Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I'm not proud to say that I was also a bit jealous, to be honest, as were a number of other folks that I'd tested with back in May who were present. This was the testing experience we were hoping for for ourselves. Didn't so much work out that way, but regardless I was so, so grateful that the bad juju that resulted in our test being such an overall negative experience was not present for this test. I gives me hope that if and when I test for Ee Dan things will come out a bit different overall.
Man, I've gotta get back to blogging. It's odd, but ever since I received my promotion to Cho Dan I've found I haven't had a lot to say in regards to my training. Partly it's because I was a bit overwhelmed with the quantity of new material I've been trying to get a handle on -- 4 new forms, elbow techniques, sleeve grabs, and so forth, all coming at me pretty fast. For the first few months of my post-promotion training my main thought on training consisted of "damn, I feel like a white belt again!" Excited, challenged, and a little overwhelmed and frustrated. I'd gotten quite comfortable with having a pretty solid grasp of the curriculum, but this is very much not the case at present.
Needless to say, none of these conditions are very conducive to much self-reflection beyond a continuous buzz of "I wonder how long it'll take for me to feel more comfortable with this new stuff?" Not exactly a topic I feel compelled to spend much time addressing here. But now, as I've started getting more comfortable with the new stuff, I've finally began to start thinking in more detail about where I go from here, training-wise.
For a while I was fairly certain that once I hit Cho Dan I'd start focusing more on additional training in weapons. I studied some Haidong Gumdo (Korean sword) with Sa Bom Nim for a little while, until he had to discontinue the class for scheduling reasons. I enjoyed it, and also enjoy the bong (staff), and I was thinking of trying to focus some time on those skills. Then there's Kali, a stick/knife fighting systems from the Phillipines that my instructor is a enthusiastic fan/practitioner of -- fun, much less formalized system and training style. Also insanely brutal. Then there's Judo, also offered at our school -- although frankly I just don't see myself getting into Judo at 42 years of age. I see how often the younger guys are injured doing it, and I figure at my I might just need to take a pass.
Anyway, the point is that there are a number of additional training options that I've considered adding into my repertoire. The main obstacle, as is so often the case these days, is time. Training in any of these disciplines would require additional class time (obviously), so I'd either have to commit still more time to training or exchange time I typically devote to Tang Soo Do for these new arts in order to keep things even. I'm not too thrilled with either of these options, honestly.
And then there's teaching. As I've mentioned previously, I'm really interested in beginning to train others in this art as part of my own training, with the goal of eventually testing for my Kyo Sa (certified instructor) certification in the next few years. And frankly, that's just as big a time commitment as taking on another art, especially if you're going to take it seriously. Just like picking up a new martial art or new disciple, I look at teaching as a skill set that needs to be learned, practiced, and developed over time. I've done some assistant teaching over the past few months, although not as much as I wish I could: schedules really make it tough for me to assistant teach during the week very often, and again, if I assistant teach during my own class times then I don't get as much of an opportunity to practice my own material. Still, I'm making small strides. I think I have some native talent for communicating with groups of people -- but it needs to be polished, that's for sure.
So, that's where I stand right now. I want to expand and grow my skill set in Tang Soo Do or in other arts, but I'm already pretty heavily time-constrained so I need to select carefully. I wasn't sure where I was going to go with it until a couple of weeks ago, when I had my first opportunity to teach a couple of classes solo. I was a nervous wreck, honestly. They were the Saturday morning all ranks kids class (kids white-blue belt), followed by the family class (all ages, all ranks, families training together). Because of the vast range of skills, ages, and ranks that can show up at these classes, class planning is difficult at best. But I came up with a plan.
And for the the kids class … the plan was a train wreck. It wasn't a bad plan, per se, but the students who showed up were simply not able to pull together enough to train. Too wide a range of ages, too much difference between their ranks and requirements. I tried to stick to curriculum as two of them were testing in gup tests the following week, but this made things even worse because there was no overlap whatsoever in their curriculum. It was entirely unproductive. I'd have been better off just setting up an obstacle course and running them ragged with in eh/endurance exercises. Their parents would have been grateful, I'm sure. My only success was in not losing my patience.
But the family class was actually pretty good. Solid turnout (I think it was 14 total), and my class plan worked out well. Everyone got a good workout, and I think everyone learned something during the class. I focused on the fundamentals of kicking, then applied them to partner kicking exercises, and finally incorporated them into forms training and showed (I hope!) how better focus on technique can have a wide variety of benefits in different applications. Everyone worked up a good sweat, and seemed satisfied when they left.
And that's when I made up my mind. Having managed to succeed at least somewhat my first time out, I realized just how much I want to learn to teach better. Doing that will require me to spend some more time developing the necessary skills. So, for the next year or so, that's where my focus will be. Instead of taking on new arts, I'm going to focus on being better able to explain, demonstrate and teach the one I'm already studying. It may not seem as exciting a learning new arts, but in my heart I know it's where I need to go to continue growing in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Saturday morning, as is typical, Kwan Jhang Nim Ferraro will host a red belts and dans training seminar. The testing candidates are expected, of course, to attend the seminar, and any other red belts and dans who can make it are encouraged to attend as well. Miranda and I will be joining Christine and Trevor on the mat for this portion of the day, and hopefully all of us training together will help them to shake off any nerves and scatter any butterflies that might be plaguing them.
And later, at 1:00 or so, the test will begin.
Watching them prepare for their test has been an interesting experience in restraint for me. After some of the less satisfying aspects of my own testing experience earlier this year, a big part of me wanted to barge in and work with them on their prep. In some ways I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure they had a good testing experience -- to help them practice, to offer advice or at least perspective based on my own experience -- but I know there was also some small part of me that felt that by getting involved in their test prep I'd be getting a bit of a do-over on my own, a chance to engage in the excitement and energy of the run-up to test day.
Happily, I realized that while neither of these urges is particularly wrong, what was most important in this test was that Christine and Trevor decide what their testing experience was going to be. So, I asked Christine, is it cool if I come to the Sunday prep classes with you guys, and her answer was … "well, no. But thanks. I'll let you know if I change my mind."
So rather than pushing my way in, I've done my best to stay out. They deserve for this test experience to be 100% about them. My tendency is to rush in and try to help help help, but certainly in this case it wouldn't be appropriate, especially without being asked. Miranda and I shared our test experience, and it's something we'll always have, just for the two of us. Christine and Trevor deserve that special shared, yet private unto themselves, experience. What type of man would I be to pry that away from them? I'd be making their test about myself.
So, I'm happy to say that -- outside of answering some questions about specific techniques and attending one Sunday prep session with Trevor when his mom was sick -- I've kept my nose out of the dan test prep experience. They own this thing, and they've earned it.
Now we just need to get through Saturday.
Christine I'm not even remotely worried about. I'm not saying I expect her to just skate through the test. She knows her stuff cold -- she has a solid head for curriculum and technique, and has everything she needs to know comfortably engraved in her mind -- but she has been having some issues with her jump kicks, and breaking has presented her with plenty of frustrations (much of which is due to her low vision -- it's pretty much impossible for her to do a jump spin back kick break, because between her very poor peripheral vision and other issues she can't really see the board well enough to target it effectively). She might need to re-test some stuff, but she'll be fine either way.
Trevor, on the other hand, is giving us the usual nervous breakdown. As a particularly hardcore ADHD kid, and also as a pretty typical 9 year old, Trevor is a bit, well, unpredictable. Some days his technique is sharp and solid. Some days his recall of specific techniques -- one steps, wrist grabs, whatever -- is immediate, precise. But other days … not so much. Other days, his technique is sloppy (arms flopping around, kicks barely above the knee level, etc.), his attention wanders at the slightest distraction, and so forth. And on those days, he's typically is very easily frustrated, getting angry with himself when he is critiqued or has to repeat a technique to get it right.
The biggest problem is we never know which kid is going to show up on test day.
And thus, our nervousness. This is going to be a rough day no matter what: it's a large group testing (32 total students I believe), and the dojang in who the test is being held is quite small for such a big group. Chances are that the group will be split into at least 2, perhaps 3, groups, so that each group can be adequately tested and evaluated. More groups means longer testing day. Long test day means lots of sitting and waiting, which can have a serious deceleration effect on people who are attesting, especially younger kids. You get up, you do a section of the test, and then you sit. And watch. And wait. When you get up again, it's much harder to get your engine running again. The frustration of this process -- the accumulated boredom, especially -- could really create some problems for him, especially later in the day.
But, there's really nothing to be done about it. Trevor has shocked the hell out of us on test day before. His 1st gup test was incredible -- some of the best technique I've seen him perform, and his attitude was terrific throughout. We'll be taking a couple of extra steps to help minimize distractions for him -- I'm sewing his dobakh closed so he won't have to worry about the ties coming undone, for one. All we can do is hope that this is who Trevor chooses to be when he's in front of Kwan Jhang Nim and the rest of the Shim Sa on Saturday.
But you know, it's not that big a thing. I was so worried, so scared for him. Really freaking out that Saturday might not go well and that he might be hurt by a poor experience. And then, the other night, I read his test paper.
Just like the adults, the kids are required to submit a 1500+ word essay on What Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan means to them. And just like Miranda, we didn't do very much to guide Trevor in what he wrote -- just gave him a series of daily goals to write x more words until we finally crossed the 1500 word mark, at which time we went through the essay, edited a bit, and encouraged him to develop some other areas a bit more.
So when I was gong through his essay, I got to a part where he talked about what he'd learned about himself through martial arts. And the biggest thing he notes (I'm paraphrasing here) was that he now understands that just because he makes mistakes sometimes, it doesn't make him a bad person. And that when he messes up he shouldn't feel like he hates himself or that he's stupid. That it's OK to make mistakes.
I read this part, and my heart just sort of stuck in my throat. When Trevor was originally diagnosed with ADHD, Chrsitine and I spent a solid 18 months or so trying to avoid resorting to medication to treat him. We adjusted diet, tried to come up with all sort of structured home environment plans, talked to a therapist, etc. etc. etc.
And we were making some progress, when we noted some alarming developments. When Trevor would make mistakes or get in trouble, he'd be brutally hard on himself, saying he was the stupidest person on Earth. That he hated himself. That he should just die. That sort of thing. And it could literally be triggered by the smallest little error -- putting a shirt on inside-out, for example. These sorts of disproportionate emotional responses are typical of kids with ADHD, and we decided that much as we'd like to have avoided meds, it was more important that we help him to get his emotional control in check before he did serious damage to his own self-image and self-esteem. It was definitely the right decision.
So now, a few yeas later, out of the blue we get a paper from him that expresses precisely what we most want to hear from him. That he knows making mistakes doesn't make him a bad person. That he's learning how to let bad feelings out in positive ways. And he credits martial arts with helping him to understand that. He even thanks his mom in his paper for encouraging him to go and train, even when he didn't want to, because he sees how it's helped him.
So, after reading that, here's what I know: We're in the right place. Whatever happens on Saturday, my son is incredible, and Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan is helping him to be even more so. Nothing's going to happen Saturday that can't be made up for in the weeks that follow. My son is learning life skills and lessons from his training that are making him a better person, a stronger person. Whether he passes with flying colors or has to retest a bunch of stuff, it's going to be a great day.
Now Playing: Neko Case, "The Tigers Have Spoken"
Monday, November 09, 2009
So. Why so quiet?
Hard for me to say, really. Training is going very well, although I seem to have a few injuries that simply don't want to settle down. My neck and shoulders keep getting messed up, which is not exactly conducive to getting much sparring time in. Overall, though, things are going great at my new rank.
Oddly, though, I find that I'm having some trouble settling into being a Cho Dan. It's not that I'm not training, or participating in the dojang. I still train a minimum of 3-4 times a week. I am actively engaged in our dojang community, working with people who need a hand, and just trying to add to the family feeling of our group.
I just seem to be having a tough time determining who I am as a Cho Dan versus who I was as a gup. The role still feels like a brand new pair of blue jeans that I haven't quite shrunk to fit just yet. I think that after 3.5 years of being something of a lone wolf, of being the only adult at my precise rank (and as a result outranking a number of other adults that I went on to test for Cho Dan with, and all of whom now outrank me), I'm just having a bit of trouble defining myself and my role as I see it now that I'm wearing blue.
Now, don't get me wrong on this: it's not a feeling of frustration or anger at being the junior after years of being the senior in my peer group. Actually, I kind of love not having to always call the class to attention, not having to assume the role of senior on testing days by organizing all of the gups for proctoring and whatnot. I am completely fine with being a junior. It's just that, after so many years of being in one sort of groove, it's been tough for me to settle in and feel comfortable.
One of the things I've been told by many, many more experienced martial artists is that achieving your Cho Dan is never supposed to be viewed as "finishing" -- rather, it's very nearly the exact opposite. It's more akin to finally being ready to truly begin. I guess a part of my unease is related to this sense of being back at the beginning, of starting over again.
I'm doing very well with the new curriculum I've learned, but it's been like drinking from the firehouse some days, and retaining all of the new material has proven difficult on the best of days. Some evenings I can work through new techniques -- such as elbow strikes, or knife defense -- without much of a hiccup. Other nights I'm completely blank, as if the knowledge just got shoved out of my head when I wasn't looking. After being so confident in my techniques and my grasp of the curriculum for the past couple of years, once again feeling like a wet-behind-the-ears white belt has been humbling.
But in a good way. I don't mean it to sound as if I'm demotivated, or discouraged. Quite the opposite, really. I enjoy being challenged by this new material. I just need to adjust to feeling unsteady and unsure again.
One thing I've really tried to embrace is finding opportunities to begin teaching other students. I'm trying to develop myself and my ability to articulate the techniques of our art so that I can help with classes at our dojang, with the goal being to test for my Kyo Sa (certified instructor) as a part of my Ee Dan test. I think I have some native ability as a teacher -- I feel I'm able to articulate things clearly using words, and I think my demeanor strikes a pretty good balance between being encouraging and requiring respect and attention. Not to say I don't have ton to learn. But I think the core skills are there, and the desire to make them better.
The main problem is that my schedule limits my access to the dojang during the majority of hours when my assistant teaching services might be needed. I've begun assisting with the Saturday children's and family classes, and that seems to be going well. I know I have a lot to learn, but I think that my desire to help and my love of the art will go a long way toward making up for my shortcomings and inexperience as a teacher. And maybe once I've got a little more teaching time under my belt I can speak with Sa Bom Nim about adding some class times in the early morning hours, when my schedule is more flexible.
So, I guess the biggest thing I've figured out is that my new role is going to be one of a student and a teacher. I feel that's where I belong. And while I think I have a pretty good grip on how to be a good student, now I just need to learn how to teach.
Heh. Yeah. Just need to learn how to teach. That's all.
Now Playing: Nothing
Sunday, September 27, 2009
This past few months of training at the dojang has been very much in a drinking-from-the-fire hose vein: sleeve grab techniques, elbow techniques, Jin Do, Chil Sung Sa Rho, Naihanchi Ee Dan, Dando Hyung Cho Dan, plus plenty of additional non-standardized curriculum that Sa Bom Nim throws at Dans to keep them engaged during the longer times between rank testing (two years between Cho and Ee Dan, 3 -- I think -- between Ee and Sam Dan, and I'm pretty sure it's at least 5 years after that before you're eligible to be invited to test at Kodanja).
Prior to the Dan Promotion ceremony a lot of this stuff was just sort of ricocheting off of my head -- I think the attention I was paying to my vignette, as well as a generalized nervousness about being promoted, were dominating my mind and just not allowing new knowledge to sink in. But now things are starting to drop into place: my elbow and sleeve grab techniques are more or less memorized, -- which is not the same as doing them well, of course; my Jin Do is looking solid and, and I've begun working on making it crisper, faster, more polished; I can get through Dando Hyung Cho Dan as long as I'm working with others who know it well (I tend to get int the weeds about halfway through when I do it on my own); Chil Sung Sa Rho remains a big obstacle to overcome, but I'm managing to get through about 2/3 of it before I get lost (not bad for a hyung that is 150+ moves long). Only Naihanchi Ee Dan remains a complete mystery -- I've been shown it once, two months back, and haven't done it since. My goal is to have all of the new curriculum memorized and available to me mentally by the end of this year, which will give me a solid 17 or 18 months or so to get them all looking really good in time for my Ee Dan test (Spring 2011-ish).
I'm also finally going to get my butt in gear on teaching. Spoke with Sa Bom Nim about getting on the Saturday class schedule as a start (it's a rotating schedule, shared between 5 or 6 Dan, so the time commitment is fairly low). Once I've got that rolling and have had time to find my teaching style I'll add in more assistant teaching during the week, and maybe I'll see about rallying interest in an early morning forms session once or twice a week as well. All of this is to ensure that I've got the training and experience needed to get my Kyo Sa (certified instructor) certification along with my Ee Dan during my next test. I love doing this art, and want to learn how to share it with others correctly and effectively.
One thing that's been rolling around in my mind lately is something that Kyo Sa Nim Vasquez told me after I was promoted to Cho Dan. I'm having trouble finding his note, but essentially he said the key to being a good Cho Dan is to remember that we are responsible for the care-and-feeding of the gups, and that's what gives being a Cho Dan meaning. I've given that a lot of thought, and it's so clearly correct -- without that sense of responsibility, that desire to help others along the path, it's just a bunch of kicking and punching. What makes Tang Soo Do worth the time I dedicate to it is opening the art to others and sharing what limited knowledge and skill I've managed to gather over the past 4 years. That's what gives it meaning.
All of which is to say -- damn, I've got some good role models at our dojang. Thanks, one and all.
Now Playing: Nuthin'
Monday, August 24, 2009
Big day Saturday. As I mentioned, we finally had our Dan Promotion Ceremony, and after three years and eight months of training, testing, and waiting, I am officially a Cho Dan in the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan. My Dan Bun is 1769.
The ceremony was wonderful. Not without flaws -- overall, precision seemed to be on a vacation this weekend. Many folks flubbed here and there during their vignettes (I made my share of mistakes, although all in all I think it wasn't too shabby -- here's a link to the video), group performance of hyungs were less than stellar. I think nerves and excitement were going hand in hand through the afternoon and evening. They certainly were for me.
It was odd: I almost felt more nervous going into the promotion ceremony than I had when I took the test months ago. Since I wasn't able to attend Nationals this year I haven't performed in front of an audience solo for a while, so the butterflies were making themselves known. We dropped straight into the vignettes at the beginning of the program, and I was actually shaking a bit when I got up.
I took my place on the mat, folks applauded, and when the applause died down I began my form while Christine (my wife, who MC'd the event for Sa Bom Nim) read a brief bio I'd written (everyone had to write one). I started in a modified choon beh (similar to the Naihanchi Cho Dan Choon Beh), stepped backward into a soft x block in a backstance, and promptly turned to the right when I needed to turn to the left. Didn't realize I was going in the wrong direction for about 5 or 6 movements, whereupon I started to freak for a second (if you watch the video you'll see me sort of go wobbly when I turn toward my left in the crane stance -- that was me going "Ohhh ... fudge ..." or words to that effect).
I managed to regain my composure and continued, then realized I was going to need to improvise a couple of movements once I got back to the center in order to get my footing correct. Again, if you watch the video you'll see me trying to figure it out on the fly -- I try one thing, it doesn't really get me where I want to go, then try another, I realize "Oh, OK, that'll work!" and then I proceed. It made me chuckle, watching it -- my body language is so obvious sometimes.
Once I got back on track I went too fast (nerves again), causing me to finish the form about 20 seconds earlier than I usually did when practicing, but in a way it was nice because I was able to just stand like a statue while my thanks to Sa Bom Nim and to my family were read aloud. Apparently I nearly made Sa Bom Nim and quite a few audience members cry. That wasn't my intention, but it makes me happy all the same. I speak from my heart, and it makes me feel good to hear that the things that move me, that have meant so much to me, move others as well.
So, lots of demos later, we finally received our belts. Again, much applause all around. I nearly lost my composure altogether as I watched my daughter bound across the mat to receive her belt from Sa Bom Nim. And of course, when I ran across the mat and then took a knee to receive my own belt, my eyes were welling up too. Finally, Mom received her belt as well, marking the first time Sa Bom Nim is aware of that three generations of a single family were promoted to Cho Dan in a single day. At that point, a few tears burst finally managed to escape. This was a truly magnificent moment.
It was a great day. As has been my habit with this blog, when I write something meaningful for a test or ceremony I like to preserve it. So now, here's the bio/dedication that was read during my vignette.
Gregg Primm is a dad and husband, toiling away as a marketing manager of a technology startup in Austin, TX. In December 2005, he started training in Tang Soo Do as a way to spend more time with his kids. The art has since had a huge impact his life. The Tang Soo Do Academy has brought him many new friends, enhanced his family life, given him a community with which to celebrate when things are good, and a refuge during times of trouble. For these things, he is extremely grateful.-=-
Gregg would like to thank his fellow students for their camaraderie and his seniors for their support. In particular, Gregg would like to thank Kyo Sa Nims Vasquez and Rockhold for their guidance and for providing the wonderful Saturday family classes we’ve enjoyed so much. Thanks also to Mr. David Robinson, who helped Gregg to realize that not being 20-something is no excuse to stop challenging yourself. A special thanks goes to Mr. Ed Perry, whose dedication, generosity of spirit and open-heartedness are a constant inspiration.
Gregg is especially grateful to Sa Bom Nim Nunan for founding this incredible dojang and for bringing so much good into our lives. Thank you for your patience, your encouragement, and your steadfast determination to place the best interests of your students first, even at significant personal cost. Above all, thank you for your friendship.
Finally, Gregg would like to thank his family. His children, Miranda and Trevor, for putting up with Dad when he dragged them out to family class when they didn’t feel like going, and for not rolling their eyes too much when he went on and on about training. His Mom, Isabelle, for taking this journey with him and being part of three generations of his family testing together in June and being promoted to Cho Dan today. And above all, his wife Christine, whose love, strength, and support have formed the bedrock of Gregg’s life for over 27 years. Thank you and TANG SOO.
So, in typical fashion, no moment in my Tang Soo Do training seems to pass without a corresponding punchline. After testing in June and waiting three months to receive my midnight blue belt (which is embroidered with my the name of our organization, my dan bun, and my name) I finally am awarded the belt on Saturday ... and it has a typo on it! Nothing terrible -- they just forgot the second (well, third I guess...) "g" on my first name. But it has to be fixed, so a few hours after I finally received my belt, I had to give it back to Sa Bom Nim so that he can mail it out and get the error corrected. So I'm without a belt for the next week or two, and will need to train in a t-shirt until I get it back.
I really should get one made that reads "I was promoted to Cho Dan in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!"
Now Playing: Raul Malo, "Lucky One"
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Typically, promotions are done within a few weeks of the test, sometimes as much as a month or so, to allow for students to retest needed material, and for the official dan buns (dan numbers) and certificates to be issued by the organization for each of the new Cho Dans. But our wait was extra long this time around. In fact, judging by feedback I've received from many other martial artists, this is about the longest that ANYONE has waited for official promotion following a test.
The reasons for waiting were good: the senior student from our dojang who tested with us spends the summer with her extended family in Jordan each year, and she has only returned to the USA this week. She'd tested for Cho Dan two years ago and had to miss the official promotion ceremony for this reason. This time around she had tested for Ee Dan (second degree dan) and Sa Bom Nim felt it was simply unfair for the senior student on this test to miss yet another official ceremony due to family obligations. So, as there were no strong reasons or objections against waiting, we delayed the promotions until now.
It was definitely the right and proper thing to do in my opinion. Our dojang is a family of sorts, and just like any family we need to sometimes put our individual desires aside for our brothers and sisters in the art. She's our senior, she's dedicated years to training and deserves recognition and celebration before our entire dojang. She's a wonderful young lady with a bright future ahead of her, and a couple of months of anticipation is a small price to pay to ensure she gets her moment in the spotlight.
But I'd be lying if I didn't say it's been frustrating at times, waiting to finally don my new blue trimmed dobakh and midnight blue belt. The long wait has been occasionally irritating, and focusing for so long on creating and polishing up a new hyung for demonstration has been a distraction that has made absorbing some of the new Cho Dan level techniques difficult. Jin Do is looking good, and I'm making good progress on our new knife form, but Chi Sung Sa Rho is barely 25% in my head so far, and Naihanchi Ee Dan is an utter mystery. Sleeve grabs and elbow techniques are coming along in fits and starts, too. It's all very three-steps-forward-two-steps back, really.
But those distractions will be gone once we get done on Saturday evening, and then I can just get back to focusing on training, training, training. It's not as though Master Nunan has made us sit and stagnate while time ticked by -- it's been more akin to drinking from the fire hose at times. But there's something about not having the belt and uniform yet that I feel limiting me from moving forward in some ways. Sort of a psychological barrier to really embracing this next chapter in my Tang Soo Do training.
For example, one of the benefits/responsibilities of being a senior student is to take on teaching responsibilities as often as possible, and in keeping with this I want to volunteer to begin teaching some classes a couple of times a week. With my schedule teaching during our "usual" hours is difficult, but I have an idea for early morning forms classes that would meet two times during the week and focus more on the meditative qualities of forms. Basically we'd see who showed up, select a form that everyone in the group knows, and just focus on doing that form together as a group for about an hour. For me there would be some opportunity at teaching, but I like to think of it more as a learning opportunity for all of us, a chance to just focus on a specific hyung and explore it in more depth, with more time for reflection and discussion, than is typically in "normal" classes.
However, although I know that I am qualified to teach this sort of class I find I am hesitant to even bring it up as a suggestion until I have my Cho Dan uniform and belt. It's not that I feel I'll be shut down and told no way -- anything but, in fact. But for me, for some reason, I don't feel comfortable teaching officially (as opposed to guiding or demonstrating or assisting or what have you) without the implied "senior status" that the Cho Dan uniform bestows.
Silly? Sure. One of the chief instructors at our dojang when I first began training was a 1st gup, and didn't receive his Cho Dan rank until almost 6 months after I started training. He was tremendously gifted, and in no way was his ability to demonstrate curriculum even called into question by the lower level gups simply due to his red belt. But for me to teach, I feel I need that blue trim. Why? Insecurity, perhaps. Lack of confidence. Both, probably.
And who knows, maybe once that trim is on I'll still feel that way. But I'll move forward regardless. So Saturday I'll perform my vignette. I'll dmeonstrate some throw and self defense techniques. I'll demonstrate a bunch of jump kicks. I'll do Chil Sung Sahm Rho with my fellow new cho dans. I'll get my belt, watch my daughter and my mother and my friends receive their as well. I have no doubt I will cry more than a few tears of pride and happiness. We'll eat some cake, drink some sake, and celebrate.
And then I'll get back to work. Only got two years until I am eligible to test for Ee Dan, and there's a lot to learn before then.
Now Playing: Annie Lennox, "Songs of Mass Destruction"
Monday, August 03, 2009
You can’t fool me
I saw you when you came out
You got your momma’s taste
But you got my mouth
You will always have a part of me
Nobody else is ever gonna see
With your cards to your chest
Walking on your toes
What you got in the box
Only Gracie knows
And I would never try to make you be
Anything you didn’t really wanna be
Life flies by in seconds
You’re not a baby
Gracie, you’re my friend
You’ll be a lady soon
But until then
You gotta do what I say
You nodded off in my arms watching TV
I won’t move you an inch
Even though my arm’s asleep
One day you’re gonna wanna go
I hope we taught you everything
You need to know
There will always be a part of me
Nobody else is ever gonna see
But you and me
A little girl
My Gracie girl
Now Playing: Ben Folds, "Songs for Silverman"
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Good morning, son.Every Sunday morning, I grab my iPhone and headphones and head out alone to do the week's grocery shopping. It's one of my favorite parts of the week, as I have very few opportunities to just be off by myself, listening to music. I throw on some tunes, fire up my shopping list application, and just work my way through the store, bopping along, lost in my own little world.
I am a bird
Wearing a brown polyester shirt
You want a coke?
Maybe some fries?
The roast beef combo's only $9.95
It's okay, you don't have to pay
I've got all the change
Everybody knowsSo today, I threw some Ben Folds I'd grabbed from a friend on the iPhone and decided to work my way through them. I already have the Ben Folds Five CD "Whatever and Ever Amen," and also picked up "Way to Normal" (mostly for "You Don't Know Me"), but didn't know much of his other stuff. So, I just as a random pick I throw on "Rockin' the Suburbs," an album of which I'd heard lots of good buzz, but never really managed to listen to before.
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
And you're so much like me
Good morning, sonAnd so I'm bopping along, when "Still Fighting It" comes on. I've never heard this song before, and to say it snuck up on me would be an understatement. Anything about fathers and sons tends to have a fairly profound effect on me -- the results of losing my dad at so young an age and growing up without a real father figure, no doubt -- but this one was a doozie.
In twenty years from now
Maybe we'll both sit down and have a few beers
And I can tell you 'bout today
And how I picked you up and everything changed
It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you'd feel the same things.
Everybody knowsSo, I'm doing my shopping, listening and feeling myself emotionally drawn into the song, the lyrics working their way in and making think, think of my kids, of how they make me feel. I can feel my eyes welling up. And I'm reaching for a loaf of bread when the song reaches it's emotional crescendo ...
It sucks to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here.
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
You'll try and try and one day you'll flyWell, that did it. Next thing, I'm wiping at my eyes with the back of my hand, sniffling. Really trying not to lose it. I managed to hold it together, but not so well that a few folks nearby didn't give me a few odd glances. Lacking any form of context, I'm sure this all looked very odd. Regardless, I get this way sometimes, especially about my kids. Having kids makes you vulnerable in some very unexpected ways, and sometimes the most unexpected events will pierce my heart with surprising force. A film. A phrase in a book. A paricularly moving news item or story. Or a song.
Away from me.
Christine just turned 42 on Thursday. I'm turning 42 in just a few weeks. We'll be married 17 years this Saturday. My kids are 9 and 10-almost-11. Good lord, the time goes by too damn fast.
Everybody knowsHere's a link to video of the song -- it's a killer.
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here.
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
Oh, we're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
And you're so much like me
Now Playing: Ben Folds, "Rockin' the Suburbs"
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The beasts in question? A blue jay and a dove.
I know, right? I’m sure you were expecting feral dogs or some such. But no, just a couple of birds. But let me tell you, I’d never seen ANYTHING like this before. It was like “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” meets “The Sopranos.”
Briefly, the story goes like this: a friend of mine was walking back to his desk and stopped to look out the window, because he saw movement. He says “Holy crap, come look at this!” so I go and look. Just outside, a blue jay is thrashing the living crap out of a dove about 6 feet from my office door. And I don’t mean flapping his wings and being sorta threatening – I mean pouncing, clawing, pecking and ripping at the thing.
Not the sort of thing you expect to see everyday. But wait, it gets weirder.
I can see that the dove is already seriously wounded, and that if I try to scare the blue jay away it will just mean that I’ll wind up having to kill the dove myself, so we opt to just let nature take its course. A few other guys wander over, and we’re just kind of slack-jawed, astonished by just how brutal this attack is. We discuss as we watch, assuming that we are witnessing some sort of territorial fight, where the dove perhaps tried to build a nest too close to the blue jay’s nest and the blue jay was just not going to sit still for that crap. In a minute or so it’s done, the dove lying motionless on the concrete sidewalk. Clearly dead or nearly so. The blue jay flies away.
We start to look for a trash bag and begin to negotiate between ourselves regarding who, exactly, will take care of cleaning up the dove carcass and all a little shocked at the previous few minute’s events. And then, the blue jay returns.
With a vengeance.
It attacks the dead or nearly-so dove’s body with renewed ferocity, pecking and clawing in a frenzy. And suddenly … rips off the doves head.
Yep. Rips it right off.
And then, he flies away with it, leaving the decapitated corpse out on our sidewalk, a small pool of blood marking the pavement where its head had once been.
I swear, you could have heard a pin drop. We were utterly gob smacked.
The blue jay didn’t return. Shortly afterward a few other birds, black and brown and very common hereabouts (I’m not sure of the breed, but they have bright yellow eyes), began meandering into the area nearby, not getting too close to the remains but sort of … checking out the scene. Investigating. Like an avian version of CSI.
Soon, they left as well. And it was done.
I can’t for the life of me decide why the blue jay actually took the dove’s head: Was he some sort of feathered serial killer, taking the head as a trophy? Or did he set it on a spike near the homes of the other doves, to serve as a warning? Do blue jays eat bird heads as part of their diet? No idea.
But it was astonishing. I’d never considered birds as savage before. Perhaps coincidentally (and of course, perhaps not), one of the new hyungs I’ve learned, now that I am a cho dan, is a rather old form named Jin Do. Originating in the southern region of China, Jin Do is a fairly forceful and aggressive form (along the lines of Bassai), with a lot of powerful attacks and difficult stances. The animal this form is associated with is the white crane, which in many eastern cultures (including China and Korea) is also known as “the bringer of death.” I remember first hearing that bit of information a year or two back, and finding it a bit humorous.
After the blue jay incident, I find it less so.
So, as part of our cho dan promotion ceremony next month I have to present a vignette, which is simply a form of my own creation that I will perform for the audience while a brief biography is read, prior to my new belt and rank being officially awarded. Some folks just string together movements from other forms that they like until they get about a minute of stuff, but I of course instead over-think and overanalyze things, trying Create Something New and Meaningful.
So, given the concurrence of The Blue Jay Incident and this creative challenge, I’ve opted to use the experience as a creative focus for the vignette. My form will attempt to convey some of the savagery of the blue jay’s attack, while also relying on some of the more graceful sweeping motions typical of the southern Chinese styles, hopefully to impart something of a bird-like quality to the whole thing. I've got about 2/3 of the form on its feet so far, with about 40-something moves ready to go so far. All in all, it ain't bad.
Not sure how successful I will be, but it seems that when one witnesses such a strange event, it makes sense to make use of it somehow.
Post Script: Per my friend Angela, a lovely Vietnamese woman who also speaks fluent Chinese and Japanese, "lan nyao" (the "lan" pronounced with an ascending tone, and the "nyao" with a sort of dipping tone in the center) is Chinese for blue jay. It is, in fact, also a phrase that is typical of the southern Chinese dialects, which is nice as the hyung style I am trying to evoke is Southern.
However, she was a bit bashful telling this to me, as she was worried that someone was trying to play a trick on me because this phrase can also mean "penis." So, depending on who is listening, I will be performing either the form of the blue jay or the form of the penis. As I am utterly incapable of not sharing these facts with my friends, I have no doubt this will be cause for much laughter. Leave it to me, I tell ya.
My life is comedy.
Mood: Chillin' like a villain
Now Playing: Liz Phair, "Exile in Guyville"
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The two plants have grown together over the past 7-8 months, their vines becoming hopelessly intertwined. Over the past month or so, the color in the leaves has gone from a vibrant green to a pale greenish-tan, the texture of the leaves becoming dry and papery, the vines themselves looking wooden and inflexible. I’m not yet sure what’s wrong, but my best guess is that the roots are rotting a bit, and the vines are dying as a result. Either that or they're choking each other out, but I think it's the roots. They’re mostly in shade throughout the day, and I may have been over-watering a bit the past couple of months.
So later tonight I’ve got to take 15 or 20 minutes to take them out back, prune off as much of the dead growth as possible, and get them into more direct sunlight to get the soil a little less sludgy and encourage them to grow. Before it’s too late.
These two ivy plants came into the house when my kids received their first holy Communions over the past few years. One each, one year apart, as a symbol of their faith. Of course, neither kid ever bothered to do much in the way of tending to their ivy plants, and Christine has something of a Black Thumb, so the task of keeping them going has fallen to me. There are folks who would find this a bit ironic, I’m sure. I’d say that’s because they can’t be bothered to look deeply enough, but whatever. I digress.
As a symbol, ivy=faith is a bit too “on the nose” for me: Tend your faith, and it will grow. Ignore it, and it will, over time, wither away. But while it may be a tad direct and obvious it’s also appropriate. Symbols are useful mostly because they give us a way to examine things that are ephemeral or difficult to grasp -- principles, concepts, emotions, abstractions -- by assigning aspects of these concepts to concrete, real-world objects or situations, and drawing parallels between the two. And lately I’ve encountered events in my life where the symbolism of ivy may be useful.
George Carlin said “Scratch a cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” This is something I’ve come to understand about myself over the past decade or so. Most people would describe me as a cynical person, someone with a somewhat mocking attitude about the world at large and institutions in general. A wise-ass. Nice, but edgy. But as was recently pointed out to me by a friend who I deeply respect, despite a sort of crunchy exterior I am both an idealist and an optimist, perhaps a bit too much of both for my own good. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt time and again, assuming best intentions for whatever action or lack of action they take.
I guess when it comes to people, you could say I subscribe to the Anne Frank perspective: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Of course, a lot of folks would say “Well, look how that turned out for her.” But regardless, that’s my take on the world. I really do think people in general try to do the right thing when they can. Or at least, I want to think that. The fact that it doesn’t work out that way so often leads to quite a bit of disappointment on my part. Disappointment in people in my life who claim to represent certain ideals, but who ignore those ideals when they’re not convenient. Disappointment in institutions that claim to uphold principles that I hold dear, but that make it clear that those principles are only of worth when they are useful.
And thus the cynicism. The snarky reaction of a wounded idealist.
I’ve lost a lot of faith in some people I placed a lot of trust and affection in over the last few weeks, and also -- as a result -- in an organization I hold in high esteem because it purports to uphold ideas and concepts that I hold dear and try to live by. And as an idealist, and an optimist, loss of faith in people and institutions I believe in is a very bitter pill to swallow. It takes a lot for me to stop giving the benefit of the doubt to people or institutions I care for, and once I’ve crossed that line it’s very difficult to get past.
I’ve been told I’m carrying a chip on my shoulder about this stuff, but I don’t really see it that way. I see it as carrying a weight, a burden. I really want to let it go, move on. It’s just that simply letting go is not that easy for me, and never has been. Not because I'm holding a grudge, but more because I have trouble giving up on the possibility of a better resolution. And when events get discussed again they can feel startlingly fresh with just a few words. I'm a passionate person, and I get stirred up easily. I need to let things lie still for a while before I can let them go. I need to know things are dead and finished before I can bury them. I don't close doors easily, nor burn bridges, not because I want a pound of flesh, but because I still hold out hope that what I feel can be made better.
I realize this is, in some ways, foolish, and that the most likely result in the long run is disappointment. More disappointment. But I can’t help myself. When I’ve wronged people around me my principles, my ideals, compel me to directly address those I’ve affected with my behavior, to try to soothe those I’ve impacted with my choices, to try to fix things. I foolishly expect that others I’ve invested with my trust and respect will do the same. More often than not I’m proven wrong in these expectations. But regardless, that’s how I approach the world. It’s not an easy path, but it’s the one I’m on. And I realize the only one I’m hurting with this is myself.
So, back to the ivy. Those plants are pretty much dead, so part of me just wants to chuck ‘em, maybe buy a hardier decorative plant that I won’t need to work at to keep healthy, or that I won’t need to tend to in order to restore to health. But I think their roots are still OK down there, somewhere, under the damage, and it’s worth the effort to try to fix things, to cut away the dead growth and encourage them to grow again, healthy and green.
The ivy grew for a few years, but apparently it didn’t grow in a healthy way. Maybe it grew on a foundation that couldn’t support it. Or perhaps it was tended incorrectly. Too much attention. Not enough. It’s dying. Maybe it would be easier to just say screw it. Rip out the roots. Destroy what’s left. Or I can prune it back. Try to protect the roots, give them a chance to grow again, grow in a better way this time around. Try to figure out what I did wrong last time, and learn. Maybe I’ll be disappointed. Maybe the damn thing will die anyhow.
But I guess it’s in my nature to just try anyhow.
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "Flaming Red"
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
I helped him hold the boards. It was a good moment, and after some of the negative aspects of the test that I wrote about yesterday, this helped me to start seeing things in a more positive light. Despite the less satisfying (downright unacceptable, in my opinion) qualities of some aspects of the test, there were many great moments as well. My heart broke a bit Saturday afternoon, because I saw a side of the organization I'd never seen before. A tolerance for unnecessarily mean behavior by someone simply because of their rank. Someone using "upholding excellence" as an excuse for being a bully. I saw our art made small. But that wasn't the entire day, and that wasn't the entire experience. With a bit of distance, this has become easier to see.
It was a grueling day, no doubt. We started the day off with a 2 hour clinic with Kwan Jhang Nim, beginning at 10:00AM. Attendance was huge -- at least 55 people, maybe more. Happily, this was not an overly demanding clinic -- more or less the same clinic I've attended with Kwan Jhang Nim 2 or 3 times before, focusing on improving kicking techniques, with a pretty cool training portion that was designed to improve use of front leg side kicks in sparring. It served as a solid opportunity to warm up, and we Cho Dan candidates were able to preserve the majority of our energy for the test.
After the clinic we had a little less than 2 hours to burn before the test. This was when my nerves finally really settled in. About 30 minutes before the test I started kind of freaking out. I started thinking about all the things that could go wrong. About the horse stance punching in neh portion of the test, and how much I hate that. About the fact that my left thigh muscles felt strained and weaker than my right, and as a result my stances might not be as good as I prefer.
So yeah, basically I started to panic. My butterflies had butterflies.
We got to the test. It started a bit late -- about 2:20 or so. And after we bowed in we found out just how the test was going to be run. Because we had so many cho dan candidates testing (about 20, pretty evenly split between kids and adults) they chose to split the test into two groups -- one adult Cho Dan candidates, along with the older ee dan and sam dan candidates, and one kid's group. And the kids went first, which meant we got to sit ahn jo and wait.
And wait some more.
They ran the kids through the entire firs half of their test -- line drills, jump kicks, forms, and endurance drills (the horse stance punching I mentioned earlier) while we sat. The kids had some issues (not the least of which was he browbeating they took a few times) but all in all they held it together and got through. I'd obviously have wished for a more positive experience for them, but on the other hand there's no doubt that they earned their ranks. Took about 1.5 hours, and then it was our turn.
For the adults, I'd say things went far more smoothly. The level of preparation was high, and was quite evident. Line drills passed without incident as I recall (frankly I kind of get zoned out when I test, and as a result I don't have particularly clear memories of the specifics of the day -- I kind of go into a bubble in my head and just focus and do). Jump kicking and forms both got done with a minimum of problems (we had to do Naihanchi Chodan twice -- actually they stopped us midway through the first time, which was fine with me, as I was sort of off in the weeds on it and would probably have screwed it up eventually if they hadn't stopped us).
And then there was horse stance punching. I LOATHED this part of the test, just like I loathed it on every gup test prior. It's pure misery, and it never goes smoothly. From a deep horse stance, we execute alternating side punches as rapidly as we can (the suggested minimum is 4 punches per second) for ... well, it depends. The test form says 30 seconds, but it always goes longer than that. I'm told we did a full minute on Saturday, but I don't know for certain. We also were stopped partway through our first attempt to correct a few of the students' technique. Of course, the clock is then reset, so it's just extra pain.
Ugh. Even thinking about it makes me sick. I managed to get through the whole thing, focusing as much as possible on just remembering to breathe. That's the trick -- if you don't remember to breathe in and out every few seconds you'll do fine for about 15-20 seconds but then your body starts getting oxygen starved, and suddenly ... your arms just won't go. The only choice is to stop punching for a second or two, gulp some air, and try to get started again. Obviously this would probably result in a "opportunity to retest" so of everything, this is the one thing I was going to get through no matter what. I never want to have to do this crap again! I finished up, slowing down somewhat by the end but not having to stop at all.
Everything from the base of my neck to the bottom of my hips hurts from that part of the test. I hate horse stance punching!
Anyway, then the adults got to sit down (more like collapse, really) and the kids got back up for the second phase of their test. At this point we'd been testing for around 3 hours already.
Next up was one steps, wrist grabs, and sparring. Kids first, meaning more sitting for the adults. Now, maybe sitting cross-legged is easy for kids, but my knees just can't handle it for very long. As it was, my legs went completely to sleep during an extended period of sitting during the clinic that morning. I'd managed to keep that from happening during the beginning of the test by infrequently switching which leg was crossed on top, and occasionally just uncrossing my legs to give my knees a break. Now, after line drills and jump kick drills and forms and endurance testing, my legs were getting seriously cranky. Cramping all over the place, aching like mad. I finally just had to give up keeping them crossed for more than 5 minutes at a time or so. The kids did all their stuff, and about an hour to an hour and a half later it was our turn again.
So, the one steps and wrist grabs portion of the test was sort of the big "question mark" portion from our point of view. This seems to be the portion of the test where the testing board likes to throw curve balls, testing to see just how well you've mastered your techniques. Random calls, having the candidates do techniques from the opposite side from typical, etc. Everything called in Korean or Chinese. Sometimes putting individual folks in the spotlight for a minute, calling one technique and having the candidate perform it with as little delay as possible. Things like that . A bit more pressure, more of a mental test of concentration and focus than a physically demanding chore.
Well, that was the case for us as well -- both the kids and the adults. Whereas often the testing board will call a specific technique in Chinese (just the number -- for ordinal counting we use Chinese) and then watch as all of the candidates perform it, they instead just had us roll through all of of one steps, much like we'd done on previous gup testings.
Once those were finished (for some reason I wasn't allowed to complete all of my one steps, despite not making any errors of which I was aware -- I wasn't failed on it, so I guess they just assumed we knew them well enough and allowed us to move on), we move onto randomly called wrist grab techniques. This was the most mentally stressful part of the test, with the proctor telling us which hand to grab, and then calling a number in Chinese that corresponded to a specific self defense technique. The candidate would then have to perform the technique correctly and hold the last movement until allowed to return to ready position. I'm especially proud to say that I made no serious errors on this part -- I was incredibly nervous at this point, convinced I was going to freeze up and blank out. But I managed to stay focused and did the correct techniques throughout.
What was funny for me at this point in the test was just how tiny the world seemed to have gotten. I was hardly aware of anything else outside of myself and my partner. I'm trying to remember what else was going on in the test at this point -- how well my friends were doing, how the audience was reacting to what they saw, etc., but it's all kind of a blank/blur. I think that was part of why I was able to plow through the self defense despite being so nervous -- I just sort of blanked out everything else so that I could concentrate despite the stress. This was an interesting experience -- I honestly didn't think I could do that. So, huh.
Sparring was just basic test sparring -- light/no contact, mostly a game of tag between partners, with each of us taking opportunities to show some techniques and have a bit of fun. Two rounds, and then done. After that the Ee and Sahm Dan candidates had to do 2- and 3-on-1 sparring, so I volunteered to help chase a couple of them around the mat for a few rounds. More sweat, more aches.
Then, Q&A with the testing board. At this point we'd been on the mat for 6 hours. The Q&A was ... not overwhelming, in my opinion. Fairly rude criticism from the Sa Bom I mentioned yesterday, without any positive feedback or guidance of any sort that I can recall. Some terminology quizzing (I was completely skipped over, there -- kind of annoying, as I knew the answer to every single question that was asked and yet still got rolled into the group when it came to being criticized for not knowing the answers) some additional feedback and probing questions from another Sa Bom and Kwan Jhang Nim.
So after about 30 minutes of that, it was time to try to break, and then wrap things up. Breaking was essentially a non-starter for the vast majority of Cho Dan candidates, myself included. Primarily due to fatigue (although I still say that the boards had a role in it -- damn, those things seemed way harder than normal) only one of the Cho Dan candidates managed to break their boards, triggering a retest pretty much across the board. For my part, while I could generate plenty of power, I just couldn't seem to get the snap at the end of the kick that would pop through the boards. The Ee Dan and Sahm Dan candidates had mixed results as well. Bad board mojo all around.
And well, that was it. We started at about 2, and about 6.5 hours later we were done. It was a long, long day.
And it just kept going from there, because I'd volunteered to have the post-test celebration at my house. So after a few pictures with the classing participants we blew out of the dojang, ran home, and started putting out food and drink for our guests. Within an hour we had about 40 people in our home, including the majority of the Shim Sa (and Kwan Jhang Nim as well) and many of the testing candidates and their families. Cool time for all, with a bunch of the pictures from the test being shown on my kitchen computer and lots of post-test discussion and goofing around going on. Once things thinned out a bit (around 11 we were down to about 18-20 folks altogether) it was time to break out Rock Band and just goof around for a while. Then, finally, at about 1:15 the last guests left.
And of course I still couldn't sleep. My brain was still on overdrive, so I wound up goofing around on Facebook until past 2:00. And woke up at 7:00 the next morning in a fairly prodigious amount of pain. Everything hurt. EVERYTHING. Arms, legs, upper back, lower back, knees, ankles, wrists, neck, abs, sides, top of my head and bottom of my feet. Arrrgh. That describes pretty much all of Sunday and Monday.
Anyway, I hit the dojang last night and did my retest. Happy to say that whatever was messing me up on test day was long gone, and with a single kick I finished my test. One jump back kick, three boards, no problem. The holders said that they barely even felt the impact as the kick was placed dead center and the boards just sort of exploded. SWEET. And with that, I was done. I've already begun to learn some Cho Dan level material. Won't be wearing my new belt or blue trimmed uniform until our official promotion ceremony (looks to occur sometime in August) but that's fine. I know what I am. I know what I did.
So all in all, it was a remarkable experience. I'm incredibly proud to have tested with both my daughter and my mother, although odd as it may sound I was only able to "enjoy" being on the test with them in an abstract sense. I got so focused and stressed out during the exam that I was only tangentially able to observe their performance -- especially my mom. As I was on the mat at the same time as her, I was only vaguely aware of what she was doing at any point in time. But they both did beautifully, earning the right to wear their blue belt with energy, spirit, and discipline.
I'm glad to have gotten through the negative aspects of the test. I was very depressed about it for two days, but I think that by doing my break I was finally able to allow the test to be finished. And now I can finally just ... train. I don't have to worry about another test for at least a couple of years. Not that those years won't fly by, I'm sure, and there's certainly plenty to learn before then. But I'm gong to enjoy training just for the sake of learning for the first time in ... well, in my time as a martial artist. Up to now everything has been about the next test, the next test, the next test. Now I can just learn for awhile.
And Amen to that.
Now Playing: Nothing.
Monday, June 01, 2009
This is a complicated topic. Unexpectedly so.
Well, first things first. I did very, very well. I have to do a retest on board breaking -- there was seriously bad board breaking karma in the room, and all but one of the Cho Dan candidates was unable to break on test day. I think it was a combination of crappy wood, fatigued testing candidates, and tired board holders. No matter -- board breaking is hardly a core principal in our art, nor is it something that typically presents much of a challenge for me. A 3 board jump back kick is a tough break, but I've done it easily in the past, and I'm not worried about being able to do it again. Will probably do so tonight, and that will be that. I am very proud of my performance.
Miranda did beautifully. Line drills were solid, and her jump spin kick drills were out of this world -- she was getting unbelievable air (see below). Unfortunately she froze up a bit on Naihanji Chodan and will have to retest on it -- it took her three tries before she was able to get through it, so retesting is appropriate. She was quite crestfallen after that, and had a bit of trouble getting herself back on track, but ultimately she was able to demonstrate all of her techniques well. Like me, she was unable to do her break, so she'll be retesting on that as well. I'm not concerned -- she did beautifully, and I am insanely proud of her.
And my mother did beautifully too. No serious errors of which I am aware (although honestly I couldn't really watch her, as I was sort of busy at the time...). She also will have to retest on board breaking, but that's it. In fact, as a group I am extremely pleased with everyone I tested with. I've seen far worse Dan tests in my time, and I've seen better. There were some bumps, but all in all the group showed tremendous spirit and accomplished what they set out to do.
So yeah, barring anything unexpected, we will all be promoted to cho dan shortly.
So, I should be overjoyed, right? All the work and dedication and sweat and tears paid off. But I'm not. I'm ... conflicted. Because what should have been a day of joyous energy and excitement turned out to be ... well, simply put, it was not a good experience.
In fact, parts of it were downright shitty.
Basically, we had a Sa Bom on the board -- no names here, but this was someone I would have until recently considered a casual friend -- who arrived for our test with what would appear to be no other goal than to fail everyone. EVERYONE. And to humiliate and browbeat the candidates. Yes, this included the kids. And if you think this behavior had a negative effect on the ability of the candidates -- of the kids in particular -- to test well, of course you'd be right.
I'm still a bit too close to this to accurately and adequately convey the testing experience I had. I'm still processing, trying to separate my own experience from the rather profoundly negative feelings I've developed after leaving the dojang and having a chance to think long and hard about the attitude of this Sa Bom and having spoken with so many other parents that witnessed his utterly shameful behavior.
I continue to be dumbfounded by his arrogance, his almost comical lack of humility, and his absurd dedication to demanding excellence to avoid "watering down" the techniques of our art while simultaneously showing a complete and utter disregard for or ignorance of the principals that are supposed to be the underpinnings of our art. But mostly I'm disgusted, and disappointed, at how one person could so thoroughly poison what should have been a truly great day in my training, in my daughters training, in the lives of our family and friends.
I also wonder just how much damage was done to our students by this man. If there was a single moment in the test that was encouraging and motivating, I honestly can't recall it. Kids are resilient, so perhaps this won't stick, perhaps they weren't demoralized by this idiocy. I hope not.
So, what to do? Well, letters will be written to our leadership, at the least. My wife and I have already drafted a letter that we will be sending shortly. I can't even consider staying quiet on this. I'm a fixer by nature, and I can't just sit idly by and assume that this will go away and get better somehow. Beyond that, I don't know. I'd say that a number of friendships have now been permanently severed, certainly on my part, as a result of this.
While I may have done very well on my exam, I take the behavior exhibited by this Sa Bom as a personal attack on me and my family -- my WHOLE family. All of my friends. Their children. My dojang family. And frankly, anyone who tries to dismiss or in any way excuse his behavior can consider themselves excused from my life.
So, that's what I've got for now. I'm sorry if it's not the rousing test experience story you were hoping for -- Lord knows it's not the one I wanted to tell.
But it's the only one I've got.
Now Playing: Nothing.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
And that's that.
My nerves have pretty much settled down -- I'm not worried about the test so much as anxious to get it started. I've gotten pretty good and quieting my own doubts. A few weeks back, if I made a small mistake in training I immediately started fixating on it, working myself up into a lather about the potential for making that same mistake on the test. Now I've gotten into a pretty good place in that sense, just accepting that I'm going to make some errors, and that the important thing is that they not effect (or infect) the rest of my day.
The main concerns I still carry are small ones. I worry that I'll mishear one of the Korean terms in line drills and perform the wrong technique. I worry that my jump kicks won't be as high and tight as I'd prefer. A couple of minor issues with a couple of moves in my Bassai and one of my self defense techniques have bubbled up, forcing me to rely more on thinking about the technique when I perform it and definitely creating the opportunity to blow it if I think too much. Most of all I worry that when put on the spot to perform a specific one step, called in Korean, I'll buckle under the pressure and blank out. But frankly there's just nothing I can do about these things except keep rested and sharp up until test day, trying to keep my head clear to minimize the potential for these errors.
And frankly, if they occur, the worst outcome would be having to retest on some small things in class. While my goal may be to pass my cho dan test outright, I am absolutely certain that I am well prepared enough to pass with minimal retesting if necessary. Aside from injuring myself I really can't conceive of a test day scenario that results in my having to retest in 6 months. I've never had trouble on a test before, and while this test in unique in that our Grandmaster and a number of additional Kodanja from our region will be scrutizing us -- unlike my previous gup tests, where a single dan member handled your grading, on the dan test every Kodanja on the Shim Sa panel grades every student -- ultimately the only reason that should matter is if I let it matter. I'll be fine.
So now, I just want to get on with it. I may post an entry before the test, or not. I've kind of moved into a sort of "que sera sera" mindset on the test, so I'm not really feeling that I need to work out anything in my head. I just want to coast through the next few days, train a couple of times to keep stuff fresh and sharp, eat good, drink plenty of fluids, and get lots of rest. So I don't really anticipate a need to blog anything out.
But there's no doubt I'll be posting something about the experience not long after.
As with all of my previous tests, this test comes with a writing assignment. This topic is interesting in that it comes full circle, returning to the topic of the very first paper I wrote when I began training, in preparation for testing for my orange belt. The topic, "What Does Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Mean To Me," is obviously a pretty big one. Open ended. Fraught with meaning, particularly in the run-up to a cho dan test. This coming full-circle, transitioning from the gup levels to the dan levels. Big Stuff.
And frankly I wasn't too thrilled with my essay this time around -- not so much because of the content, but because I felt I had expressed so much of it before. An unfortunate side effect of writing this blog is that much of the content over the past 3.5 years has been about what training in this art means to me, so I felt like I had very little that was new to bring to the paper. I spend a lot of time thinking about and living inside this topic, and as a result writing this paper felt more like an attempt to distill and summarize a couple of hundred blog entries instead of finding something new to say.
Regardless, I think I expressed the topic well and I am not unhappy with the result. Just not excited either. Perhaps the testing board, who I doubt read this blog, will see this with fresh eyes -- I know that I'm too close to it to have anything approaching real perspective.
Anyway, here it is.
What Does Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Mean To Me?
It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more ‘manhood’ to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind. -- Alex Karras
In December of 2005, when I first began studying Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan, I told myself the reason I was beginning to train was so that I could spend more time with my kids. While this was true, I realized fairly quickly that training could actually benefit me in three distinct ways that I very much needed:
It would enable me to spend more time with and to connect with my children
It would provide a way to make new friends and connect with other folks in my community
It would help to build confidence in order to overcome (or at least better manage) some of the insecurity that has plagued me for most of my life
I wrote at length about these goals in my first testing paper back in March 2006, and honestly little has changed since then. Happily, all of these things continue to form the core of what Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan means to me. These past few years of training have provided hundreds of opportunities for my family to grow closer, and now that my wife trains as well we are truly a martial arts family, growing together through the art and enjoying the shared experiences and challenges. Regarding building up my confidence and reducing feelings of insecurity I feel more confident and comfortable with myself than I believe I have ever felt. And the relationships I’ve formed and the fun I’ve had, and continue to have, with my fellow students are tremendously rewarding. In fact of these three, more than any other aspect of my training, I’d have to say that it’s the fun I have in learning the art and the camaraderie I have with the other students that keeps me coming back 3, 4, 5 times a week.
So, a lot of it comes down to one simple thing: Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan is fun. This is not a small thing.
One of the things that I found happened when my wife and I decided to have kids is that my understanding of who I was and what my role was in the home changed radically. After dating for 10 years, we got married and for 6 years or so it was just us. But when we decided to have a child that changed my position in the pecking order of importance in the household. Obviously the needs of a child come first, followed closely by the mom (since she’s the primary care provider). Which left me in a distant third place. And this obviously only compounded with the arrival of our second child a year and a half later.
Now, I don’t mean to make this sound like I’m whining about this. I was happy to put the needs of my wife and children first and foremost in the list of things that needed doing, and to just take the role of provider/breadwinner. But at the same time, I found that over the next couple of years I started feeling like I was losing track of who exactly I was, aside from being “the one that works.” And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I resented my family for this, there were days when I couldn’t help but feel like I was sitting in the backseat of my own life, watching it pass by.
Basically speaking, I just plain wasn’t having much fun in my life, and I started getting bitter about it. This continued for a few years, without any particularly good results. While I was pretty much content with my home life most days, I found I was getting more and more cynical and pessimistic at work. My overall outlook was very negative, and my attitude was pretty dark and angry most of the time. Frankly, I think it was just a matter of time before it started really infecting my home life as well.
Once I started training, though, a lot of this negativity began to fall away. Having something so new, so different and challenging, but perhaps most importantly something that was completely about improving myself, about forcing myself to work and sweat for small advances, was incredibly freeing. I’ve always told people that one of the biggest surprise discoveries I found in training was just how incredibly relaxing training can be, because for the duration of class time everything is so damn simple. Get dressed. Get on the mat. Do what you’re told to the best of your ability. The 75-90 minutes or so I spent on the mat each time I trained rapidly became a time where I could really let the tension and stress and frustrations I felt at work, or sometimes even at home, fall aside. And I quickly found that after a little time on the mat my problems just didn’t seem so big anymore.
Training in Tang Soo Do has had a few very specific benefits for me as well, in meeting some challenges that came my way in my professional life the past 3 years. About two and a half years ago, after working at my company for almost 7 years, we were acquired by another large company who subsequently laid off my entire team a few months later. This was a bit of a harsh blow for me: I’d never lost a job before, certainly never been "let go" from one. In the months leading up to my last day at this job and in the 6-7 weeks of unemployment that followed, the dojang was immeasurably helpful in keeping my head on straight, in helping me to not let my anger and frustration get the better of me.
It wasn’t a great time, regardless, but I am certain that without Tang Soo Do things could have been far, far worse. There was a time, not long ago, that my reaction to being laid off would have consisted largely of a) lashing out at the people around me and b) drinking myself half-blind every night. Instead I just plugged away and tried to stay positive as best I could. In a fairly short time I managed to get work with many old friends I’d worked with at my last job.
While this solved a short-term crisis, it opened a new can of worms, as several of the folks I worked with had some fairly negative attitudes about me, based on my own negativity and anger from years before. At first this worried me, but then I realized I might be able to use this as an opportunity to prove I had grown and changed in the past few years of training, both to them and to myself. I’ve called this period of time my “Year of Bassai,” because much like Bassai is intended to help us break down our own egos, this period really required I just get over myself and accept that I had a lot of things to make up for, that I’d hurt some feelings and done some damage in my past. I took a long hard look at myself and I wasn't all that excited by what I saw. 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 realized 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 crap, apologize for being a difficult jerk to work with for a while there, and don't do it anymore. Grow up. Move on." And that's what I've tried to do, ever since taking on my new job. And it’s having some great effects – I’m doing more interesting work, and having more fun doing it, than I’ve done in years. My career has moved in some really interesting new directions. But perhaps most satisfying of all, friends that I know I’ve crossed in the past have told me, straight out, that I’m a changed man. That they can really, truly see the difference training has made in my life. If that’s not a good thing, I don’t know what is. I'm certain that without the humility I have realized through training the none of this would have happened.
Finally, training has also opened me up to new friendships in ways I'd forgotten I could be. Before I started training, it had been at least 12 years since I really felt like trying to really connect with a new friend, to really work on forging a lasting friendship with someone I knew. Not that I was a hermit or anything like that -- but I hadn't felt any desire to get close to someone else, or let anyone get particularly close to me, in more than a decade. The reasons are pretty mundane -- nothing terribly unique. Got screwed over by a number of folks I thought I had solid friendships with. It hurt like hell. I put up a bunch of walls and sort of decided that getting close to new folks just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.
But not long after I began training -- perhaps as a result of my own growing self-confidence -- whatever resistance I put in place that kept me from wanting to make new, close friends started falling away. Since then I’ve made a number of very close friendships, most significantly the friendship I’ve established with Sa Bom Nim Hoke Nunan. Of the things that Tang Soo Do has brought to my life, my friendship with Master Nunan is the thing I value most. Besides being a fantastic teacher, Sa Bom Nim Nunan is a fantastic human being and a genuinely good person. I consider him one of my closest friends, and at 41 years of age I honestly thought I was incapable of making friendships this close again. This is a blessing indeed.
That's what Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan means to me.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Now, let me explain. I feel solid and well prepared. Aside from adding an extra coat of polish to my hyungs, ho sin sul, and il soo sik daryun, I don't feel there's much else I can do to prepare for this test. I think I'm solid. I think I'll probably make a mistake or two early on, in line drills, as I typically do. I'l mishear something in Korean, or will lose focus for a second or two and wind up executing an technique incorrectly or exceptionally sloppily. But then, having gotten that initial error out of the way, my nerves will settle down and I'll have a good test. That's how this stuff tends to go for me,
But the waiting is driving me nuts. I'm training like crazy, 5 or 6 days a week, not because I feel that I won't be ready if I don't train like mad but because I feel like if I don't keep busy and keep my mind off the test then it will never get here. Or I'll start freaking out, second guessing myself all over the place. Arrrgh!
Of course, the downside of all this training is I'm really kind of physically drained a lot of the time. I feel good, but my stamina while training is kinda lacking. I'm tending to run out of steam a bit too quickly, although I recover quickly as well. But my muscles, particularly my thigh muscles, are not exactly thrilled to be getting such a thorough working over so regularly. And my ankles and knees are considerably less pliable and more creaky than usual. As of next week I'm going to have to scale my training way back, just to ensure I don't go and injure myself while trying to distract myself. Which will undoubtedly have the wonderful side effect of making the last week running up to the test seem to last 3 or 4 months.
I say it again: Arrgh!
Of course, I should be able to distract myself with other things in the meantime, not the least of which is planning the post-Dan Test Party, which will be occurring at my house. I am currently obsessing about how many people, how much beer/wine/juice to acquire, how much food, when will the test end, when will the party begin, and what on Earth will it be like to have the Grandmaster of our organization in my house.
Now, Kwan Jhang Nim is a really nice guy, and I've met him on numerous occasions so I'm not worried about it in a realistic way -- it's really more just nervous energy manifesting as OCD by whatever means possible. No doubt this will continue for the next couple of weeks, without fail.
Good God, I'm a bundle of nerves, here. The 30th can't come soon enough!
Like most martial artists I know, I have several dobakhs that I train in. Part of this is simple necessity -- I work out often, I sweat a lot, so unless I want to do laundry pretty much every single night I need to have a few backups around just to keep from stinking up the joint. However, a lot of folks have what they consider their favorite uniform. For me it's my first "good uniform," a nice heavyweight cotton dobakh I bought when I hit 3rd gup (red belt).
The basic dobakhs we use are a polyester/cotton blend, which is sturdy, but which also doesn't breathe very well. As I said I tend to sweat a lot when I work out, and the polycotton uniforms stick to my skin once I've got a good head of steam going. Once they get sticky they tend to prevent air from circulating under the dobakh, and it gets pretty damn uncomfortable, pretty fast.
The cotton uniforms, on the other hand, tend to be a bit stiffer and to allow more airflow, while also wicking more sweat away from the skin. I still soak the things through, but my body feels way more comfortable throughout my workout. As an added bonus, the crisper fabric makes a much more satisfying "whoosh" and "pop" sound when executing fast techniques. All in all, a way more enjoyable experience while training.
So when I hit red belt -- in September 2007, nearly 19 months ago -- I ordered a really nice cotton uniform, got it trimmed in red by a local seamstress that used to train with us, and had the logo of our dojang embroidered on the back. And I've worn it every chance I had since then, typically at least 2-3 times per week, using my backup polycotton dobakhs in between sessions when the good one was in the wash.
And this, after nearly 2 years, is the result:
The wear and tear on my dobakh has been ... fascinating. The very high quality fabric trim, after several months of smaller tears and holes appearing along the edges, has begun disintegrating. I think the only reason it still looks even passably trimmed is the 5 lines of stitching that holds the scraps of remaining fabric in place.
The color of the embroidery thread on the back seems to have oxidized (perhaps due to using non-chlorine bleach), fading the red somewhat but especially changing the blue. It used to be a vibrant primary-color style blue, and is now a dark slate gray color...
I've worn small holes in portions of the pants and near the seams. I recently tore a gaping hole beneath one of the arms without realizing it while training in Haidong Gumdo (Korean sword) -- didn't notice the hole until a friend pointed it out while I was practicing a form a little while later. I've patched it back together each time, although there's really nothing I can do about the embroidery on the back.
But the worn trim has been something of a point of pride for me -- it didn't get that way by itself. There's a lot of hours of training in that dobakh, and that worn trim is the most visible evidence of this fact. I've had plenty of compliments from other folks who train who understand that all that wear and tear is the result of a lot of dedication and time spent on the mat.
I love my dobakh.
But I can't go to my Cho Dan test wearing a dobakh that looks like that. No matter how much pride I take in it, it would be wrong to get in front of Kwan Jhang Nim and the Texas Kodanja of our organization in something that is so clearly on its last legs. It's not the little stuff that's the problem -- the tears I can fix well enough, and the embroidery is not something that looks anything other than weathered and faded.
But that trim? I can't show up on test day with trim that looks like that. It would be disrespectful, and I'm sure that giving any sense of disrespect on test day would be a tactical error of fairly enormous magnitude which would probably result in an even more grueling test day for me.
So, my options are simple. I could, of course, simply retire this dobakh before the test, and instead wear one of my polycotton backup dobakhs. But frankly, this is supremely unappealing to me. Besides the discomfort factor, there's the simple fact that I have enormous sentimental attachment to my dobakh. I've spent a tremendous amount of time in that dobakh, and I want to wear it to the test. I'm attached to it. It represents my pride and my commitment to the art, the dedication and effort I've shown on the past 3.5 years. It's me.
Thus my only option: I need to get it re-trimmed by test day. That'll make it look spiffy enough that I don't look like a slob on test day. Unfortunately, it also erases some of the appeal of this dobakh for me -- the ragged quality. The nearly destroyed trim is the most clear and obvious evidence of my work, my time, and my sweat that I have. But the thought of not wearing this dobakh to my test is way worse than re-trimming is. And this way it'll look good for the next few weeks, and the following month or so until I am officially promoted and can wear my new midnight blue trimmed uniform.
But I'll miss that old red trim.
Mood: Happy, impatient
Now Playing: The Time, "Ice Cream Castle"