Friday, August 22, 2008

Worketty Work/Sum Beh Nim/41 Approaches

I've spent the better part of the past 2 weeks completely buried at work. The Director of Marketing I've worked under at my current job was let go a couple of Mondays ago, and as a result I've been scrambling to take control of the things he was in the middle of, or had been responsible for, etc.

So, yeah, it's been a busy 12-14 days. We've got a trade show coming up in about 3 weeks that he'd been taking point on (I was responsible for the next two, but he said he had a lot done and it would be easier to just finish running this one. I think the real reason had more to do with his history with the primary organizer of the event, but whatever), and unfortunately, when he was let go it became apparent that whatever planning he'd done had been done in his head, as no actual planning, design, reservations, or projects seem to have been undertaken. And with deadlines for early reservations expiring this week I had to move quickly to get things squared away in order to save our lil' company some much needed cash.

I think I'm on the other side of THAT particular nightmare now -- all advance orders have been placed, and I can now get on with the task of planning that actual booth layout, courting and coddling partners, playing kiss ass with vendors to try to get some special treatment, and so forth. With any luck I'll get this thing in shape and slam-dunk it, thereby HOPEFULLY setting myself up for something of a promotion sometime in the near-future, when we get a little more funding.

It's all very complicated. And not a little bit exhausting.


Got my second stripe in class a couple of Tuesdays ago. By all accounts my test was terrific and I knocked it out of the park. Which is nice. I have to admit it's a bit odd having other students bow to me as a senior student -- Sum Beh Nim -- now (in our dojang, the students bow to the senior 1st gup on the mat after bowing to the instructor and the senior dan). I thoguht I'd get a thrill out of it, but instead I feel a bit awkward. But still, it's fun. If anything it's helping to push me to put out extra effort during class, to work harder on my own performance and to take the role of senior student more seriously. It tends to put me in the mind of watching my juniors a bit more closely, and of trying to lend guidance when I can without being cocky about it.

It's a tricky role -- we've all known the guy who thinks he knows everything and wants to just keep pointing out your flaws so that he looks terrific in contrast. I really don't want to be that guy. I think the trick is to continually remember my kyum son, my humility. When I spot something in a junior that needs change or improvement, I try to make sure I explain how I used to do this same technique completely differently, and how and when I realized thaere was a different or better way to approach it. That more often than not I made the exact same mistakes they may be making for weeks and months before I gained insight into how or why it should be different.

I've never felt I'm anything special in Tang Soo Do -- quite the opposite, actually. I feel like I have very little natural ability, and whatever gains I've made have been due to working twice as hard (at least ...) as the people that seem to just "get it" naturally. As a result of these efforts I think I have developed some solid skills as a technician, if not any particular affinity or grace. I tend to know when thigns are technically right or wrong, and I tend to be able to articulate these things pretty well, but I firmly believe thatany student who commits to the art and puts the time I've put in would be just as apt, just as capable, just as accomplished. I'm nothing special. I just bust my ass more than some others.

I try to make sure I communicate this and keep this in mind when I work with my juniors, in the hopes that it will be apparent to the people I work with that I'm just trying to help, and I don't expect anyone to think that I'm anything all that special at all. That the things I try to show people are the results of hard work, distilled to a few things I can get right more often than not. I like to think I don't dispense pearls of wisdom so much as drops of sweat. And if you've worked out with me, you'll know that I sweat a lot -- if only all of that sweat was true knowledge.


So, Sunday will mark 41 years. No big observations this year. My job is great, my family is beyond fantastic, we are all healthy and doing well. We have a fantastic new house, one that I still occasionally wake up in and think "How the HELL did I wind up here?" I'm not walking around in a personal Nirvana or anything -- I spend a lot of time feeling spread far thinner than I'd prefer, money is tight thanks to our fabulous Bush-engineered economic meltdown, and I've seen more than a couple of friends fall by the wayside this past year: that last one continues to sting more than I expected it would, but there's literally nothing to be done about it. Are there things I change if I could? Sure. But all in all, this has been a terrific 41st year on the planet.

So, Happy 41st Birthday to me.

Mood: Full (big birthday lunch)
Now Playing: Assorted Artists, "Big Blue Ball"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Made of Pain

Yeah, the title pretty much sums up how I feel today. Getting out of bed was a challenge, getting down the stairs even more so.

Everything hurts.

My Il Gup test was, in a word, grueling. A marathon of an exam, clocking in at over 5 hours start to finish, with only brief periods of rest throughout. To top it off, Master Riley's dojang was quite warm for much of the test, due to his accidentally forgetting to reset the A/C when it went off automatically at 1:00. Luckily we had ceiling fans moving plenty of air around, so it wasn't unbearable.

Line drills went on for a solid 30-40 minutes, followed immediately by jump and jump spin kicking drills, then right into forms. Forms clocked in around 45 minutes or so for the 5 of us testing for il gup, largely due to a number of candidates who were blanking or simply unprepared. Thankfully I was pretty solid throughout, making only a couple of minor errors.

Made one dumb error on Gicho Hyung Sam Bu (I didn't even realize I'd made it -- stepping out into a reinforced block instead of a low block when I turned to head up the center the first time). Master Riley called me out on it, and I know what the correct movement should be but was honestly unaware I'd done a different move. I asked permission to re-do it but they let me off the hook. Then, on my last form (Chil Sung Sahm Rho) I simply lost focus at the tail end of the middle of the form and was unsure of whether I'd done a move correctly, so I bowed out and re-did it. The judges aid they were pretty sure I hadn't screwed up, but I figure I'd already lost focus, so it would have only been a matter of time until I messed up anyhow. Better to just re-do it.

Then came my least favorite part of testing, horse stance punching. Endurance punching, for 45 seconds (usually actually a minute -- not sure how long they ran the clock on us yesterday). I was pretty solid on it this time, and didn't get too winded, so that was nice. Still, this part of testing always leaves me my most spent and deflated during the testing day. One step sparring and wrist grabs follow, so I always hope to be paried with a really good partner, someone who will help me to get my energy and spirit back up so I can finish strong.

And, well, that just wasn't the case yesterday. My partner had an almost complete lack of energy, particularly for a kid his age. Barely kicking above his knee, punching slowly and no where near my head or face, and generally demonstrating all the energy and discipline of a scarecrow. I take pride in my ability to kind of blow through my one steps, knocking them out hard and fast, with barely any pauses, back and forth between me and my partner until they're all done and we're both winded but proud. That was just not gonna happen with this kid, though. He was unsure of his technique, and this lac of confidence and focus just drained the life out both of us.

We got through one steps fine (at least I did), but after they were done all I wanted to do was just kind of punch the clock for the rest of the test. Get it done. Demonstrate and acceptable if uninspired improvised one step, blow through the wrist grabs (again, no energy, no focus, no confidence on his part), do an improvised self defense movement (got to do that one with someone a little more together, and had a bit of fun -- it was a double lapel grab, and I broke it with a doble high block, followed by a double knife hand to the throat, a knee strike to the face, dropped him to the matt, finished with a solid punch tot he head. No contact of course, but man, if there had been ...). Just get it done.

When it came time tos par, I was a bit apprehensive. I tore a ligament in my foot last week, one deep inside behind the ball of the foot that keeps the long bones of the foot together. It was hurting pretty constantly all through testing, but after about 4 hours of working out on it I really began to feel as though I had a 10 Penny nail stuck in my foot, especially when I bounced up on the ball of my foot. When I spar, I tend to do a lot of bouncing and rocking on the balls of my feet, so I knew it was going to be agony. As luck would have it, though, Master Riley excused anyone who'd attended Nationals last month from sparring. So yay!

Then we moved on to 2-on-1 sparring, and I realized I needed to think about whether I should take part. It's not really considered a necessary part of testing -- I've never seen anyone fail for not managing to perform well, and apparently it's only considered mandatory at the dan level. I'd been prepared to push through the pain for ordinary sparring, since at least it's more controlled and I could use techniques that would keep the weight off my right foot. But 2-on-1 is a completely different beast, with lots of quick lateral movement and direction changes: all of it would be hitting on pain spots. So I decided to just admit that I needed to wimp out on this: I asked to approach the judging table, explained that I would like to be excused from this portion of the test as I had an injury that was really giving me trouble, and was excused without a problem.

I kind of hated doing that, but at the same time I need to accept that sometimes my body is not going to cooperate, and I can't risk making things worse just to feed my ego.


Anyway, the test ended about an hour later, following some fairly harsh criticism by the judges regarding the lack of preparation and energy on the part of many of the testing candidates. Needless to say, no stripes were awarded yesterday, as many (most) of the candidates require some re-testing. This part of the test is always hard for me. It's not that I want a parade or anything like that, but when it comes down to it, I know I performed very well yesterday. I also know (as I was informed by 5 of the judges afterward) that I passed outright, and will not need to retest on anything for attain my rank.

The critiques by the judges were largely directed at those students who arrived unprepared, who were unmotivated. But of course, the result of that is that I get little or no feedback pertaining the my performance on test day. I get no real feedback on where I need to improve, what I did well, what I could have done better, because in contrast to some of the testing candidates, I was exemplary.

This is part of why I'm so relieved that this was the last test I'll be taking where I'm one of the only, if not the only adult testing in a group of children. My next test will be for cho dan, and I will be testing with at least 5 or 6 other adults from my dojang, as well as several other adults from our brother/sister dojangs in the area. And after 2.5 years of testing almost exclusively with kids, I can't wait.

Testing with kids is exhausting, not because they are so small and fast, but because they just don't bring energy, share energy, give energy back to the other people in the room. They don't understand what it feels like to honestly be at the end of your rope, really ready to drop, to really need the energy from a partner to get you going again. These last two testing experiences were grueling, and while they are obviously designed to be such, they don't need to be so frustrating.

So, yay me. I should have my stripe following my next class, and then I can begin counting the days for my long wait until I test for cho dan. I'm scheduled for May 2009. 9 solid months until then.

Doesn't seem so long at all.

Mood: Owie
Now Playing: Nothing

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Testing for Il Gup

Big day today. Having completed my latest 6 month waiting period, I've been invited to test for Il Gup (1st gup -- Red Belt with 2 blue stripes). This is the last rank before I am permitted to test for cho dan/blue belt, the Tang Soo Do equivalent of what people typically consider a "black belt." The common misconception is that being a "black belt" means you are finished, but infact it's more akin to being a High School graduate. Achieving the rank of cho dan simply demonstrates an understanding and ability to demonstrate consistently the fundamentals of our art. Post-dan training builds on these fundamentals to push us forward and upward.

Given that example, then, today is sort of like taking my SATs. A huge test, where I'm called upon to demonstrate each and every technique that makes up the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan curriculum on to my current rank. To whit:
  • Several dozen hand and foot techniques, in line drill formation. Single techniques and combinations
  • 10 Basic One Step Sparring Techniques (Il Soo Sik Dae Ryun)
  • 18 Intermediate One Step Sparring Techniques
  • About 20 or so self-defense techniques (Ho Sin Sool)
  • Improvised Il Soo Sik Dae Ryun and Ho Sin Sool
  • 12 forms (Hyungs -- 3 gicho, 5 pyang ahn, 3 chil sung, and bassai)
  • Several rounds of no-contact sparring (harder than it sounds)
  • Endurance horsestance punching drills (exactly as hard as they sound)
  • Terminology/philosophy/history questions
  • Breaking (two foot techniques, one hand technique, most with mulitple boards)
So, yeah. Big day. Test will probably run over 4-5 hours. I thk I'll be sleeping pretty deeply tonight.


Gotta say, watchng the opening ceremonies of the 29th Olympics in Beijing last night really put me in the right mindset for this test. The focus on precision, and beauty, and the seemingly endless series of contrasts of large and small, light and dark, many and one, fast and slow, and so on really exemplifies so much of what we strive for in our art. If I start to have a hard time today, I am going to try to bring to mind the image of those thousands of performers, wokring together with such precision and power and grace on the traditional Chinese drums, or while performing Tai Chi, or while dancing or moving together. I think that's an excellent source of inspiration, and of strength.


As far as preparation goes, I'm certain I'm ready for this test, at least in the broad skills and knowledge required. I've been spread so think over the past 6 weeks that I haven't been able to focus on the finer points of test prep as much as I'd prefer. My Korean terminology is shaky, and while I know my forms inside out, I still feel and rusty on some of the middle Pyang Ahns (Ee Dan and Sa Dan, specifically). I may very well freeze up or blank out on a couple of them, requiring me to bow out and try a second time. I may also screw up a line drill command or two.

I'm not going to sweat it too much, though -- I know this stuff, and I'm good at it. MY resources have been spread so think lately, tohugh, that I haven't been able to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe Tang Soo Do at the level I usually do. And that's OK -- my training has gotten every bit of attention I could dedicate to it, so I don't for one second feel I have not worked to prepare adequately. If I fumble a couple of times today, it's OK.


Anyway, as always test day comes with some papers. This time around I really feel like I punted on the papers -- I only received the invitation with the topics 12 days ago and again, just not enough time to devote to them. Still they cover the topics adequately, and as is my custom on this blog I have included them below.

How Do You Use Neh Khang Weh Yu Inside and Outside the Dojang?

A very large Oak was uprooted by the wind and thrown across a stream. It fell among some Reeds, which it thus addressed: "I wonder how you, who are so light and weak, are not entirely crushed by these strong winds." They replied, "You fight and contend with the wind, and consequently you are destroyed; while we on the contrary bend before the least breath of air, and therefore remain unbroken, and escape." -- Aesop, ~600BC

The principal Neh Khang Weh Yu, meaning "inside hard, outside soft," represents for me the concept of knowing when to stand firm in the face of challenges, but also knowing when to bend and adjust to forces you cannot resist. This concept is in many ways a synthesis of elements of both the 8 Key Concepts, as well as the 12 Tenets of Faith. By internalizing and focusing on adhering to these noble traits we can encourage Neh Khang Weh Yu in ourselves. In a sense, it is an example of the result that we can achieve by through training, discipline, and trying to adhere to the key concepts and tenets.

As for how I try to use Neh Khang Weh Yu, I feel this principal has very different meanings and uses for me inside the dojang, as a function of my training, as opposed to outside the dojang, in how I live my life. In the dojang, I see Neh Khang Weh Yu as most beneficial in helping me to not accept too much of myself too quickly. Between my steadily growing age and the steadily increasing demands of training as I've progressed, I've found that I need to simply accept that my progress will be slower, will take more time to sink in. In the Aesop fable, this can be seen in the way the reed accepts the power of the wind and bends to it. In the dojang I try to keep an attitude toward training, an attitude of Neh Kheng Weh Yu, that is similar. I try to accept that there are things I cannot just force to be right, that I must be patient and just move through, and that thinking of myself as flawless or more powerful than I am, or perhaps than I am ready to be just yet, can lead directly to failure. So, in this sense, I feel that in the dojang I use Neh Khang Weh Yu primarily as a way of encouraging my own attempts to focus on kyum son, in neh, and (as always, it seems) shin chook.

Outside the dojang, however, I feel that I try to use Neh Khang Weh Yu in a far more outwardly oriented manner, largely in the way in which I deal with others and in how I try to conduct myself. In this sense, Ithnk it is more akin to having a kind and generous spirit with others, but also having a solid and firm set of core beliefs on which to fall back when times get tough. I feel that our training helps to instill core values that can carry us through life, but also encourages us to be flexible, to not be so rigid in our dealings with others.
Again, if you look at Aesop's fable, we see how the oak tree can't help but judge the reeds by his own standards -- they are weak, and he sees himself as strong even though he's been destroyed by his own inflexible and unyielding manner. He's still blind to his own weaknesses, simply because he is too arrogant to see otherwise. Conversely, the reeds are confident in themselves and in their stature, their limitations, and their strengths. In many ways Neh Khang Weh Yu then represents our pyang ahn, the sense of confidence and peacefulness that comes from knowing our strengths and not feeling constantly compelled to prove them to others.


Discuss Chil Sung, Their Meaning, History and Relevance

The Chil Sung Hyung, meaning "Seventh Star Path" were created by Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee. Created and first taught by Grandmaster in 1952, the Chil Sung forms are said to have been named for the Little Dipper, which has seven stars, and which terminates with the star Polaris, or the North Star. It is also said that the name Chil Sung refers in some ways to Hwang Kee himself, as his childhood name could be translated as "Star Child." According to the story one night, after having spent some "private time" with her husband, Grandmaster's mother went out and looked up in the sky, saw the North Star, and immediately knew that she was pregnant. When her son was born later, she named him "Star Child" in recognition of this moment. While I can't really find anything to support this anecdote, it makes for a pretty cool story nonetheless.

The seven Chil Sung hyung are designed to act as a guide and path for students of Tang Soo Do as they move through their training. This is why the Little Dipper, and specifically Polaris, are so relevant and meaningful a symbol of the Chil Sung forms. Much as the North Star guided sailors and other travelers on their long journies, the Chil Sung forms are designed to help us to move forward in our training. I feel that the lessons that we are taught through the Chil Sung forms are most evident in the manner in which these hyung combine slow and fast movements, soft and hard energy. These techniques encourage us to develop and integrate Weh Gung (external energy - fiery, with hard, explosive movement) and Neh Gung (internal energy - softer, slower, more relaxed and peaceful. Characterized by water), with the ultimate goal of developing our spiritual selves, spiritual energy, Shim Gung.


Anyway, wish me luck. Hopefully I'll have some nice pictures to show later.

Mood: A little tense

Now Playing: Nada