Parties and Belts

It's five days after Christmas, and I am sitting on my couch with a blanket, a box of kleenex, and enough cough drops to last me quite a while. I've been sick since December 23rd with the flu...or bronchitis...or strep throat.

Not only did my symptoms begin on that day, but my next door neighbors' house caught on fire from a space heater that was knocked over or malfunctioned (I found this out later that day). No one was hurt, but they lost their house. It's horrible that they lost their home, especially so close to Christmas, but I'm just glad that they are all okay.

Moving right along to Tae Kwon Do. . . December 16th was our last class and our Christmas party. Everyone brought snacks, and we spent two hours breaking boards and watching demos that the four black belts and I put on. We had a weapons demo with escrima sticks, canes, and a bokken; a couple of self       defense techniques that a little green belt girl demonstrated with her black black grandmother as her uke; and a Tai Chi demo that in my opinion was a great eye opener for the class. Mr. M showed us the techniques first, using the slow, deliberate movements associated with Tai Chi, then applied those same techniques very effectively at regular speed against my head instructor, Mr. G.

There was also a pressure points demo that Mr. G did, and then mine, a self defense demo. Mr. G told me to choose a black belt to be my uke, and I chose him. Before class, I had asked blue belt J if he would help me run over them, as I have not worked on all of my self defense techniques against a live person since my brown stripe test. I had 8 total to demonstrate, and they went over better than I expected. I could tell that my reaction time has improved. Everything was much smoother. I messed up slightly on my striking target on a hook punch, but I was able to improvise and make it work, which was a great relief since improvising is not one of my strong points.

The most important part of this post is a piece of news that I've saved for last. About two weeks before the party, my instructors called me up to the front of the room after class. Of course I'm wondering "Oh no, what did I do?" but it was nothing like that. Instead, Mr. G told me that I would be testing for my 1st kyu red belt next week. I must have stared at him for a whole minute, unable to come up with anything to say. He further stated that if I wanted, I could wait until January to test. I chose that, because I am and have been battling doubts about my own abilities and not being good enough. That started a long discussion, in which I was basically told that they know their students' abilities and I have ridiculously high expectations of myself. I am ready if I will just stop having such high expectations and just listen to what they are saying.

I've really been thinking this over since that class and I have realized that all I can do is practice and when it comes time to test, just do what I know to do and see what happens from there. I think it's a matter of mental preparation for myself than anything.Once I get over being sick, I'm going to get back into the swing of things.

Another Temporary Break

It's been an interesting month. Not a whole lot to report on the Tae Kwon Do front at the moment, but there's been a whole lot of crazy life going on lately with family health issues and things and I haven't been able to sit down and write an entry. Things should hopefully be getting back to some sort of normality soon and then I'll get this blog up and running again.

"Stop Thinking and Just Let Your Training Take Over"

This post is a result of many conversations I've had with my instructors, with last night's conversation being at the very top.

"Stop thinking and just let your training take over," is a phrase that's quickly becoming a sort of mantra for me. It's something that my instructors try to pound into my brain several times a class. The reason for this being is that I'm in a tough spot with my training right now. I tend to be very analytical and I have perfectionist tendencies which end up hampering my progress. I think about things too hard and for too long, even when I'm told to "Just do this and don't think about it!" I also despise making mistakes and being wrong - to a fault - and sometimes I'd rather do nothing at all rather than mess up. A martial arts class is all about repetition and that is how one learns, so I'm working on that aspect. "Doing something is better than doing nothing. Something we can work on and fix. Doing nothing cannot be fixed."

I'm so analytical that in sparring, I tend to lock down and plant my feet because my mind is a so busy trying to analyze every detail of what's going on that I'm hit before I can react.

React. There's another word that goes right along with "Let your training take over." I've been working on a sparring hand concept with Mr. G, and he at first told me that I was too stiff, too set in my stance, and too robotic. I was frustrated to no end because he kept hitting me before I could do much. I was too slow and my combinations were few and far between.We spent some time working and something happened. At one point, I ended up turning my analyzing mind off, and that is when my hands sped up. I started to move better with smaller and quicker transitions. I loosened up. I started reacting instead of thinking. My training took over.

Now I just have to figure out how to use that concept and translate it to my kicks and forms. Then I'll really start getting somewhere. Right now I need to simplify. Work on my A, B, C's before I try to write the novel. Simplify, react, loosen up, and stop analyzing are key. Most importantly, have fun. Of course there are going to be times of frustration (and lots and lots of hard work), but have fun with martial arts too.

You Know You're a Martial Artist When. . .

It's been one of those months -- those busy ones where nothing seems to want to slow down so you can do your own thing at your own pace. My college classes started back just a little over a week ago, and while I don't have much homework that's bogging me down right now, there's a ton of other things going on that are keeping me busy. Within the next week, I hope to be able to sit down and write a good, long post, but for the present, I leave you with a "You Know You're a Martial Artist When:" list!

This list has been a work-in-progress for a while. I add to it as the inspiration strikes. Most of these things are things that I've done or at the very least thought about. Some are exaggerations. . . but it's a just for fun thing. How many will you own up to? I'd love to hear them! Ie: I want to know that I'm the only one who has geeky inclinations here. Feel free to add to the list too!

  1. You judge how good a particular workout was by how soaked with sweat your gi is afterward.
  2. You are proud of all your bruises and you think of them as badges of honor.
  3. You almost bow before entering a room, remembering at the last second that you are not in class.
  4. You start packing your water and Gatorade in a cooler because 1) everything tastes better cold and 2) you are going to need the ice for your shins after sparring.
  5. When outside of class, you turn around to face the back of a room to adjust your jacket/shirt/coat out of habit.
  6. There is at least one room in your house dedicated to everything martial arts.
  7. Your sparring gear bag now weighs over 20 pounds, because not only are you carrying around sparring gear, but a martial arts book, a list of verses to memorize, two escrima sticks, a notebook, pens, Tiger Balm, a first aid kit, electrical tape, medical tape, two belts (one current and one future), a folder with student information in it, a rubber knife, a wooden gun, a half drunk bottle of Gatorade, and various other items that can be added at a moment’s notice.
  8. You watch movies such as “The Karate Kid” for educational purposes.
  9. You point out the unrealistic aspects of some of the "moves" in certain martial arts movie.
  10. Past injuries and the stories behind them are popular topics that can be talked about for quite a long time.
  11. You refer to new students as “Fresh Meat.”
  12. You have a CD or ipod playlist specific for at home training.
  13. You have considered building or have built your own at home training gear.
  14. Your friends know that if they even mention certain words such as “martial arts,” “Tae Kwon Do,”  “injuries,” “bruises,” “Japan,”or “Korea,”  then they better be prepared for a long, mostly one-sided conversation of you talking about martial arts.
  15. You catch yourself in various stances while doing everyday things. Back stance when pulling someone to their feet, etc.
  16. When shaking someone’s hand, you have to consciously remember not to bow.
  17. You’ve used your knowledge of breakfalls to prevent a serious injury.
  18. The instructor side of you comes out when you see kids doing martial arts type moves that they’ve seen in movies.
  19. Normal belts with buckles just don’t look right any more.
  20. When you walk, your steps are light and you glide more than walk.
  21. You use your lightness of foot to sneak up on people just because you can.
  22. You are more comfortable barefoot than with shoes on.
  23. When shopping, you only buy pants that you can kick in.
  24. If you're a woman and wear dresses, skirts, or high heels, all you can think about is how they hinder movement and put you at a disadvantage if you end up in a confrontation. OR You consider the advantages and disadvantages and spend time considering how you would adapt.
  25. Your friends (from experience) back away and scream “No!” when you ask if you can try some joint locks or self defense on them.
  26. Your requirements for the house you want to buy/build are that it must have a large, flat yard and driveway so you can practice outside and there has to be a basement or large room so that you can set up an in-home dojang for yourself.
  27. You have personalized your instructors’ ringtone so that it plays “Kung Fu Fighting” or something similar when they call.
  28. You have considered (or have done so) altering your uniform so that it fits better, regardless of your actual sewing ability.
  29. You come home from a particularly intense class drenched with sweat, bruised, and about to pass out from exhaustion, but with a huge smile on your face because “that was an incredible class!”

Favorite Funny Martial Arts Videos

Just wanted to share a couple of my favorite funny martial arts related videos.

This first one is a video that I found out about from blue belt J several months ago. Since then, nearly the whole adult class plus instructors have watched it, and most of us can quote the whole thing. It's become a huge inside joke.

This second video. . .well, I don't remember how I found it. I'm pretty sure that I discovered it while surfing through the martial arts videos on youtube or saw it on one of the martial arts forums I'm on. There are quite a few versions on youtube, but this is by far my favorite.

Smile, You're on Candid Camera

The video camera has been my nemesis for years. I'd much rather see pictures than a video of myself. Pictures do not highlight my voice the way a video does. I just don't like how my voice sounds on tape! My dad has always been the video guy, so for most of my life I've just had to deal with it -- which usually involves me complaining "Do you have to video this?" I appreciate the videos more now as I get older because I like looking back at special events in my life and saying "Oh yeah! I remember doing that!"

Well, it looks like I'm going to be seeing a lot more videos of myself very soon. I've come to a mental block in one part of my training and one of my instructors said that a good tool that might help is to video myself so I can actually see what I'm doing wrong and be able to fix it on my own. I've been told that I'm good at pointing out things that the other students are doing wrong when I'm in teacher mode, but I have trouble identifying things that are wrong with my techniques. I'm a very visual person, so I think being able look at a video and pinpoint trouble areas will really help me.

The biggest area that I'm having to overcome is. . . myself. I've been down on my confidence lately as far as my Tae Kwon Do goes (a lot of it due to the very high expectations of a brown belt) and and it has started to show in class. I'm working on that now, but I really do think that as my techniques improve, my confidence will also. That's where the whole idea of videoing myself comes into play.

As a brown belt, my instructors are still going to lead me in the right direction and help me as much as they can. It's just that at my level and especially at my next rank of red belt, being able to self-correct is a big deal.

The other night, Mr. G said something that really hit home. I forget the wording, but here's the gist of it. He asked me if I knew who was going to get me over me -- who was going to be able to fix these things I'm having trouble with. I said myself. Ie: Ariel. He said no. Miss (my last name) the assistant instructor was going to fix Ariel the student.

Now where is that video camera? I have some work to do.

I'm Back!

I didn't expect to put my blog on hold for this long, and in the summer no less! I'm back now and I won't be taking a month long blogging break in the foreseeable future. Before I get back to the topic I've been planning to write about, I want to share some of my experiences over the past month.

Last week I was able to attend my first tournament. Our school does not compete in tournaments, but our sister school does. I found out that they were going to be competing when my instructor mentioned it after class on Tuesday. No one ended up going with me, but I met up with our sister school at the tournament and was able to sit and watch. I stayed only for the daytime events of point and semi-knockout sparring. As a(n) unfortunate result of sitting there, I inevitably caught the tournament bug. I am a fairly competitive person to begin with, and after a while, I was itching to jump up and join in the fun. After all, who could just sit there and observe the whole time and be happy with that? Especially when there were only a few women in the division I would be in. Not I. I decided right then and there that I will be there in full uniform competing next year. There aren't many tournaments in my area unless I go out of state, but I think I can wait to compete in one until next year's tourney rolls around again. Maybe. We'll see.

Let's see....what else? Oh! On Tuesday night, I was asked by Mr. Mc to teach his Thursday night class because he wasn't going to be able to be there. My other instructor who also teaches on Thursday was also going to be absent that night, leaving myself as the lead teacher.

Fast forward to tonight. . . I showed up at the church early and began putting up the chairs since they were all set out from Sunday. No one but the instructors shows up a half hour early like I do, so I had extra time to consider what I was going to teach my students for the night. It's hard to plan for this class because attendance has been. . . interesting. On some days there are only two students and other days there are fifteen. Since I had no other help and since I knew the class was mostly comprised of kids 6 and up, I was hoping for a number that fell somewhere in the middle.

I ended up having nine students. One yellow belt with stripe, two white belts with stripes, four white belts, one new kid, and one brand new adult. I ran them through a quick warmup and some punching, then asked my yellow belt to take the new kid to one side and go over basics with him. The white belts are looking at testing for stripes next week, so I worked with my group on what they have to know for their test -- Basic Blocks and Punches. The hour long class flew by before I knew it. I was racing back and forth along the line, correcting positioning and giving some how-to on the techniques to the new woman while still trying to keep the kids engaged. I'm telling you, that was hard work! She picked up on the basics pretty quickly, having watched her son (the new kid) last week in class. This was a huge relief to me. I would have preferred to separate the kids and adults, but we just don't have that option right now. If I and my instructors could just figure out how to get the sideline parents to join in with their kids, then maybe we could do that.

Anyway, back to class. It was getting close to time to dismiss, so I had everyone come circle up for a speed drill. I'll try to be as concise as I can in explaining how this works. Okay, so Student A starts off by standing in a horse stance in front of Student B. A then punches at B. B has their hands up by their ears and attempts to touch Student A's punch -- not by slapping out at it, but by keeping the arms in close to the body and (as I explained it to the new kid tonight) moving your hands/arms like a windshield wiper. The kids always seem to enjoy speed drills, and after I walked around making sure that the students were doing the drill correctly, some of them literally bounced up to me, eager to take a turn at punching me.

Lastly, I had them get in a circle once more and then explained the rules for the next game/drill. I've never been told the name of this 'game' other than its a sparring type game, but it's pretty fun. The kids hold their knee up to their chest and then bounce around, trying to knock each other over or mess up the other person's balance so they let go of their knee. If they fall or let go of their knee, they're out. Note to self, wear the kids out before letting them play this, or they'll end up twice as hyper than they were to begin with. Oh, and also make sure to tell said children not to run into each other head on because catching a knee to the stomach or chin is not ideal.

After we finished up with the games, I had them line back up. We ended class with punches, then I dismissed them for the night, however, I asked the yellow belt to stay because I wanted to work with him on some things for his green belt test. I have to say that even though I like working with kids, the younger they are, the more drained I am by the end of class. Some of them want to talk the whole time I'm teaching and so I have to raise my voice. A couple seem to not hear what I'm saying and I have to physically move them to where they need to be. Finally, most of them have problems with recognizing their right hand from their left at some point or another. So after class, it was refreshing to work with an 11 year old yellow belt who was attentive, made corrections when I told him what he needed to do differently and asked questions when he didn't understand something.

Overall though, it was a really good night. There's only been a few times when I've had to lead a class by myself. Most of the time it's been when my instructors have been late because of work, so I only have to lead the class for part of the night. The couple times I have had to lead the whole class have been days when there were only a couple of students who were much older than the kids I taught tonight. Tonight's class was a good learning experience for me. When I've helped teach students on Tuesday night, I've only had a small group. I had to concentrate on keeping them focused and interested while my instructors where working with the other students. Teaching and keeping up with a whole class who are looking to you as THE instructor is completely different.

Hold That Thought

The post I've been planning to finally get out of my head and onto virtual paper is going to have to wait. Right now I'm in the middle of packing and preparing for a trip and I don't think I'll be able to write anything of substance since I'm leaving bright and early (6am) tomorrow morning. Would that be dark and early instead?

All I know is that I am not an early bird in any way, shape, or form, so I'm going to make sure to go to bed early--- earlier than 2am that is -- so I won't have the inclination to snap at or armbar/wristlock any of my fellow passengers. Of course I wouldn't do the latter, but when one does not get adequate sleep and a bus full of teens between the ages of 13-17 are chattering on endlessly, I must say that the temptation does arise.
Anyway, I'm headed to a camp with my church and won't be back until Saturday. It's a six hour bus ride to get to the university, so I'll have plenty of time get my next post written.

My practice schedule will still be going strong at camp, even though I'm probably going to have to get up at five am to do it. Getting up at five in the morning.....then again, there may very well be armbars involved.

I'll be back on Saturday evening.

Oh, and as a preview, my next post will be "Smile, you're on candid camera!"

Scheduling and Stances

I have decided that it would help tremendously to come up with a schedule as to how and when I will practice every day. This came up partly because one of my instructors talked to me about regular practice on Tuesday night and I told him that I wasn't spending enough time practicing at home.

With it being summer, I have a lot of free time that I could be devoting to practice outside of class, but I am not utilizing much of it. I go to Tae Kwon Do twice a week, but I have only been practicing at home maybe 2-3 days per week for 1-2 hours at a time.

See, I tend to procrastinate quite often. On a given night I will 'plan' to get up early so I can run/jog before it gets hot outside and then I can spend an hour or so working on my Tae Kwon Do. As I fall asleep, I assure myself that I will get up as soon as my alarm clock goes off. But when my alarm clock does goes off, I start making deals with my half asleep mind. "Okay, I'll sleep for 30 more minutes, then get up!" Thirty minutes later, and I'm still sleepy and my mind is not rational. I repeat the same process a few more times and when I eventually drag myself out of bed, the sun is beating down and I don't dare set foot out of my house. The early morning run I had planned is ruined for the day, and half of the time I don't end up going outside to practice until it's too dark and the mosquitoes start swarming -- thus forcing me to head back to the safety of my house where there is not enough room to do my forms, which discourages me and then I don't end up doing anything else. I made that into a worst case scenario, but sometimes it has that domino effect.

Anyway, to ward off the procrastination and keep it at bay, I have decided to write down a kind of to-do list and schedule so I can get the practice I need, and work on specific areas that need more work then others. I know that for me, trying to practice too much on a given day is a problem. I start out on a form, and then end up not spending enough time on the form because I decide to work on kicks, 1-step fighting, shadow sparring, and whatever else pops into my head in addition to the form I began with. While variety is good, repetition is better. The things that I need to work and perfect right now require more repetition. I need to devote my time to one or two concepts for the entire practice time on that day.

Speaking of the things that I need to work on....

Last Tuesday night, Mr H who I have not seen in class in months, finally came to class. We spent the entire night working on advanced forms and he picked out the little things that need tweaking for the most part. Most of the little things were about timing, hand positioning that was a bit off, or something small that I can fix easily. On one form though, he noticed that several of my stances were not quite right. I was either too narrow, my back foot was turned out, or I needed to be deeper.

I realized later when I was practicing at home that part the reason why my stances were off was because of my at home practice. Most of the time I was in a room with very limited space for stances, so I would shorten my stances or move back when I ran out of space. If I was outside working on concrete or grass, I would not sink deep enough into my stance because it was slippery or my shoes made it difficult to slide into that good stance. Inadvertantly, I got used to the way I modified my stances at home, and that translated into bad habits in class.

When I realized this, I made the adjustments at home by making myself get into those deep stances. They're getting better now since I'm practicing correctly. Hopefully my instructors will see an improvement tomorrow.

From now on I will be organized, I will practice like I should, and I will practice correctly.


Last night was the night I've been anticipating for weeks. I was tested for and was awarded my 2nd kyu brown belt. At the moment, I'm having conflicting emotions about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong -- I am absolutely thrilled to have tested last night, but at the same time, my inner critic is dredging up the negative portions of my test. I am definitely my worst critic.

I had conveniently forgotten just how tough it is to have an intense warm up (that not only includes exercises, but also basic forms), and then have to step out on the floor and begin your test. The warm up really did a number on my stamina. I've been getting out easy on the previous couple months' warm up. Either we would do a light stretch, or I would be pulled out from the group of students and worked with on something else just as the rest got started. Last night, we had a pretty intense cardio-type session. Note to self -- work on conditioning!

After the warm up, basics, and punching, J, a green belt (going for blue belt) and I were called onto the floor for our tests. We started off with advanced forms, and then moved on to sparring. That's the area that really hurt us. We started out sparring each other. My instructions were to spar down to just above his level – the black belts were mainly focusing on J’s sparring for this round. The problem area was that we weren’t doing a whole lot as far as initiating and committing to our techniques, but did end up being the aggressor for the whole spar and J was mostly on the defense. After a lot of pushing and prodding from the black belts for him to fight back more, the black belts finally went for the ultimate: “For this spar, your blue belt is on the line, so you better start sparring like you want it.” That helped a little, but not enough. My instructors had me step out and one of the black belts stepped in.

For my spar, I was given the option of choosing which black belt I wanted to spar. My spar went along the lines of what I mentioned earlier about ‘not initiating and not committing to the techniques enough.’ I’m not sure what’s holding me back, but I recognized during the spar that I was holding back, and it frustrated me to no end. I did a lot of circling, but I mainly stayed just outside his kicking range. It took a lot of prodding from the black belts for me to actually get in close and start sparring like I should. I finally did toward the end of the spar, but it was not soon enough and intense enough for my instructors’ liking.

Next, was 1-steps, and then I had to demonstrate my eight self defense scenarios. If sparring was my weak area for my test, then my self defense was my strongest. They went over well – everything went smoothly and I applied the techniques effectively, to the point that when Mr. G attacked me with a roundhouse punch, I hit his arm with enough force and just so on the nerves that his arm went numb and by the end of the night, he was still feeling some of the numbness.

By the end of the night, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to get home and take a hot shower, but I left class as a 2nd kyu brown belt.

Today, I have quite a few reminders from my test. I have three bruises on my legs from sparring, my shoulders and arms are complaining about all the punching, and my lower back and thighs are sore from the warm up we did.

I can see now that there's quite a lot I need to work on and some of these things I'm putting at the top of my priority list from now on. I need to work on getting in shape and improving my sparring ability and endurance.

I have class again tomorrow and I have this gut feeling that we’re going to work on sparring. Whatever we do, I need a good stretch to try to relieve some of this soreness before class.

Anxiously Waiting for Class Tonight

I'm really not sure what tonight's class will consist of, but I am itching for 6:30 to get here so I can find out. I've been walking into class at 5 'o clock almost ever since the kids class was moved to 5:30pm-6:30pm. Being there early gives me additional time to warm up, practice, and ask the black belts questions before class if I have them.

We've been working on a variety of things the past few weeks. I'm actually not certain what most of the other students have been working on, because I have been pulled aside and worked with on my self defense while the other black belts worked with the group.

Last week, we had a really good class on joint manipulations. There were only three green belts, a yellow belt with stripe (getting ready for his green belt), an adult white belt, and myself. I was asked to help with the demonstration, which meant that I got to be uke. Also, I was expected to actively assist with the teaching once the initial lesson of elbow manipulation was finished. I really wasn't satisfied with how I did on assisting. I feel that I've only scraped the surface on joint manipulations, so I mainly watched and was able to assist a little. Anyway, when were lined up and about to dismiss class for the night, Mr. G told us that he would like to continue working on this for the next few weeks.

However, after class, I found out that my instructors are planning on testing me for my stripe soon. In Mr. G's words, "You should come to class expecting to be tested any day now." I had absolutely no idea that I was this close, so I have been doing all I can to prepare for it this week. They did not tell me for certain what I would be tested on. The bare minimum is my 8 self defense techniques and free sparring. Somehow I don't think they will stop there. I may have to demonstrate what I mentioned and everything thing else required for the previous ranks. I am trying, but I have found that it's hard to concentrate on ironing out details on one technique when you have to prepare for whatever they decide to have you do.

My instructors do not announce testing dates. They might hint that you have one coming up, or "If you keep working hard like this, then you can expect to test soon," but rarely do they tell a student the day that they will test outright.

If I don't test tonight, then maybe a few others will. The black belts have been hinting at testing the yellow belt I mentioned earlier, and also a green belt or two. Even if tonight is not my night, I would love to see the others test. They've been working hard, and even I am getting anxious waiting for them to get their testing opportunity.

Tonight is going to be a good night regardless.

Overcoming the Mountain

Wow. It has been a long while since I've sat down to write a post. Time flies when you're having fun -- or are way to busy to take the time to do the things you want.

I just finished my second year of college, so now I actually have an idea what 'free time' means again.

In my martial arts world:

Tae Kwon Do classes has given me a boatload of things to think on lately. My instructors and I have identified a major weakness that I have, and I'm working hard to overcome it. I'm still struggling with being able to explain it, so bear with me.

My instructors have been working with me on self defense the past several classes. One of the requirements for my next rank is that I have to come up with eight self defense scenarios. I not only have to be able to demonstrate them, but I must also be able to teach them and defend my reasoning behind the techniques and if they work. A couple weeks ago, Mr. G asked me how many of the eight scenarios I had at my disposal. I told him 5 and so for the rest of the class, we worked on coming up with the final three. Well, I had no idea what kind of scenarios I wanted to use to begin with, and I certainly did not have any techniques in mind. I ended up choosing a straight punch, so he did the punch at my face. I did a pass block...and completely froze, not knowing what to do next.

We've had a couple discussions on this since that day, and I think I understand the nature of the beast that is this mental block. It all stems from me not having enough confidence in my self defense. I'm very methodical and self defense does not have a "step by step" method. It's more about reaction and using what you know.

At my rank, more and more is expected of me, and a lot of what is expected of me is that I really start developing as an individual. I have a fair understanding of the physical aspect of Tae Kwon Do. I know the forms, the kicks, the techniques, and I feel that I can teach the physical side pretty well.

What I need to really develop is the mental side of Tae Kwon Do -- the understanding of concepts and ideas, being able to react instead of following a method, experimenting with how things work, and "what happens if I do this?"

Instead of the little nudges I've felt before, this time I'm being pushed out of my comfort zone that was how I learned when I was a beginner. My instructors would show me something, say a form, and I copy what they do. It's not monkey see, monkey do anymore. I have to take a step back and grow in my understanding of Tae Kwon Do. I need to ask more questions, do more self correcting, and experiment more. Right now, I'm pretty uncomfortable, but I am determined to become a more rounded martial artist. I think it must first start with overcoming this mountain that is self doubt.

Pet Peeves

Pet peeves. Things that push our buttons. We all have them. When I started helping to teach in class, that's when I developed a few teaching pet peeves.

But before I get to those, I'll start off with one of my instructor's pet peeves. His is people not looking him in the eye when he is speaking.

The whole class was reminded of this on Thursday night. I was working on one of my forms in the back of the room while the rest of the class was seated on the floor and working on partner stretches. Mr. G had them stop for a moment so that he could explain some details about the stretch they were going to work on next, so that no one would get hurt. One of the yellow belt students was turned around and talking to another boy. Mr. G stopped class for a moment to reprimand him for not paying attention.

The reason I mention this is because the day before, I discovered one of my own pet peeves. A pet peeve that relates to teaching and martial arts, but it was in a different setting.

There is a 15 year old boy at church who is planning on joining our band. He practiced and played with us that night, but when we were getting ready to leave, I walked over to him to thank him for coming and playing with us that night. I addressed him by name to make sure that I had his attention. He was standing by a table and looking down at something. He said, "Yeah." I said what I had to say, and he responded with, "Yeah. No problem." I don't think he ever glanced my way.

And right then and there I almost went into teacher mode and did what Mr. G did. It bothered me that he didn't even glance at me in acknowledgment that I was talking to him. But I reminded myself that I was not in class, and he was not my student, so I let it go.

Have you ever had an experience as a student or teacher where you had to remind yourself that you weren't in class? What are some of your pet peeves?

Escrima Sticks and Journals

I was up late the other night and decided to take some pictures with my new escrima sticks.Tonight, I had my first little bit of instruction with them. We didn't  have much time left in class, but Mr. Mc showed me the first five strikes for me to work on this week. I'm really hoping that on Tuesday night one of the black belts will pick up where we left off tonight.


Speaking of escrima sticks, I was told to buy some gloves for when I start working with them in class to save my knuckles. I’m just not sure what kind of gloves to get at the moment. Obviously the foam sparring gloves won’t work. There’s an Academy Sports and a Wal-mart in town, but other than that, I would have to go online to actually have a good selection to choose from. Any recommendations about brand and kind? 


Do you ever have moments in your training when you wish you could remember a certain bit of information that your instructor told you about a technique, but for the life of you, you cannot remember what it was? What about trying to remember certain important events in your journey as a martial artist? I know that I usually say to myself: “I’ll remember exactly what went on in class." But a lot of times, I end up forgetting details or specific dates.

Back in early 2008, I picked up a journal that I was asked to keep for a class when I was about ten or eleven years old. That was also the time that I started in my first martial arts class. As I read, I found it fascinating what I had written about Tae Kwon Do. There were only about five entries about martial arts, but I loved reading those in particular. After I stopped writing in that one journal, I never really picked up the habit again.

As I closed the notebook and thought back to my earliest days of Tae Kwon Do, I realized that I had very few memories of those years. I couldn’t really remember much about what it was like just starting out as a new student, and I had no memory of how I felt about earning my first few belts.

That day I decided that I would start keeping a journal again. This time though, the only thing I decided to write in it would be my martial arts classes -- who was there, what we did, and what I learned. Things that I could look back on years later and really remember what class was like.

February 19th, 2008 was my first entry. I started out with a small journal that was about 150 pages long. It took me about a year and seven months to fill it up.

On September 10th, 2009, I began a second journal of about the same page length. It took me only around six months to fill it up. Going to class between two and three times a week really made a difference in how much I wrote and how fast I finished it.

Well, after seeing that the second journal only lasted me half a year, I decided to upgrade. My new journal (began March 9th, 2010) is a 400 page, college ruled, leather bound book.

I’ve found that I love journaling now. Writing about something that I am so passionate about is not only fun, but also has many benefits. When I look back at the troubles I was having with a particular form or idea, I can flip a few pages forward and see how I improved. It’s also great for keeping track of special events and accomplishments, and it allows me to see how far I’ve come.

Staying Busy

I haven't done a post on what things are going on in class in quite a while. There's a lot that has happened, and I'm definitely staying busy! Here's just a few of what's happening in my world.

I’ve been asked to get together with some of my fellow students, pick a form, and choreograph it (for lack of a better word). I’ll be the one doing the form, and the other students will be ‘attacking.’ If we get it down well enough, then we’ll demo it for the entire class. I think it’s a fantastic idea, because a lot of the younger students and even some adults just go through the motions of a form without really thinking about what their techniques are actually doing.

No more Monday afternoon Tae Kwon Do class. I’m down to two a week now. The class over at the elementary school stopped due to a lack of students.

My Thursday night class has moved from Mr. Mc’s workshop to a church a few miles away. Mr. Mc’s neighbors, who were being taught for an hour before me, asked if we could start a class at the church they go to. We did, and are averaging about fifteen brand new students, and several from Tuesday night class. Other than one yellow belt, I’m the only colored belt, so I’m assisting Mr. Mc and Mr. G with teaching.

The students in both classes are now being told to call me Miss (my last name), and in front of the students, that’s what my instructors have started calling me. After almost several years of going by my first name only, this is a huge change and it generally takes me longer to respond if I’m being called across the room.

Hearing “Yes ma’am,” directed at me in class by my adult students who are older than me  is also very weird.

I received my first pair of escrima sticks on Thursday. Mr. G was going to order me a set, but Mr. Mc decided to give me two from his own set. Needless to say, I’m absolutely thrilled about that, and also thrilled about getting started with weapons training!

Tomorrow is testing day for at least one student. Thursday night, I was asked to run him through his ‘test’ and evaluate whether or not he is ready. He’s a yellow belt wanting to test for his stripe. The major problem area with him is consistancy. He can do the forms/kicks pretty well at first, but then he starts getting sloppy. I’m going to work with him before class and see if I can give him any more suggestions to help him.

It’s staying at about 60-70 degrees here, so I’ve been taking my puzzle mats outside and practicing. The sun and added breeze, plus the longer daylight hours have been awesome. I sometimes even take my CD player with me and have it playing in the background. The only downside to it all? My cat Oreo thinks that it’s perfectly all right to flop down right in my way.

I’m hoping that since it’s getting closer to summer that we can start having some classes outside on the grass. We’ve only held class outside at most twice, so I’m looking forward to having more outdoor workouts.

Summer cannot get here soon enough. No school means more time to devote to practice. More practice means improving. Improving makes me feel better about my Tae Kwon Do. Feeling better about Tae Kwon Do means everything to me.

What Keeps You Coming Back?

This past Tuesday, a few of my fellow students and I were asked a question by our instructors.

"What is your favorite part about Tae Kwon Do?"

At first, I didn't have an answer. How could I choose one thing about my art that is my favorite when it's really a combination of many different aspects? But what was one thing that I specifically enjoyed? Finally, an answer popped into my mind.

"Teaching and learning how to be a teacher," I said.

"And that's your favorite?"

I considered that for a moment. There were a lot of things I loved about Tae Kwon Do, but...

"Right now it is."

I know I've been talking a lot about teaching lately, but I've been doing it a good bit. Now, teaching isn't all fun and games. It's also a lot of hard work, but I'm learning a lot from doing it. Sometimes the kids can be frustrating to deal with because of their short attention span, and I'm still fairly introverted, so getting tongue-tied and not knowing what to say isn't fun, but I really love getting to work with the green belts. They're at that intermediate stage where they're getting to do a lot of fun things. Sparring, a little self defense, more advanced kicks, and that kind of thing. The same night we ended class with the question I just discussed, I worked with two of the green belts on their sparring. Seeing them applying some of the things that I suggested they do in sparring was really cool -- and rewarding to me as their teacher.

But back to the original question.

Before the three green belts could answer the same question that I did, the question changed and became,
"What is one thing that keeps you coming back every week?"

Even though this question wasn't directed at me, I still tried to answer it in my own mind. Even as the other students explained their reason, I could not figure out what mine was. I went home that night, still trying to come up with something.
What is so enjoyable about class that it makes me keep coming back week after week? What species of bug is it that bit me and gave me this martial arts virus that makes me obsess as I do? For some, the martial arts are just another hobby that can be given up with little thought. But it isn't that way for me. It's in my blood and I don't see how it could ever be separated from my being.

But what is it about martial arts and Tae Kwon Do that makes me love it so? I ran through several ideas in my head, and I found that it's not the techniques or the sparring. Not the kicks and the punches. Not the self defense or even learning how to be a teacher. It's something that I've never consciously realized.

Tae Kwon Do is the only place where I feel that I truly fit in and feel like I belong there 100%. I feel the most comfortable there. There are no cliques. No pressure to live up to other people's standards of how you should act/dress (other than basic dojang etiquette) and risk being looked down upon. There is only Student and Teacher.

Other places I go and other things I do just don't feel the same. A lot of this is due to my quiet nature, and other factors. I may fit in, but it's just not the same 100% as at Tae Kwon Do.

And that is the factor at the top of the list of things that keeps me coming back.

What keeps you going back to class week after week?

The Pressure Is On.....

I've been brooding on this blog topic for quite a while. Only now have I organized my thoughts enough to express what I've been thinking -- and still I don't think I have everything down that I want to say.

Today's topic is pressure. Specifically, pressure on the martial arts student.

For some reason, when I went to flesh out this post on paper, it came out in second person rather than third person, so don't get thrown off by my transitions.

The lower ranks have it easy when it comes to pressure. Their kind of pressure usually comes in the form of being new / wanting to do well (and not make a fool of themselves). At the beginning levels, you're expected to watch, listen, absorb, and do. There's absolutely no teaching responsibility. You're concentrating on learning and practicing only.

As you leave the white belt stage, teaching those of a lower rank is slowly added to your plate.

But when you reach brown belt, you become an Assistant Instructor. With the rank comes a boatload of responsibility. Teaching is a major component of your training, and you do it a lot. Your instructors may ask you to lead all or part of a class. When the black belts demonstrate something for the group, you are expected to be able to pick up on the mechanical side of what is going on (how things work and why), and be ready to answer questions about these things at the drop of a hat.

You have to not only teach brand new concepts to others, but be able to engage intermediate and advanced belts and help them refine old concepts, helping them to grow as a student.

You are expected to have a fairly developed working knowledge of Self Defense -- able to improvise and adapt to the situation as needed.

Your sparring skills need to be advanced enough so that you're a step above the intermediate ranks. You must have control, being able to adjust your sparring level so that you challenge the lower ranks, but not beat them into a bloody pulp. When you spar higher ranks (red and black belts), you need to at least be able to hold your own, even if you are outclassed.

You must constantly look at your basics and refine them.

You must in many ways be your own teacher.

Questions will be directed to you in the form of "Why?" "How" and "This works/does not work because...?"

More and more is expected of you. There's not even an inch of room to slack.

All in all, it's extremely overwhelming. I know that I wear a brown belt. I know that I earned my brown belt, or else my instructors would not have awarded me the rank. By all means, I am a brown belt. But the thing is, I don't feel like one.

Let me rephrase that. I don't feel like a proper brown belt yet. I'm a good deal uncomfortable with where I'm at, taking into consideration all the standards I just listed.

It's been three, almost four months since I've tested. Within the first couple classes as a brown belt, I could tell that things just got a lot harder. It was that big of a transition. I'm still adjusting, I think.

In class, we're always told to give 110%, just like we would if we're being tested. Attitude and effort are key in this. The reason I say this is because we're always supposed to give that 110% because we as students are constantly being evaluated.

When my instructors call on me to demonstrate a form, a kick, a Self Defense technique, or whatever else they want to see, I better be at the top of my game. I know I am always being evaluated. That's a given. But speaking from experience, now it feels like I'm being watched and evaluated even more closely than before. I stand out from the pack. This is nerve-wracking, and it also puts a lot of pressure on me to do well. Pressure is a good thing for me. It keeps me working hard, but it can be overwhelming at times.

Expectations are at an all time high and will get higher from now on. The pressure is officially on.

Life Applications of Martial Arts # 1

I’m in my second year of college and my last year at the community college I’m at now. What that means is that this semester I had no choice but to quit putting off taking a Speech class.

Just the thought of giving a speech in front of a group has always made my heart start pounding and my pulse start racing. At times it has even made me sick to my stomach. It’s no wonder that the #1 fear that people report of having is that of Public Speaking.

I guess that’s one of my top fears also.

Or was.

Now I’ve taken a Speech class before, but it was not at the college level and I basically read my speeches out loud from a fully written paper.

The challenge that I faced this semester was to not only give two speeches (1 informative and 1 persuasive), but to give them as “extemporaneous” speeches. No reading off a piece of paper anymore. I could have sparse notes – say on notecards, but that would be merely to jog my memory.

When my teacher first announced this, all I could think of was “Oh no.”

We were told to choose a topic that we knew a lot about, or were passionate about. That decision was an easy one. I decided to give my speech on “The Benefits of Martial Arts.”

I had several weeks to prepare, but as I did, my anxiety continued to stay with me.

The day of the speech finally got here, and as I went up to the front to give it, my heart was still pounding so loudly in my ears. But as I gave the speech, and especially after I sat back down at my desk, I realized something.

I actually enjoyed giving my speech.

Just a few years ago, I could have never said that. The conclusion that I came to as to why I can say this now is first and foremost my training in Tae Kwon Do. Being put in the position of teacher and the guidance I have received has helped me improve my speaking qualities.

I can tell what has improved by the dozens of times my instructors have told me:

“Speak up!”
“Speak from the diaphram, not the throat.”
“Speak with confidence.”

I rarely hear these things now. And it shows.

On my critique, “Projection,” “Rate,” and “Volume” were marked as the best aspects of my speech.
Whoever says that the only benefits of martial arts is learning how to fight and defend yourself clearly hasn’t experienced the best their art has to offer.

By the way, I made a 100 on my speech.

Be a Sponge

As I continue to train in Tae Kwon Do, I am constantly amazed by the sheer volume of stuff there is to learn. It never ceases to confuse me how a person can spend a few years learning their art and think "Well, that's it. I've learned all that's possible to know. Now onto the next thing on my to-do list." Maybe I'm missing something here, but I think of martial arts as a long journey down a road that has no end in sight. How can you stop after only a couple of years?

Back to my main point.

Not only am I learning the physical side of my art -- the techniques, forms, and sparring -- but I'm also delving into the mental aspects -- the mindset, way of thinking and mentality of a teacher. Deep, deep stuff. And I've only gotten a little taste of it so far.

But I'm liking the taste. I'm thirsty and I want more. I feel like a person who hasn't had water in days and then a drop of water is splashed onto their tongue.

I want to soak up all the information that I can, but it's not enough to hear something and immediately store it deep into your memory banks for later use. It's important to hear... and then act. Think critically about it, see if you can incorporate it into your training now...and go from there.

Today I challenge you to....

Be a sponge.

Soak up all the knowledge that you can, use that information to help in your own training, but also to help someone else in theirs.

Rhythm and Flow

"Bodies have rhythm, techniques have flow."

This concept is something that the we as upper ranking belts have been concentrating on for the past few weeks. Based on what we've discussed in class, here's what I understand the above statement to mean.

"Bodies have rhythm." We each have an inherent rhythm to how our body moves. In a sparring situation, this is a very important idea. When we find our rhythm, we cease the "stop and start" nature of sparring that is characteristic of the student who is learning how to spar. This brings us to flow.

"Techniques have flow." Basically, your techniques are an extension of your rhythm. Combined with timing, the setup of your techniques and transitions (note the plural at the end) become less forced and noticeable to your opponent. None of the "Pause, set up, then throw the technique." No. Rhythm and flow combine to blend all three into such a subtle movement that by the time you see it coming, you're already hit.

More on this topic as I learn more about it.

New Workout Area and Form!

Take a look at my new outdoor workout area!

I bought these puzzle mats (minus the multicolor ones) after becoming frustrated with practicing my forms outside. The concrete is too rough to go barefoot on unless you are very light on your feet -- something that I have not mastered quite yet. On the other hand, practicing in shoes is just not the same. Like I said, I'm not the lightest on my feet, so my shoes are constantly catching on the concrete and messing up my deep stances. It doesn't help that my driveway is at a slight incline either.

My solution to these problems? Puzzle mats! I found a pretty good deal on Amazon: $29.99 for a set of 12 that cover 48 square feet. The only downside? A whopping 18 bucks for shipping! I couldn't find a better deal for the same amount of coverage, so I went ahead and bought them.

It's been raining here for the past several days, so I haven't been able to take them outside until now. Today was warm for a change, with temperatures in the low 40's! Note: Temperatures in the teens and 20's are getting old fast. Summer needs to be here! Anyway, after school, I headed out to the driveway to set everything up.

My practice went very well. Other than the wind gusts that kept lifting half of the mats into an almost vertical position, the mats cushioned my workout area rather well. It was just enough padding to take the shock out from landing on hard concrete, but firm enough that my feet glided easily on the surface.

I ran through a quick warmup, then started with forms back to back. I've come to realize that doing forms back to back like this without stopping for a recovery, is also a good warmup. Add proper snap, power, and the fact that we have 3 basic forms and 5 advanced forms in our system, and forms can really get you out of breath and worn out.

Speaking of forms....for the past week or so, I've been learning and practicing a new form (5th advance) for red belt. I love what I've learned so far. It's so rhythmic compared to the other forms! I need a metronome or something with a beat to practice to.

Now, on to the frustrating and most challenging portion of the form. The jump. I don't like jumps. Why pick  both feet off the floor when you can be balanced in a nice stance? But for this form, that's not to be. Let me explain what the form calls for up to the point I know. I hope I have this down correctly.

1. Turn left foot out so that you're in a back stance. Inside out block followed by a reverse punch.
2. Bring right foot in to meet the left. Stack your hands.
3. Repeat, turning right foot instead of left this time.
4. Slide left foot forward and x-block down, immediately coming up with an open hand x-block at about face level.
5. Slide right foot forward, grab with left hand and punch with right hand.
6. Lift right arm straight up, pick right leg up, pivot, and change directions.
7. Low backfist, then snap it up to starting position.
8. Left arm goes straight out, palm open, at around face level. Back leg crescent kick to your hand.
9. Set foot down.
10. Left foot slides forward past the right foot (so that your feet are almost in a pretzel shape), double punch.
11. Slide left foot back. Double punch again.
12. Bend knees, jump into the air (switching the way you are facing in the process), land on the blades of your feet, right foot over left.
13. With your feet still like this, double punch down.

I was fine up until # 12. When I got to the jump, my right foot complied with my wishes and went up into the air, however, my left foot decided it did not like this idea mid-jump, so it did an awkward half jump and did not lift more than six inches off the ground.

So....the jump isn't going too well at the moment. I kept practicing it, but my mind and my body don't want to cooperate with each other. One is accepting of the jump, the other is questioning landing on the blades of my feet with my full weight.

I had to take a picture of what my feet are supposed to look like if the jump is done properly. It should look something like this:

On Thursday night I told Mr. Mc that this had to be the strangest and most awkward move in any of my forms. He agreed.

Hopefully tomorrow I can get a better idea of what I can do to make it less awkward -- and maybe convince myself that I'm not going to break my ankles in the process.

Teaching and Being a Teacher

This post has been on my mind for a few weeks, but when I’ve sat down to write it, I’ve never gotten but a couple of paragraphs on the subject.

Last Thursday, Mr. Mc talked to me about the subject of teaching and being a teacher. Before I get ahead of myself, let me set this up.

Tuesday night is our formal gi and belt night– our main class. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our adult class is relatively small, but we have a good core group. We now have two distinct classes One for the kids, and one for the adults. Before, we were all combined into one group.

In the past when there were fewer instructors coming on a regular basis, we would have as many as 15-20 students (most being kids), and most being yellow and white belts. To be able to give more individualized attention to the students, the class was broken up into several groups. The ranking students would take one of these groups while the instructor(s) worked with other groups – then we would switch.

I know that all of the green belts and up have been given the task of taking some new/beginner students and showing them the ropes. Even a few of the yellow belts have had their turn passing on what knowledge that they have. They start out simply. “Show them how to bow in and out of class and the basic commands.” The more experienced we get, the more teaching responsiblity is asked of us.

During this time, I learned a lot about teaching and being a teacher. Teaching forces you to examine your own techniques more closely, but it also tests your knowledge. Not only do you have to be able to explain how to do technique “X,” but you have to be able to tell your students what the technique can be used for, why we do it like this, and a hundred or so other questions that might come up in the process – all in terms they can understand. While beginners do not need an in depth explanation, the higher up in rank they get, they need to deepen their understanding, a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the teacher.

In the meantime, you have to work on your own development as a student, but you also have to develop as a teacher.

The progression from purely student to both student and teacher can be viewed as a set up stairs, with the height of the steps increasing a little with each rank. The progression from 4th kyu blue belt with stripe to 3rd kyu brown belt no longer remains a step, but a jump up to reach that next level. This is because a brown belt is an “Assistant Instructor.”

Being a brand new brown belt (try saying that five times fast), you can see why the issue of teaching has been on my mind lately.

Last Thursday, Mr. Mc brought up the topic. “Other systems,” he told me, “teach you the basics and when you earn your black belt, you are given a choice. Do you want to focus on becoming a teacher, or do you want to focus on being a fighter?”

Our style is different. You come up through the ranks learning how to balance both.

I think this is a great way of easing a student into a teaching role. I started out my Tae Kwon Do journey as a very shy, quiet twelve-year-old. You literally had to drag the words out of me if you wanted to carry on a conversation with me. It was a painful process. If I had been told on day 1 that I would be leading exercises, showing new students the ropes, demonstrating what I had learned to more advanced students, and eventually leading portions (and on occassions the whole) class on my own, I probably would have run as fast as I could in the opposite direction, screaming from sheer terror. “I can’t do that!” I would have said to myself.

But here I am. Doing most of the above on a fairly regular basis, and I’m not running away screaming. I know that I did not start jumping with joy when I was first asked to lead exercises and then teach, but I warmed up to it. Practice makes perfect as they say.

Today, I feel differently about being a teacher. Now, I know that I still have a lot to learn on the subject – and I’m still not the most talkative, bold person that I want to be, but I have realized something recently. Something that I never thought I would ever say.

When the day comes that I finally earn my black belt, I want to pass on what knowledge that I have as an instructor and teacher. I want to help others grow not only in the system that I am so passionate about, but also grow as a person. What I’m getting at is that I want to become the instructor – the teacher to my students that my instructors are to me, not for profit or my own gain (or because I feel pressured to do so), but because I am blessed to be involved in an art that is not a hobby, but an entire lifestyle.

I still have a long way to go. First, I need to become the proper “Assistant Instructor” that the patch on my gi says I am. Then, on to the next step. Instead of the jump I mentioned earlier, this next step looks like I’ll be needing some rock climbing gear. Guess I better go and pack and get ready for it.

Let's Pause for a Quick Commercial Break

It's 8:42 on a Wednesday night. I am sitting in the living room on the most comfortable computer chair in the house and attempting to write an insightful and comprehendible blog post. It's not working too well. So instead, I put my official post on hold and write this instead.

The past three or so nights, I have been getting between four and six hours of sleep. One night was purely my own fault -- I drank coffee less than an hour before going to bed. Needless to say, I am extremely tired.

Add a 2+ hour Tae Kwon Do class involving partner drills and working on a combination of armbars, joint locks, misdirection of punches -- all leading up to an end result of a takedown, and you have a recipe for soreness.

Also factor in a Monday-Thursday college schedule with classes beginning at 8 am...and the fact that I am the only person in my family who hasn't caught the virus that's being passed around at my house....

Mix it all together and your end result is a mentally/physically worn out and quite sore brown belt.

It's 9:11 now. This night owl is going to bed. A long day full of school and Tae Kwon Do awaits.

My next blog topic is "Teaching and Being a Teacher" and should be finished and posted sometime tomorrow.

Have You Ever?

Have you ever heard the following:

"You need to know you form backwards and forwards."

It literally means that you need to know your form inside able to do it in your sleep, blindfolded, etc., right?

Our sister school came up to our class last Saturday for one of their student's black belt test. During the candidate's test, their instructor invited one of his blue belts onto the floor to demonstrate something different than what any of us has ever seen.

She did one of her forms backwards.

Now can you say that you know your form backwards and forwards?