Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Other Half

Saturday, Christine and Trevor will get their chance to test for Cho Dan. Unlike Miranda and I, who had the privilege (and good fortune) of being able to test right at our home dojang (located all of 1.3 miles or so from my house), this time around it's Master Cox's turn to host the classing up in Lewisville, TX. So, tomorrow afternoon, once the kids get home from school, we will load our dobakhs and gear bags into the car and trek on up to the DFW area, check into a Great Western that is located around the corner from Master Cox's place, find some grub, and then try to get a good night sleep.

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.

Mood: Anxious
Now Playing: Neko Case, "The Tigers Have Spoken"

Monday, November 09, 2009

Roles and Responsibilities

So, it's now a solid 6 months or so since I tested for my Cho Dan, and nearly 3 months since I was officially promoted to my new rank and received my midnight blue belt. You'd think there'd be a lot to talk about, a lot to express and roll around in this blog, and yet ….

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.

Mood: Bemused
Now Playing: Nothing