Beginning a New Class - Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Back in June, I wrote a post about my experience in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when a blue belt visited our class. Since then, I have only had one other experience in groundfighting when a couple of my instructors and I visited our sister class. I enjoyed both classes and in the following months have wished "If only there was a BJJ school nearby with tuition that fell under the category of 'poor college student rate!'" ever since.

Little did I know that there was a class with exactly those specifics.

Oh how I adore Facebook. For all of the multitude of ads, annoying game requests and apps friends send, there is a plus side. While checking my newsfeed for the day, I happened upon an update that one of my friends from college was added to a martial arts group. Intrigued, I sent a message to my friend who also does Tae Kwon Do (at a different school) and found out the details of the class.

I attended my second class last week and am definitely hooked. As much as I still love my Tae Kwon Do and will of course continue my training (after all, Tae Kwon Do is my first love), it's refreshing to be a white belt again in something for a change after being the ranking student for so long. There's something inherently exciting about starting something new. I don't have to think about belt tests, teaching others....I'm just there to learn...for myself.

BJJ is so different to what I am used to, yet the concepts are similar and familiar. I think it's going to really complement my standing martial art well. We worked on an armbar at my first class and that was a familiar motion to me, as we do a lot of arm bars in self defense at TKD.

The soreness is something new. It's not like I'm never sore in Tae Kwon Do, but the amount of time spent on the ground and fighting for position takes a toll on muscles I don't use as frequently. The first class I went to, I was taught several techniques, but it was requested that I wait to spar or "roll" as it is called in BJJ. Last week, I was able to roll for the first time and slightly pulled a muscle in my back that has since healed thankfully.

The learning curve and mindset is something I'm getting used to. You don't punch or kick your opponent, instead going for submissions, chokes, and the like. My muscle memory and previous experience wants me to go for the punch or elbow, especially when the face is not guarded, but this is not the goal. There's also a whole lot of me thinking "Uh....what do I do now?" as I know only a handful of techniques and figuring out when I can use them depends on getting the other person into the right position. In theory, an arm bar is relatively simple when you're working with a partner who's in position for one. When they're not, it suddenly becomes that much harder.

I'm looking forward to adding more techniques to my repertoire and getting out of the "What do I do now?" stage.

Seeing Improvement

In my training over the past few years especially, seeing marked improvement in my skills has been an area of...difficulty from my point of view. I know in my mind and with my being that I've improved and made progress. My instructors tell me as such also and can see techniques that are better than they were, but there are concepts that give me trouble still. I was waiting for the "Eureka!" moment where the lightbulb turned on and suddenly everything made sense. I was expecting a significant jump from "Huh?" to "Aha!"

Those moments did not happen in the way I imagined them. In fact, my instructors told me as much months ago and explained what would happen.

On Tuesday night, both the kids' class and the adult class were small. It was the week of Thanksgiving and had been stormy all day. I usually help out in the kids' class, but on this night, Mr. M worked with me instead. The topic was snap and power in my forms. I was not generating the power I needed, so he addressed that.

He had me work on getting more hip rotation as I moved in a front stance and then timing my lead foot and hands to stop at the same time. Then, it was a matter of doing both of those things while fully committing to the techniques. He gave me something to focus on, to get the point fixed into my head - every technique must be done as if I was in the middle of my test and my black belt was on the line.

After this, he had me do a couple of my forms with that same mindset. I was breathing hard by the end of each form and Mr. M told me that was probably the best he's seen me do the forms.

The kids' class ended about this time, and I ended up being the only student in the adult class. This turned out great. Mr. M had me do one of my forms so Mr. G could see and then they had me continue doing all of my forms with the same intensity.

Mr. G turned to Mr. M as I finished Pyung Ahn 2, about the halfway point of our color belt forms. He asked him to choose one area that needed the most work in the forms. Mr. M thought for a moment and said "timing." The significance of this (which Mr. G reminded me of immediately) is that for months, if not longer my instructors have been telling me - no, more like chanting at me - that my forms need more power. This issue with power has frustrated me for so long because to have power, you need speed and snap, not strength. Sure, you can muscle through a technique, but you're fighting against yourself and wearing yourself out with tension if you try to force power like that.

Something happened that I didn't really realize until it was told to me. Power was moved down from #1 on the list of things to work on. I continued doing my forms, all the while wondering when that had changed. The difference wasn't a huge lightbulb moment, but there was a noticeable difference in my techniques.

Subtle. Just as my instructors had told me it would be. One day it just. . .works. The recognition of change  was as small as "This feels a little different. A little better." Simple as that. Can I tell you outright what I was doing differently? No. I really have no clue myself! It just worked.

Now why was I making this so difficult?

Sparring 201 - Controlling the Fight

Mr. G asked me to write a paper on "Controlling the Fight" a couple months ago. Here is what I wrote.

Controlling the Fight

There is not a single key tactic that in and of itself will control, and therefor win a fight or spar. It is a combination of several things and also one’s personal ability to use them well. The physical component of the fight is important, but I believe that the mental aspect is equally important, if not more so.

I’m going to begin with the mental part of the spar.

    First is mindset, which begins before you even bow in to begin. What is your attitude – your sense of purpose for the fight? Are you going to play tag with your opponent, trade a few techniques back and forth, or are you coming in with the attitude of “I’m going to dominate my opponent.”? You need to have the mindset well before you bow in to spar. You need to “flip the switch,” especially if your opponent is better than you. Flipping the switch also has to do with mindset. For me, there's a huge difference in mentality when sparring someone who's just learning to spar than sparring one of my instructors. If I'm sparring one of my instructors, the goal is not to go “tap tap” with my opponent unless instructed to. It’s no longer a friendly game of tag. It’s a fight. My opponent is my opponent, not my friend at that point in time. Best bring your “A” game both mentally and physically.

    Next, is focusing on the fight. Your mind should not be racing a mile a minute, thinking about what could happen, what you should have done, and what your opponent’s every move means. These things should be muted, in the background of your mind at the very most. Thinking slows down your reaction time and interferes your ability to just let your training take over. It also makes you get locked up with your thoughts and distracts you from your opponent. You should be focused, but ultimately thoughtless. Basically, mushin. “Mind, no mind.” Thinking and figuring out your strategy should come before, not during.

    Third, is reading your opponent. Before the fight begins, you should already know how your opponent is going to move by their stance. You should know, if not immediately, within a few seconds the distance that their arms and legs cover and where you must be to barely avoid being hit.

The physical part of the spar,

    Fighting your fight is vitally important. You can’t wait around for the other person to initiate. You run the risk of falling into their rhythm if you’re constantly waiting for them to do something. Strike first, strike fast, and strike hard. Keep the opponent on their toes, guessing what you’re going to do next.

    Next, Be mobile. Don’t stand in one place planted on the heels. Get on the balls of the feet. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! Vary your steps. Cut angles. Don’t be linear. Don’t make your transitions big. Keep them quick and few and far between.

    Quickness is next. Being able to spot that opening and capitalize on it immediately is key. The opening will only be there for a second, and if you don’t take it, it’s gone.

    Power is not as important as the previous things that I’ve mentioned, but it is still something you must have. Your opponent must respect the power behind your techniques.

    Varying technique is my final point. If you do the same things over and over again, your opponent can pick up on it and adapt to it. You may get by doing the same thing over and over again with a lower ranking or younger student, but when the time comes where you're sparring someone who knows what they're doing, they are going to read you like an open book. You must vary up your techniques. Throw lots of combinations. Even if you have a few go-to combinations, mix it up, because patterns are obvious.

Official Test Day is Set

In my last post, I mentioned that I had a tentative day of March 31st, 2012 for my black belt test. I was under the impression that this would be a tentative date to give me a goal to work toward. Not a set in stone, definitely happening at this time. Obviously I was wrong.

I walked into class on Tuesday night. It was a normal class night, other than the fact that we've moved to a new location that has more floor space than the last church we were at. I began getting ready for class, putting on my uniform and belt. Mr. G then walks over and matter-of-factly states that he talked to Mr. R.S. over at our sister school, and since they are off for Spring Break the week of the 4th, they will come up for my test then.

So my official test date is March 10th, 2012

Okay then!

That means that not only is my test date written in stone, but it also means that my test has been moved where I originally had it on the 31st up to the 10th instead. Oh, good. Less time for me to prepare! With that said, I suddenly feel the need to go spar the heavy bag for the next several hours without stopping. . .

Black Belt Test Thoughts

Over the past couple months, there's been some talk about a certain test.

A very big test. . .

My black belt test. 

. . . .

That's scary.

Mr. G asked me not too long ago when I thought they could pencil in my black belt test. I froze on the spot, still as a statue, and I'm sure that had my jaw not been stuck firmly in a closed position from pure surprise, I would have gaped at Mr. G as I stared at him. I'm not in any hurry to test. I want to consolidate my knowledge and ability further before even thinking about testing.

He went on to say that I do well with having a goal and setting a tentative test date to work toward is something I need to be thinking about. I agreed, and then he asked me how six months sounded. While the thought of testing has been in the back of my head ever since my red belt test, I have had it set as a future goal, probably happening in around a year. I've said "about a year" in my head since my test, but that time line has not changed since March. Hearing "six months" as a possibility changed my thinking from happening in the future to happening soon.

I mention this now, because he brought it up again last week, except this time he was wanting to hear an answer. I considered it and what I have to do to be ready for that test. The major issue that came to my mind was not technique. It's conditioning.

Conditioning is the big one. I need to get in serious shape and drastically improve my stamina. I have good flexibility, but my endurance needs work. I've been to two black belt tests, so I have a good idea of what they're like. First of all, they are intimidating! Not only in the time involved - a minimum 3 hours long. Yes. I said THREE HOURS LONG. That is a seriously long time since I'll be the only one testing and the 9+ black belts who will test me will be staring at every single move I make. The test is just as big of a mental test (if not moreso) as it is a physical one. There are also at least. . . five spars plus a 2 on 1 spar. . . back to back. And I thought my red belt test was long (just over 2 hours). Ha! Endurance is KEY! Not only is endurance part of the conditioning, but I need to be better conditioned to take a punch or kick. I have been told that being able to deal with a good, solid punch or kick is part of the test.

Of course the second issue that came up is my technique. I am a perfectionist, so there are so many things that I want and need to improve on before that test. I know all my forms, one steps, kicks, etc. but it's a matter of getting them really, really good and up to black belt level.

My sparring is also an issue. I'm still too defensive when I spar. I need to adapt and not use the same sparring style against everyone, because this will get me beat. Going in straight on an opponent who has greater reach is not the smartest idea. I need to stop thinking so much about what's going on, what the opponent is doing, and just react. Sparring needs to become more second nature than it is currently.

The final area I thought about is my confidence. I am very comfortable when I'm put out there teaching the kids class. I know what I want to teach, how to get it across to my students, and I know what to look for. I'm confident there. I'm not so confident as a student. I second guess myself too often and I need to fix that.

With all these things in mind, I came up with a tentative date. Mr. G approved it and told me that I need to work toward that goal.

My goal for testing for black belt is March 31st, 2012.

That's just under six month, which will put me at a little over a year since my red belt test. I think this is a do-able goal. It gives me something to shoot for, and if it takes me longer, then so be it. But with having a set date, this makes the test real and not "Oh, well, it's sometime in the future." I have a goal and I'm going to work hard on the things I mentioned so I can meet that goal.

First Tournament Results

So, the tournament is over and done with. The experience was great and I learned a lot. I was able to experience the other side of the coin, going from spectator to competitor. Sitting in the stands is so much easier than participating. You are comfortable and cozy, relaxing in your seat and watching the others warm up and get ready. You watch the matches, cheer on your classmates, and point out things that other people are doing to your classmate sitting next to you. You are relaxed. As a competitor, here is what I experienced.

6:30am came early. I got ready to go, then drove to meet Mr. G, who I was carpooling with. At this point, I was already a bundle of nerves. We met up with several members of our sister class at McDonald's and had a good breakfast. Well, most did. I attempted to eat, but my appetite was gone, so I only finished half of my meal.

We drove down the street to the event, found a parking spot, and registered. Over the course of breakfast, Mr. G had talked to Ms. S about competing, so she signed up for the same events I did - Point and Semi-Knockdown.

We changed, warmed up a little, then Ms. S and I walked over to one of the Point rings and warmed up with a little sparring. Mr. G and I then spent a couple minutes sparring and I worked on my techniques. As more and more people arrived, I tried to see how many women would be in my division. It was hard to tell, because the few I did see looked like they would be in the Under 17 division, so I didn't get an accurate count.

10 'o clock finally rolled around and the age groups were divided up. I walked over to the 18+ group with Ms. S and waited as a couple black belts separated us all into our divisions. There were only a handful of women, and like I thought, a couple went over to the Under 17 side. I believe there was one yellow belt, one green belt, one blue belt, myself, Ms. S, and another black belt. The yellow and green belts were put into a division, the blue belt and I were in another, and the two black belts had their division.

I think I scared this poor blue belt woman half to death. Our class was the only Tae Kwon Do group there. I think everyone else were from various Karate styles. As such, they don't have a red belt in their syllabus, only brown. She saw my red belt and asked what kyu that was. I told her 1st. Her eyes went wide and she said "You mean your next belt is black?!?" I said yes, and she asked me how long I had been training. I told her eight years. Her eyes widened even more, and she exclaimed "I've only been training a year!" She immediately called a ref over and told him the situation. When he heard that I have been training for eight years, he sent me over to the black belt division, and she was grouped with the yellow and green belts.

Mr. G had mentioned that I may be sparring black belts, so I was prepared for this, and also pretty happy that I would be sparring "up" instead of down. All the kyu ranks went first, then our red/black belt division had our turn. Ms. S would be sparring Ms. M, then I would spar the winner. I ended up sparring Ms. M. That point spar went by so fast! I lost 4-1, which put me in 2nd place. What hurt me the most in that spar was that I backed up instead of going forward and the judges called a couple of her techniques as connecting before mine.

We had a long break as the rest of the point sparring finished and the mats were set up for Semi. One event completed, one to go. I was feeling a bit more at ease now that I had gotten the point sparring out of the way and Semi was next. Point sparring is just a totally different mindset from the continuous sparring that we do in class so I was feeling good about this next event because it is more like the sparring that I'm used to. Mr. R.S. had brought two target pads and he called me out on the floor for some Semi-Knockown warmup. He had me work on shin kicks to the legs and also some knees. At this point, the kids had started their semi-knockdown, so Mr. G, Mr. R.S., Ms. S, and I went down one of the hallways that led to the locker rooms and we continued to work with the targets.

Like I said, there was a forever long break while the multitude of kids sparred, so Ms. S and I spent about ten minutes doing some light sparring once we had our gear on.

Our division was finally called. The two mats that were set up for the kids had been combined into one large mat. There were only five women sparring this time, and we were separated yellow/green and red/black. The green and yellow belt women were asked if they wanted to combine divisions since they were so small, but they said no. I would not have minded because that meant I would fight more people if I won. The way it worked out, I was up first against the Karate black belt, and Ms. S would fight the winner.

The round was set for two solid minutes. Over the past several weeks, I had been drilling what to do and what not to do in this spar. No hand techniques to the head. Kicks to the head and the legs were okay. If you're knocked down, that's half a point or a whole point awarded to the other person depending on how long it takes for you to get up. The most common stance for Yoshukai karate is a front stance. We spar from a side stance or a modified back stance. I needed to be aggressive and advance - because the aggressive person is usually the winner. It would not be good if I went backwards or was too defensive (which is a bad habit of mine). I am a defensive, counter fighter. If I went toe to toe with the Yoshukai front stance, it would most certainly turn into a slug fest with punches, and I would probably lose, because that is how they train. I repeated to myself that I would not go there. . . . but....within ten seconds, I did. It was not pretty. The other girl was not hitting me hard, but she did whip a pretty roundhouse kick up to my head a few times. Also, I backed up and tripped over my feet once, and she got me with a front snap kick that made me fall. The round was called in her favor. I was not happy with how the spar went at all. It's like everything I said I would do (or not do) just went out the window. I didn't get in any of my hard kicks, and I mainly just traded punches with her.

Anyway, rant aside, it was a good learning experience. I'm determined to train hard, fix the mistakes I made, and go back next year with better results. I have no more "Well, it was my first tournament. . . " excuses. I was beat mostly because I was too defensive. I backed up and wasn't driving forward like I knew to do.

For the moment though, I'm ready to forget tournament style sparring and get back to the normal sparring that we do in class. None of the "don't punch the head," "Stop sparring when someone gets a point," "A tap is a point" rules.

First Tournament - Tomorrow

Well, tomorrow is d-day. Tournament time.

Tuesday night was my last real class before this tournament. My instructors told me that was to be my last workout before Saturday's tournament because they don't want me getting bruised, pulling a muscle, or getting hurt right before the event. Speaking of bruises, on Tuesday, I received one by striking Mr. Mc's elbow with the back of my hand. It swelled up immediately, but I iced it after class so it doesn't hurt so much now. The  the bruise looks pretty impressive though. That is example 1 of why "No more workouts until after the tournament!" is in effect.

Last night I ran a few laps with the kids during the warmup and then just assisted Mr. Mc with teaching in class.

Since my last post, I have been getting mentally ready for the tournament and working out strategy. I have a good idea of what my game plan is going to be, but it's hard getting an exact plan when I don't know who is going to be competing in my division. Hopefully there will be more than five women, but who knows. Last year I think there were three in the point division and only two in the semi-knockout. . . .

Nerves are an issue. I haven't had a big event like this since my red belt test back in March. I'm a little nervous, which is to be expected with this being my first time competing, but I think I have it under control. At least, I think I do. I'm constantly going over strategy in my head and repeating the rules and legal striking areas for both divisions.

This past week, I've even caught myself sizing people up as I walk around campus and thinking about what techniques I would use on them, how I would move to get inside their range to be able to hit them, and how their height would cause me to adjust my guard so I can cover up when I'm hitting them. Not that I would actually attack them of course! My mindset is just on a constant repeat of "tournament, tournament, tournament. . ."

I'm meeting my instructor early tomorrow morning and driving up with him and the others from my class. I'll have a full report of how the tournament went soon.

Countdown to First Tournament - 9 days

With just over a week to go until I compete in my first tournament, the nervousness has finally set in and I think it's here to stay.

In other news, my instructors advised me to buy cloth hand pads for the semi-knockdown portion of the tournament. Yesterday, I also found out that I'm required to have cloth shin/instep guards for semi-knockdown. I've been looking around for a good deal online, but shipping is expensive at most websites. I didn't want to pay 9+ dollars for it if I could avoid it. I found a pair of shin/instep pads at Academy Sports and Outdoors, but they're very limited in the martial arts gear department - other than MMA gear which they have plenty of - and they didn't stock the hands pads I need. Well, they did, but it was a hand pad/forearm pad combo that felt strange when I put it on. I'm just not used to having anything on my forearm and it just felt wrong. If I had it my way, I wouldn't require the shin guards, but it's not my tournament, so I don't have a say in the matter. Anyway, here are the shin/instep pads I bought.

Finally, I caved in and ordered a pair of hand pads from Century. Early birthday present!

In class, we've been doing some point sparring and going over the rules and etiquette in the tournament. Last Tuesday, Mr. G and I talked about the semi-knockdown sparring. I think it's 2 minute continuous rounds, no stopping for points. If the refs don't decide on a clear winner, they make you spar a one minute round, and if needed, another one minute round. Endurance is key! Mr. G put me doing rounds on the heavy bag for part of class, then we sparred.

There's not really any way around the constant clashing of forearms and knuckles hitting forearm and upper arm. Semi-knockdown is an up close and personal kind of spar, and I've heard that most of the competitors like to spar head on, just trading punch after punch, so bruises are quite common. The lesson I learned from this was: utilizing angles is important!

Over the weeks, I've had my head filled with tip after tip for both kinds of sparring, what to do to condition, and been given ideas of what techniques work well, which ones don't, thoughts on strategy, and I've been told I need to have game plans. I'm still working on these. In fact, I have an email sitting in front of me with advice of what I need to be doing this last week before the tournament. Some of these are:

1. Run every day. (Bleck)

2. Attack a heavy bag for 2 minutes solid. (3 rounds)

3. Condition thighs and shins.

4. Stop all workouts after Wednesday night. (Tournament is on Saturday)

5. Run Thursday morning, then rest all day and Friday.

6. Load up on carbs for Saturday morning. Whole grain is good.

7. Pack bag with snacks for the day.

Other advice from those who have been in and around the tournament scene would be very much appreciated!

Self Correction: Video Project

Self correction is something I need to work on more at home. I've gotten into the habit where "practicing" consists of doing a form in its entirety without giving much thought to the details. I need to stop that. There's a time to practice at full speed, but right now there's details I need to fix that require pausing and checking every tiny, little thing - stance, positioning of the hands, body alignment, weight distribution, etc, etc.

Frustration sets in quickly when I slow down and self correct. I'll be working on a form, and something will just feel wrong, or I'll check my stance and notice something off. I start from the beginning and try again, paying special attention to correcting my mistake, repeating until the problem is fixed. Sometimes that correction takes only a few repetitions, sometimes it takes days/weeks/months, especially if it's breaking an ingrained habit. Some days it makes me want to pull my hair out.

Tonight, I started videoing myself during parts of my at home practice. I don't have access to a good mirror at the moment (I'm working on getting one for the house), so the next best tool I can use to help me self correct is video.

Video lets me see myself from the point of view that my instructors see me from when I'm in class. There's nothing like watching yourself from a third person perspective. It shows me how I move, if my transitions are smooth, and I can also concentrate on what I'm doing, rather than watching myself in a mirror as I'm attempting something. I can also pick up on things that I might gloss over by using the "Does it feel/look right?" method.

Unfortunately, it also lets me see that there's some areas where my performance of a form or execution of a technique isn't as awesome as I felt it was. Whether it's "Oh, that transition wasn't smooth," "That kick really sucked. My knee wasn't high enough and I swung that kick," or "I look like that when doing ___?!?" video is unforgiving.

Most importantly? Video lets me really see improvement. That is what I am really hoping to notice the more I practice and record myself.

Tuesday Class - Body Conditioning

We had a great class on Tuesday with only advanced belts in attendance. Two green belts, two blue belts and myself.

Mr. G led a very thorough warmup that focused on joints. He told us we would be working on some hand techniques and some sparring tonight.

I love when we spend time working on sparring, so I was happy when he announced this. I've been nervous about the tournament coming up in September, so the more time I spend improving on the things I'm not so good at the better.

Some of these things that I'm focusing on are:

Being light on my feet, being more mobile, moving in and out of the close range and the kicking range effectively, using angles and not being so linear, using more combinations, and getting in good, solid shots.

Anyway, after the warmup, we moved on to some hand technique combinations. We began in a side stance and our sequence was jab to the face, reverse punch low, then slide forward and ridgehand to the back of the neck. We tried not so much for speed, but to flow from one technique to the next.

Once we starting getting comfortable with the combo, Mr. G added in a backfist to the head, then an elbow smash after that. I think several of us had a lightbulb moment when he brought up the elbow smash - because it's the exact technique that's in Pyung Ahn 4. I knew what the technique did in the form, but used in this format that I could see myself using in a spar put in in an entirely different perspective.

Finally, Mr. G had us pair up for conditioning drills. The green belts were paired together and so were the blue belts. That left me to be paired up with Mr. G. I did a mental fist pump at hearing this. Precise control and form are important to not hurting uke when kicking or punching them, and I knew that with Mr. G, improper form and lack of control would not be an issue.

We faced our partner and were told that we were to throw twenty-five instep kicks to the stomach. Side A would throw a kick, then Side B, and repeat. No one was to throw full power kicks since we're not at that point yet. We were still to make good contact though, and the person being kicked had to kiai so they wouldn't get the air knocked out of them.

I settled into my side stance and held my guard up. The kicks stung, but it was nothing I couldn't deal with. A good kiai, tightening up the stomach muscles, and having a solid stance helped. There were a few times that Mr. G had to tell me "Too high" when I kicked him, so the next time I made sure to point my knee and land the kick a little lower. We finished before everyone else, so we ended up doing about thirty or so kicks total.

Next, we did ball of the foot roundhouse kicks. These hurt more, because you're striking with a smaller surface and the kick penetrates more.

Mr. Mc then set up a drill for a straight punch. Side A would step forward with an overhand punch. Side B would step forward and block/strike, then do a straight punch to the stomach. I was paired up with Mr. Mc for this one. After several turns of this, he told me that I was really putting a lot into the strike to block the overhand punch.

Things were going well until. . . I stepped forward with my right foot at the same time as Mr. Mc stepped forward with his left. The angle that our feet collided was just so that we both said "Ow" (or something to that degree) and paused to assess the situation. I had bent back the toenail of his big toe. He asked me if I had any collateral damage. There was a slight stinging at the end of my toe, but I said I didn't think so. I picked my foot up anyway and saw a nice cut at the end of my second toe. A flap of skin was still attached and I saw some blood under the skin. We looked at the cut and it didn't look like it was going to bleed out, so we changed how we were stepping so that it wouldn't happen again. A minute later, I looked down to see that blood was about to drip on the floor. I grabbed a paper towel and dabbed it away, then went back to continue the drill. Before we started, I checked my toe again. More blood. Another paper towel, and then I went to bandage my toe up since it couldn't behave on its own. After that, we continued with the drill with no problems.

Mr. Mc and I finished before the rest, so I suggested that we do some leg kicks. I wanted to get used to those kinds of shots to the leg for the semi-knockdown tournament, so we ended up doing about eight or ten roundhouse kicks to the back of the thigh. Oh. My. Gosh. Those kicks hurt! It wasn't just "tap" kind of kick either. It was a "wham!" kind of kick. It went something like this:


*Thinking* That did not feel good....






"Okay, that's enough!"

After we finished, Mr. G decided that it would be a good idea to work on.... you guessed it - leg kicks! Thankfully, I was paired up with one of the 11-12 y/o green belts, so the contact was turned down.

Mr. G told us that we would be going home sore and bruised. He was right. I now have a nice purple bruise just above my belly button. Don't get me wrong. I like bruises. They are fun to look at and poke at (Yes, I am weird). The only thing was that when I went to bed, every time I turned, that bruise, and the smaller ones on my arms reminded me that they were there. Also, the cut on my foot is driving me insane. It's a little thing, but it's a pain! Even with the band-aid on to keep the flap of skin from catching on the floor, it still hurts every time I put weight on that foot. I'm walking around gingerly now, willing it to go ahead and close up right now. I need to be able to kick things (and people) with that foot and slide smoothly when I do my forms. Ugh.

Complaining aside, Tuesday night was fun! I still want to work more on conditioning and hope we do more partner drills like this in class.

Point and Semi-Knockdown Sparring. Well, THAT Was Different!

Tuesday night, we had several visitors from our sister class work out with us. We worked on something in class that was new to me.

Point Sparring and Semi-Knockdown Sparring.

You see, our class does not focus on tournaments or tournament style sparring. In fact, other than a few of the black belts, no one in our class has ever competed in a tournament. Last year, I went to my first one and observed, as several of the students from our sister class were competing. I mentioned in this post that the next time the tournament rolled around, I would be there in uniform to compete.

We went over rules first. From what I remember, most of the details were about scoring and the ring itself. Stay in the ring. You get two warnings (I think) before the refs start docking points for jumping out. If one foot is out of the ring and you earn a point, your other foot has to land inside the ring for it to count. Things like that.

So now I have to not only guard and attack, but also be aware of the boundaries at all times or I'll eventually get points docked? That sucks.

After several minutes more of rules, we finally had a chance to spar. I watched a couple before it was my turn and man, were those points called quick! It was spar, spar, point! Reset. Spar, point! Reset, rinse, and repeat. Mr. G and Mr. R.S., who were acting as judges, stressed that only solid techniques would be counted as points. Air techniques, grazing the person with the tip of the gloves, and weak, sloppy techniques would not be counted. Everyone had to make their techniques count.

Finally, it was my turn. I went against blue belt C and was thrilled to be able to spar against another female student for once! It's been way too long since there's been an adult woman in class besides myself. My usual sparring partners are kids or male gup ranks / black belts. We touched gloves, and "Hajime!" was called. I found out immediately that point sparring is all about being quick! Being fast and explosive is something that I'm not exactly good at. Yet. I'm working on it. Right now I think too much and analyze everything which means that I'm spending more time thinking than moving.

Soooo, the end result was that I lost 3-0. I was disappointed about losing but I looked at it as a good learning experience. In continuous sparring, which is what we normally do in class, I don't think much of taking a glancing or decent shot in order to get in and give a better one. In point sparring though, that first shot that I might take before I give mine would be a point in the favor of my opponent in many cases. It was hard to get out of that mentality. Point sparring is a game. A game of tag. Whoever tags first usually wins.

When the black belts announced that a few of us would be working on semi-knockdown sparring, I nearly started bouncing on the balls of my feet. This was what I had been wanting to do ever since I announced to my instructors that I wanted to compete in kumite.

There weren't as many rules to this one, or at least it didn't seem like it. Stay in bounds and don't punch to the head were really about it. Instead of points being called, it was a continuous slug fest. beating. spar. Mr. G and Mr. R.S. demonstrated how a round would go.

Intense doesn't even begin to describe it. Gone was the familiar side stance that we normally use. In its place was a strong, forward facing stance. Since punches to the head are illegal, both people stay in a super close range to each other. I'm used to moving in and out of the punching range, not staying right in it. Punches to the body and shin kicks to the legs are the staple techniques. A few other kicks were thrown, but punches and shin kicks dominated. This video is a good portrayal of what semi-knockdown is like:

Once again, I sparred C. Before we began, I was told that she had experience in semi-knockdown sparring. Duly noted. We assumed our stances facing each other, and then "Hajime" was called. She immediately closed the distance and started hitting. From that point on, I was out of my comfort zone. It was completely foreign to me to stay put in that close range, even though I'm most comfortable with my hand techniques and that is what I use the most. Mr. G had to keep pushing me forward, as I was doing a lot of backpedaling.

I sparred Ms. S. next, and only then did I start feeling a little more comfortable, though my stamina was nearly on empty during the last part of that second round. I still need a LOT of time doing this kind of sparring to get a good handle on it. The tournament is a little over a month away, so I need to really need to spar as often as I can, and also work on improving my conditioning and stamina as much as I can.

All in all, it was a good night of sparring.

I Overdid It

I overdid it.

Monday, I went to Zumba at church. This was only my second week back after a good month or so break. I'm only able to go to one class a week because the other two classes happen to be at the same time as Tae Kwon Do. I had already paid in soreness for my gusto in doing the songs I was familiar with last week, so it didn't occur to me at the time to not push myself more than normal for the entire hour.

That was mistake number one.

My second mistake was adding Tae Kwon Do practice to the mix after I got back home. I took a shower, changed, and pushed the furniture out of my practice space in the living room. My hips have been feeling really tight lately and I can tell that my stretch is not as good on my roundhouse kicks, so I researched and found a few stretches that would help loosen my hips. After doing several of those, I decided to warm up with my forms. The first five were okay, but the muscles in my legs were starting to complain about the deep stances. There's a position in Pyung Ahn 2 that makes that form my least favorite of all of the Pyung Ahn forms. You have to almost go to a lunge, your back knee hovering a few inches off the ground as you scoop a kick with your arm. I tried to go down, but my muscles decided they had had enough.

After that, I moved on to kicks. I practiced front snap, roundhouse, side, crescent, and reverse crescent in the air, then did some combinations. Finally, I moved on to some shadow sparring, emphasizing being mobile and throwing fluid combinations. After a good five minutes of this, I threw a low roundhouse kick and my hamstring seized up. "Okay, that's enough," I said, and stopped for the night.

When I got up the next day, my thighs were sore and feeling weak. They ached the. Entire. Day. I realized that the multitude of lunges at Zumba plus my extra practice did it.

Well, as luck would have it, Tae Kwon Do class was that night, AND we had several visitors from our sister class work out with us. Mr. R.S., Ms. J.S., a blue belt, a green belt, and a yellow belt. After a quick warmup, the green belts, blue belts, and I started on Pyung Ahn 2. Oh goody. The form I had trouble with the night before. I will not mention that I was the one who chose the form for the class to do.... Nope, not mentioning that fact.

Anyway, we had to hold stance frequently for minutes at a time because Mr. G and Mr. R.S. decided to pick us apart on the details of the form. My legs were shaking the entire time. Not good. I tried my best to stay in the stance and keep my knees bent, and it took all of my willpower to not drop my hands or come out of those stances. I was relieved when we finished with the form and moved on to something else.

So, lesson learned. Don't push yourself too much when you're starting back in something you haven't done for a while, and don't further antagonize your muscles by trying a bunch of new stretches and practicing extra without giving your body a chance to adjust. Ease into it. Don't try to do too much in one day.

Thoughts On Training Partners

In the time I’ve been involved in martial arts, I’ve observed students who stop coming to class without an obvious reason. Others move, get or change jobs, or have health issues that interfere with their ability to attend class. I’ve seen a lot, especially kids, gradually lose the excitement they first had about training and end up quitting. All these things have taken away fine students and great people.

Our adult class is made up of a small, core group of students. Most of us have worked together for at least three years and have spent countless hours drilling and sweating together, beating on each other in sparring, working out issues in forms together, talking about successes and frustrations, working through problems. . . etc, etc. I don’t know what it is about our class, but I literally think of my classmates and instructors as family. It’s difficult to lose a family member to those reasons I mentioned above.

It’s even harder when that person is a training partner who you work with frequently. . .

Rachel and I became friends through class. We started seeking each other to partner up with more often as green belts. Color belts tend to find common ground with others their rank as you’re working together on the same things, and we followed suit. When Rachel and I started looking at testing for our blue belts, we began training together outside of class. By nature, I am a more introverted, quiet person. I think and analyze to the nth degree, but I don’t ask many questions and express myself in class as I should. She was my opposite. Extroverted, talkative, and always asking questions. I admired the ease at which she did this. When I would share pent up frustrations, she would always encourage me to go talk to the black belts about them.

We ended up testing for our blue belts a few weeks apart. Training for brown was much more grueling, as brown belt is an Assistant Instructor in our class and standards are very, very high. In December of 2009, we tested for brown together.

Things came up in her life that kept her out of class right after our brown belt test. The first several months were hard. She was no longer there for me to talk to or work with, but I plodded on, hopeful that she would be back when she could.

She hasn’t been able to come back yet. I understand her situation, but I miss her very much. 

I miss her directness. If she had a question, she would ask it at the first opportunity.

I miss being able to vent and talk about class with her.

I miss meeting up to work on a technique or form and helping each other make corrections.

I miss having someone to meet up with period. 

I miss having someone my rank who was right there with me, experiencing the same things at the same  time. Who was working toward the same goal I was. Learning the same thing I was at the same time. It didn’t matter if we learned at different speeds, we helped each other.

I miss sparring her.

I miss having someone to talk martial arts with on a regular basis.

I miss having another adult woman in class.

I miss having someone in class with similar frustrations in sparring.

I miss having someone who would speak first, dig deeper with questions, and encourage me to do the same.

I miss not being able to train together for our red belts and test together.

I miss not being able to train for our first tournament together.

I glance at the doors of the dojang every so often, hoping that I will see her walk in one class. I’m still waiting for that day.

If you have someone who you train with regularly, in and out of class, you are blessed. Treasure the time that you spend working and collaborating with each other and don't take it for granted.

Sunday Training With Our Sister Class

Early on Sunday morning, Mr. G, Mr. M, and I set out visit our sister school. For me, this trip was long overdue, as we had started talking about it after my red belt test on March 8th. As I mentioned in my last post, I was excited about having the opportunity to train with people I haven't really had the chance to work with before - and not in a mixed class environment for once. Just adults.

The three hour car ride went by quickly. I wrote in my journal about Tuesday's class, but mostly listened to my instructors talk. I chimed in every once in a while, but I was happy enough just sitting there in that environment where martial arts was the central topic. I don't have any friends to talk to who are currently into martial arts, so conversations of this nature have to be had in class usually.

We arrived at Mr. R.S.'s house and got ready for class. I was nervously excited. It was a familiar setting, but at the same time, new. I am used to my Tae Kwon Do class and how it runs, but this was my first time in this class and I was out of my element, even though Mr. R.S.'s students made me feel very welcome.

The dojang was a hot 80 degrees, even with the air conditioning unit on. I don't do well in heat to begin with, but as soon as I tied my gi and belt, I knew that the heat was going to make for a challenging class.

We lined up and started class. We warmed up our joints a little, then were lined up into three rows and did a variety of techniques and exercises back and forth across the room. Pushups, full situps, jabs, reverse punches, shoulder rolls, jumps, walking pushups, quick switches, lunges. . .by the end of this, I was already soaked with sweat and we hadn't even started the actual class. I now have a good idea of how to get the kids in our kids' class warmed up and tired though.

After our warmup, everyone was divided up for circuit drills. There were five stations, and a black belt at each with a different task for us to do. I started out on the mats with Mr. R.S. We worked on breakfalls, and then he showed me how to do a hip toss, which I have never tried before. These went well until I landed on the side of my knee. That was definitely not fun, but I learned my lesson and made sure to land correctly the next time.

The next station was joint locks with Ms. J.S. We started out by her grabbing me and then I reacted and tried applying various joint locks.

Mr. M had a heavy bag set up at the next station, and he had me throw reverse punches, front snap kicks, and ridgehands.

Mr. J.S. also worked with me on the ridgehand, but with a hand target. after throwing several ridgehands, he showed me a reverse ridgehand and had me do combinations with both. I really liked how this drill flowed and will be incorporating ridgehands more in my sparring now.

The final station was forms with Mr. G. He had me do Pyung Ahn 5 a couple of times with corrections on my timing.

Once we finished with the circuit drill, everyone geared up for sparring. There was room for three pairs at a time and I ended up being in the first group. I sparred Mr. J.S. first for about two minutes, then had a break while the next group sparred. This was followed by me sparring Ms. J.S, and finally, Mr. R.S. My last spar was by far the toughest. I walked into a roundhouse kick that he aimed at my face, and that threw off my mental game for the rest of the spar. It was a learning experience though. I realized that the actual pain of being kicked wasn't nearly as bad as the anticipation of being hit. That is something that I am going to have to work on more.

The class lined up once more and we had final comments before the students were dismissed. I didn't have access to a clock all this time, but I believe we had been working for about three hours at this point. I was surprised that even after all that work, it seemed to have passed very quickly. I was completely soaked with sweat, but I was still feeling pretty good at this point.

The black belts and I stayed for about another hour. I had asked Ms. J.S. prior to class if she could show me some things about groundfighting, so that is what we focused on for about thirty minutes. After this, we all talked for a while longer before it was time for us to leave.

I really enjoyed getting to work out with Mr. R.S.'s class and I've already asked my instructor, Mr. G when we can go back. Hopefully it will be soon, I just need to get Mr. Mc and some of the other students to go with us. I didn't get much time working directly with the other students, so next time I hope that I can get a chance to work with them and spar them.

All in all, it was a great class. I think Mr. G or Mr. M made the comment on the way home that it felt so good to just be soaked through with sweat like we all were after class. Even though we were tired, sweaty, bruised, and some of us were starting to get sore (ie: my neck, most likely from grappling), I wouldn't have traded that workout for anything.

My Introduction to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Tonight in class we had a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu work out with us by invitation from one of our black belts. It's a rare thing when we have a guest in class, but when we do have one, I am always excited to be able to see other arts up close and personal, rather than just reading or watching a Youtube video about them. Our town is small and there are only a couple martial arts schools within a twenty minute drive that I am aware of. BJJ is not one that I was aware of.

Mr. M ran us through a quick warm up, then we pulled the mats out and got started. Our BJJ guest grabbed blue belt J.G. and began talking to us and demonstrating some options from the guard position. I don't remember half of the terms that he used, but I was fascinated by the guy's quickness and the fluidity in which he transitioned from position to position. I've watched a fair bit of MMA on tv, so I've seen grappling before, but there's just something about watching it in person when you're only two feet away.

The blue belts and above were told that they could participate. I hung back for a while and just watched the guys who were working on a triangle choke, but then Mr. G turned around and asked me when I was going to try. I decided "why not" and jumped in. Here's a video of a triangle choke.

All I've ever trained in is stand-up, so being on the ground was completely new territory for me. It was actually exciting, starting as a beginner in something completely new to me. I don't remember what the other technique we worked on was called, but I really liked the triangle choke.

The rest of the night, I watched the other students and the black belts work on some takedowns, and then Mr. G showed BJJ guy some Silat techniques and other techniques that we do. I wish our two hour class could have been stretched out for another hour at least. Our time went by way too fast. I wanted to work more on BJJ.

After class dismissed and we thanked our guest for coming, Mr. G talked to me about our upcoming visit to our sister school. Apparently, we're leaving either Saturday night or Sunday morning to go work out in Mr. R.S.'s four hour class. They work on grappling in their class, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to continue learning more groundfighting.

I'm so excited about working out for four hours in an adult class that only accepts students ages 16 and up that I almost can't sit still as I type this. I like all of the people in our class, but the adults are outnumbered by the kids. We have four or five who are ages 10-12, then a 13 year old, a 14 year old, an 18 year old, myself, and one guy in his 30's. Our class is pretty small, so having people my age or older to work with and partner with is something I'm looking forward to.

When Motivation Runs Low, Set Goals!

Over the past couple months, I’ve been having difficulty finding it within myself to practice. I always  go to class and enjoy training there, but lately when it’s just me at home, practicing by myself, I tend to put it off until “later” (usually later never happens) or I just run through a couple of forms or kicks for a few minutes and that’s it for the day’s practice.

Practicing something means lots of repetition and slowing things down to work on problem areas. Running through a few forms just to say I’ve “worked on them” is not practice. I know this, and it makes me feel guilty, but the past couple months I’ve had no drive to practice.

I’m not sure if it’s burnout, me crashing down from the high that I was on before and just after my red belt test, or just plain laziness.

All this is to say that I recently got tired of being so apathetic about my practice, so I talked to Mr. Mc on Thursday about what I needed to work on outside of class. He told me to continue working on basics because there’s a timing issue I’ve been having there. We also talked about my stamina. Stamina and conditioning is a crucial part of sparring, kicking, forms – really, it’s a crucial part of everything we do in Tae Kwon Do, but especially for the the black belt test. I need to really get serious about improving my stamina now so I can hold up during my test.

When he was talking to me about this, he told me that he would like to see me compete in kumite in an open tournament that’s coming up in September. Back in July of last year, I went to the tournament he was referring to and just observed. As a side note, our sister school competes in tournaments, but our class hasn't. Yet. Anyway, as I sat in the stands watching the sparring, I could barely sit still because I wanted to be out there on the floor sparring so much.

Ever since then, I’ve been planning on competing, but it’s been in the back of my mind until Mr. Mc brought it up on Thursday. I told him that I was planning on competing and he asked me in which divisions. I told him Point and Semi-Knockdown. He said that I only had three months to prepare, so I had better start doing a lot of shadow sparring, rounds with the heavy bags, and running/walking at home. Since I mentioned a desire to compete, they’re really going to focus on sparring me more and have me do other drills to help my sparring in class.

My point in talking about this tournament is that now that I have something to focus on and work toward, I feel motivated and excited about training and practicing. The months before my red belt test were spent training for that test, but I haven’t had a major goal since (other than my black belt test which is an undecided date somewhere down the road). All along, I think I needed a short term goal to work toward.

I've been practicing a lot more at home and I'm actually enthusiastic about it. I don't want to lose that enthusiasm, so I'll be setting more short term goals to keep my motivation up. Of course there's still a big goal that I'm working toward - that being my black belt - but I'm happy about focusing on this tournament that is coming up in September for the moment.

Jammed Fingers - Lesson Learned

Jammed fingers are the worst. I know that for a fact now.

Last Tuesday I sparred with some fingerless bag gloves so I could have more dexterity with my hands. I feel the most comfortable with using my hands in sparring and have relaxed my guard somewhat so that my hands are generally open and not in a fist when I'm guarding. When I strike and defend, I close my hands. I found the downside of this open hand guard very quickly. I reflexively reached down with my left hand to block a roundhouse kick, but did not close my hand all the way in time. A jolt of intense pain shot through my little finger and ring finger. Mr. M called break while I walked around shaking my hand out and trying to will the pain away. I had to have help taking my glove off because these gloves are very tight fitting and I could feel my fingers starting to swell. Mr. M and I looked at my fingers. My ring finger wasn't hurting much, but my pinky finger was more than making up for it. I was able to bend my fingers them and make a proper fist, so I decided to keep sparring -- but only after switching to my nice foam gloves.

I followed Mr. M's advice and iced my fingers when I got home. The next morning, both fingers were swollen and solid purple on the palm side. I continued to ice them for as long as I could stand it, then buddy taped the fingers together.

Today marks one week since I jammed them. The swelling and the bruising finally went away, but I'm still having to tape them at night and some during the day. I'm just now able to type well with my little finger. I hoped that there wouldn't be any issues with my ability to do Tae Kwon D tonight. I taped them up and they were fine -- even while doing break falls, shoulder rolls, and sparring. I was worried during sparring because I couldn't pull my fingers in all the way for a tight fist. I didn't want to go through that pain again right as they were starting to get better, so I protected that hand as much as I could.

I didn't realize until after I jammed them that I rely on my fingers for a lot of things. From playing guitar and making a proper fist to doing everyday activities like getting dressed, typing, and gripping things. I'm going to appreciate being able to do the minute things so much more once they heal.

What was the lesson learned through all of this? If you spar with open hands and/or fingerless gloves, be aware of the consequences. Duly noted.

"Punch with your right hand. . . no, the OTHER right hand!"

I've been assisting Mr. Mc with the kids' class for the past several weeks. Now I'm helping out on a regular basis because attendance has gone from something like 5-9 regulars to 15 this past week. We have a lot of new white belts who have only been to a handful of classes, so it has been a trying time keeping them in line and focused. The more instructors and advanced belts on the floor, the better.

We've been focusing on stances and it's been a trying time to get them all to move the correct arm or leg consistently. Whether it's "Punch with your right hand" or "Slide your left leg forward," there's almost always several who do the opposite.

I know that part of this problem is due the use of the mirror image. If I'm facing a student and I take a step to the left, they take a step to the right. It's frustrating when you're trying to teach them the correct way of doing things, but I know from personal experience that adults need time to get used to this concept and we still mess up sometimes. On Monday, I went to a Zumba class at my church. The instructor was facing us, and at least 80% of the class mixed up the directions. I thought this was funny as the majority of the women in class were adults. If adults have problems with this, then you can bet that the kids are having way more trouble. Some of this can't be helped. When we line up and bow in to start class, the instructors always face the students. Once class has started, I usually try to line up with the students and face the same way they are so they can watch me as I demonstrate the stances.

Mr. Mc did find a method that helped the kids remember which leg moves to go into a front stance. When he told them to move their right leg but they moved their left instead, he had them all grab a chair and hold their left leg up for several minutes until it became uncomfortable. Once they were allowed to put both feet on the ground, he called out the stance again. Surprise, surprise! Every student remembered which leg to move this time around. The next week he threatened to use the same torture-- I mean drill -- if they confused their left from right. Everyone reassured him that they would remember, and they did. Discomfort can be a good teacher, or at least, good motivation.

Tornadoes in the South

Yesterday, the South was hit by a barrage of tornadoes that swept through the area from early morning and stayed with us all day and much of the night. I was glued to the tv all day, watching these massive tornadoes develop right before my eyes and tear up city after city. I'm thankful that we were safe from the majority of the storms, but there was still wind damage nearby that brought down trees and branches.

Today, the sun is shining and the skies are a bright blue, but one only has to turn on the television to see the sheer destruction that the tornadoes left behind. The last time I checked, there are 269 people confirmed dead in several states, and rescue efforts are still going on. I have relatives and friends whose houses were in the path of the tornado.

Keep these families who were impacted in your thoughts and prayers.


Lately, sparring and I have been at odds with each other. I think the term "love-hate relationship" fits very well with my feelings on the subject at the moment. One week I'll have a very frustrating spar or spars where nothing seems to work, I turn into a human punching bag, and I can't turn off the dozens of analytical thoughts running through my brain that gets me into trouble. They go something like this,

"Okay, what's he doing? He's setting me up for something, but what? He's light on that front foot--"


"That hurt...I need to stop trying to figure out everything he's doing and just react. Okay. But now he's changed sparring styles and he's in a really narrow stance. I think he's baiting me... I need to stop facing him head on and try to cut an angle to get out of his kicking range where I'll only be beat half to death if I stay--"

*bam* *smack*

 "...Just like that."

*more sounds of student being pummeled by instructor*

Last Tuesday's class and also Thursday's class went like this. I know what I need to do, but I spend too much time thinking about it that my reaction time ends up being slow and nothing seems to work.

On the other hand, the next week's spar will be the complete opposite. Tuesday's class was a prime example of this. I sparred blue belt J.M. during his stripe test (which he did very well on and passed) and before the spar, I was told that I needed to control it or else I would be the one pummeled. The last time we sparred was during my red belt test and he definitely got the better of me. This time though, we bowed in, touched gloves, and everything went beautifully. I didn't think and didn't analyze. I went out there are reacted. I just sparred.

Afterward, my instructors asked me what changed from the last few times I sparred to this time. I wasn't exactly sure what to tell them. There wasn't a conscious thought that went through my mind of "Okay, I'm going to do _____." Maybe it was my attitude. I didn't feel intimidated or pressured. I really don't know what the difference was other than everything felt right.

The goal now is to replicate that rightness in my next spar. Hopefully tomorrow night I will get the chance to spar Mr. G and Mr. Mc. I'm going to request it specifically.

Watching the Video

Last Thursday when I arrived at class, Mr. Mc handed me two DVD copies of my red belt test that I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on ever since my test ended. I was excited and at the same time a bit nervous to watch it. I was excited to see the test from a different angle than first person but I was nervous because I am my worst critic and inevitably no matter how good it actually was, I knew that I would find all the mistakes and limited positive aspects. Mr. Mc had already warned me that I probably wouldn’t like it for that very reason.

Before I left on Thursday night, Mr. Mc mentioned to me that he had mostly just skimmed over the video as he was copying it to make sure that it played smoothly, but he had watched and rewatched “The Sidekick” that bowled me over when sparring Mr. R.S.. He commented that it was a beautiful kick. From being on the receiving end of that kick, I personally knew that it was.

That same night, I sat down with my family and a bag of popcorn to watch my movie. I’ve never been videoed during my previous tests and only for a few minutes at a time on a few occasions during class, so this was new. The audio was so-so because it had rained the majority of the time I tested, but the video was great. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the test in general. While I did wince at some of my flubs and the uncomfortable moments, I actually thought that I didn’t do half bad.

Since watching the video initially, I’ve rewatched and reviewed portions as a study tool. I saw many areas that need improvement, but that’s a given. There’s always room for improvement. Mr. Mc told me a few things to look for as I watched the video that he’s told me about in the past. Okay, scratch that. He told me to watch out for things that he's attempted to drill into my thick skull many, many times without much success. When I rewatched the video, I realized that it’s one thing to feel that something isn’t quite right or to be told that “You’re a little off in this,” but it’s a different thing entirely to actually see it from a third person perspective. I had several “Aha!” moments like this and I think that having the video as a reference is going to be a big help as I practice at home. I can definitely say now that videoing yourself doing techniques is an invaluable tool. It’s also very humbling when you realize that the picture in your head of how you move or execute a technique doesn’t match up with reality. “Wow. I move like that?!?” On the flip side, there are some good moments that exceed your expectations. I know I had a few where I wasn’t very comfortable with throwing a certain technique, but it looked fine on the video.

I wish that I could have had my other tests recorded like this one. Now though, I’m looking forward to being able to compare my red belt test video to another test in the future so I can see how far I’ve come.

My Red Belt Test part 2

Continued from my previous post....

My break was short lived. Mr. Mc called me back, looked at me, and asked why I didn't have my sparring gear on. Several of the black belts had their gear on, and all of the colored belts had been wearing their gear since the start of the test. I told him that he didn't tell me to put it on. The conversation went something like this: He said, "Do I need to tell you? Shouldn't you know what's next?" to which I replied, "Yes sir" to the first question. With a smile, I added "Well, you're the one who wrote up the test." (Ie: I had no idea of the order of the test). Everyone had a good laugh and Mr. G demanded to know where that attitude was during the rest of the test.

First up for sparring was yellow belt Mo.G. from the kids' class. Before we started, Mr. G asked me to identify the level of experience and what kind of spar it would be. I told him that she was a new yellow belt (no sparring experience) and that it would be a teaching spar. This spar lasted about a minute. I got into a low stance to compensate for the height difference and worked on getting her to move and throw techniques first, then combinations. I gave her some targets and showed her what she could throw at me.

The first spar went quickly, and before I knew it, I had a new opponent standing in front of me. Green belt w/ stripe A.G. Once again, Mr. G asked me the level of my opponent and what kind of spar this was. Green belt is still a teaching spar, but they have a greater range of techniques, use combinations, and just move more in general. After a minute or so spar with A.G, I sparred his green belt brother, M.G. Both of these spars were about the same. I told both boys that they should use their angles more and not stand directly in front of me, because I have greater reach, whereas they need to use their size and speed to get around me.

Blue belt J.M. was up next. Blue belts are notorious for being the most difficult belt rank to spar because of a combination of sheer power and a lack of good control, so I knew that I had to be on my toes (literally) for this spar. Plus, he being fourteen and as tall as I am, I did not have the benefit of having reach on him. From the get go he was very aggressive. More aggressive than he's ever been when sparring me. He's looking toward testing to brown in the future, so I'm sure that wanting to do well in front of the black belts was a contributing factor. I was already pretty tired, and having to deal with an aggressive, fresh blue belt was difficult.

Things got really interesting when Mr. R.S. stepped in to spar me. Mr. G warned me that he is super fast, kicks like a mule, and not to stand still because I would get hit. I've only sparred Mr. R.S. once, and that was in class shortly after I earned my brown belt. This spar was much more intense then the first one. I admit that I was mostly standoffish for the first couple minutes especially and I was too flatfooted. I tried to analyze and figure things out mid-spar, which is a definite no-no. I thought too much when I should have been concentrating on attacking and defending. About thirty seconds to a minute into our spar, he threw a roundhouse kick followed immediately by a side kick. I wasn't hit by the roundhouse, but I was not expecting the side kick to come that fast. It caught me while I was standing straight on and connected solidly with my midsection, lifting me off my feet and throwing me to the ground. Oh, that hurt! Plus, it knocked at least half the air out of my lungs and I had to kneel on the ground for about a minute or so. I wish I had a picture of it, but it's only on video. One of the dad's of the students took a video with his phone and showed it to me on Thursday. I've gotta say that it was a beautiful shot. Pain and having the breath knocked out of me aside, I got back up and continued that spar that lasted about two more minutes.

Immediately following the spar with Mr. R.S., Mr. M had Mr. J.S. come spar me. I don't think this one was planned beforehand, because Mr. G asked Mr. M what he was doing. Mr. M said that this was a puzzle I had to figure out. At this point, Mr. J.S. got into a very straight on, deep, power stance that we just don't practice in class. I was told later that it was a Shotokan fighting stance. Curious as to what he was doing and what I was supposed to be figuring out, I began trying some things. I threw a hard roundhouse kick to the back of his knee, and while it turned him a little, he just took it. As I moved, trying to get an angle, he just moved with me so that he was always facing me. He did not initiate much, but he did get in a good backfist(?) to my head...or maybe it was a kick...or both. I'm not really sure. I did take one technique that immediately left me with a headache. Great, more pain! Anyway, I finally did get inside and he covered up, so I just started wailing on him with hand techniques.

Then, the dreaded 2 on 1 spar was upon me. I've been told that the 2 on 1 spars are usually two brown belts, but as I am the only brown belt in class and the next highest ranked are blue belts, my instructors decided to go the other route and have two black belts spar me, Mrs. C and Ms S. The goal of the 2 on 1? Survive. Plain and simple. Takedowns, knockouts, and grabbing one person and throwing them into the second person are perfectly legal. I've had very limited experience with 2 on 1, so this was an interesting spar. My main strategy was to concentrate on getting one person out of the way and so I only have to spar one of them. That did not happen, but I did employ strategy #2, which was, in simple terms, choosing one person to be "Monkey in the Middle" (like the game) so that the middle person is in between you and person #2. The spar was mainly me running around the room while the rest of the black belts took places around said room to keep us from getting too close to the walls and tripping over the students sitting over the back. That's why in the picture below, it appears as though I could be up against four people. Thankfully for me I wasn't. I have to say that during the 2on1, I really wanted to have a chance to spar Ms. S 1 on 1. She was in my face most of the spar, and I wanted to see how I would fare against her. Later, I found out that my instructors were planning on this spar, but time was running short so it did not happen.

After this spar ended, Mr. G pulled my red belt out of his gear bag. I immediately remembered what he had told me previously about this. He said that he would have my red belt somewhere behind him, and I would literally have to go through him to get it. I knew that this was coming. I believe at this point, I asked for water, because I knew that sparring Mr. G was going to be...interesting to say the least. I wasn't thirsty as much as every time I took a breath, a sharp pain in my side accompanied it. Mr. O said no to my request, but Mr. G said yes.

I drank some water and tried to breath normally once more, then I headed to the center of the room where Mr. G was waiting for me with my red belt folded up on the floor behind him. He reminded me of what he had told me earlier, and said that if I could touch the belt, whether it be with my hand or my toe, then I could have it. I took a deep breath to steel myself, and we started. Mr. G kept a very narrow stance, almost standing straight up. Getting in close and striking fast with our hands is one of our favorite things to do, so after a minute or so of me staying out in kicking range, he let me close the gap. I got close to my belt, but he wouldn't let me get past him. Mr. G almost bent over, and I'm still trying to get past him. Finally, I hear calls of "Knees! Knees!" from the black belts and I realize what he's in position for. I grabbed his gi at the shoulders and drove two knees up into his abdomen. Now I'm hearing more calls from everyone to touch my belt, so I reach out and step on it, then pick it up.

I returned to the center of the room, my red belt held tightly in my hand. Mr. G approached me and reached out for the belt. I reluctantly handed it to him, and he told me to take off my brown belt. I started to fold it neatly, but Mr. G said that I wouldn't be needing it any longer, so I tossed it to one side. He presented me with my red belt and I turned around to tie it.

If tying a belt after two hours of a tortoruous test while still wearing sparring gear and trying to keep my hands from shaking doesn't sound hard, I'll be the first to tell you that it is!

After I turned around, Mr. G let me go get some water, and when I returned, the black belts were all in a "black belt huddle" at the front. Even though I was wearing the belt, that huddle still made me nervous. When they came out of the huddle, Mr. G told me to fall off to the side, and as I did so, he told me that they had changed their minds and were going to take the belt back. I knew it was a joke, but at the same time, I was imagining what was going to happen to the person who tried to take back my belt. He told me he was just kidding. Just as a side note, humor like that when the test is not over and decided with, is not at all appreciated by the testee.

The black belts all lined up and they called white belt M.C. up. They awarded her a 9th kyu yellow belt, and she went back to sit down. I was called back up, and Mr. G proceeded to tell me that there was no reason to tell me the results as I was wearing my rank. All of the black belts then made their comments about the test overall and about me in order of rank, starting with Mr. G.

All of the class was then told to line up, and we dismissed. The students were told to congratulate me in the traditional way. That is, shake hands with the person who tested and wipe your dirty, nasty feet on their gi. As if I wasn't already dirty and sweaty enough.

That is a brief (haha) summary of my test. It was by far one of the hardest things that I've ever done. It's also one of the top things I've done that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I don't believe that I can find where my comfort zone used to be.

I came out of that test soaked with sweat. I think it was Mrs. C who hugged me and then said, "You're wet!" My t-shirt and gi were soaked all the way through. Both found their way into the washing machine as soon as I got home.

But in the end, I earned my 1st kyu red belt. That is an awesome feeling. It was a test that I'll remember the rest of my life. It also helps that the entire thing was filmed, so that will help. I can't wait to watch it. At this point I'm waiting on Mr. Mc to put it onto a dvd for me.

My injuries from said test were minimal, which is good. I have around half a dozen bruised on my forearms. One is the size of a baseball and is still black and purple. That one swelled up until I took an Advil for the inflamation. My cheeks are bruised to the touch and the corner of my forehead is also bruised from Mr. R.S. punching me when I wasn't fast enough on my self defense. I have a few small cuts on my arms and an abrasion on my foot from who knows what. Half of my index purple turned black and red around the joint and swelled up a little. I have no idea what happened there. I can only guess that it happened during my improvisation during my combat speed self defense. As far as soreness goes, I ached all over for a good three days. The worst were my arms from my wrists up to my shoulders. 

Overall, I'm very pleased with the test. I have several areas that need work and in the coming weeks, I'm sure that we'll tackle them both inside and outside of class. I'm also looking forward to taking a trip down to our sister school for a workout in the coming months. Also, I've been told that a requirement for black belt is to compete in two tournaments or visit two different styles of martial arts. I'm hoping to be able to do both. Starting now, I have lots of practice to do, tournaments to prepare for (later), and a lot of hard work to put into each and every class.

Now that the test is over, I can't help but think of what's next. I don't think that the black belts gave me even five minutes to focus on my red belt before they began mentioning the next rank. Black belt. There are no set time limits between red and black which is scary to think of. I just earned my red, so I don't really want to be thinking of black next, but it is in the back of my mind. I'm not eager to test for that anytime soon though. I'm going to enjoy being a red belt for a while.

My Red Belt Test part 1

The week leading up to my red belt test was one of the longest weeks I’ve experienced in a long time. Last minute practicing and spending nearly a week working out at the gym helped speed things along and little and helped me deal with pre-test jitters, but the final couple days were excruciatingly slow.

I arrived at class on a rainy and gloomy Tuesday night. I asked white belt M.C., the ten y/o girl from my church who I’ve been taking to class why it had to be so stormy on the night of our tests (she had been told that she might test for yellow). We were both fighting against nervousness as  we walked in and started getting ready for our classes.

Mr. Mc arrived a few minutes later, bringing in a video camera, tripod, and extension cord which made the reality that “I am testing tonight” all the more official.

As I began stretching, I noticed Mr. G and Mr. R.S. walk in and head down the hall to change. I told M.C that Mr. R.S. was the head instructor at our sister school the next state over, and she asked me who the other two were. I paused, not having seen them, but realized the next second that it must be Mr. R.S.’s black belts, Mr. J.S. and Ms S. That put the black belts present up to five. I mentioned in my last post that there were going to be a minimum of five. As my heart sped up, all I could think about was, “That’s five and counting.”

Mr. G and Mr. Mc took me out of the main room to talk to me about the test. The main points they discussed with me was my confidence. Mr. G asked me who showed up tonight – Ariel or Ms ___? I told him Ms ___. They left me by myself after telling me that each black belt was going to come and talk to me.

Mr. R.S. came to talk to me next, then Mr. O, and finally Mrs. C. Mr. J.S. and Ms. S were busy teaching the kids’ class.

I was brought back into the dojang and told to take over teaching the seven kids. Before I stepped in to teach, I had been feeling the effects of nervousness. My face was burning, my insides churning, and my heart pounding like I had been out running. But as soon as I took over the kids class, I felt calm. My confidence shot way up from where it had been moments before. I was in my comfort zone. I think that last thirty minutes where I worked with those kids was the best thirty minutes I could have spent before my test started.

The kids’ class lined up and dismissed as I headed back to drink some Gatorade before the adult class lined up. Mr. Mc told the kids about my test and invited them to stay if they wanted.

Finally, “Line up!” was called for the adult class. There were nine of us. . . and eight black belts present (Mr. S, the ninth black belt arrived shortly after my test began). That’s one long, intimidating line facing the one student who they would be watching. The black belts introduced themselves, who their immediate instructor was, and how long they’ve been involved in the martial arts. After we bowed in, all of the students except for myself were asked to take a seat in the back. I was called to the center, and the test began.

Mr. Mc was the officiator of the test, and he had the itinerary. Different black belts were asked to lead various portions of the test. First up was the first form we learn, Basic Blocks and Punches, led by Ms S. I was asked to repeat it since the power and intensity that they were wanting wasn’t there. This time around, I was asked to kiai on each technique instead of after every third technique. Having to repeat the very first thing I was asked to do wasn’t at all how I wanted to start off the test, but I didn’t let that get to me. I dug deep to bring out that intensity and power, and then moved on to the next item.

I was then asked to do my three basic forms and the first advanced form in a different order than we normally do. After completing 1st advanced, Mr. J.S. asked me how well I did that form. I told him that it could have been better. When he asked why, I answered that I wasn’t putting enough into it. He asked if I could do it better if I did it once more. Confidently, I said “Yes sir!” The black belts noted a marked improvement from the first time, though they stressed that they this was the second time they’ve had to ask for more, and they did not want to ask again. I needed to fix that.

Ms. S then asked me a question about the differences I saw, being a female in a male dominated class in Tae Kwon Do. This was followed up with two more questions having to do with “what would you do?” when teaching a male student who tells you that the technique you are teaching will not work on him. The key word? Try it out on him and see what he has to say then, and also, adapt. Find something that will work.

I believe at this point, Mr. R.S. took over. He had me get into a fighting stance. From there, he gave me different hand techniques to do. Back fist was the first, then ridgehand with the lead hand. I did a few of those, then a question popped up. “Where would the ridgehand stop?” Oh no. I really did not have a definite answer in my mind, but after further prodding and Mr. O stepping in to give me a target, I finally found the answer they were looking for.

Mr. R.S. had me switch to a ridgehand with the back hand. I was more comfortable with this one because I could rotate on the ball of my back foot and get my hips into it. I did a few of these, then Mr. R.S. had Mr. J.S. stand in front of me to be my target. Mr. G told me that if I could knock him down with my ridgehand, then they would go ahead and give me my red belt. I tried so hard to knock him down, but alas! It did not happen. . . this time.

Next, the mats were pulled up, and blue belt J.G. was called up to be my partner for 1-step sparring. I have not practiced these with a partner in some time. On #4, the takedown, I could tell that J.G. was helping me with the throw – going down fairly easily instead of me being the one who threw him. Mr. G asked him about this, and he hesitantly agreed that this was the case. Mr. G told him not to help me out at all. I tried to do the takedown again and pop his knee, but it was a no go. I tried several times with the same results. Finally though, I did make him go down.

Following the 1-steps was my 8 self defense techniques with Mr. R.S. This was, in my opinion, the hardest single section of my test. The majority of my techniques were not effective in this situation or I was ripped apart because of a too high level of response to the situation, etc. I was told to improvise and adapt when things didn’t work, but my ability to do so was not that good. Improvisation is something I really need to work on. Lots of questions were also asked, and I was about at the end of my rope with frustration and feeling overwhelmed.

Thankfully, we moved on to advanced forms 2-5 which I felt went much more smoothly.

Mr. J.S. came up to my right said and said that he was going to do some kicking combinations. He was not going to tell me what they were or repeat them, so I had to watch and copy him as best as I could. This had to be the most stressful “Follow the Leader” game that I’ve ever played. In no way did he do the kicks slowly, plus, at the end, he told me that he had purposely turned in a way that made the kicks hard for me to see. I believe he wanted to see if I would say, “Mr. J.S., I’m having a hard time seeing your kicks. Will you move to my other side?” Darn it. I might have possibly said something if this was in class rather than a testing situation. As it was, I just tried to copy him as best as I could.

At this point, I was given a brief break to get some water, and during that time, white belt M.C. tested for her yellow belt. As she did her Basic Blocks and Punches, Mrs. C and Ms. S came over to encourage me and give me some advice.

To be continued...