would not occur. Likewise, if the target of the bully’s aggression were able to defend against or prevent the external conflict brought about by the bully’s behavior, they would prevent the formation of the additional internal conflicts that result as a consequence of the conflict in its victims.

As a classical martial art, Tang Soo Do is concerned with far more than martial exercise, and we are striving for far more than the simple physical benefits of training in a sport. Through physical training and discipline, coupled with our ongoing efforts to understand and embrace the philosophical underpinnings of our art (such as The 8 Key Concepts and Sip Sam Seh/Thirteen Influences) we prevent conflict both within ourselves and around us, thereby breaking the cycle by which conflict propagates.

It is clear that Tang Soo Do can aid in realizing Mu within ourselves, but how can it bring about “world peace one person at a time”? Can Mu propagate and spread like internal and external conflicts tend to? I think so, but not in quite the same way. The process by which inner conflict erupts and spreads into external conflict is essentially defined by the passivity of those involved. Experiencing internal conflict doesn’t force anyone to engage in external conflict with others. Doing so instead represents a failure on their part to choose to actively deal with their own conflicts, instead surrendering to internal conflict and allowing it to manifest in negative external ways. Conversely, failing to actively oppose external conflict – against one’s self or against others – virtually ensures additional internal conflicts in those that are impacted. As the (author unknown, often misattributed to Edmund Burke) saying goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In much the same way, all that is necessary to ensure the spread of conflict is for people to make no effort to stop it in themselves and in others.

In committing to train in Tang Soo Do we take an active role in attempting to stop the spread of conflict within and through ourselves. No one is free from internal conflict at all times, and we are often on the receiving end of varying degrees of external conflict from those around us. Martial artists take an active role in dealing with conflict within ourselves and in the world around us in a constructive manner. Rather than passively letting conflicts work on and work through us, we instead work to eliminate existing internal conflicts and prevent new ones. As we progress in the arts, the preparation and confidence we gain in training can act not just as a deterrent to conflict, but also as a beacon to others. It’s in this manner that we can “create world peace, one person at a time.” We strive to “fix” ourselves, and then in demonstrating the benefits of our training in our daily lives we inspire and encourage others to do the same.

And so, what is Mu? In the final accounting, it’s the short and simple answer to “why?” Why do we train? Why do we study philosophy as well as technique? Why is it important? Why does it matter? The answer is, simply and profoundly, Mu.

As for why Mu is important to me, that’s easy. Given all that I’ve said prior to this, how can it not be? It’s important to me for my own peace of mind and enjoyment of life, and it’s important to me because it provides a method by which I can help my family live more happily in what is hopefully a better world. Mu represents some fairly lofty goals, but they are clearly worth the effort.

Like all of us, I am flawed. I tend to let internal conflicts – self-doubt, anger, frustration, you name it – run me in circles on a regular basis. Over the years I’ve certainly allowed my share of internal conflicts to erupt into external conflict in my life. But sometime late last year I realized that I needed to take a more active role in dealing with the negative influences in my life. I was spending far too much of my time passively allowing my internal conflicts to run my life. Once I recognized this as a problem, I started trying to take a more positive approach to things, to not dwell so much on the negatives all the time. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am dealing with the negative things in my life far better than I did just a year ago, so that’s progress. I am not as quick to anger as I used to be and I am getting better at ignoring my tendency toward self-doubt. I find I’m also getting better at letting anxiety go instead of letting it run roughshod over me.

What’s interesting is that, while I knew that I needed to find my way to a more positive perspective on my own life, I didn’t realize when I stepped into the dojang for the first time that Tang Soo Do was going to be the path that would help me to get there. As the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This was certainly true in my case, so in closing I’d like to suggest that my own experience in finding this art serves as a simple example of Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s vision for Tang Soo Do in action. In recognizing my internal conflicts and seeking a way to address them I actively opened myself up to training. In creating a place where people can come to train and in representing the ideals and goals of Tang Soo Do with consistency and clarity Sa Bom Nim Nunan acted as a beacon, leading me to the arts. When I was ready, my teacher appeared. And so now here I am, on the path, slowly learning and striving to understand. And so it goes for everyone, one person at a time.


Mood: Good
Now Playing: Snow Patrol, "Eyes Open"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Simmerin' Down

I've spent the majority of the past week sort of settling down following the trek to Chicago and Savanna. The entire experience was so friggin' intense that it's left me feeling sort of tongue-tied, and a bit raw. At first I was suffused with the post-event glow of camaraderie and good will. Then, after a day or two, my usual self esteem crap started cropping up and I found myself getting a bit paranoid, wondering if we'd all actually gotten along as well I thought we had. And once I went there, I started going into my usual next step, hyper-analyzing every little thing anyone said, reading even more between the lines, and getting all oversensitive and all that crap. Happily, that didn't last very long and now I feel like I'm back on solid ground again. So that's all good -- I don't have the time or the energy to put myself through all that nonsense. Time was that my post-event doldrums could have stretch on for weeks before I finally relaxed and moved on, so 4 or 5 days of the blahs was pretty darn good.

Life continues at its hectic pace. I'm settling into a new position within my company, one that will hopefully lead to more consistent activity and more opportunities for long-term, team-oriented projects. I'd gotten so damn sick of working alone on stuff no one really seemed to care about. The new job looks to offer potential for way more inventive, creative, and necessary projects that will both enable me to stretch out and get me a bit more high-level recognition over time. So far, though, it's all static and mess as we try to figure out how best to use my creative and technical capabilities to flesh out the projects that are undertaken by what is essentially a business operations team. Could be hugely successful, could be a total disaster, will likely be somewhere in the middle. Either way, though, I think it will be interesting.

On the plus side I'm back to training on my usual schedule, 3 classes during the week plus Saturdays with Christine and the kids, plus gym time 3-4 times in the morning during the week and extra practice working with mom when she needs some help on one-steps, wrist grabs, or forms. Received my invitation to test for 6th gup last week, so I've now got a little less that two weeks to get my techniques solid for the test.

It's pretty cool, though -- I'm really not all that worked up over testing this time out. My first test was crazy stressful because I'd never tested before. And my second test was crazy stressful both because I was injured (in fact I'm fairly certain the ankle twist was actually a tiny eensy weensy ankle, well, break...) and because I just didn't feel like the trajectory of my training had over the previous few months had been particularly consistent. I felt like I'd picked up way too much way too close to the actual test date.

But this time out I just feel pretty solid and ready to do this. I've been doing pretty much everything I need to demonstrate on the exam for at least 3-4 months now, with the sole exception of Pyong Ahn E Dan, which I worked my ass off to polish up during the run-up to the Lone Star Invitational, even though I had to miss the competition. I've got some minor injury issues going on: My right hamstring continues to give me some pain, although it feels plenty strong -- I think I've got an inflamed tendon or something over there rather than a muscular problem -- and the groin pull still twinges from time to time if I'm not careful. But all in all I feel pretty damn good, and I just want to push myself hard -- but not too hard -- over the next ten days or so until it's test day.

In the meantime, most of my mental energy is being devoted to planning out my test day essay. The topic this time out, "What does Moo mean, and what does it mean to me?" is particularly interesting, I think. It's something I've been thinking of quite often, actually -- the concepts of physical and mental training as a method of avoiding conflict, internally and externally. Lack of confidence giving rise to fear and aggression. Preparation and confidence acting both as a deterrent and as a beacon. The paper is still bubbling in my noggin, but I think it's going to be a good one when it decides it's time to come out. Just have to make sure it's ready within a week or so.

Ah well, gotta wrap up my work for today and head to 5:00 class.

Mood: Chill
Now Playing: Gnarls Barkley, "St. Elsewhere"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lessons Learned

Finally managed to get home at 7:00PM last night, about 22 hours later and $150 lighter than I expected. If I were planning to extend my trip by a day, I could definitely have done a better job of it. Oh well. What to do.

So, lessons learned this weekend:

1. Just because you're less than 1/2 a mile away from the terminal doesn't mean that you can get there within 1/2 an hour.

2. 5 deviled eggs with caviar may be delicious, but they do not provide a sufficient barrier or foundation for bourbon.

3. Even after seeing it at least 20 times, "The Birdcage" has an almost magical ability to cheer me up. Even when it's been edited for television.

4. Given the proper circumstances, a single extended index finger can be one of the funniest things ever.

5. Harry Caray's restaurant in Chicago, on a Friday night, is a hellish place. But one with darn good food.

6. Farm houses should never be lavender.

7. Half of bravery is just showing up.

8. Half of success can be luck, but the other half then has to consist of knowing when to seize an unexpected opportunity and run with it.

9. Regretting things you've done -- like spending more money that you planned on a trip -- is far preferable to regretting those that you failed to do in time -- such as spending that same money to make the same trip just a year or so sooner.

10. Love is powerful stuff. This is both good and bad. But mostly good.

Mood: Antsy (dying to hit class tonight)
Now Playing: Steinski, "A Rough Mix"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Messages from Purgatory

Well, the weekend in Chicago and Savanna, attending the Celebration of a Very Special Life gala thrown by Alan, was truly wonderful. I'm proud to say that not only did I successfully ignore my introversion and hesitancy and just take a deep breath and plunge into the social aspects of this weekend, but that it was a complete success. I now feel much closer to about a dozen people with whom I've shared many experiences, but little or no face time, in the past. Everyone got on famously, and the weekend was chock full of laughter, reminiscences, and not a few tears as we all realized that the only thing that could have made it better would have been in Adrianne had been there with us.

Well, physically, that is. To say her presence was felt throughout the weekend would be an understatement. Quotes, anecdotes, and jokes about or relating to Adrianne were in steady supply. But the most obvious and clear indication of her presence was simply OUR presence. 14 people, flying in from Washington, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Tennessee, and California, nearly all of us nervous and stressed over the oddness of awkwardness of transitioning a textual relationship to the more intimate one that incorporates physical presence. Where you can't edit yourself, and people can see so much of what makes you tick. Or tic, for that matter. Most of us had little in common outside of our association with Adrianne, at least on the surface, and yet here we all were, coming together from every corner of the USA, to meet, and grieve, and laugh and smile in her honor and in support of her husband. To say that were are an aspect of her legacy wouldn't really be overstating things at all.

So, yeah, the weekend was amazing. I can't wait to see these folks again. But then there's the downside.

Long story short:

I missed my flight. Stayed at the roach motel. Still trapped in Chicago and trying to get home. Yippee.

Long story long:

My friend Mia and I were running a little bit late, but reached the Midway area at about 1 hour before my flight left, after which she was going to have to return her car at O'Hare (because they were being jerks and threatening to charge her hundreds of dollars if she didn't do so) and then catch a shuttle or train back to Midway in time for her 6:00-something flight. Well, there was some sort of horrible traffic backup at the terminal caused by everyone from the Notre Dame game heading to the airport at once. After waiting in traffic for about 20 minutes I jumped out of the car, grabbed my bags, and trotted the 1/4 mile or so to the terminal. When I tried to check in they said sorry-no-can-do even though the plane wasn't leaving for 27 minutes -- if you're not checked in 30+ minutes prior, you're screwed.

Oh, and no more flights to Austin. So yeah. Welcome to my extra night in Chicago. And since I'm at Midway, and everyone else who was staying until Monday was over by O'Hare I couldn't even make the best of it by getting together for one last meal/drink with them. So, after wandering around in a bit of a daze for an hour, I started trying to book a hotel room. Well, I was far from the only person who got shafted due to the obscene traffic problems -- dozens of folks were doing the same thing. Finally managed to book a room at the Carlton Inn Midway for the bargain price of $129 a night.

I caught the shuttle van to the Carlton. It's a tad... well... seedy. One of those old motor lodge style places, where your room door opens out to the parking lot making it really easy for ruffians and hooligans and thugs to burst in on you during the night (ironically, more or less what we thought the Quite Lovely Super 8 in Savanna would be like...). The neighborhood is more or less typical of neighborhoods near airports, i.e. hookers and crack should be readily available. Note, however, that Crack Hotels ALSO provide free high-speed wireless these days. What a world.

Sigh. So, in the past 24 hours I ate brunch in a castle, and then 12 hours later ate pizza and drank beer alone in a seedy hotel, listening to the sounds of police sirens throughout the night. Now I'm sitting in Chicago Midway, nervously watching the weather outside and trying not think about the all-too-short layover I have in Minneapolis, which could become not nearly enough time if my flight is delayed even half an hour. And while the juxtaposition will make this story more interesting, I really just want to get home.

Mood: Stressed
Now Playing: Siouxsie & the Banshees, "Twice Upon a Time"

Thursday, September 07, 2006


The family just headed out for school and I'm here, alone, getting myself ready to head to work and then, later, to depart for Chicago. I'm feeling very sad right now. My daughter asked me to please not go -- she pretty much always says this when Christine or I are heading out on a trip without the rest of the family, but it still stings a bit to hear it again.

All the stress and nervousness about this weekend is having a pretty strange effect on me, socially. I've become really hypercritical about myself the last week or so. More specifically, I've become very focused on reading into the way other people are relating to, or reacting to, me. And never in a good way -- especially regarding the new friends I've made at the dojang. Training has opened me up to new friendships in ways I'd forgotten I could be. It occurred to me last week that it's been a solid 12 years since I really felt like trying to really connect with a new friend, to really work on forging a lasting friendship with someone I knew. I make social friendships all the time, work friendships even more often. I tend to be able to get along with just about anyone. But I haven't felt a desire to get close to someone else, or let anyone get particularly close to me, in almost a decade.

It wasn't really intentional, but I know when it started. The last really close friend I made was a guy named Mark, a roommate I had most of the way through college. We finished school, drifted for a while, but tried to stay close. At least, I tried. It became fairly obvious as the years passed that I was doing all the trying. He moved away, married a nasty harpy of a woman who began to successfully run his life the way his mother had done beforehand. We remained close, but I did all the work. And one day I'd had enough, went to visit him for a weekend, and when I left I said "I'm not calling you again. If you want to remain friends, you know how to reach me."

Well, he didn't call. And that was that. Since then I've made lots of friends, but nothing approaching the level of trust and closeness I have with friends I made "back then," many of whom I still remain very, very close with (Rich, Pat, Linda & Susan, Gregory chief among them). It hasn't been a conscious decision at all. But it's definitely true.

But oddly, something about training in Tang Soo Do seems to have shaken whatever resistance I put in place that kept me from wanting to make new, close friends away a bit. Perhaps it's a sign of my growing self-confidence, but I'm feeling a lot more open to getting close to friends again. Not just open to it, but eager for it. And not in some adolescent Best Friends Forever friend-crush way, but more in that I want to forge strong bonds with some of the new friends I've made, to become a part of their lives and make them part of mine, to build a lasting relationship that is based on more than just one common experience or aspect of my life (i.e. Job, Training, Kids, Church). I want to make an effort to ensure that these folks remain a part of my life, regardless of where my life takes me.

Of course, I'm also realizing the downside of this openness and remembering why I resisted making close friends in the first place, particularly in light of the current stress I'm feeling, socially, due to the Chicago trip. I'm overanalyzing everything, every sentence and pause and nervous laugh that occurs when I'm talking to people. I see an odd look cross someone's face, or sense a bit of tension during a conversation, and immediately I'm off in my head, examining what I've done, what I may have said, to prompt the reaction. And then it down the all-too familiar road of self-doubt and criticality. Am I blowing these new relationships? Are people just humoring me?

Sometimes I wish I could be like water, and simply flow and adjust and move around obstacles in my life or simply erode them slowly, over time. Instead, I'm like a hammer, banging away at whatever I come across until I either shape it into what I want or shatter it completely, destroying it in the process. I really want to try, but I just can't seem to get there, in my head. Yet. But maybe it would be more accurate and constructive to think of myself as ice. Frozen solid, but capable of becoming fluid given time and attention and warmth. Maybe this sense of renewed openness to new relationships is the first step in that process.

Mood: Pensive
Now Playing: Liszt, "Hungarian Rhapsodies"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nerves, and Bravery

Jeez, I'm a bit of a wreck.

Tomorrow, I'll be flying to Chicago, IL, alone, to meet up with a group of people, internet friends all, with whom I am quite close but most of whom I've never actually met face-to-face. On Saturday, we will all caravan our way out to Savanna, IL in order to attend "The Celebration of a Very Special Life," a remembrance/memorial gathering that Alan is throwing at their home, Havencrest Castle, in remembrance of Adrianne. Saturday would have been her 56th (I think) birthday. Over 180 people will be attending -- far more than have attended any of their previous parties. It should be a remarkable and unique affair. And to top it off, I am one of a very small and select group of close friends who have been invited by Alan to a private breakfast the following morning, after which he is going to give us a tour of the castle and of Princess' extensive private collections of clothing, china, wigs, artwork, and lord only knows what else. This is, quite simply, a tremendous honor.

I am truly terrified.

As I know I've mentioned here previously, I am something of a introvert by nature, although not obviously by practice. Most folks would never for one second describe me as introverted, or shy, or insecure, or any of those things. For example, Just this weekend I was talking with a friend about this and she just laughed and said "Oh, come on -- you're the life of the party!" And yeah, I know I can be, but the point is that's not really me, there. That's me being nervous and camouflaging my nervousness with boisterousness and bravado. When I'm really nervous I tend to be a veritable whirlwind of jokes, snarky comments, pop-culture references, witty barbs, the occasional sly insult followed by a genuine apology if offense is taken, etc.

Talk talk talk talk talk.

It's an exhausting exercise in social self-defense, really. Mostly I'd prefer to just be relaxing with a close friend or two in the corner, quietly talking amongst ourselves and observing the rest of the goings-on from a distance: that's my real comfort zone. I'm an intimate guy. Small groups work best for me, particularly small groups of people I know well.

And, well, none of those things will likely be much in evidence this coming weekend.

I mean, I am very definitely looking forward to meeting up with these friends with whom I shared so much as part of Princess' "inner circle" of friends. These are some fascinating people, intelligent and funny and expressive and terribly, terribly articulate to a one. But the social pressures inherent in this sort of stuff really puts my insecurity into overdrive. I'm already catching myself worrying about whether people will actually like me, whether I'll be clever enough or funny enough or interesting enough or ... enough. For anyone. This weekend is going to wear me out.

I'm actually incredibly proud of myself, though, for attending. Initially Christine and I were going to attend together. However, as the event got closer and I began planning I realized that logistically it would be a nightmare. The kids would have to stay with my mom, who just spent Labor Day weekend watching my brother's kids. She's in great shape, but back-to-back 3 day weekends watching 6 and 8 year olds will wear anyone out, regardless of age. This seemed very unfair to her. Besides, Christine had never met nor even corresponded with the people that would be in attendance, which would really leave her in the awkward position of Odd Man Out. To say nothing of the money it would cost -- not a huge amount, but Christine also just got back from a weekend wedding in Denver. And as we're not even remotely wealthy money is always a factor. So, about 6 weeks ago we agreed that I'd just go solo.

Then I found out that Master Nunan had finally scheduled the Lone Star Invitational to occur on the 9th as well. After my experience at Master Reilly's Texas Classic back in May I was really looking forward to my next opportunity to compete. I'd spent the past 4 months anticipating this tournament, and then discovered that it was falling on the one day that I'd already made tentative plans to be out of state for the rest of the year.

So, at this point I hadn't actually purchased plane tickets or made hotel reservations yet. And there's that damn voice in my head again, picking away at my resolve. "You know you really want to compete. And if you attend the party you're going to be in Chicago all alone. And you've never met most of these people. And you know... well, you know you're just not going to measure up. It's going to be a disaster. Just apologize. And skip it."

It was so tempting to just ... not go. To just stay in Texas, send my regrets, and go compete in the tournament. But, I truly, truly adored Adrianne. I really couldn't live with myself if I gave in to that impulse, the same impulse that kept me from ever hopping a plane to attend one of her galas and meet her face to face while she was alive. The least I could do to recognize our friendship, honor the wonderful conversations and correspondence we'd shared for the past 12 years or so, and express my sympathies and pay my respects to her dear husband, was to attend this party in her honor. Doing otherwise would be cowardice, pure and simple.

And I don't want to be a coward. So much of the benefit and long term goals I've glimpsed in my Tang Soo Do training would be undermined by choosing such a selfish and easy choice. But I'm trying to be brave. I'm trying to be build my self-confidence. I'm trying to be a better man.

So, I'm going.

I take some comfort in the fact that nearly everyone else that will be attending has expressed similar misgivings and worries and concerns. Every one of us, carefully and calculatedly working to lower the expectations of the others so that, when we actually meet in person, we will hopefully be greeted with something other than a nervous handshake and the desperate attempt to avoid eye contact. And as usual, intellectually, I'm certain that we're all going to get along great. That very, very good times will be had by us all and that we will share a truly unique experience in making this trek which we'll treasure.

I know these things, in my head. I just can't trust them, in my heart. Yet. Maybe one day, but for now I will just jump in and try to be brave. Maybe I'll be scared and insecure, talking way too much, or too long, or too loud.

But at least I won't staring at the ceiling at 3:00AM Saturday night, saying "Godammit, you coward...."

Mood: Twitchy
Now Playing: OK Go, "Oh No"

Friday, September 01, 2006

On the Bench, Testing Approaches

Well, it's been a fairly low-key week, following the flurry of activity that defined my birthday weekend, a.k.a. Gregg-a-palooza '06. My actual birthday, the 24th, was entirely uneventful. Too much to do, between work and a meeting with our daughter's new 2nd grade teacher, to actually do the whole cake and ice cream and presents thing, so we just opted to treat it as just another day and instead celebrate over the weekend. Which was nice, since it meant I could train on my birthday and keep to my regular schedule, instead of jamming a bunch of celebrating into 90 minutes on a school night.

So, training was interesting that night. I've been nursing a pulled groin muscle for a few weeks now. Two, actually -- one is a fairly minor pull I incurred by doing partner stretching too aggressively about a month ago, but it has been slowly getting better in spite of my not giving it a chance to rest. The second one, though, is rather painful, stretching from the inside of my right leg all the way up to about 2 inches to the left of my right hip bone. Solid groin muscle pull, really painful when I pull my legs together. It had been getting a bit better as well, last week -- I'd dialed my gym workouts way back and cut out sparring for a couple of weeks to try to give it a rest without interfering with my training.

Well, that seemed to be working until Thursday night, when I was working on some crescent kicks. I really like this kick. It's more or less a defensive version of the outside to inside downward heel kick, where you raise your knee and point it out and away from your center and then extend your foot and hip, kicking up and out, sweeping your foot into a semi circle inward before pulling your foot back in, resulting in either slapping/kicking a hand/foot/weapon out of the way followed by a side kick or trapping the hand or foot before countering with punch combination or throw.

I threw one crescent kick and my pulled groin muscle twinged. I threw a second and it hurt a bit. And then I threw a third and ZING! pulled it good once more. So, yeah. Ouch. And that more or less settled it -- I was going to need to sit on the bench for a week or two, stop training altogether, so that this damn thing would heal.

Anyway, Friday came and my wife had worked with my brother to organize a Guy's Night Out in my honor downtown. About a dozen of my friends and I hit the Gingerman for lots of tasty good beers, followed by a Sinus Show presentation of Point Break, one of the most hysterically awful films ever made. After that we hit several more bars, and I, in a fairly intoxicated state, managed to take a bad step and give my right ankle a solid twisting.

Damn that hurt.

Well, that settled it -- no training for a while. Saturday was a more laid back day -- coming home at 2:30-3:00 in the AM is nowhere as easy as it used to be! Then we had family and friends over for pizza and cake and wine and karaoke that night, while Sunday became a sort of free-flowing hangout day to finish out the weekend. Nice.

So, not training for a while. The current plan is to not train at all this week, and then skip all sparring next week before seeing how I feel on the mat the following week. So far, so good -- my ankle is feeling way better, and the pulled muscles have settled down to a generalized achiness and discomfort, with no serious pain or difficulties in moving. The dojang is closed all weekend, and I'm heading out of town for Princess' Memorial/Gala in Chicago next Thursday, so I'll only have two classes next week. Given that Master Nunan's Lone Star Invitational tournament is being held that weekend much of next week's classtime will certainly be dedicated to tournament forms and sparring. Since I'll be passing on the sparring stuff, it should result in fairly undemanding workouts for another week as well.

Hopefully, by the following Monday, I'll be back in shape to train hard for my upcoming gup test (September 30th). This one is for my green belt (6th gup), which is the goal I set for myself this year. 6th gup, to me, is really significant, since it is the "traditional" first color belt following white belt. Originally, Tang Soo Do featured only white, green, red, and blue belts. Orange belts were introduced in 1975 as a means of improving American student motivation and retention. So, what had traditionally been a 9-12 month period of training to earn your next color belt was instead broken up to enable students to earn a color belt sooner, thereby providing reward and incentive to move forward.

I certainly understand (and agree with) the organization's decision to add orange belts -- we Americans get so damn impatient, and even though the gup training path wasn't any different (i.e. you were taught the same techniques, over the same time period of about a year, to advance from 10th to 6th gup) people really, really want the different colored belts. But I try to adhere to the more traditional aspects of this art -- above all, the traditional aspects of Tang Soo Do are what, surprisingly, drew me in so deeply in the first place -- and so all along, in the back of my mind, I've sort of devalued the orange belt I wear. Not because it's meaningless or anything like that -- far from it. I know I've worked hard to earn it, as have the other students I train with. But just because I see it as a sort of concession by the traditional powers-that-be to American vanity and commerce. A change to the traditions of Tang Soo Do that was made to try to fight the American tendency to lose interest in tasks unless we keep getting rewards. Do your task, get a cookie. A fairly small concession, to be sure -- it's not like some other arts, where they have a different color belt for every gup level (yes Tae Kwan Do, I'm looking at you, but this also includes some other, less traditional Tang Soo Do organizations and schools), but a concession nonetheless.

Anyhow, much like I didn't get too excited about my promotion from 9th gup to 9th gup upgrade (a wholly optional step), my advancement to orange belt from white was rewarding but, in a more traditional context, not nearly as big a deal to me as advancing to 6th gup will be. This promotion, this acknowledgement of my work and effort, will be a moment I've been striving toward all year. Advancing to 6th gup, wearing my green belt and getting to wear a green trimmed uniform will be, for me, the first real and undeniable proof, to myself, that I am succeeding at learning this art.

I didn't expect to get there so quickly, so this is kind of a big deal. Plus, for the first time, I will be testing alongside other adults, my classmates. Since I'm higher ranked than they are I will, obviously, have to do more techniques, but at least 60-70% of the test overlaps common techniques so we'll be doing a lot of stuff together. I'm really looking forward to that experience, that level of energy that you only really get while testing in a group. My previous tests were done alongside 1 or 2 kids, both of them terrific martial artists but still, children. I think this next test will have an entirely different feel.

I can't wait.

Mood: Good, though stressed
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "Silver Bell"