Saturday, February 23, 2008

White Lily / Test Papers

What Fassbinder Film is it?
The one-armed man comes into the flower shop and says
"What flower expresses days go by? And they just keep going by endlessly, pulling you into the future? Days go by, endlessly, endlessly pulling you into the future?"
And the florist says, "White lily." -- Laurie Anderson
That sums things up lately. I'm busier than I think I've ever been, both at work and at home. When I get this busy I feel like I'm so active and proccupied that I must be missing something. Like I've forgotten do something, but I can't put my finger on it. Sort of an existential version of "Did I turn the stove off?"

At the job I'm redesigning and rebuilding our corporate web site using Joomla, designing a booth layout for several upcoming trade shows, creating signage for several other shows, working on product photography and graphics, ordering a variety of tchotchkes and gewgaws for our sales force to distribute for branding purposes, and adding fairly comples animation sequnces to a bunch of Power Point presentations.

After 9-10 hours of that each day I come home to a flurry of activity in the house, as Christine prepares for the upcoming Destination Imagination competition -- she's a team manager, and Miranda is on the team, so there's lots to be done and we're in the home stretch. Plus we just wrapped up the school spelling bee, and the we have all of our usual commitments with the kids (Tang Soo Do, piano lessons, advanced study projects, plus carfeully scheduled time for them to actually, you know, play and stuff). While these are largely Christine's burdens to bear, I try to help her as much as I can in the time I have available -- she's taken on a lot, and is substitute teaching to top it off, so the least I can do is try to make it easier when I can. So that adds a lot of honey-do's and errands to my days.

And to top it off, today is my 2nd gup test. I've been training 4 times per week to ensure I was ready, and I'm quite comfortable and confident that things will go just fine. This test isn't nearly as challenging and all-encompassing as my last test -- or my next one, which will hopefully occur in about 6 months. Some fairly challenging line drills, with all of the commands being called in Korean. Jump and jump-spin kick drills, also in Korean. 3 hyungs (last test I had to perform 10). 4 il soo sik dae ryun (last test was 24, including the basic ones). 6 ho sin sul (last test was 15). Some improvised self-defense and random throws (just like on every other test in the past 18 months). A couple of rounds of sparring. 1 board break (ee dan dwi chagi -- jump back kick). History and terminology. Overall, a fairly easy test, compared with some of the others.

And even though I know I'm ready, I have jitters as usual. I think the main thing I'm nervous about this time is that this will be the first time I test in front of Master Riley. Master Riley is my teacher's teacher, a fantastically gifted martial artist and a hell of guy to boot. While I know I know my stuff, I just want to perform it well enough to make my teacher proud in front of his teacher. This will mostly depend on consistently keeping my energy levels high throughout, going all out and full-power, loud and solid, for the entirety of the test. I know I can do that -- my energy is usually pretty strong throughout.

My main worry is that the other students in my group might not bring that level of energy and commitment to the test -- once again I am testing with a group of kids. Not an adult in sight. One of the kids is young teen who trains in with the adults all the time, and he's really quite good, but he's also testing for 1st gup, not 2nd, so I won't be working with him for much of the test at all.

The majority of them know their stuff cold, so I'm hopeful that I won't spend a lot of time standing in a front stance waiting for the next move to be called while one of the other students works through some confusion or difficulty they are having. I am expecting that I will wind up doing each of my forms twice, since even if you get it right the first time if anyone in your group messes up the usual protocol is for everyone to do the form a second time, but that will be OK. The big issue will be that kids tend to not put a lot of energy out on the mat when they are nervous, and that will be exactly opposite of what the judges are expecting from us. So, as the senior, I have a feeling I'll be putting out most of the energy for the group, all day.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to getting through this, if just to get it off my plate.


As usual, test day brings more essays. This time out we had two topics, one on the importantce of assistant teaching and the second on the history, meaning, and significance of Bassai, the form we learned at this level. For the essay on Bassai I used a slightly updated and rewritten version of a post from last month, as I felt it said more about my understanding of Bassai than a list of facts and figures ever could. No point in reposting it, so here's a link if you're interested in reading it. As for the other paper, text follows:

The Importance of Assistant Teaching
I feel it is important for senior students to assistant teach for a variety of reasons. Briefly, assistant teaching provides:
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • A chance to sharpen one’s own understanding of their own techniques
  • The opportunity to contribute to and participate in the growth and well-being of the dojang
Practice, Practice, Practice

One thing most students encounter as they advance through the ranks is some difficulty remembering their basic techniques while also attempting to learn the more difficult and challenging techniques they are learning with each new gup level. This is particularly important as we approach tests where we will be required to perform all of the techniques we’ve learned previous instead of just the techniques we’ve learned recently (such as when testing for 3rd or 1st gup).

It can be very difficult to maintain the focus and discipline necessary to learn more difficulty techniques when we are also spending time trying to recall simpler techniques we may not have actually performed in weeks or even months. Assistant teaching gives senior students a much-needed opportunity to practice the more rudimentary techniques, such as their basic one-steps and gicho forms, while demonstrating these techniques to less advanced students. This helps to keep these techniques fresh while also providing guidance and motivation to the lower ranks.

Sharpening One’s Own Understanding

One side benefit of working with less advanced students is that it forces us to examine our own technique a bit more closely, and to think about the techniques from a different perspective.
For example, as I’ve advanced I’ve found that my approach to forms has changed quite a bit. Forms that, when I first learned, I thought of as little more than a whole bunch of steps in a row, instead seem to have storylines or rhythm and flow, and I tend to approach them from a sort of narrative direction, trying to find a way to integrate the pieces into something that works as a whole, almost like a story. And while this is, I think, a good way to approach forms, sometimes getting lost in the “flow” of the form can make me forget to focus on keeping the individual movement within the form crisp and distinct. By helping less advanced students to practice and learn forms it forces me to deconstruct them again, to focus on the components as much as the whole again.

Assistant teaching one steps and wrist grabs provides their own insights as well. When I’ve worked with less advanced students on basic techniques I’ve found that I often have trouble communicating what I’m doing verbally. My usual tendency is to resort to just demonstrating the technique over and over again, which usually works. However, I’ve found that if I stop and take a moment to try to articulate verbally the specific movements in the technique and then demonstrate them (“step out with your right foot into a front stance while doing a reverse punch to the abdomen with your left hand” – demonstrate -- “bring your hands to your right hip and make a triangle with your fingers” – demonstrate – “and then throw an open hand block to your partner’s arm with your left hand while knife hand striking their throat with your right hand” – demonstrate…) it serves two purposes: It helps the student really break things down into easier to digest pieces of info, but it also forces me to stop and think about the specific components of each technique I gain a better understanding of them and can more effectively teach them to others. For some reason I have trouble knowing when a person standing opposite me is moving in the correct direction when they are doing one steps (i.e. ar they stepping out to the correct side, are they moving the correct foot or punching with the correct hand, etc.) so these opportunities are really beneficial to me, and hopefully to the students I work with as well.

Contributing to the Growth and Wellbeing of the Dojang

This one is pretty obvious, I think. When senior students make time to assistant teach, either during official classtime or simply by working with other students during their spare time off the mat, it helps to build the sense of community and family that a dojang needs to thrive. When we’re first getting started in the abilities of our teachers – who tend to have a LOT of experience behind them – can be daunting, almost demotivating in some ways. It is easy to look at the capabilities of the Sa Boms and Kyo Sas who teach us and think “there’s no way I can do that, ever,” especially when we’re struggling to master a technique that they make seem like child’s play. Working with other students who have only been training a year, maybe just a few months, more than me, who were able to do these things really helped to bolster my confidence when I felt as if I might not be able to progress. I can only assume this helps other students in the same way, and I’m certain that this helps with retention over time.


Anyway, wish me luck.

Mood: Good, but slightly jittery
Now Playing: Laurie Anderson, "Life on a String"


Anonymous said...

hey im about to test for cho dan in tang soo do. and i was wonering if u knew the motivation for the passai or bassai forms

Gregg P. said...

Hey there "Anonymous,"

I'm happy to answer any questions I can. I think, however, I could use a bit of clarification on what your mean by the "motivation" of bassai. I can tell you that Bassai -- like most of the forms we learn as gups -- is a Weh Gung form, in that it is characterized by a focus on explosive external energy -- quick, powerful movements, with the breathing reflecting this as well.

Your breathing on these forms should be a powerful exhale on the execution of the technique, with the exhale coming to a stop at the completion of the technique.

Unlike the Pyang Ahn forms (which are also Weh Gung in style) Bassai has a more fluid quality and style when performed correctly. Whereas the Pyang Ahn are associated with the tortoise (and the methodical, confident quality we associate with them), Bassai is associated with is the King Cobra. Try to keep this in mind as you practice and perform the hyung and you will see areas of the form that really benefit from a more sinuous/serpentine way of moving.

I hope this has helped you -- if you have any other questions I'll be happy to try to assist. Best of luck on your Cho Dan test.