Friday, March 30, 2007

Another Gup Test, Another Paper

Well, three months have gone by and it's time once again to test for my next gup level. I'll be testing for 4th gup (green belt 2 stripes) tomorrow afternoon.

No real concerns at all this time out: there really isn't that much more on this test than I had to perform last test. One new hyung (Pyang Ahn Sa Don), 3 new wrist grabs, 2 new one steps, and that's about it. Of course, I learned a lot more than that in class, (lots more kicking techniques, for example -- no idea why spin wheel kicks aren't included on this exam aside from the one we do in one step 11/12) and I'm sure it is expected that my techniques show improvement over my last test, but overall it's more or less a repeat of the test I took back in December. So, fairly little stress, overall.

Physically, I think I'm set too. No serious injuries to deal with for a change! I'm a bit achy -- think I pulled or strained a muscle in my upper back the other night and it's giving me some movement issues, and I strained my left calf muscles 2 weeks ago doing jump kicks and it's still annoyed -- but these things shouldn't really impact my ability to perform all that much. My lower back issues that were causing referred pain down into my right hamstring and inner thigh seem to have resolved to an acceptable degree: there is frequent discomfort, but nothing I can't deal with. Ankles and knees feel good. And I've been working on my stamina for a couple of months at the gym and it's paying off as well -- not getting winded as easily, definitely feel more energy throughout my workouts and training sessions as a result.

So yeah, this test is more about just getting it done and supporting my family and friends on their testing. Christine and Trevor are both going for 7th gup (orange belt, 1 stripe), and Miranda is going for 5th gup (green belt, one stripe), as are my mom and all of the other green belts I train with. As usual, I will be testing with only one or two kids -- no other adults at my rank in the dojang right now. Meh. On this test it hardly matters, since the vast majority of the test overlaps with the 5th gup testing.

After this I go into a mandatory 6 month wait until testing for red belt. At least I think it's mandatory -- some folks have said that testing can occur more quickly if our instructor decides you're ready, so I suppose it's possible I could test for red belt sooner. Honestly, I'm not really in a rush. The only reason I'd really want to test sooner would be if it meant I got to test and rank with another adult, so I'd finally have a training buddy whose progress and training would be in parallel to my own. It would be nice to finally have another adult who is learning the same stuff I am.

I don't even think that's a possibility, though -- there's only one other adult 4th gup, and the only reason he's not testing for 3rd gup this weekend is due to a shoulder injury. He's back to training, so I'd be surprised if he wasn't permitted to take the makeup test in a couple of weeks and allowed to advance. So yeah, seems likely that I will continue to be the solitary adult at my level for the foreseeable future. I guess if it really bothered me I could hold myself back from testing for a few months and let my fellow green belt adults catch up, but I'd rather stay on track unless an injury or something similar forces me to slow down.

Anyway, in a way I think the extra waiting period is instructive in and of itself. Tang Soo Do does not get easier as you progress. The techniques become more and more demanding, and the amount of curriculum you have to keep fresh and demonstrate regularly becomes pretty immense over time. I think that if we don't learn to pace ourselves as we advance, learn to be patient and allow ourselves adequate time to grasp the new lessons and techniques we are learning, then it's a recipe for frustration and burn-out. Better to learn to wait and be patient rather than continue to think these techniques can be reasonably mastered in only a few short months.


So, as with previous tests, this gup test comes with another test paper. This one was a walk in the park for me. The topic is "Which is your favorite of the 8 key concepts, and why?" Considering the name of this blog, the choice was simple, and considering tat I've been exploring this concept frequently for nearly 16 months now I didn't have to do very much "new" writing. Instead, I just grabbed a bunch of previous entries and reworked them into an essay that summed up my thoughts on the matter. So if you're a frequent reader this essay will probably seem familiar. Anyhow, here it is.


Which is Your Favorite of the 8 Key Concepts, and Why?

Shin chook is, by far, the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan concept with which I have most identified and connected. This is not to say it is my “favorite” in the sense that I enjoy it the most – the key concepts that I am most fond of and comfortable with would almost certainly be yong gi (“courage”), chung shin tong il (“concentration”), and kyum son (“humility”). Rather, shin chook clearly presented itself as the key concept that poses the greatest challenges for me, both in and outside the dojang.

Many of the 8 key concepts come to me fairly easily, at least on a basic level. Courage, concentration, endurance, honesty, humility are all things I try to exercise in my daily life already. This is not to say I excel at or am a paragon of any of them, but I do feel that I understand them, at least on a basic level. And then there’s control of power and control of speed. Control of both power and speed are things that I feel comfortable with, if only because I know that these are obviously skills that grow with time and commitment and because I don’t feel that either of these concepts present enormous challenges or obstacles in my life.

Which leaves shin chook.

When I first began I began training, the one comment I heard over and over again was the meaning of shin chook. When I started training, every single movement I made was rigid. Tense. Doing simple line drills and basic forms would leave me gasping for air and exhausted because I wouldn't remember to breathe when moving and I'd keep my entire body, every muscle, tensed the entire time. So, for my first 6 weeks or so, every time we were doing line drills or forms, at some point Sa Bom Nim Nunan would stop me and explain shin chook. Relaxation tension. Relax throughout the movement and tense only at the final moments in order to increase your speed and power and endurance. Staying tense prevents you from moving with speed or accuracy, and prevents your blows from striking with the greatest force. And so on.

So, from the get-go shin chook presented itself as the key concept that poses the greatest challenge for me in the dojang. And, while working through this issue in my head, it occurred to me that my inability to relax, and to tense only at times when tension will be both necessary and effective, is not exactly confined to the dojang. I spend far too much of my own life tensed. Ready to spring, but to no effect. And as this limits my ability to perform within the dojang, doesn't it have corresponding effects on my ability to progress in life in general? What purpose does being rigid serve? How does this overall tenseness limit my ability to move through life, to progress and grow?

I am, by nature, something of a perfectionist, and as it became clear to me just how much shin chook -- or the lack of it -- affect my life, I realized it was the concept that I most needed to explore at length, both on and off the mat. So while I can’t say it’s my favorite key concept in the usual “gee, this is super!” sense, I can say that shin chook has consistently presented itself as the most important and significant way in which I can employ my martial arts training to improve and enhance my life outside the dojang, and that therefore it is the most important and meaningful of the 8 key concepts to me right now.

Over the past year, I think I’ve made some progress in applying this concept. But, while the advances may have been fairly small, the impact has been significant both in training and outside of the dojang as well. I can breathe more easily, for starters, and sparring has become way more enjoyable as a result. I’m also not sore and achy all the time anymore. It took me a while to realize that throwing punches and kicks when you're all tense is a great way to ensure that you’re be sore pretty much all the time, and I’ve made a lot of progress on just relaxing more during class and not being all tight and wound up while training.

The changes in my approaches to everyday life have been more significant, though. For example, when some recent, highly stressful situations developed at my job I found I was far more able to deal with them effectively than I was just a year ago. A friend of mine at the office even noted, without any prompting from me, that she really felt that my training in martial arts had made clear, observable changes in how I approach things these days. She noted that , while I'd always been fiery and passionate about my work (well, about everything, really), my passions were now tempered, far more focused and controlled, more like tools to be used to create solutions instead of explosions of energy without direction or purpose.

So I think I’ve gotten some very solid indications that I’ve made some meaningful progress on shin chook. Still, shin chook remains my biggest obstacle, and I often wonder whether I will ever be able to really and truly just relax, on or off the mat. I just wish I could “figure it out,” that it was just a switch that I could flip and suddenly, whammo, I could be relaxed and at ease. I simply don't understand how to do it. I know I'm tense, I know how it feels to be relaxed, but the idea of relaxing while actively engaged in something (even something I enjoy) eludes me. In my head, I equate relaxation with passivity and rest, not with activity.

Regardless, while I know I have a long way to go I also know that I've already come a long way. And while I may spend too much time getting all twitchy and tense, I'm way more relaxed and confident and open to just enjoying myself, both in training and in life, than I was this time last year.

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