Monday, August 24, 2009

42 + 1769

Wow. Turned 42 today. I'm utterly nonplussed by this event, as it really pales in comparison with getting promoted this past weekend. So, no big ruminations on age or experience this year -- I'm comfortably living in "oh it's just a number"-land.


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!"

Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Raul Malo, "Lucky One"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Making It Real

So finally, nearly three months after our test, my fellow Cho Dan candidates and I will be getting promoted this coming Saturday. It's been a hell of a long wait, I'll tell you. This first chapter (or volume, perhaps!) in my training in Tang Soo Do -- 3+ years of training to prepare for the Cho Dan test, a grueling testing experience, lots of post-test drama and frustration, and months of waiting to officially receive our midnight blue belts -- will finally come to a close in just a few days.

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.

Mood: Anxious.
Now Playing: Annie Lennox, "Songs of Mass Destruction"

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ben Folds is Trying to Kill Me

After nearly suffering an emotional collapse after listening to "Still Fighting It" for the first time yesterday (see last blog entry), today I run across "Gracie," which Folds wrote for his daughter. It's not the bittersweet "dagger through the heart" that "Still Fighting It" is, but it makes want to go straight home and fall asleep on the couch with Miranda.
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
Gracie girl

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
Gracie girl

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
Gracie girl

There will always be a part of me
Nobody else is ever gonna see
But you and me
A little girl
My Gracie girl

Mood: Wistful
Now Playing: Ben Folds, "Songs for Silverman"

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Still Fighting It

I am fairly certain that there are several folks in the grocery store who think I'm having a nervous breakdown or something.
Good morning, son.
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
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.
Everybody knows
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
I'm sorry.
So 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.
Good morning, son
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.
And 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.
Everybody knows
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
So, 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 ...
You'll try and try and one day you'll fly
Away from me.
Well, 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.

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 knows
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
I'm sorry...
Here's a link to video of the song -- it's a killer.

Mood: Grateful
Now Playing: Ben Folds, "Rockin' the Suburbs"