Sunday, February 27, 2005

Awesome class

I wasn't expecting a great class Saturday. Things started out a bit awkwardly. I couldn't get my belt tied right. This new belt, my yellow one, is wider than my white one. It's thick and spongy and too long. I was standing there in the changing room trying to wrestle it around my waist so it didn't pooch out in front, or stack up funny in back, or have uneven tails.

A black belt was just leaving, so I asked her if she'd help. "Oh, sure," she said. "Tying my belt was one of the hardest things for me--even harder than the test." She gave me a quick lesson and I was off.

Out in the dojang, I greeted my classmates, Pam and Jim, Brian and the other Brian. We had a bit of small talk and I thought about that article I read in the local paper about how we all need a place that's "not home and not work"--a place to hang out, relax, meet people. Maybe that's one role that the dojang fills for me.

Master Hughes was the teacher that day, which made me happy. He is a good teacher--encouraging and energetic. He strolls through the ranks of sweaty students, gently correcting and demonstrating. I like his mix of activities, too.

This Saturday was no different. We worked on simple kicks: side kicks, roundhouse kicks, and reverse kicks, three basics. I got some one-on-one help on my side kick. "It's like punching with your feet," said Mr. Hughes. "Here, kick and I'll grab your foot."

I remember Donna at Donna's dance saying how she always really liked it when her ballet instructors corrected her. I wasn't sure what she meant then, but now I think I feel the same way. It's not just that I like the attention. It's something about getting someone to actually position your body the right way--nothing like that for getting it right. Suddenly I FELT the difference in the way he was explaining it, and I could do it right. I love when that happens.

I also had to spar that day. I was NOT looking forward to that.

OK. So you're wondering why I'm taking martial arts if I don't like to spar. Martial arts moves are all practice for fighting, aren't they? Well, I suppose they are, but the way it's taught at our dojang, forms and basic moves seem to be valued for themselves--their beauty--as much as for the way they prepare you to fight. And that's certainly the way I see them.

So I go up to Master Hughes and say, with a bow, "Sir I don't have any sparring gear." "Oh, we can get you some," he says, leading me to a cabinet. "You know, I don't HAVE to spar,"I pipe up, trotting after him. "I could just sit and watch . . . " but by that time he is strapping red sparring mits on my hands. "Here, you go work out with Ms. Pryor."

So I sparred. It wasn't too bad. Ms. Pryor is awesome at it, fast and bold. I can see how someone might come to like sparring, but I'm not there yet. That's OK. Sparring was really only about 1/5 of the class, maybe 1/5 of Tae Kwon Do at our school.

Later, Ms. Pryor also helped me with my new yellow belt form, Dan Gun. She continued to help me with what Mr. Houtz was showing me: giving "snap" to my form. "Grab the power, then punch," she told me, showing me how to use the torque of my body to add power to my moves. Cool.

At the end, we lined up to do flying side kicks. I was not thrilled. I just feel like the world's klutziest wimp when it comes to those things. "You're stuttering," calls Ms. Pryor after my first super-wimpy attempt to fly into that pad. "This time I just want you to run. Run and just run into the pad." Huh? I try it. The running is fun.

"OK. This time jump, but don't stutter. Run full out and jump."

I wimp my way down and can't do it. The pad holder, Ms. Pryor's tall son, stops me from heading back. "You're jumping too late," he says. "Where should I jump?" I ask. He walks past me and toes the floor. "Jump from there."

He sends me back to do it again. I stand in position. I ki-yap and run. At the mark he pointed out, I jump--and hit the pad just right! "Oh my gosh, I did it!" And from there on, I do it, flying through the air into that pad, just like I'm supposed to. "Good jump, Jane." Ms. Pryor says over and over.

I guess what I liked about that class was that I wasn't thinking about where I was going next with Tae Kwon Do. I wasn't thinking about whether I would remain interested in this long enough to progress. I was just learning. I was being in the moment, something I love about Tae Kwon Do. You can't worry about the next day when there's someone facing you wearing sparring mitts, or a partner kicking roundhouse kicks at you.

The belt system does not seem to motivate me like it does the boys. I just do not really care about whether I get to be a black belt or not. When I think about that, I lose interest. But when I think about classes like Saturday's, I think I might be doing this for a while.


Anonymous said...

Do not lose your heart, Jane! Two months is not much for learning any art.

Anonymous said...

So much of what you've written rings true!

You mentioned that the dojang fills a place that's not home and not work. Through the years, you may find that there is a core of people who attend the same classes as you. These people start out as your classmates and become your friends. They see you when your hair is matted and dripping with sweat. They encourage you when you're learning a new technique, and yes, they'll chide you (good-naturedly) when they know you're dogging it. Somedays, your only motivation to go to class will be because you know that these people are expecting you to be there.

I am one of the very few women in my school who have made it to black belt. Countless others have dropped out . . . TKD, I assume like ballet, requires regular practice and commitment - so it's not easy. But, it's not the attainment of the black belt that is the motivating factor. It's the sense of self-satisfaction that you can do this martial art. It's empowering to break a board, isn't it?
Kicker Chick

Emma said...

I just found your blog after searching TKD online.
I am a yellow belt, but I haven't practiced in almost 2 years... Moving and so forth.
I was looking for classes in my area. And this was the blog that showed up in the list.

I cant wait to get back into it, even if I start over at white... because I'm pretty sure I would fail the test if I had to do my forms again.

I just wanted to let you know that your blog was great to read. I remember doing just like you, the stuttering and the excitment of getting it right.