Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Catching My Breath, Regaining My Focus

First of all, Happy Halloween! This month has been a busy blur of activity leading up to our annual Halloween party. The party was a smashing success: We had a total of about 90-95 people over the course of the night, including kids. Plenty of food, and tons of beer-and-wine-and-punch was consumed. The music mix was a giant hit and everyone enjoyed the trivia game (although we only had one cash winner and he only won $5 -- oh well!). Nearly everyone was in costume.

I was a bumblebee dressed as a clown (the idea being "my own worst fears, combined" -- it was tremendously silly-looking):

Christine was a post-plane crash flight attendant:
Miranda created her own angel of death costume using pieces of old costumes we had lying around, and Trevor was a Red Power Ranger. Here we are getting ready to go trick-or-treating:Things wrapped up at about 1:45 in the morning, so we actually managed to get a decent night's sleep, although I awoke with a wicked sake headache -- well, really a beer-and-punch-and-sake headache... ;-). I made the mistake of attempting to "do some cleaning up" after everyone left instead of going straight to bed. We had a nice fire going in the firepit outside and I wanted to hang out until it died down. Needless to say, I was so exhausted from the run-up to the party and the drinks the second I sat down and started watching the fire I promptly fell asleep. Luckily Christine came down to check on me 15 minutes later and woke me up or else I probably would have slept in the yard most of the night!

So, after spending a few hours getting the house put back together we headed our to Sweet Berry Farms for a Halloween/Harvest Festival. The big attraction (aside from the beautiful scenic drive out through the Texas Hill Country on a gorgeous Autumn day) was a huge maze shaped like Texas. The goal was to find a dozen towns inside the maze. We managed to do so in about an hour. Then we looked at some farm animals, drank some drinks, ate some popcorn and homemade berry berry ice cream, and then headed back to Austin.

So, thankfully, things will now settle down for a while. We are staying in Austin for Thanksgiving this year, and will also not be having any out-of-town visitors anytime soon either (which is too bad -- the kids really miss their grandparent's, but I guess they'll have to wait until we get closer to Christmas for them to see them). So, we finally will have the chance to catch our breath. I've managed to get a few of my side projects off my plate as well -- finally got the computer I was putting together for a classmate of Miranda's pieced together and working well. These folks are really strapped for cash due to family illness and couldn't afford to replace the decrepit computer they had, so I went through my older equipment and pieced together a fairly acceptable basic system for them. Kids really need a computer around, and I figure I had at least one more than I needed, so....

Also got 2 video projects completed, although I still have three video projects I'm working on for Master Nunan to roll through. Luckily, two of them will be fairly simple efforts once I set aside the time to do them. One is nearly complete already, while the other is a fairly simple digitize/sort/edit effort without a whole lot of creative energy necessary. The third one, a 10-15 minute highlights loop/marketing piece I'm trying to piece together for a promotional event, will take more effort but will also be a lot of fun to work on.


One thing that has really been frustrating me is how hard it's been to focus on my training with all of these other distractions and demands on my time. Now that I've advanced to 6th gup I am attending the advanced (green, red, and blue belt) classes at my dojang and am, once again, the lowest ranking member in my class as well as the only 6th gup adult in the school. This can be really frustrating, as I am never taught new techniques alongside other students that are learning them as well -- the only other green belts around are 4th gups with at least 5-6 months of training in ahead of me, and of course they've all moved on to more advanced techniques already.

As a result, I tend to feel lost a lot of the time -- overwhelmed by the new techniques, and self-conscious at my relative lack of skill compared with those around me. It's a lot like when I first started. It's very humbling. But I was glad to see that when I attended class last night I felt like I did far better on the stuff I'm trying to learn, now. I'm starting to get an inkling of how to perform some of the new spinning kick techniques I need to learn, my hand technique combinations are beginning to tighten up a bit, and I'm getting the hang of the new wrist grabs and ho sin sul techniques as well. I've got a long way to go before I feel confident in them, but at least they are all starting to make some sense. I figure that at least part of this sudden sense of (slight) understanding can be attributed to just clearing out room in my head so that I can focus better. Hopefully this trend will continue over the coming weeks.

And once again I am in pain. The hamstring pain I began feeling prior to my last test hasn't abated one little bit, so I finally went to a doctor, who scratched his head and said "Huh.... It's not acting like a spinal injury, and it's not a muscle strain or it would be improving on its own." So he sent me to a physical therapist, who believes that I have a misaligned SI joint, which is causing all sorts of inflammation to a bunch of nerves in my lower spine, which in turn results in referred pain into my right leg. So now I'm doing PT once a week and lots of little exercises designed to strengthen my lower back and obliques and to stabilize my SI joint. In the meantime, ow-the-pain. Kicking hurts, stretching hurts, I'm off sparring for at least the next week to two weeks (until I begin to feel improvement, at least), and I keep getting other little muscle strains and pulls in my legs and sides because my body mechanics are all screwed up by the pain I'm feeling in my right leg.

So yeah, the fun continues. I think it's interesting, though, that it hasn't occurred to me for even one second that I should stop training for a while. I spoke with the physical therapist about this, and she said that stopping would probably help get it better faster, but that as long as I'm careful then training shouldn't actually make it worse. It'll just take longer to settle down. And as long as I know I'm not endangering myself I can deal with being in pain. I just don't want to stop training altogether -- I'll lighten up a bit, but just cutting myself off altogether is simply not an option I want to explore.

So, obsessive much? Yeah, I suppose.

Mood: Pleasantly distracted
Now Playing: Oingo Boingo, "Best o' Boingo"

Monday, October 16, 2006

Just Popping In

So. Damn. Busy.

So yeah, I haven't been blogging. It's not the typical "blogging block" so many folks tend to experience on a regular basis. I have plenty to say, but I'm just totally out of spare time lately. Ever since I got through the 6th gup test a couple of weeks back I've been in high gear. Tons of projects that need completing, lots of work to do, and planning for the upcoming Halloween Hootenanny is in full swing. Plus I'm still training 3 or 4 times a week, I have to bring my son to weekly therapy sessions, and now I'm in physical therapy for an injured muscle in my right hamstring to boot. It's been messed up for the better part of a year, and really started acting up about 2 weeks prior to my test. So I decided it was time to do something about it -- the doctor is stumped. It's not nerve damage or a lower back problem, which is good, but it's acting like a strain which means it should be improving on its own, but it's not. Annoying.

Add to this list the two or three video editing projects I'm juggling, and the franken-computer I'm putting together for my daughter's classmate's family and I'm pretty much Out Of Time. Squeezing all of these things into my schedule has left me fairly at loose ends. So blogging has fallen by the wayside for the most part.

However, I did want to share a few moments form my last gup test. I managed to write this stuff in a note to my friend Toni a week or so back, and since I haven't really got the time to write something new I'll just paste it here as well. Hope you enjoy it.


Briefly, the test was a blast.

Aside from one combination technique (side kick into a spinning back kick) where my head sort of went blank for about 10 seconds and I couldn't figure out what leg to kick with I nailed pretty much everything without a problem. Miranda did really well, too, as did my mom (who managed to sprain one of her toes during the test, but still completed it -- I'm very proud, although if I have to hear her story about how she "sprained her toe and still went ahead and did a board break" one more time I swear I'll strangle her). It was pretty cool having three generations testing at the same time on the mat.

Here's a picture of the adults doing outside-to-inside crescent kick line drills. There's mom right beside me, followed by Mark, Erik, and Michelle. It was really nice testing with other adults for a change -- both of my previous tests wound up being done with an 8 and 9 year old, which while fun is also a little demotivating. Younger kids tend to have some trouble keeping their energy levels and focus up for the entire test, and since this one ran over three hours having the extra energy in the room really helps.

Here's one of Miranda doing a side block in a back stance . She did really well on most of the test, although I need to work with her on her sparring techniques -- she tends to bounce around too much, not really stopping to think about how to get things done when she spars. Still, she's doing fantastic and made me really proud.

Here's a cool shot of me sparring with my friend Mark during the test -- this was fun. During training we wear head, hand, and foot pads for protection, but during the test we use only mouth guards and have to be very careful to not make any sort of hard contact -- part of the test is demonstrating your ability to control your power, so if you whomp someone accidentally you can be failed. It got pretty intense anyhow -- Mark is about 5'6" and is quite a scrapper. I have to stay low to get shots in at him, and I've gotten pretty good at rocking back out of the way of his kicks so I can come in with punches as soon as his legs clears. Anyhow, I think I look extra butch in that shot!

At another part of the test we had to demonstrate some basic break and throw technique -- it's not really required, but our instructor teaches it to the adults and has us do it as part of the test at this level to entertain the audience a bit. The kids mostly goof their way through it, but the adults are expected to do a serious break and throw. Anyway, here's a series of shots of my buddy Rich (6'6", about 250#) breaking a choke and throwing me: First, Second, Third. And here's a series of me repaying the favor: First, Second, Third.

Last thing I had to do was break boards, first with a hand technique and then with a foot technique. I did a reverse punch for the hand technique, which was fun. Most folks go for easier hand techniques at this level -- a hammer fist (basically the same thing as hitting a table with your fist) or a palm heel (hitting downward, with the base of the palm of your hand) or knife hand (basic "karate chop" -- really easy technique). Reverse punch is one of those techniques where, if you do it wrong and don't break the board it REALLY hurts. Happily I did it correctly and had no problems: Before, After.

For the foot technique, I did an inside to outside downward heel kick, or "axe kick." Basically, you lift your knee and turn it in across your body, then kick upward and extend your leg and pull it straight down. It's a pretty brutal kick if you can get height, and for a 39-year old guy I'm pretty darn flexible and can kick higher than most guys in their 20s. Kick was damn pretty, and the board never stood a chance: Before, After.

So that wrapped things up nicely -- after breaking we had about 20 minutes of round-robin terminology, history, and philosophy questions. Everyone did great, and then we were promoted. I don't have a picture of myself in my new dobakh with me right now, but it's really nice -- trimmed in green, with my dojang insignia embroidered on the back and a nice new green belt as well.


More writing when I have time. Now it's off to home for dinner, the dojang for training, then back to the computer for more video editing fun....

Mood: Harried
Now Playing: Halloween Hootenanny 2006 Mix - Semi-Final

Friday, October 06, 2006

Stories Half Told

Sometimes I really hate being so damn critical of myself.

This character flaw really manifests itself in social situations, not so much at the time of the actual social interaction as afterward, when I tend to replay the conversations of the evening and critique myself, remembering what I said and then getting pissed off at the way things might have come out, how they might have been perceived, or things I either wish I'd not said or wish I'd gotten around to saying. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to read between my own lines, worrying at how comments might have been interpreted or misinterpreted by the people I was talking to.

It's maddening. And pointless, really. But there it is -- I've done it as long as I can remember. I sometimes replay conversations months, years later, reworking them in my head, saying the things I wish I'd said, feeling fresh embarrassment long after the fact at the faux pas and gaffes.

Most often, though, I tend to realize that when I'm talking to a group of friends I have trouble getting to the point. I tend to meander, conversationally, zig-zagging around my point, going off of little topical side-trips and ducking into the occasional self-referential cul de sac for comedic effect. I think it can be entertaining, but I also tend to get a little lost in the process.And then, hours later, I'll realize that I kind of never really got to the point I was trying to make in the first place. And then the worry begins, and I start to think I gave the wrong impression, or didn't actually make the point I was trying to make. Or, worse yet, that due to my habit of frequently dropping into sarcasm I have in fact given the exact opposite impression of the one I was going for.


So this morning I'm thinking about a conversation I had with my Tang Soo Do instructor, Sa Bom Nim Nunan, and several students from my dojang. We went out for a few beers after training, which was awesome, and I dropped quickly into chatty conversational mode, rambling on at length and trying really hard to not stomp all over other people when it was their turn to talk -- that's a bad habit I've picked up from trying to be heard in my family. My mom and brother tend to drop into lecturing mode and sometimes the only way to get your point in is to just interrupt.

But anyway.

So at one point, after Master Nunan had told us some stories about some of the choices he made in getting the dojang set up over the years (including choices that really hurt him financially, at least in the short run, but which also ensured that the dojang hewed closer to the traditional martial arts that he loved) we got off on a tangent, all talking about the ways we wound up finding our way to Tang Soo Do Academy. One of the students talked about how she'd done extensive research of dojangs and arts in the area, and because she'd studied in other arts previously and had some bad experiences with non-Asian instructors (attitude and arrogance problems, not training quality problems) she originally planned on training only with an Asian instructor, period. But that when she met Master Nunan his attitudes about the arts changed her mind.

So, I hopped in at this point and told about how I found Tang Soo Do Academy completely and totally by accident. That my kids had been in a Tae Kwon Do summer camp with a really crappy local belt-mill that tried to run a hard-sell on my wife, who promptly said that they could go screw themselves, pulled the kids from the program after two lessons, and that was that. No more martial arts camp. But after some discussion we thought we'd give martial arts training for the kids a try again, and we just sort of wound up at TSDA because it was close and convenient. And that months went by where I was sort of completely uninvolved, never actually attending one of the kids classes because they occurred at times when I was in the office. And that I had a real attitude about the martial arts, thought it was dominated by overly testosteroned former drill-instructors, and that there was no way I would ever consider training in something so strict and rigid. How I had this mistaken idea that Master Nunan was stand-offish and distant. And that what totally changed my mind was when I wound up -- quite by accident -- at a dan promotion ceremony where I saw much Master Nunan truly cared about his students and how proud he was of them and of his role in their lives, and how there was no attitude and no arrogance at all.

But today, all I can think of is how I feel like I didn't wrap things up properly. I wanted to say how truly seismic an impact finding this art in general and Master Nunan and Tang Soo Do Academy in particular have had on my life. How I regret waiting so long to open myself up to this training. How important this has become to me, and that, for all my joking about the events leading up to my finding the dojang, that I honestly and truly have come to believe that God or The Universe or Fate or Whatever intervened and put me in the dojang that night, to show me a path, to show me a way to fix myself. That this is, in fact, for all the self-deprecation and goofing, really just that big a deal to me.

And that I'm so grateful for this.

Sometimes I forget that the best stories don't always end on a punchline or big finish. It's the denouement that can make them meaningful, worthwhile. Grace notes on the bold strokes. By not getting around to these parts of the conversation, I feel like the story was only half told, that the part that really mattered got left unsaid. Perhaps saying these things would have come off as mawkish, even a bit embarrassing. But they're true things and they deserve to be said aloud.

Maybe next time.

Mood: Melancholy
Now Playing: Halloween Hootenanny 2006 Mix - Beta Version