Saturday, March 28, 2009


Our dojang is holding lower-level gup tests today. These occur about every three months, with three separate testing sessions divided by rank. An early session for the white belts that are testing for orange belt (8th gup), a second session for orange belts testing for their first stripe (7th gup) or their green belt (6th gup), and a third for green belts testing for stripes or their red belt (3rd gup).

Once we reach 3rd gup, one of our rsponsibilities is to assist in the testings by proctoring. Basically, this consists of just getting the gups warmed up and focused before the test, getting them lined up and arranged as directed by the testing board, and then calling and counting out the various commands for the test. Line drills, one steps, wrist grabs, forms, and so forth. It's not hard, but it does require a bit of focus and energy, especially if the group testing is having trouble maintaining focus (as is often the case with kids) or energy (as is often thte case with adults).

A good proctor can really make a big difference in the testing experience for the gups. I know that I've had a couple of tests where one of our proctors (proctoring is usually a team effort...) was too quiet, counted line drills too quickly, didn't listen attentively to the testing board, or just kinda miffed the entire thing. The effect on the folks that are testing, who are already typically tense and nervous, or tired, or freaked out, can range from distracting to disastrous. So while proctoring is a sort of perfuctory duty, it's also one that I think needs to be approached seriously, for the benefit of the lower ranked gups.

As the ranking 1st gup in our school, it also sort of unofficially falls to me to ensure that the proctoring duties are spread out evenly over the various red belts who show up to each test to help out. Since the majority of them are kids this can be tricky -- everyone has an idea of what they want to do most, and it has to be balanced against a lot of other factors: whether the gup has previously proctored, whether they have a family member in the current test (I like the kids whose parents are testing to have a chance to call their pick of the test -- it's exciting for them, and can be a source of pride and energy for their parents), if the kid gets stage fright (we have a couple of kids who get excited to assist and then tend to freeze up when it comes time to call commands), and so forth. It's a bit of a juggling act, but one I enjoy.

With my dan test approaching (less than 8 weeks to go!), this will be my last opportunity to proctor. That's both exciting and a little bit bittersweet for me. I've really enjoyed the responsibilities associated with the red belt, as they've really helped me to feel a sense of "ownership" in our dojang, in the cycles the define the student experiences. Dan will have its own inherent respeonsibilities (grading tests instead of proctoring, for example), but this has been a special chapter in the book of my training, and I'll miss it.

Mood: Oddly melancholy
Now Playing: Marillion, "Clutching at Straws"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cooking, As Therapy

In the past few years I've found that there are only a couple of things that really enable me to relax and detach from the general stressors of life and work and whatnot. One, obviously, is Tang Soo Do (thus, this blog). I'd say the continual improvements in my life and how I live it that Tang Soo Do has brought to me are fairly well documented thus far, and I strongly anticipate these blessings will continue to work wonders inmy life over time.

But one thing I realize about my training is that while I find great peace and fulfillment in my training, much of the immediate pleasure is very inward-directed. Not selfish, exactly, but my training is something I undertook almost completely as a way to challenge myself and entertain myself and force myself to grow. Hopefully all of these things result in positive effects on those around me, but the benefits for others are, at best, indirect.

Which is why I cook.

Back when Christine and I first got married I used to do al most all of the cooking. Unfortunately, as work became a more dominant factor in my life, and especially once we had kids, my time to cook during the week rapidly dwindled to almost nil, and Christine took the reins. Christine is a fairly timid cook -- not to say her cooking isn't quite tasty: quite the opposite. She makes good solid fare for me and the kids 4-5 nights a week. But she's not adventurous in the kitchen and doesn't like to challenge herself or stray too far from very specific recipes.

Conversely, I love just jumping in and trying new recipes, new flavors, new ideas, and so forth. I love spice, I love strong flavors, I love preparation and presentation, you name it. And I'm equally happy working a saute pan and just throwing things together to see what happens as I am wokring the more precise exercises of baking (I've always condered sauteing and frying improv, whereas baking is more like chemistry). But most of all, I love to make something for people -- especially my family -- and see their faces light up when they eat. Not to say I'm always successful -- sometimes things just plain don't come together (my rice pilaf from a few weeks back was a 100% failure on all fronts, for example) but when it works out, it's a rush.

So over the past year or so I've adopted Sundays as my day of cooking. I pick out the evening's recipes in the morning, over coffee. Then I do the grocery shopping for the week around noon (alone, headphones on, listening to music and just enjoying the all-too-infrequent solitude). And then, starting around 2:00 or so, I begin prep, serving around 6:00-ish. That's my Sunday, and it's sometihing I look forward to all week long.

I just crave the chance to get in the kitchen, find an interesting new recipe to try out, and cook for my family and friends. Honestly, when friends want to go out to dinner, I'd almost always prefer to just bring them to my house and try to cook for everyone. It's cheaper, usually the food is better (if I do say so myself), and it's so much easier to just chat and chill out.

And I really love trying out something new and challenging and seeing if I can get my kids to like it. Trevor is usually pretty easy -- he's got an adventurous palate for an almost-9 year old. We've gone for sushi, he likes spicy foods, eats shrimp and crab and other shellfish, and even enjoyed escargots despite knowing he was eating snails. Miranda, on the other hand is a much harder sell. Hardly a day goes by where she doesn't eat PB&J, because she just doesn't like much else for lunch. She eats a good breakfast, but dinners are always characterized by 45 minutes of "eat 5 more bites and you're done" bargaining.

So, I consider the fact that in the past few months I've gotten her to eat -- and enjoy! -- chicken tikka masala, satay chicken kebobs with spicy peanut sauce, orange chicken, coconut rice, honey-gininger chicken with rice noodles, and naan (I'm on a solidly Eastern-flavors kick, if you couldn't tell...) to be something of a personal triumph. And I don't think the fact that I put so much effort into making these things for the people I love goes unnoticed, either. I hope it helps make up for the time I spend at work, or away at trade shows, or training in the evenings during the week.

So tonight it's coconut shrimp (none for Miranda -- she's allergic to shellfish), naan, and ginger-honey chicken with rice noodles (a repeat, because we have Chrisitne's parents for houseguests and we want to share it with them). Time to get started.

Mood: Nicely chilled out
Now Playing: Neko Case, "Middle Cyclone"