Sunday, April 29, 2007


Well, the tournament was ... instructive.

Miranda did very well. Her group of gups was quite large -- 11 kids total, I think, and she grabbed silver in forms and tied for bronze in sparring. She would have had a real shot at silver or gold in sparring, but for some reason she got it in her head that she shouldn't throw any punches yesterday, so she did nothing but kick. It got her through her first match, but the second match was against another kid who knew how to kick and block pretty well, so she just wore herself out. She had dozens of chances to throw back-fists that would have landed easily, but she didn't take them. So, in a sense, she won one match with her hands tied, and lost the second. Not too shabby. We just have to figure out this latest weirdness about not punching and she'll be grabbing gold next time out, I'm sure of it.

My day was less satisfying, but for fairly complex and frustrating reasons. I performed well. I'm sure of it. Unfortunately, the judges in my ring didn't seem to agree, and I came home empty handed.

My form looked solid and good -- one minor error I can think of, but overall it was a solid performance of a difficult and challenging form. A form that is the most advanced and demanding form available to green belts of any gup level in TSDMGK. The only other guy who did the form I did ... well, I spotted at least a dozen serious errors, and he even blew an entire section and had to start again. And yet... and yet he scored higher than me. And the lower level gups who did less challenging forms that I can do in my freakin' sleep? Scored higher than me as well.

I honestly think at least 3 of the judges in my ring (and this was the only ring at the entire tournament I would say this about -- overall the judging was terrific) either didn't know what they were doing or just didn't care enough to really pay attention and seriously judge our performance. I know it sounds like excuses, and I know it sounds like sour grapes, but if I believed it was my performance that held me back here I would happily, if grudgingly, accept that I blew it. But I'm sure I didn't. I'm incredibly frustrated by this.

And sparring? Sparring was a joke, as well. My opponent was this hulk of a guy, 270 or so, and he was fairly agile, but predictable. Kept throwing these high round kicks and then trying to close with a bunch of punches. Using his size to try to pummel (and lacking anything resembling control, as my bruised ribs, shin, and wrist can attest). My technique with him was fairly simple and direct: block the kick, wait for the punches, block them with one hand while opening up his side for a reverse punch to the floating rib. Same judges, but this time they didn't seem to be able to notice that I was regularly landing solid, well-placed, point-scoring punches. We tied on our first match, with at least 3 or 4 good solid hits uncounted, then he beat me by a single point on our rematch. The kicker is that the final point, which came at the bell? One of the judges, a kid, who was messing up left and right, held up the wrong flag -- after it was counted, he made an ooops face and switched his vote, but the ring coordinator didn't see it.

Because of that, I didn't get a point I should have gotten, which would have resulted in yet another tie and a sudden death rematch, which I'm fairly certain I would have won. But honestly it should never have gone past the first match. I had the guy. I know I had the guy. Multiple spectators who were watching my match, including 2 dans and my teacher (who teaches the guy whose student I was sparring) were shaking their heads and telling other folks that they couldn't believe the judges weren't calling my shots. Basically, when it was all finished, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was robbed.

Regardless, when it came time to award medals, and I was the only man in my division who didn't receive one, I felt utterly humiliated.

I need to work through this somehow. I'm so angry. If I'd just had a bad day and failed to perform well I could let it go easier. I'd beat myself up for a while and then channel my frustration into training obsessively for a while. But that's just not the case. So instead, I feel angry. And I feel cheated. And given that I feel this was not right, that I've been treated unfairly doing something in which I've invested so much of myself in the past year and half, it really stings.

I need to move past this, to just let it go. It was a rough break, a crappy day, nothing more. I know this. But I just don't seem to be able to follow through yet.

Mood: Dark
Now Playing: Nothing

Friday, April 27, 2007

3:00AM, Hugging Santa

So sleepy. I've had three nights in the past week where I've woken up, suddenly and for no discernible reason, in the middle of the night and been unable to fall back asleep for an hour or longer. A big part of it is definitely jitters about the tournament this weekend, but not exactly the usual "performance anxiety" sort. It's more like my mind is so preoccupied with trying to really get a handle on Chil Sung Il Rho that the moment I wake up a portion of my thought shift directly to the form. I wake up, and find myself rehearsing the series of movements, but using the sometimes-goofy shorthand terminology I rely on in my head if I get stuck while performing it. "Give Santa a hug and push an elf into the snow. Step across and draw a bow. Punch. Turn and do the ridge hand backstance toes-up thingie. Draw a bow. Punch. Hug Santa...." And so on.

What's really frustrating is that it's not like I slowly wake up and my mind starts to rev up and after a while I am actually awakening instead of falling back to sleep. Nope. It's an all-at-once thing. I open my eyes, and my mind is going full tilt. I am filled with energy. I feel certain I could just get up and get the day started.

Except for it being, you know, 3:00AM or whatever. Last night it was 1:45. And 4:15.

I've been trying to figure out why this is happening. What's weird is there's nothing particularly negative in my life that would be causing this that I can think of. My back pain might have something to do with it -- rolling into certain positions has a nasty habit of really zinging my inflamed shoulder joint, even after 2 weeks. But typically if I wake up from the pain I just roll over and fall asleep within a few minutes. I've had bouts of insomnia before, but this one feels different. It's not the "troubled restless mind keeping me from falling asleep" feeling that I've found usually accompanies insomnia. Rather, I feel like I've had a burst of energy -- my heart is beating fast (not racing, not as if I had a nightmare -- more like I'm just kind of excited), my mind is acutely focused and active, my hands and feet twitching to do ... something. Anything. Get moving.

Part of it may be traced to my current work environment. Our organization continues to be in a state of stasis. We have new bosses a few levels above us, and as a result all of the organizational changes that were being made are on hold while they get settled in. The future looks largely the same as it did a couple of weeks ago -- both for my group and for myself -- but everything is on hold for another couple of weeks. We've pretty well run out of projects that can be completed and need new marching orders, but those orders won't come down until they get the organizational structure figured out, so we're just sort of ... buzzing along. Fridays are currently management-approved half-day/movie days, since there's so little to do. Last week was "Hot Fuzz" (spectacularly funny, by the way). Today may very well be "Grindhouse" if we can get a couple of bugs and a meeting out of the way -- if so, our manager is even going to pay for the tickets and make it a team building/morale boosting exercise. Bravo, say We.

So work is sort of a non-issue right now. No pressure, no real worries. Just sort of a test pattern: "Please stand by." So maybe my brain is channeling my usual work-energy into late night neural activity. Seems possible, but I dunno. I mean, I keep busy with other stuff -- doing ads and graphics work for friends, reading tech news items and learning new applications. It's not like I'm just sitting, staring at the screen for 8 hours a day. I keep myself occupied.

I had a thought, though, about how the Chil Sung forms are supposed to be energizing and rejuvenating forms,. I've been working almost exclusively on Chil Sung Il Rho for a couple of weeks now. And while it's theoretically rejuvenating, I think that largely depends on one's ability to breathe and relax while performing it. For the first couple of weeks I worked on it, I was doing neither very well, and as a result I was exhausting myself: it's a very physically demanding form. And my difficulty in relaxing while training is well documented throughout my blog.

But over the past week I've begun to get a better handle on it, breathing more correctly and even beginning to relax a bit. But while I haven't been as physically shot when I wrapped it up each time as I was before, I don't exactly walk away from it feeling rejuvenated. More like winded and weary, but okay to do it again within 30 seconds or so. Definitely a sign that I'm getting it right, not fighting my way through it so much as before. Handling the exertion better, perhaps, but rejuventated and energized? Nuh uh.

But still, there are these sudden, unexpected (and not exactly welcome, given the hours at which they occur) bursts of energy. And they seem to occur only on nights when I've been training. I took Wednesday night off and slept straight through the night, like a baby. Trained Monday, Tuesday (twice), and Thursday and awoke each of those nights and had difficulty returning to sleep, lasting at least an hour each time. I think there's more than a little bit of coincidence at work, there.

So, on the plus side, perhaps I've begun to tap into the rejuvenating and energizing qualities of the Chi Sung forms. And the minus side, though, of course, my timing could be better.



Mood: Pleasantly sleepy
Now Playing: "Yo Vivire!", Celia Cruz

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Low Key Weekend/Hectic Week/Forms/Communion

Tired today, but otherwise doing OK. Had one of those crappy nights where I wake up at 2:30, heart going a bit faster than normal, agitated and worked up for no apparent reason, but wide awake, head going 1000 miles an hour. And it took me two hours to get back to sleep, after which I had to get up at 6:25 anyhow. Ugh. Not sure why this happens to me, sometimes, but I think it's at least a little bit of delayed reaction to stresses in my days -- I'm pretty good at not stressing out all the time, but I think I sometimes bottle stuff up and this is how it comes out. Meh.

Since Sue's death last week I've kind of been at a loss for words, blogging-wise. Life goes on, and once the shock of Sue's death passed it was time to get on with getting on. Wrapped up the work on the kids' advanced study projects, including a movie Miranda and I made of a fictional cryptozoology investigation titled "Bigfoot ... in My Backyard?" starring the entire family. If I get ambitious I'll upload and link it in sometime soon -- it was a blast, and needless to say I couldn't stop tinkering with it, so it's got music (selections from Peter Gabriel's "Birdy" soundtrack) and sound effects, and title cards and transitions and everything. Miranda really did a ton of work, but I applied a fairly heavy layer of polish. Fun time -- I'll have to encourage the kids to come up with video ideas this summer as weekend family projects.

The biggest shock, however, was that once Miranda did her presentation on Friday, we suddenly ... had very little we needed to do. For the first weekend in nearly 3 months, we weren't loaded down with dozens of things that had to be accomplished ASAP. Our only important event the entire weekend was my nephew's birthday. We did family class Saturday morning (well, I did -- the kids did a kid's class before the family class, and Christine was feeling under the weather, so it wound up just being a few of us adults instead of the usual mix of ages and ranks), Sean's birthday Saturday afternoon, and ... not much else. Slept in on Sunday, went and looked at parakeets (ugh) later in the morning, Miranda and I went to the dojang to practice our forms for a couple of hours Sunday afternoon, shopped for groceries, and that was it.

Wow, it was nice. I almost forgot what it's like to putter around the house with no real goals for a day or two.

Of course, this week and weekend will be the polar opposite. Miranda and I are participating in a Tang Soo Do tournament (The Tang Soo Do Texas Classic, Master Riley's tournament) down in New Braunfels this Saturday, and we both are working our butts off trying to polish up our forms. My back seems to have adequately recovered, permitting me to do a semi-decent job of practicing Chil Sung Il Rho, so I'm going ahead with trying to compete with it, and Miranda is valiantly trying to get a handle on Pyang Ahn Sa Dan. We both have a ways to go, and 4 days to get there. Lots of work to do. Plus Miranda's first communion is Sunday morning, so we have the whole pretty white dress and big brunch with the family on Sunday. My in-laws and sister in-law are coming in over the next few days, plus my niece is making her first communion as well, so we'll be merging with my brother's family and his in-laws as well for mass and brunch. Should be hectic, to say the least. Not much to be done about that.

But practicing forms is under my control, even if (apparently) the actual performance of the forms is not. Chil Sung Il Rho is really frustrating me. I know it well, now, although I have a couple of sticky spots with transitioning between some of the stances. But they're fairly minor, and I'm sure I can sand them down. And my thighs are killing me from the exertion of this form: all the scooping motions and slow transitions while in low stances -- and I'm ALL about low stances -- makes it feel like I've been doing tons of squats and lunges. Owww.

The big problem I'm facing, though, is the pacing of the form. It's supposed to be very measured, slow and steady, relaxed and rejuvenating. And I've managed to slow things down a bit, but ... well, while in my head I'm moving at a snail's pace, apparently in the real world I'm blowing through the form at rocket speed. I'm sure nerves are a big part of it -- I had to perform it last night, in front of Sa Bom Nim and several Dans, and I got a good case of jitters. But still -- I THOUGHT I was going slow. But apparently parts of it should be about FOUR TIMES SLOWER.

And that's a quote.

Ack. I'd probably need to drink a bottle of cough syrup, with a pint of bourbon for a chaser, to slow myself down that much. So the rest of the week is going to be spent trying and trying to get a handle on my nerves so that, come Saturday, I can force myself to just ... breathe .... slowly ... and move ... slowly ... as well.

This should be interesting.

Mood: Good, tired
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "1000 Kisses"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Slip Away

Oh death, that creep, that crooked jerk...
He comes, he comes walking. He comes sneaking
Down that long irreversible hallway
Grabs you in your sleep...
Yesterday morning. It's still dark out. Christine has an early dentist appointment and Trevor has strep, so seeing as I've got to stick around the house until 10:00 or so anyhow I've decided to sleep in for a bit. But at a quarter of seven or so I'm roused from a doze by the sound of my cell phone ringing.

First thought: Why didn't I shut off my cell? The batteries are going to die during the day now.

Second thought: Who the hell is calling me on my cell at this hour?

Third thought: Ummm. Why would someone be calling me on my cell at this hour?

With that third thought I felt a little clench, a flutter of worry, rise in my chest. That got me out of bed, quickly. But by the time I got to my cell, it had already rolled over to voice mail. I checked the missed calls log and saw that the call had come in from my friend Rich.

And I knew, immediately, that something was wrong. I've known Rich forever it seems -- coming up on 25 years now. I don't call as often as I should, especially since his new wife Lisa is pregnant with their first child together. He's up in New York, I'm here in Texas, and the relative blur of our lives combined with the time zone differences makes keeping in touch a bit tricky at times. But we are as close as ever anyhow -- after this long, I think we all know where we stand. But if Rich is calling me, this early, on a weekday, something's up.

I immediately worry about the baby.

Knowing that my cell battery is low, I grab my cordless phone and scroll through my contacts list, rubbing at my eyes and squinting in the dusky near-darkness as I try to read his phone number. My glasses are on my end table, and I'm at the wrong edge of the bed. I can't read the damn number, so I reach across the bed and my injured back gives me a sharp little jab to remind me it's not quite better yet. I grab my glasses, slip them on, and dial his number.

"Hey" I say and "Hey" he responds and "What's going on?" I inquire, my voice thick with worry and concern. And I'm expecting to hear "It's the baby" when he responds "It's Mom."


Rich's Dad, or "Pops" as we all called him, died last June, after fighting lung and bone cancer for over 3 years. We'd been expecting him to die for so long that, when it finally came, it was almost a relief. That sense of "well, at least that's done" that makes you feel guilty for finally being able to put that concern up on the shelf. He was supposed to last 6 months, but instead fought for nearly 3 and a half years, his health slowly declining and finally plummeting in the last couple of weeks.

Rich's parents played a very significant role in my teenage years. I've already talked about Pops, and the role he played in my life, in this post from last year. But Mom was equally important. From the time Rich and I and our buddy Pat got to be friends we were sort of adopted by Mom and Pops. And not in the "they were always so nice to me" sense, although they were always nice. But they were tough on me, too -- both of them were quick to bust me down if I was acting up too much, just as they would do to their own sons.

Their home was open to me, always, but the price of admission was being treated like one of the family, for better and for worse. Pops was a curmudgeon and a ball buster, while Mom was always a bit more ... sly. Stealthy. She'd set you up, and just wait for you to fall into the trap she'd laid. It's hard to explain, but I mean this in the most admiring sense. It wasn't mean -- it was ... well, instructive I guess. If you crossed a line, she was going to illustrate the manner in which you'd done so in clear and concise terms, in front of witnesses. She enjoyed hoisting people by their own petards.

When Rich and I talk about his parents, he never says "my Dad" or "my Mom." It's just "Pops" and "Mom." I refer to them in kind. It's comfortable.


"What? What's happened? Is she OK?" I say.

"Mom's going to die today. I'm driving there to see her before we let her go."

And that's when the air left the room and everything stopped making sense for a couple of moments. "What?" I said. And then "What?" again. And then I think "No." And then my head cleared again and I said "What happened?"


Briefly, the sequence of events was this: She went into the hospital for a "routine" hernia operation on Friday. Came through the surgery with flying colors, was up and moving and doing fine within a day. Apparently though, she collapsed and went into shock Tuesday night/Wednesday morning (I'm a little sketchy on the details here -- not sure if she was home or still in the hospital). They opened her up and found that, somehow, the blood supply to her small intestine had been blocked. It was 90%+ destroyed. They removed it, closed her back up, and put her on life support. Rich and Andy were advised that, even if she regained consciousness -- which was unlikely -- she could not live without that much of her intestines. I assume that she would starve to death, slowly. It's too horrible to even contemplate.

So they made the only decision that could be made. Rich drove there, and they all stood by her bedside as life support was removed. Her body kept going for about a half hour, but that was it. Her strength had been utterly destroyed by the illness and the shock. She went from full recovery to death within a 4 day span. They're doing a full autopsy to figure out what went wrong. The surgeons are saying they've never seen anything like this, which leads me to believe that someone made a big mistake during the surgery. Something was left in that should have been taken out, or something. Explanations would be nice. But for now there's just the blow and the shock and this odd, tingling numbness.

I'm thinking about the way that lost things always come back
Looking like something else
A fishing pole, a shoe, an old shirt, a lucky day
Ooo then they slip away into the remains of the day
Ooo they slip away. They slip away.

If this is true, I'm not sure how Mom would come back, and what she would look like. But it would be something funny, and off-kilter, and comforting, but with a few sharp edges. Something that would not be wise to take lightly.

But one thing is certain: Whatever it is, it would sparkle and shine.

Sue "Mom" Brown
Rest in Peace

Mood: About as good as can be expected
Now Playing: Nothing

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kinda Sorta Stuck / Hyung Competition Quandary

Yeah, no updates lately. Honestly, things have been so crazy busy since the week or so prior to the last gup test through the week or so since that my creativity seems to have opted to take an extended nap. I've found that this is a typical pattern that I fall into. Pre-test anxiety and excitement gives way to a sort of post-testing intellectual torpor. Like my nerves, which had been so stimulated by all the adrenaline and energy and focus of the previous couple of weeks, need to go dormant for a little while to recharge. This usually brief recovery period combined with a) the weather (unseasonably cold and rainy mostly), b) the professional limbo I've been in for a couple of weeks (looks like I'm getting promoted, which is awesome, but until I see some paperwork with my name on it I really can't talk about it or act in my new role), and c) the huge flurry of activity associated with helping my kids wrap up their advanced study projects (Miranda's is on cryptozoology, Trevor's on carnivorous plants. Man, my kids are so damn cool...) has left me feeling a bit out of sorts.

To top it off, I managed to strain a muscle in my upper back a week or so before the test, but ignored it while prepping for the test, taking the test, and participating in Master Riley's guest-teaching classes a couple of days after the test. So now it's KILLING me, this bright blossom of pain just above my right shoulder blade that stretches up into my neck whenever I move just ... so. I've been taking it easy since lat week to try to give it a chance to heal, and it's getting better, slowly. But it's making it hard to train, and to sleep, so no fun, there.

We have a tournament coming up at the end of the month that I plan on attending with Miranda -- Master Riley's Texas Tang Soo Do Classic, down in New Braunfels -- and as a result I am getting force-fed both of my new 4th gup hyungs so I can choose one for the competition. I learned the last of the Pyang Ahn forms (Pyang Ahn O Dan) pretty well last week, and just learned Chil Sung Il Rho last night. It's presented a strange quandary, though.

I'd really like to try to compete with a Chil Sung form this time out -- last time I competed at a time where I could potentially choose between a Chil Sung and a Pyang Ahn form (at last year's Texas Tang Soo Do Classic, when I had just made 8th gup) I had to compete with Pyang Ahn Cho Dan as I hadn't been taught Chil Sung Ee Rho yet. It's typically considered better to compete with Chil Sung forms, as they offer more opportunity for variations in performance style -- lots of pauses and tempo changes, lots of breathing and relaxation intermingled with explosions of energy. They're very dynamic. Plus, they are the forms that were created by Grandmaster Hwang Kee, and therefore hold a special place of significance and honor in the Tang Soo Do Mi Gu Kwan that obviously appeals to the judges.

Chil Sung Ee Rho is the first Chil Sung form we are taught, but it typically isn't taught until 7th gup, so as an 8th gup I had to compete with what is considered a "lesser" form for competition purposes. As it turned out, I won with Pyang Ahn Cho Dan anyhow -- I typically do well with forms, as long as I don't get too nervous and forget parts of them. But this time out I'd like to compete with one of the forms that we consider the heart of Tang Soo Do. So, the choice would naturally be Chil Sung Il Rho.

The trick, however, is that Chil Sung forms are characterized by their peacefulness and a sense of relaxation and regeneration. They are slower, less forceful. Beautiful, really. But as I've said time and again in this blog I have problems with relaxation, with shin chook. The Chil Sung forms truly benefit from shin chook on the part of the practitioner. It took me months to achieve something approaching relaxation in Chil Sung Ee Rho. Conversely, the Pyang Ahn forms are forceful, almost brutal. Hard. Methodical. Intense. And Pyang Ahn O Dan is perhaps the most forceful of them all -- hard and fast blocks and strikes, smooth but rapid transitions between stances, elbows and kicks and spear hands all over the place.

Which leaves me in a quandary. On the one hand, Pyang Ahn O Dan seems to be the most sensible choice for me, for competition. It's a fantastic form, and one that plays to my strengths (I'm big, I'm strong, and I can come off as very intense when training/performing) while camouflaging one of my primary weakness as a martial artist (it has few if any movements that really require me to appear relaxed). I think I could, with a bit more practice, really slam dunk this form and compete very well with it. On the other hand, though, as a martial artist I feel like I should focus on the form that presents the most significant challenges for me, and as a member of the TSDMGK competing with a Chi Sung form appeals to me as an opportunity to embrace a portion of our traditions in spite of the fact that it may not be the easiest choice.

So, I'm kind of stuck. The biggest trick right now is that Chil Sung Il Rho includes lots of arm movements that really seem to activate the muscle in my back that is messed up. As a result, I can't really even try to relax while doing Chil Sung Il Rho because whenever I do it I wind up wincing and gritting my teeth in pain. Obviously, this makes that whole "relaxation" thing pretty tough to obtain. If my back doesn't settle down in the next week or so, I think that will make my decision for me -- I won't try to compete with a Chil Sung form unless I actually feel I've managed to at least touch a minimum level of relaxation and confidence in it, and that will take a couple of weeks of serious focus and discipline in practice. I need to at least be able to practice it without pain for a week or two to feel ready. I have less than three weeks until the competition, so if by Saturday I'm not back to normal then Pyang Ahn O Dan will almost certainly be my only acceptable choice.

Sigh. We shall see.

Mood: Pretty OK, all in all
Now Playing: Bjork, "Vespertine"