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.