Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Just Want Simple. Clearly That Is Too Much to Ask.

So, test follow-up.

Note, as a bit of a warning shot, that this has been a really, really awful week.

So, Saturday morning we awoke to discover that the friends that had volunteered to host the post-test part had 2 ill kids and needed to bow out. So, seeing as we were literally at the Last Possible Minute, we volunteered to just move the party to our place. 'Cause, you know, not enough else to worry about.

Shortly after we headed out to the dojang at about 9:15 to prepare for my kyo sa test clinic. Set up chairs, chatted a bit, welcomed people as they arrived, and then we kicked off the clinic (a bit late due to late arrivals, as is typical). My performance was a mixed bag: had some real problems with my white/orange belts that I had real hard time straightening out. Recovered somewhat, but not well. Green belt session went far better, but was cut short by the masters and Grandmaster in order to keep things on schedule for the remainder of the day. Not a total loss, by any means, but not what I'd hoped for. Comments from the kodanja and Grandmaster were uniformly constructive, if uncomfortably pointed at times. All feedback was deserved and accurate.

Grandmaster's clinic followed immediately after. The scheduled 1.5 hour clinic instead ran to nearly 3 hours as he attempted to teach a large number of red belts and dans a series of sword forms that are being integrated with our curriculum. Due to the large number of clinic participants, one 1/4 of the students could train on the mat at the same time for a to of the class (whacking each other with swords was an issue ...). Interesting stuff, but frankly it ran way too long for my tastes, especially given that I was still reeling from kyo sa stuff and trying to get my head back on straight for the test.

Following the clinic we are advised that there will be no lunch break and that we will go straight into the test. Grrreat. I wolf down a Powerbar and hope for the best.

Test goes well. Very well. About 6 hours total. I had no significant issues at all, Christine and Trevor did quite well too. I flubbed my break (jump split kick -- broke one board on the first try, then blew the jump double front kick follow up) but otherwise performed very well, Christine needed to redo her break as well, and Trevor needed to do some minor retesting. My friends and classmates all had good testing experiences as well. Spirits were good throughout the entire test. All in all a terrific testing experience, and far superior to what I experienced on my Cho Dan exam.

We wrap up and head back to the house, to prepare for the arrival of 2 dozen or so of our closest friends. Upon arrival, we find that our sweet old dog Scarlett, who has been ill with pneumonia and on all sorts of medication for a few weeks now, is having a tough time breathing. We are concerned, but assume it's just another episode, brought on by the stress of being alone all day. We resolve to just hold her throughout the night to try to keep her calm.

Party goes well. Having been advised that this was a very last-minute soiree, many friends arrive bringing beer, wine, food, liquor, etc. We have 3-4 hours of fun and chit chat. Folks leave by about midnight. Our pup continues to have many, many issues, her breathing labored and her overall demeanor ... not great.

I begin to worry.

We show our last guests out, then retire to the couch, resolved to stay up and get Scarlett calmed down after the hectic day. At 1 Christine takes her to bed, and I doze off on the couch. An hour later I head up to find Christine still comforting Scarlett, who is seeming worse than before. We discuss bringing her to the emergency vet, but decided against it since a) she is terrified of the car and I worry that the ride could make it worse and b) I've been drinking and would need to call my mom to drive us down anyway. I bring her downstairs so Christine can get some sleep.

I spend the next 5 or so hours trying to comfort her, dozing when I could. She becomes progressively worse, her breathing more labored, her behavior becoming more and more worrisome. At 7:30, after sunrise, I bring her up to Chrsiitne so I can climb into bed and rest for an hour or so.

At 8:30 I get up and make coffee. Scarlett is worse still. We begin to discuss that we might need to make some hard choices here, after over a month of trying to fix what initially seemed a simple problem. As Christine holds her and I pour our coffee ... she stops breathing. Christine cries out to me that she's dying.

I run across the room to them, and Christine holds her in her arms as I lay my head on her chest, listening to her heart beating, stroking her head and telling her it's OK, it's OK, let go little baby let go. Despite the other circumstances her heart, awfully, is beating strong and steady. I wish briefly IU had just given her all the pain medication we had in our drawer for her recurrent back injuries, but obviously it's too late now. She strains briefly, convulses 6 or 7 times, shudders a bit, then exhales gently, a raspy little rattle, and her hear continues to beat.

And as I listen, her heart stops. Then beats two or three more times. And stops for good. Our son, who was in the kitchen, begins crying a high, keening cry. Our daughter, who had been sleeping, comes downstairs and stands, stunned.

An hour or so later we drive her lifeless body, wrapped in our daughter's red cuddly blanket, to the emergency vet so she can be cremated. I spend the rest of the day utterly exhausted energy consumed by the testing experience of the previous day and my spirit crushed by 2 days of almost no sleep followed by this last, vicious little gut punch. As it is also my mother's birthday we have her and my brother's family over for pizza and cake. We commiserate and keep on as brave a face as we collectively could.

As they prepare to leave, the masks crumble. We cry quite a bit more. And then we go to bed.

We had her nearly 16 years, years before children, having bought her from a breeder shortly after Christine got a job with an attorney in Greensboro. We wanted our other dog, Raven, to have company. I remember driving home from the breeder with her, my hand resting on her back as she sat nervously in a shoebox on the front seat of my red Dodge Neon. She was about as big as my open hand. When I brought her home she and Raven chased each other around our apartment, jumping up onto furniture and then diving off in a mad dash. While chasing Raven Scarlett tried to dive under the coffee table from the couch and miscalculated, nearly knocking herself unconcious. She had worms, and ear mites. We briefly considered suing the breeder, then decided to just get on with life.
Raven died unexpected a few years later, at 7 years of age just after Halloween in 2000 as we were preparing to move from North Carolina to Texas, breaking our hearts.And 11 years later, just days after the anniversary of Raven's death, Scarlett leaves us. 16 really good years in total. Hearts broken once again.

Goddammit I miss her so much.

So, the test was really good. And I don't care so much about that right now.

I mean I know I did well, I know my family and friends did well. I just don't, you know, give a shit so much. I'd trade that day for 6 more months with my pup without flinching. Someday I guess it will feel better, and maybe I'll be able to finally feel some pride of accomplishment in our performance during the test, but right now I just can't access that whole thing. Right now, I just miss my little red dog.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Motive or Theoretical Basis and Characteristics of Forms

Note: This is the second of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Kyo Sa (certified instructor) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.

As a training method, forms serve multiple purposes. When learning a new form, the student first benefits from the strictly technical aspects of the forms training. Over time, as they gain greater understanding of the technical content of the form, the student is able to begin applying the form’s style or characteristics in order to expand their understanding of the form. And finally, once they have a solid understanding both of the technical content and the characteristics of a form, the student is able to begin exploring the artistic and “moving meditation” aspect of forms training as a method of deepening their understanding of the form so that they might begin using it as a tool to expand their awareness of the form as an artistic whole. Due to their challenging nature, depth and complexity, forms also provide an excellent opportunity for students to apply many of the 8 key concepts to their training and to better understand the 7 stages of learning.

Technical Content of Forms

The first stage of learning imparted by forms training is primarily technical in nature, and often serve as a way to train the body and increase discipline and focus as the student begins the process of learning by learning the movements from their instructor and committing them to memory.

Forms incorporate technique that students may have learned in class as part of line drills or, perhaps, in one-step sparring training, but chain these individual techniques into attack and defense sequences in a specific pattern. In doing so, students learn how to properly transition between different offensive and defensive techniques while advancing, retreating, or changing direction. As they develop these skills and gain better control of their body mechanics they will find that they are better able to redeploy and utilize sequences of movements that are contained within the forms as part of their sparring repertoire.

As students learn a new form, it encourages them to examine some of the 8 key concepts in relation to their training. Obviously chung shin tong il comes into play through the mental demands of recording and imitating, while in neh, kyum son, and jong gi can factor in as the student sometimes comes to realize how difficult this stage can be.

This stage of forms training also encapsulates the first 4 stages of learning: look with the intent to learn, listen with the intent to learn, recording, and imitation. Once the techniques have been adequately recorded by the student and they are able to accurately imitate what they have been shown by their instructors they progress to the next stage of learning, “practice, practice, practice”, which will enable them to begin to better understand the characteristics and nature of the form itself as a whole as opposed to the individual techniques and sequences.

Characteristics of Forms

Once the student has successfully recorded and is able to accurately imitate the form they have been shown by the instructor they can begin to explore the characteristics inherent in the form by practicing (and practicing, and practicing …) the form. Typically students have had the characteristics of the form explained to them (for example, the Weh Gung “externally directed energy” quality of the Gicho and Pyang Ahn forms versus the Neh Gung “internally directed energy” qualities of the Naihanji versus the Choon Gung “middle way” quality of the Chil Sung). However, until they have managed to record and are able to imitate the form they are not able to begin exploring these characteristics because their minds are typically preoccupied with technical execution of the techniques in the proper sequence.

At this stage the student begins applying additional key concepts to their technique – chiefly wan gup, him cho chung and shin chook as methods of accurately and correctly communicating the form’s characteristics physically. The characteristic of a form is typically best expressed thorough the correct breathing technique for the form combined with an understanding of the correct timing, speed, power, and rhythm of the form. For example, as students begin to understand the quality of a Pyang Ahn form they will adjust their breathing to be hard and explosive, terminating at he completion of each technique. Likewise, the individual movements of the form will be executed with intensity and power, while the overall form with move at a consistent – though not necessarily “fast” – pace, corresponding to the confident quality inherent in the Pyang Ahn.

Forms as Moving Meditation

Once the student has begun to sufficiently understand the characteristics of the form they are prepared to begin the process of applying their knowledge of the form in order to move toward the final stages of learning: first by achieving a higher level of awareness through exploring the artistic and meditative aspects of the form, and finally the acts of exploring the art and creating something new from what they have learned.

Frankly, this is the part where I feel I have the least understanding, or at least the least insight into the actual application of the principals. In preparing forms for demonstration and competition I have been able to focus on the overall artistic qualities of the form: trying to focus on line of sigh and presenting a line of beauty when executing the techniques, finding a rhythm and speed for various parts of the form that imparts the performance of the form with a greater dramatic impact and which emphasizes the characteristics of the form in an artistic manner, and working to give the overall composition a sense of beauty or integrity. I feel that these are aspects of achieving a higher sense of awareness of the form itself.

I have also found that once we have begun to understand and internalize the characteristics of a form we are able to begin “losing ourselves” in the form. This is when I’ve found the forms best exemplify the ideals of forms training acting as a moving meditation. This is only possible when we have so thoroughly learned technical aspects and the characteristic qualities of the forms that performing them becomes second nature, enabling our minds to operate independently of the actions our bodies are engaged in and therefore to better observe ourselves and our performance. And it is through this detachment and deeper understanding achieved through achieving higher awareness (true chung chin tong il) that we are able to truly grasp the fundamental qualities of these techniques and finally use them to create something truly new.

Practical Teaching Technique the Candidate has Developed or Found Effective in Developing Skill or in Motivating Students

Note: This is the first of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Kyo Sa (certified instructor) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.

One of the classes I am often responsible for teaching is our Saturday morning Family Class. This is an all-ages, all-ranks class that is designed to enhance the family and community feeling of our dojang by providing families with an opportunity to train together. As a result, we often have a highly varied assortment of students on the mat, ranging from 4 and 5 year old little dragons to dans that are comfortably above the age of 25.

This eclectic mix of student ages and levels of experience creates some particularly challenging situations when it comes to presenting material, especially since one of my primary goals when I teach this class is to ensure that the various groups of family members get the opportunity to work together as a family unit, regardless of whether there is a large disparity in their ranks. For example, we often have parents that have begun training a year or two after their children attend this class, and I want them to look at this class as a chance to spend some time on the mat together (as opposed to just working independently on curriculum that is appropriate for their respective ranks).

The biggest challenge I’ve encountered in planning classes like these is keeping the content meaningful and constructive while also encouraging cooperation and a sense of fun among the family members, regardless of what their rank or age is. To this end, over the past year I’ve adopted some of Kyo Sa Nim Jimmy Vasquez’s excellent Family Class activities that I first encountered when I began training with my own family years ago, and have also come up with several class activities of my own that I think both challenge and help develop skill in students of all levels while also encouraging a fun, family-oriented activity.

Student-Selected Line Drill Sequences

This is a technique that I first learned from Kyo Sa Nim Vasquez, who learned it from Sa Bom Nim Nunan. Briefly, this is line drills where each student in turn picks a favorite hand or foot technique and adds it to an ever-growing sequence. For example, the first student specifies middle punch and we do a series of those: second student specifies low block and we a series of center punch/low block; third student front kick, and we do a series of middle punch/low block/front kicks, and so on.

This exercise always creates some chaos (and more than a few laughs) on the mat, especially when the students are chaining lots of techniques (and beginning to lose track of them) or when a student proposes a new technique that doesn’t flow well from the previous one. Kids and adults alike typically encounter some problems and have to laugh them off, which tends to inspire a lot of camaraderie on the mat. I typically frame this with a discussion about it being not just a good way to exercise our ability to concentrate (as we try to keep all of the many techniques straight in our heads), but also a really good opportunity to learn how some techniques flow together really well, while some don’t work well at all.

Simple Form Creation Integrating One Step Techniques

In one recent class, after a discussion of some of the attack and defense sequences in a form, I was discussing with the students how our one-step sparring techniques are also attack/defense sequences and that it’s possible to take a portion of a forms and substitute a one-step for a specific move, thereby creating something a little different and new. As the class consisted of white belts to red belts, all ages, I had them first work through the 10 basic one-steps. Then we performed Gicho Hyung Ill Bu, but in place of the standard center punches we instead did basic one step number one, incorporating the blocking technique as well as the punch. Some of the students had some issues doing the one step from the opposite side, as you’d expect, but after a few tries everyone got it down.

At this point I broke the class up into family-based groups with the instruction that each group should take 10 minutes and work together to modify a Gicho form, “mixing it up” a bit by substituting one or more one-steps (more advanced students were encouraged to use intermediates, use a more advanced form as a starting point, or to create their own if desired) for some portion of the form. After 10 minutes were up, each family group got a chance to present their form to the rest of the class.

I really enjoyed this class, and the students did as well. From a practical perspective, I think it helped open a lot of eyes to the ways in which one-steps can be part of larger sequences of movement and of how forms are constructed on smaller sequences that can be thought of as one step sparring techniques on their own. It also provided a situation where the students got a chance to practice doing some one-steps for the “non-standard” side of their body, which many found challenging. Finally, it provided a forum where the groups could explore the creative aspects of our art. Ultimately, it gave the families a chance to work together on and present something they could call their own.

Line Drills, Gicho Forms Using Bong

Earlier this year, as word got around that we were going to begin learning and teaching a bong form at the green belt level, a number of younger/lower ranked students in one of my Saturday classes expressed some concern as they hadn’t really ever had a chance to work with a staff before. I decided to take this as an opportunity to demystify the staff a bit. Again, we had a varied group of ages and ranks, but the vast majority of the class had little or no experience using a staff before.

I had each student select a staff from the one we had available at the dojang, and then I worked with them on the proper way to hold the staff. Once everyone was comfortable we lined up and performed a series of simple line drills using the staffs, just doing low block, center punch, and high punch while holding the staff. As part of the discussion at this point I noted how the staff does a remarkably good job of forcing your ready hand into the proper position on the side of the body, and also pointed out how weapons are in many ways simply an extension of your own hands, and as such many of our standard techniques only need slight modification to work when performed using a weapon.

Once everyone was comfortable with these simple techniques, we moved on to working on performing Gicho Hyung Ill Bu while holding a staff. As this form uses only the low block and center punch motions it didn’t present too tough of a challenge for the less experienced students (biggest challenge for them was moving the staff out in front of their body into an intermediate position after a low block prior to executing the center punch), and after a few attempts everyone was able to execute the form well. As a result, even the youngest students got an opportunity to work with a weapon in a controlled fashion that helped to demystify it and excite them for future opportunities to work with it more. The students that were preparing to learn a staff form also had the opportunity to get “warmed up” on the weapon without also having the added challenge of learning a new form pattern at the same time. And everyone, including the higher ranked students, got to try something new together. Again, this helped foster a good feeling of cooperative experience between the students, and especially between the various family members on the mat.

How I see My Role in the Dojang as a Second Dan

Note: This is the second of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Ee Dan (second degree black belt) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.

This topic brings to mind something that Kyo Sa Nim James Vasquez told me after I was promoted to Cho Dan. I'm having trouble finding his note, but essentially he said that the key to being a good Cho Dan is to remember that, above all other goals, we are responsible for the care-and-feeding of the gups, and that's what gives being a Cho Dan meaning. Essentially, I took this to mean that without that sense of responsibility to our juniors, that desire to help others along the path, it's just a bunch of kicking and punching.

As I approach the rank of Ee Dan, I think that my understanding of this role is in many ways unchanged, although it now has to encompass the rather different needs of responsibility toward newer Cho Dans as well. Given how many students choose to end their training after reaching Cho Dan I think this is a very significant addition to our responsibilities.

So, what actions enable us to support and nurture our juniors? In broad terms, I think that the real work of caring for our juniors falls into three broad categories: Acting as a teacher, acting as a role model, and acting as a community leader.


I think the most obvious role of an Ee Dan is to act as a teacher for the junior members of the dojang. Whether it’s taking the path of training toward the Kyo Sa certification, or simply in assisting other instructors with warm ups, demonstrations, and class activities, this is clearly the most nuts-and-bolts way that senior students can take an active and supportive role in the dojang.

After I reached the rank of Cho Dan I quickly realized I wanted to teach more as a way of helping to give back to our dojang and to our instructor. What I quickly realized was that, while I may have learned my gup-level curriculum well enough to test for Cho Dan, I felt I had a long way to go in learning it well enough to demonstrate and teach it correctly to other students. I knew after I received my promotion to Cho Dan that I had a lot of work to do in improving the ways in which I articulated how to perform techniques if I were going to be a reasonably good teacher one day and help my juniors adequately

This was a pretty big challenge for me personally as I find that for me there’s a very big difference between how I learn and how I am best able to teach someone else. I’m a very visual learner, and a very visual thinker as well. So when I learn new techniques I usually learn them best by watching my instructor or my seniors demonstrate them, or by viewing videos, and then by sort of “playing them back” in my head. And while this method of learning works for me, it doesn’t really translate well into a teaching method unless the other students are also visually oriented learners and can learn by watching me demonstrate technique.

So, to best serve the needs of my juniors I needed to work on improving my own abilities. I spent a lot of time forcing myself to explain techniques using words, breaking them down into individual steps and verbalizing them as an instructor. I forced myself to use language first, then use physical demonstration as an example of what I’d said, instead of as the primary way of teaching. I think I’ve come a long way in this, although I find that sometimes I still get tongue-tied when trying to explain myself and I wind up resorting to “uh, just do it like this….” But I’m getting there, and hopefully my progress and efforts to improve in this area of my own training has proven beneficial to my juniors as well.

Role Model

I think another of the prime roles of an Ee Dan is to continue to act as a role model for the lower ranking students., but now with the added responsibility of showing Cho Dans their path forward as well. Given how many students tend to quit after attaining the rank of Cho Dan, I feel that Ee Dans have a unique opportunity and responsibility to communicate what keeps them going to the new Cho Dans and the first gups preparing to test for Cho Dan. We need to share with our juniors the reasons why we keep training, and to express the satisfaction we get from staying on the path in spite of the lengthy periods between testing, if we are going to encourage students that may have viewed the midnight blue belt as their primary goal to instead look at training as an ongoing journey with Cho Dan simply a mile marker along the way.

One of the best ways we can do this is by acting as a good role model, and by showing through our words and deeds the continued benefits we realize from continuing to train in the Tang Soo Do Mi Guik Kwan. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to really try to find ways to apply the 8 Key Concepts to my life and behavior both inside and outside the dojang. By exemplifying the ongoing, life-changing aspects of our art, we can encourage others to stick with it even when things are tough, and to think of Tang Soo Do as an integral part of their life or lifestyle, instead of simply as an activity.

Community Leader

Given the relatively small number of Ee Dans in most dojangs clearly they can be expected to hold a certain amount of responsibility for helping to foster a greater sense of community and family within the dojang. Based simply on the number of years that we have been training with each other, and the number of juniors we have who are more recent additions to the Mi Guk Kwan family, it just makes sense that we are perceived as leaders and organizers within the dojang by the newer members.

As such, I think it’s important for Ee Dans to take an active role in both organizing dojang community activities (in-school tournaments, celebrations, clinics, etc.) as well as actively participating whenever possible in other organizationally-oriented events (regional tournaments, Weekends with the Masters, Nationals) whenever possible. If our juniors don’t see us participating in these events as often as possible, to the best of our ability, they will almost certainly be less inclined to participate in them themselves. So, for the good of the dojang, regional, and organizational communities I think it’s very important that we continue to demonstrate our support for these events, and encourage others to join us as well.

Why I Continued to Study Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan 
Past the Rank of Cho Dan

Note: This is the first of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Ee Dan (second degree black belt) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.

There are several primary reasons that I continued to train after I attained the rank of Cho Dan. The most obvious is the desire to continue learning more about our art. Training also offers me wonderful opportunities to spend time alongside my wife and children as we grow in the art together. And finally, continued training in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan helps enrich my life by keeping me integrated with our NAC, Region 6, and TSDMGK communities. By being a part of these communities, and by working to help them continue to grow and thrive, I express my gratitude and help to ensure that others can benefit from these things as well.

More, Please

The desire to continue learning new material was one of the most obvious and significant reasons. Frankly, it never even occurred to me to consider stopping. My only desire after I received my new rank was to … keep going. Learn more. Continue. One of the things I love about Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan is the breadth and depth of the curriculum, and continuing to train and work toward my Ee Dan provided me with the opportunity to continue immersing myself in that curriculum. Once I’d learned I had passed my Cho Dan test I could hardly wait to begin learning new hyungs, sleeve grabs, elbow strikes, knife defense … MORE!

Without continuing I wouldn’t have the chance to feel the sense of accomplishment I get from learning a new form: from the early stages where I can barely manage to remember all of the individual techniques in order, to committing it to memory and beginning the difficult, sometimes frustrating process of getting it “right,” to the final steps of polishing it to the level of skill and proficiency that is required to demonstrate it at a tournament as well as before a Shim Sa for testing and promotion purposes. I love these challenges, and the hard work and dedication it takes to overcome these challenges. I can’t imagine walking away from them just because I’ve attained a specific rank.

Training with Family, Sharing with Our Community

One of the best aspects of training for me has been all of the time I have gotten to spend with my family on the mat. Testing alongside my daughter and my mother for our Cho Dans was an experience I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, and training with my wife and son to prepare for our Ee Dan test has been wonderful as well. I know that continuing to train in TSDMGK with my entire family – now including my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew – will continue to provide us with opportunities to create incredible new memories together. We all lead very busy lives, and having Tang Soo Do as a common shared experience really helps us all to stay connected with one another.

And then there’s simply being a part of a larger family, the Tang Soo Do Mik Guk Kwan community. From an organizational level, I’ve made many friends around the entire country through my participation in our organizational events such as Nationals, Weekends with the Masters, and so forth. I eagerly look forward to attending these events because they give me the chance to reconnect with these wonderful people.

Then there’s the Region 6 family. Again, I’ve made so many good, trusted friends here in Texas, and it’s always exciting to get together and catch up at local tournaments, or at red belt tests when Kyo Sa Nim Pugh’s students test alongside ours, or at the dan classings. We’re a very varied group here in Region 6, and it’s always a good time when we share fellowship with each other.

Finally, there’s our TSDA/NAC community. The friendships I’ve made here are incredibly important to me, and there’s just no way I can imagine not being an active part of that community, or perhaps more importantly of not having our dojang community and the friendships I’ve built there to help sustain me though tough times. Like everyone, my life can be a bit heavier to bear than I care to admit sometimes. This year, in particular, has been tougher than most.

Shortly after Easter, my oldest and closest friend died suddenly from an aneurism. I’d known him for 38 years, from the time he babysat me and my brother when we were young, to going out and partying in NYC as roommates, to him standing beside me as one of my groomsmen on the day I made the single best decision of my life, and finally to his accepting the role of godfather to my son Trevor. He was my best friend for decades, one of my wife’s closest confidantes, a dear friend to my mother and brother, an incredibly important part of our entire family.

His health was not good, so he’d moved here to Austin from New York to live with his brother, and as a result we got to spend some wonderful times together in the last year of his life. We knew he wasn’t well, but it looked like he had a several solid years to go. The aneurism came out of nowhere -- a complete, horrible shock. Losing him was devastating to us all, and without the support of my dojang family I don’t know how I would have coped those first few weeks. And without the chance to go in and train, to work through the grief in a constructive way, I don’t know how I could have coped the past 6 months.

And this is, again, why I love what we do here so much and why it never occurred to me to stop training, to stop being a part of this community. With the help of this dojang, and its students, I’m taking this awful event and channeling it into activity that helps me to release the anger and stress in a safe and healthy way, but that also brings me closer to my family and to my friends instead of turning away from them and retreating from the world to lick my wounds.

Better Lives, Better People

I can’t possibly be more grateful to Sa Bom Nim Nunan, to my brothers and sisters in the dojang and here in Region 6, and to the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan for the ways in which they’ve enriched my life. An essential part of expressing that gratitude is helping those things to grow and thrive so that others can experience them as well. And that, at the end of the day, is the most significant reason I continued to train after I attained Cho Dan.

I always tell people that, while martial arts is a terrific physical activity, what we do here is so much bigger than the simple, technical content of the curriculum and the physical acts of punching, kicking, and so forth. What we do creates better lives. What we do creates better people. Yes, it’s important that we develop ourselves physically and that we learn the skills necessary to defend ourselves if necessary, but those skills are just tools to extend what we’ve learned out into our lives.

To paraphrase something Master Nunan often says, I believe people are made almost entirely of flaws. We are all broken, each in our own way. I believe that by continuing to train, by continuing to work to extend the gains I make in the dojang out into the rest of my life, I am using the tools of our art to fix some of my own flaws. This, ultimately, is what I feel is the life-long goal of studying our art: transformation. And I know that even after over 6 years of training I am only beginning to scratch the surface of this process.

Here We Go Again

Yeah, yeah. I know. It's been, what? Oh, jeez, OVER A YEAR since I last wrote in this blog. I guess I owe my massive horde of fans (both of you) an apology. I had many points over the past year when I was ready to write an entry here, but for whatever reason the inspiration fled and that was that.

Then back in April I was going to begin writing about the run up to my Ee Dan/Kyo Sa testing (scheduled for May 29th), but life intervened again, thjis time is a more pointed and brutal fashion. The sudden death of my oldest, dearest friend Gregory at the end of April. This event led directly to the easiest (if most frustrating) choice I've ever had to make: attending his memorial service or attending my dan classing and Kyo Sa test. Obviously, I chose to attend the memorial.

And, as a result, here I am, November 2011, 8 days out from my Ee Dan and Kyo Sa test. Six months later than planned, but as the Song of the Sip Sam Seh says, "surprising things will happen when you meet your opponent." Sometimes your opponent is life. Surprise!

So, anyway, it's been a rough, rough year on our end. In addition to losing Gregory we have all too many friends battling illnesses (Cancer! It's the new black!) and losing loved ones and family members (sometimes they're the same thing) of their own as we stand there and wish we could do something to help, knowing there's nothing. Distant relations committing suicide. Friends with deeply troubled kids suffering under the strain. Other "friends" revealing themselves to be anything but the people we took them to be. And work. Work work work.

You name it. 2011 has sucked. Hard.

Through this all, the dojang and my dojang family have been there, and I can't express the gratitude I feel for this. Well, I *can* express it, but I tend to get all weepy and "I love you man!" when I do, so it's kind of embarrassing for all involved. But you get the idea. The dojang and Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan continue to be a source of peace, a place to go when things are great, and a place to turn when things are awful. I am incredibly fortunate to have this art, and these people, in my life.

As with all of my previous testing, the Ee Dan (second degree black belt) and Kyo Sa (certified instructor) tests include essays. I have written 4, which I will be publishing in additional blog entries following this one. I hope their content is helpful to my brothers and sisters in the martial arts. And if they're not helpful, I hope you'll at least find them entertaining.