Thursday, January 31, 2008

ByePod-ed, Phished, Just Plain Shot to Hell

Man, definitely having a "shoulda stayed in bed" day, although it's also been on of those weird days when I get the sense that I have the littlest twinkling of ESP or something.

We had a very brief, very intense thunderstorm roll through at about 4:00AM this morning. One HUGE thunderclap which woke the whole house up, followed by about 10 minutes of torrential downpour and gusty wind. Then it settled down and we started drifting back off to sleep. As I drifted, I found myself thinking about how old my iPod is getting, and about how I'd written in my blog about the process of getting it replaced a couple of years ago when my first one failed prematurely, and I realized that I'd probably need to replace it soon since it will almost surely die at any moment. No reason at all to be thinking about this, mind you, but you know how your mind can kind of skip and jump from one random topic to the next when you're sleepy.


Morning comes, and I feel like hell. Sore from my dojang workout the previous night (we're beginning to prep for the upcoming red belt test, so we hammered through all of the line drills, plus did horse stance punching, one-steps, and forms) and bleary-eyed from the rudely interrupted night of sleep. I made the bed, read my email, drank a cup of tea, showered, kissed everyone goodbye as they headed for school, and a few minutes later headed to my car for work.
As I sat down in the driver seat, I noticed that my glove compartment was open, and that my iPod was gone. Stolen from my car, in my driveway, sometime the previous night. I know it was last night and in my driveway, as I got home at about 10:00 from the dojang and had listened to Faith No More on the iPod on my way home. Unreal.

I mean, it's my own fault. I don't lock my car because I have a rag-top Jeep (seen here at the scene of the crime...), and all things considered I'd rather someone just open the door to steal something instead of using a box cutter to rip open my roof, reach in and unlock the door, and then steal it anyhow. Nothing in my car is worth more than the cost of a new rag-top. And while I usually park in the garage at night I've been parking in the driveway for a week or so because the packing material from our new TV is still taking up most of my parking space.

So some teenage ass-hat probably was walking along late, late last night, just trying door handles to see who had anything of value sitting in their cars that could be quickly and easily swiped. And there I was. Nothing else was missing, or even touched -- they left my stereo and my satellite radio alone, since the stereo would take time to rip out and the satellite radio is pretty useless without a subscription. But the iPod would take all of 3 seconds to walk off with.

Man, I just want to find this guy and beat his ass. Oh well. In the meantime I'm left with this odd coincidence of having spent a few minutes during that very night dwelling on how I'll need to replace the iPod soon, and here it was, stolen that very night. Interesting.

So then I head to work, all frustrated, and angry, and annoyed, and tired as hell, and I check my email. First thing I see is a note from eBay (ahem ... "ostensibly" from eBay) saying there'd been a dispute registered against me by a buyer regarding a transaction I made last month. "Click here to see the dispute thread" it says. "Oh come, on, what now!?" I thought as I immediately thought of the guy I'd bought a digital picture frame from on eBay just last month. And then, even though I've been using the internet for about 15 years now, and even though I regularly pitch at least a dozen phishing scam notes a week, I was already so pissed off about my day that I immediately assumed this was legit, clicked the link, didn't even flinch when I had to provide my eBay user ID and password to access the supposed dispute thread ...

... and then it hit me. About the time I saw nothing more than the basic eBay forums screen, with no dispute-specific anything in sight.

I'd just given my eBay ID and Password to some phisher scammer piece of crap. I'd been suckered like an 80-year-old grandma who just heard about this amazing new thing called the intar-webs and had just opened her very first email account. I slapped myself on the forehead, and then set about spending the next 30-40 minutes changing every single password I had (since many of them were similar, if not identical, to my eBay password, and wouldn't be too hard to suss out if you knew my eBay password already). I'm currently waiting to hear from the nerd police -- I assume a notice has gone out declaring my membership null and void and that my geek license will be forcibly revoked any time now.

This day has more than convinced me that I really need a few days to just wind down. I've been running full tilt since, like, September/October, with holidays, and training and work all piling one on top of the other. I'm worn out, just shot, and this month's allergy and cold assaults have just made it worse than ever.

Our kids are off for a few days next week, and we'd been considering a couple of days away hitting the museums in Houston, but last night Christine and I mutually decided that what we really need, as a family, is to just stay home together for a day. I'm taking Monday off, and Sunday we're going to take the kids to the store with the mission to find all the stuff we need for Monday so that we never have to leave the house for the entire day. We're just going to batten down the hatches, sleep late, watch cartoons, have a nice breakfast, listen to music, play games, watch a movie or two, build some stuff with Lego, bake cookies, catch a little afternoon nap, watch another movie or play some Rock Band, take nice long whirlpool baths instead of rushed showers, and go to bed. No work, no school, no grocery store, no running to the mall or to piano class or to karate or anything. We're not even going to start the cars for the entire day. For the entire day, we're going to just chill around the house.

I don't think I've ever looked forward to Monday more in my entire life.

Mood: Grumpy
Now Playing: Tribe, "Abort"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A World of Blah

Nothing too exciting to report on this end, dear friends. Following weeks of ceaseless work, nagging head colds, vicious allergies, and overall not-so-great-ness I attended a small intraschool tournament at our dojang this weekend. Took first in forms with Bassai, which was nice. Due to my testing schedule this would have been my only opportunity to compete with Bassai (barring a tie in a future tournament where I have to perform a backup) so managing to grab first place with it was a nice feeling. I test for 2nd gup next month, so by the time the next tournament rolls around I'll need to compete with Chil Sung Sam Rho, so at least I got Bassai on its feet and brought home something shiny with it.

When it came time to spar about 2 hours later, though, I was dead on my feet. I was matched up with a guy about 2/3 my size and 6-7 years my junior -- fast bugger, I'll tell you. I've sparred him before, and he's always challenging -- very quick, very aggressive. On a good day I can usually hold my own OK against him. Our relative size differences tend to make my kicks pretty much ineffective because I just can't get the speed on them I need to catch him off guard, so I just go defensive, let him rush in, wait for the openings to present themselves, and then pop some hand techniques in.

Not this time, though. I defended really well, though a bit slower than usual, blocking pretty much everything he threw when I was just staying defensive. But I just couldn't get any sort of momentum going when it came time to counter his stuff with some of my own. I felt like I was standing still half the time -- blocking and blocking like mad and then soooooo sllooooowwwwwwlllllyyyy throwing something out there. Very annoying.

Of course, by the end of the day I felt like hell, and then I sneezed about 400 times the following day, due to either/or cold and allergies. Cedar fever is kicking my ass this year. And the res tof this week hasn' tbeen much better. Headachey, chest tight and irritated, overall feeling of ick. Skipped training tonight to try to get ahead of whatever is plaguing me, and now I feel worse just because I hate missing training. I think it's time to just curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and try to recuperate from whatever's got me in low gear.

Mood: Ugh-y
Now Playing: Nothing

Friday, January 11, 2008

Storming the Fortress

Here I am, halfway through January and this is my first entry of 2008. I'm convinced that, when the calendar turned to the new year, someone somewhere magically shortened the days, because ever since New Year's Day I feel like my every waking moment has been filled to over-stuffing. Wake work train sleep repeat x5, plus 2 days of wake train work (around the house) and socialize (some) sleep. Repeat. Add to this general non-stop activity the overall miserable cedar fever season we're having here in Austin this year and you can just imagine what fun I'm having. My eyes feel pretty much like they've got sand in them all day, every day, especially when I blink or close them. And I spend about 3-4 hours each days sneezing. Perhaps I should have taken my cedar (juniper) allergies into account when I opted to purchase a house in CEDAR FREAKIN' PARK.

Arrgh. It should end in a couple of weeks.

Work is a madhouse -- my good friend Joan has come on board as our VP of Marketing (and thus my new boss) and as a result things have gone from "busy but unfocused" to "super busy and highly focused" almost overnight. I'm getting in early in the morning, leaving well after 6:00 most nights. and then I head home, visit with my family for about an hour, and then go train.

I am SO glad it's Friday.


Training this week has been interesting. My instructor is up in Connecticut, training with the high level students in our organization and attending this year's kodanja training/testing. Kodanja is held once a year, and it is the nearly one-week long test during which invited 3rd dans (sam dan's) in our art are permitted to test for 4th dan (kodanja). My instructor is not testing this year -- he tested two years ago, just a month or so after I started training with him, and will therefore not be eligible to test for at least a few more years. but many studio owners choose to attend the training and test anyhow, simply as a way to challenge themselves and obtain intensive training time with our Grand Master, Charles Ferraro.

Quick digression, and for the uninformed, some info: Kodanja is a particularly grueling series of days of training followed by testing. And when I say "days" I mean pretty much ENTIRE days of training. Typically, the students that have been invited to test will begin training on Wednesday morning, early (say before 9:00 or so), and do not stop until 3:00 or so in the morning (i.e. around 18 hours later). Afterward, you shower, and grab some sleep, and then training kicks off again at around 7:00 or so (if you're lucky you'll get about 3 hours of sleep). This keeps up for four days although I believe they are cut loose early on Saturday night so they can get at least 5-6 hours of sleep before the test.

Then, on the last day (Sunday), the kodanja candidates participate in an all day test in which they have to demonstrate total competence and ability in pretty much Every Single Bit of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan curriculum. To give you an idea of just how much curriculum this is, consider this list of techniques I had to demonstrate for my 3rd gup test, late last year:
  • Approximately 2 dozen hand technique and hand technique combinations (soo gi)
  • Approximately 1 dozen foot technique and foot technique combinations (jok gi)
  • 10 forms (hyungs) -- 3 gichos, 5 pyang ahns, 2 chil sungs
  • 10 basic one step sparring techniques (il soo sik dae ryun)
  • 14 intermediate one step sparring techniques (il soo sik dae ryun)
  • 15 intermediate self-defense techniques (ho sin sul)
  • Sparring, breaking, terminology, and philosophy/history
On a good day, that test takes about 3.5 hours, more if anyone has any difficulty. And these tests are done as a group, meaning if one person is having difficulties the honorable requirements are that the entire group keep working with them until they succeed or are asked to leave the mat, so if even one person is having a hard time a 3rd gup test can easily go 4 or 5 hours. Now, consider: That's what I had to demonstrate after just about 21 months of training. Folks invited to test for kodanja have to have been training for approximately 14 years. And while the number of foot and hand techniques don't really grow all that much, the forms and other curriculum become more and more challenging and complex.

So yeah: it's kind of a big deal. If I am fortunate and stay on schedule without serious injuries I hope to be invited to test for kodanja in or around 2019-2020. Which means I'll be somewhere around 51 or 52.

Holy crap.

So, anyway, getting back to the present. Because my instructor is off in Connecticut we've had guest instructors all week. By guests I mean that our higher ranking students have been stepping u pand teaching class in his absence, which has created some pretty exciting learning opportunities. While I very much enjoy and prefer learning from Sa Bom Nim Nunan, I've found that getting a chance to train under other instructors from time to time can be a really good way of dusting things off and making you see them in a different light. Different instructors have different approaches to material and different ways in which they get their points across. This week I've been fortunate to train under Mr. Daniel Delanela, one of our Ee Dans and a remarkably gifted martial artist. I often say that when I grow up I want to be Mr. Delanela, although I'm pretty sure I've actually got a year or two on him -- hard to say, honestly, as he is from the Philippines and Filipinos, like so many people of Asian descent, tend to have a "looks really young but could be 80" thing going on. Regardless, he's spectacularly talented, and a terrific teacher to boot. I hope he'll consider taking on an occasional class in the future, even if Sa Bom Nim is in town.

One thing Mr. Delanela mentioned in class the other night was how when students reach red belt it becomes more and more important that they spend more time considering why it is that they train, what they feel they are getting out of training and whet they feel they bring to the dojang as a senior student. this is something that's been on my mind a lot lately, honestly, as I approach my 2nd gup test. I train as much as I can, and train hard. I'd train more often if it weren't for all these pesky family and career thingies getting in the way . But why? Part of it is camaraderie, certainly: over the past 2+ years I've made many very good friends via our dojang, most especially the friendship Christine and I've found with Sa Bom Nim and his wife Pennie. I enjoy the challenge of training as well, and the satisfaction I feel when I know I've performed a technique or a form well, or have sparred a particularly good match.

But there's more to it that that. I really feel I'm becoming a different person because of this art -- not completely different, obviously, I'm still me. But I feel like so many ways in which I approach other people, and the world at large, have changed as a result of this training. I'm less skittish in social situations, more able to just be at ease around people -- I especially noticed this when I attended my first trade show last month and had to do the handshake/meet and greet/Q&A thing for my company. That sort of totally artificial social behavior used to unnerve me to no end, but this time around it was a walk in the park. I'm also more likely to speak up when I first see problems, instead of either ignoring them and hoping they'll go away or tolerating them until I can't anymore and finally explode. I feel like I'm so much more of an even keel.

but there's more, too. The form I'm currently learning is Bassai, a traditional form that was created over 500 years ago in Southern China. One interpretation of the name Bassai is "storming the fortress," and while this form is a very forceful and dynamic one, which might lead you to think that the fortress in question is one made out fo stone sitting on a mountain somewhere, in fact the fortress it is referring to is one's own ego. This is a form that is meant to help us deconstruct ourselves, to unlearn negative attitudes and behaviors and just, well get over ourselves. It's very challenging, very fast, yet requires flexibility and relaxation to perform well. One's limitations become readily apparent when learning Bassai, and it takes a lot of work to get it right, far more effort to get it good.

i've been working on bassai for nearly 5 months now, and I think I'm finally "getting" it. I mean, I knew it at 2 weeks and could perform it accurately (if not well) within a month. But after 5 months, I feel like I am getting to understand it. The way the movements flow together. The rhythm and pace and mood of it. and I think part of this is due to my entire last year being something of a year of Bassai in my life. Losing my job and my subsequent challenges in getting rehired forced me to take a long hard look at myself and my approach to work, and I wasn't all that excited by what I saw. still, it took moths for me to finally "get over myself" and mend some bridges in order to get my career back on track. I was carrying a lot of anger around due to how poorly things went at my last company, but I couldn't admit that I'd taken a lot of that anger out on my friends and co-workers, not through anger and abuse but through negativity and sarcasm and harsh comments that were jokes but which still stung. I had to realize that the way I see myself is not always the way others see me, and that others will continue seeing me in a negative light unless I give them a positive version of myself to judge.

This was a big thing. Not an easy pill to swallow, I'll tell you. Sometimes it's very hard to look at yourself and say "you know, drop the bullshit, apologize for being a difficult prick to work with for while there, and don't do it anymore. Grow up. Move one." and that's what I've tried to do, ever since taking on my new job. I think I'm doing OK, but I don't spend a lot of time waiting for people to tell me so -- I just assume that if I keep putting my best face and foot forward they'll notice.

This was, I think, a pretty big effort at storming my own fortress, and I hadn't even been taught Bassai yet! But the lessons are at the heart of our art, and the heart of why I think I continue to train and study so hard, despite the sacrifices it forces me to make. Tang Soo Do changes lives, and I know it is changing mine for the better.

Have a great weekend, y'all.

Mood: Chipper, but ready for the weekend
Now Playing: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Original Motion Picture Soundtrack