Monday, January 31, 2005


Today I went for a swim at the Y before work and I thought about how long I've been swimming laps for fitness. I think I began back when I was in grad school at IU. I'd go to the pool with Diane because it was hot and we did not have air conditioning. I'd swim a couple laps, then climb out and sit with Diane. She hated the water. I think I ONCE convinced her to get in.

Since then lap-swimming has been kind of a constant in my life. About twice a week, I swim laps. I swam when I was pregnant, right up to a few days before each was born. I'm sure I looked very odd--hugely pregnant in a swimsuit, swimcap and goggles. I figure people would get out of my way if the lanes were busy ("watch out! she's going to give birth right NOW!")

There are some annoying things about swimming: getting wet, especially on colds days. The smell of chlorine. Those rings around your eyes you get from goggles. Crispy hair (though I now have a good anti-chlorine shampoo). Swimsuits. If I thought about it too much, most times I wouldn't go at all.

Still, this is what I like about swimming: It doesn't involve hand-eye coordination or being on a team. You can fit it into your schedule when it works for you. It really tones the upper body (important for those of us with wimpy arms). It's way more fun than, say, running. It only takes about 15 minutes of actual exercise twice a week, and you feel fit. Or I do; maybe I'm not picky. And it feels good--to stretch, to use my muscles against the resistance of the water, to get my heart beating.

Today I saw a very overweight--obese--woman at the pool. She wasn't doing much, but there she was, in the water. I suddenly thought that I really hoped that she would keep coming. Being in the pool might make her feel lighter, as I remember from being pregnant. That cool resistance of water might be more fun and comfortable than other exercise. I hope it feels good for her to swim. I hope I will see her again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Getting out the door

It's Tuesday afternoon, and I'm really sure that this time we won't be late for Tae Kwon Do. I'm getting the gym bags ready, getting the drinks ready.

"Come on guys. Time to go to Tae Kwon Do!" I'm feeling optimistic; it's 10 minutes before the time we usually leave.

The guys amble down the stairs and swarm around in the dining room, chattering and laughing.

"Shoes, Robbie. Jacket, please. Eli, where are your shoes?"

Eli digs his shoes out of his backpack (it's boots weather here in Iowa). He puts them on and gets his jacket, heading out the door without his bag.

"Eli!" I hand the bag to him through the open door and turn to Robbie.

"Robbie! Shoes, buddy!" Robbie drops the Lego creation he's been fiddling with and sits down on the floor to pull on his shoes.



"This pod is really fast." He picks up the Lego creation again. "It's an escape pod and it can get away-"

"Sweetie, let's talk about that when we get back. We need to leave for Tae Kwon Do now. Do you have your bags?"

Robbie lets out an angry sigh and dashes the Lego creation to the ground. Luckily it holds together. He gets his jacket and stomps out the door. I grab his bag and mine.

Once outside, I don' t see the guys. Oh, there they are, playing on the snow heaps in the front yard.

"Guys, time to go," I announce, getting into the car. They look blankly at me and only get in once I've started the engine. I look at the clock. 4:24. Exactly one minute earlier than our usual departure time. I sigh and shake my head.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The boys redeem themselves

Another small class today, smaller than Tuesday's. I remind the boys that they need to be on their best behavior, and they are.

I always begin my workout with a nice easy sun salutation stretch, from yoga. Carol used it in ballet, and I've gotten used to it. This time, Patrick and Mr. Houtz join me, but Robbie and Eli do not. I point out that it's a good stretch for cold muscles and gently (I hope) bring up the fact that I don't like heavy-duty stretching before warming up . . .

I don't want to be bossy, but I do want to protect my body. I'm not sure how one diplomatically and humbly disagrees with practices in something like martial arts. Maybe I'm just too opinionated. OK, I am.

Anyway, our class goes very smoothly. Mr. Houtz lets each person lead a bit of the warm up portion. Everyone does well; Eli does surprisingly well. His self-confidence is good today.

Of course, everyone wants to break boards; it was promised last time. I have my camera so I can catch Robbie and Eli. I'm not sure I was successful, but it was fun to watch Robbie break on his first try and Eli break with the assistance of Tim Conlon, Patrick's dad. "Santa helped me break," Eli tells Bruce at supper.

While the children play one last game of tag, Mr. Houtz and I practice three-step sparring, something I'd wanted to practice again. It's highly stylized, yet cruel. A choreographed punch to the stomach. A grab of the neck, pull down and knee to solar plexus. Back of the fist to face. It seems crazy to learn this.

We all leave happy. I'm especially happy that the boys have redeemed themselves with good behavior. I want everyone to know they are good boys, and, OK, I want to be reassured that I'm raising them right.

Scary kicks

Bigger crowd at Ninja Kids today, but the children are all squirrelly. They horse around with each other, pushing and wrestling, ambling into formation. They chatter incessantly, and interrupt the teacher. They fiddle with the weight machines when we're not lined up. They talk and laugh and screw around when they're supposed to be working out with each other.

I'm embarassed about mine, and reprimand them a couple of times. I'd like to stop the nonsense, sit all of them down and have a little chat with them, maybe give them three guidelines (say "yes sir," run to your spots, no back talk, maybe) but it's not my class. I have a feeling that the teacher will say something next time. I hope so.

When we're split up to work on combination kicking, things go better, maybe because I have to concentrate so hard I don't notice the misbehaving kids. I try to remember the kicks various people have taught me; I hope that it starts to come more naturally soon. Patrick tells me I'm "scary." This seems encouraging. "What makes me scary?" I ask. "No one's ever said I'm scary before." "Your kicks," says Patrick. "I think he means that your high kicks are intimidating," says the teacher. Hey, I like being scary.

We end with flying side kicks; I seem to have a flying-side-kick mental block. I can't quite get it right, I think because I can't imagine the ballet counterpart. When do you leap from one foot forward onto the same foot with the other foot extended?

Monday, January 17, 2005


I'm back from being out of town and I've been thinking about Saturday's class.

1. I don't like stretching when I'm not warmed up. I don't like the feel of it, and I have read several articles that say you're not supposed to stretch on cold muscles. In ballet, we don't stretch until we've broken a sweat, after barre. But what can a person do if that's what the instructor says?
2. I thought the across the floor moves (grapevine step, step side kick, kicking a partner who held one of those huge pads) were fun! And hopping on one foot, trying to knock down your partner was fun AND funny! But why wasn't anyone laughing, or even smiling? Maybe I just missed it.
3. I saw a mom I know, Jane Fisher.
4. We broke boards again. What a rush. Robbie broke his on his first try (reverse kick).

I enjoy classes. Are you allowed to be joyful during a class like this? Or just serious?

Friday, January 14, 2005


Yesterday after ballet, I was talking to Suki about the class. "It's fun and a good workout and I wish we had two classes a week."

"Well," said Suki. "You know, the studio's not being used on Tuesday morning. Maybe we should see if there's any interest in a Tuesday morning class."

"I'm interested!" I said.

So am I crazy? That would mean I'm taking ballet 2x a week, Tae Kwon Do up to 3x a week. And I try to swim at least 1x a week. I don' t know if this is a bit excessive.

Sometimes I think I have a slightly obsessive tendency when it comes to these sorts of activities--fitness, I guess you'd call them. What's that all about?

My friend Kerrie, who just turned 40, also said that she's recently gotten into fitness big-time. She loves biking and has done a class on the RAGBRAI. She owns a weight machine.

Is this a 40-something thing? Are we warding off the inevitable decline? (You know, I don't think I would have thought of aging as so much of a decline before my parents got sick.) Or do we just have more energy at 40 than we did before? Or is it something else?

I like being 40. I think the idea of ballet 2x a week and Tae Kwon do 3x a week is cool. Am I crazy?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Break Test

I broke a board today. A wooden board. Made out of wood. One-by-twelve board. I broke it with my foot. Step side kick. In one try.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005


. Robbie really likes the teacher of the Ninja Kids class, Joe Houtz. I think it's because he treats Robbie as an equal, doesn't talk down to him. I like him, too.

Mr. Houtz (teachers all seem to be Mr. or Ms. here) is maybe a bit older than I am, tall and slender with a goatee, wire-rimmed glasses, and an earring--good anti-establishment signs in this somewhat miltaristic art. Plus that thing about taking dance . . . this is all good, I think.

He teaches with passion and patience. I read once a description of patience that it is not just "waiting around." Patience comes from having faith in an outcome that isn't yet visible. That's what I see in Mr. Houtz: he has faith that we will learn.

He helped me work on combination kicking today--an enjoyable lesson because of his easy-going manner and clear way of explaining things. He will also show me moves more than once so I can see and try it out for myself. It still seems odd and counterintuitive that I am learning hand-to-hand combat, for heaven's sake, but Mr. Houtz doesn't seem to think it's odd. So, OK. I'll keep trying.

This shall be a lesson unto me when I teach my own students.

Small class

Finally, a Ninja Kids class that is not cancelled due to bad weather! But today there are just 4 people there: Patrick and three Nesmiths. Eli is in a surprisingly good mood. For the first time in weeks, he didn't say "But I don't WANT to go to Tae Kwon Do! I'm not going." He bounces into the gym and skips from end to end.

I'm not feeling very focused today. Maybe it's the small class--there is something to be said about critical mass of students. My legs and arms feel like noodles, which is particularly evident to me when I practice the one form I know, Chun Jee. I make mistakes, too. Maybe it's the low barometer. Maybe the time of month.

We take a break in the middle of class, and the boys all go over to the row of hulking weight-training machines along the wall. There must be 10 or 12 machines, all standing in front of the mirrors. My boys try out various machines. Eli sits on top of one, Robbie tries to work one ofone with pullies and one with levers. I point at the mirrors.

"Hey," I say to Mr. Houtz, the teacher. "Did you know this used to be a ballet studio?"

"Yeah, it was run by Gil McNaughton," he replies. "Actually, I took some dance classes when it was a studio. "

"You're a dancer?! I didn't know that!" This seems like a good thing.

When we go back to the class, Robbie and Patrick put on their sparring gear and go to it. It's Robbie's first time with the gear. Eli fiddles around; he's lost interest. Mr. Houtz and I work on combination kicking, a precursor to sparring. He shows me some different combinations.

"Step forward and fake the punch, then do your roundhouse. You'll catch them off guard." He makes it look easy. I don't like the stepping forward bit. I feel too vulnerable, not aggressive enough. It's all counterintuitive, I joke to him, showing him what feels more natural (turn around and walk away). But I try it again anyway. I try to think of it as a dance move.

Suddenly we realize that Patrick and Robbie have been sparring for some time. They kick and punch, dodge and turn, moving around the gym. Patrick, who's a high blue belt, clearly has the upper hand, but everyone cheers Robbie on. He's concentrating hard and gets in a few kicks. wHen they stop, he practically falls to the ground with exhaustion. "I don't like sparring," he says. I think he's just tired, but also wonder what you need to be good at it--sparring and Taekowndo. Aggressiveness? Self-confidence? Just some good moves?

Like Boxing

. It was Robbie's 10th birthday Sunday. I can hardly believe I've been a Mom for 10 years. How did that happen? We had a great 10-year-old birthday party at Planet X where there were video games, laser tag, bumper cars, and pizza. Everything that boys like: shooting, smashing into one another, and eating.

I got Robbie his sparring gear for his birthday: foam mitts and shin/instep protectors. He put them on Sunday night and wanted to try them out--on the walls, the couch, on me . . . something about punching and kicking that really appeals to him. And of course, the yelling. He tried doing roundhouse kicks, and when he ki-yapped first, he could do it with an amazing amount of power.

I showed him how to put his arms up by his face to block punches when sparring. Master Hughes had showed me and Stacie, another Mom, how to do that on Saturday. "Tae Kwon Do is like kickboxing, so you have to do some boxing moves."

Boxing? What am I getting into?

When I think of boxing, I think of brutal yet cunning violence. Is that what I want to be in?

Of course, in TKD, the phrase is "light to no contact." Still, that's what we're imitating. I'm not sure it appeals to me in the same way it does to my high-energy son. Still, I'm doing it, so I'll have to learn some boxing moves.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


So what is this thing with martial arts and uniforms?

That was the first thing they did when I got there on Saturday--get me a uniform. It's white with Hughes Institute of Tae Kwon Do on the back. Ms. Pryor helped me tied it up and checked to see it fit right (I'm a size 3, apparently). I felt like I was wearing white cardboard. But when I looked in the mirror, I looked kind of cool. Reminded me of when I first put on the kilt/doublet in college. I thought I'd look silly, but I did look kind of cool in it.

In the dojang itself, everyone was wearing at least some of a uniform. Most people had on the whole outfit, kimono-style jacket; stiff, wide, white pants; belt of some color. My belt's white, of course, color of the beginner. Some had different color uniforms; some were wearing t-shirts instead of the jacket--that would be my preference. It added a bit of individual style to the room. I guess there are some advantages to us all wearing the same thing: don't have to think about what to wear. Don't have to have several outfits. Everyone looks equal. However, doesn' it seem like it might be nice to add a bit of a twist to what you wear? Like the way I have a bunch of colorful, tight-fitting t-shirts to wear over my leotards?

Here's another thing about the uniform: it made me stand and move in a certain way. I was used to doing little ballet moves between doing tae kwon do stuff when I worked out with the kids in my running pants. But you can't do any ballet moves in stiff white jammies! They made me stand with my arms stiffly at my side . . . kind of forced me into a Chum Bee stance. Maybe that's the intent, too: equlity and the right stance.

Maybe other unforms do the same thing. I know the tight lycra of my leotards certainly helps me pull up and stand straight! Like . . . what do they call girdles now? Foundation garment?

Master Hughes said at one point "We bow in Tae Kwon Do--kind of like in the military when we salute." I'm not sure I like that comparison. I'm not sure I want to be in something that's "like the military" . . . but it is MARTIAL arts . . . I think I have to get used to that.

OK. So here's the question. Should I get one of those t-shirts that says Tae Kwon Do Mom or maybe this one that says "TKD Mom"?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

First day as a real student

I arrive at the Saturday "all belts" class just as the Ninja kids class is ending. I feel momentarily lost without my kids. Having kids gives you something to do while waiting so you're not standing around looking lost. . . but why am I standing around? I bow and enter the dojang and do what I usually do when I got to ballet class: stretch a bit, look around.

When I see Ms. Pryor, one of the black-belt instructors, I go up and introduce myself. "I'm Jane Nesmith. I've been bringing my kids here for a while, and now I've decided to be a student, too." She's thrilled, and takes me off to get a uniform.

Once suited up, I enter again, and begin class, at the back of the room with another white belt and an older man with no belt. Warm up is easy, kicks, stretches. However, I think I'd like some plies and tendus before we go to the grande battements. "Jane and Brian, don't push yourselves too much," calls Master Hughes.

Master Hughes takes us aside while the rest of the class goes through basic movements: kicks, blocks, punches. We get a step-by-step explanation of the "attention" (chum bee) stance and some basic information about kicks. As I flail my legs out , they eventually seem to swing into arcs that look about right, though more graceful (ballet) than powerful. We're on one foot a lot as we kick in slow motion; I'm glad I'm having a good balance day.

We lie on the floor to practice the position for side kicks with another black belt, whose name I forget. "You strike out with this part of your foot," he says, pointing to the three inches in front of his heel, along the outside. "It's like a knife edge. You can get through a stack of boards if you hit it right." Oh yeah. That board breaking thing. I try not to think about it.

Later, as we practice our roundhouse kicks against one of those little clapper things (great sound it makes when kicked! Thwap!), someone compliments me as I finish. "Great kick!" "Awesome for your first class." I'm pleased but it's a bit embarassing. I tell a couple people it's not really my first class.

There are all kinds of people in the class. There are children--Robbie's friend Cambridge is a black belt. Little girls, with pigtails. Teens--one black belt boy showed me a "good lower level kick" while sparring. Impressive for someone young to be teaching.

Some people seem to be into the martial part and the army-like part, yelling out their "yes, sirs." Master Hughes commands respect, but his smile and sense of humor make him approachable. He knows everyone's name. He tousels kids' hair. He shakes hands with us.

It's a long class--about an hour and a half, like ballet. I'm tired afterward, in a good way.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Cancelled again!

I can't believe how disappointed I was that Tae Kwon Do was cancelled! It's partially because I want to start this blog in earnest, but it's also because when I can't work out--whether it's ballet (also cancelled today) a swim, or whatever--when I can't do it, I'm cranky. It's not that I'll lose that much fitness (or will I? I can tell when I haven't had a good workout in a while), it's that I miss the exertion.

So instead we went outside to sled down our front yard hill. It's probably only about 50 feet long, but it makes a wonderful little sled run. It was nose-hair-freezing cold, but no wind, so the boys and I just tied scarves on and went out. We had to re-make the sled run in the yard--we must have gotten another 4 inches of snow last night to add to what we already had yesterday! Eli preferred to sled on the driveway where there was just a thin layer of snow, very slippery! Robbie liked the sled run in the yard--"it makes some cool turns".

Something about that exertion did pick up my spirits. Maybe it was just deciding not to mope anymore because of the change of plans.

Snow Day

When we left for class Tuesday, we slid down the driveway. Ice coated all the streets, but since it was made by "ice pellets" it was mostly easy to drive on. When we got to the dojo, Patrick was waiting on the steps. "We having class today?" I asked. "Nope," he said. Up at the top of the stairs, our teacher, Mr. Houtz and Master Hughes were waiting, along with Patrick and his dad.

One thing I like about this place is the friendly feel. Despite the bad weather ("I almost slid into someone on the way over," said Master Hughes), there was a jolly feeling there. We chatted and laughed, and all traipsed back down the stairs together. Robbie thought that since we were there anyway, we should just have a class, but the adults were ready to head back home.

So, OK. It'll be today then, my first class as a real student.

One thing I realized: It's going to be tricky to get my posts done. I'll have to dedicate some time after supper on TTh or whenever I go to writing up a post. And next time I'll try to have some links for you to explore!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Welcome to my Tae Kwon Do Mom blog! Posted by Hello

Monday, January 03, 2005

Before I Begin

I asked my son if he had any advice to me for my first lesson as a real Tae Kwon Do student. Not really, he said. Of course, it's not really my first lesson.

Since I signed my kids up for Tae Kwon Do, I've been staying at their lessons on Tuesday and Thursday after school. I sit with the other parents on one of those folding chairs at the back of the gym where they have lessons. But I found myself watching more than working on my crossword puzzle. It intrigued me. It was similar to ballet, which I was taking twice a week, so that had me fascinated. I'll say more about how ballet and Tae Kwon Do compare later.

When my older son asked if I'd like to be his "class buddy" one day (it's a way our dojo has of getting new students to try out a class for free), I said OK. And I joined in. My sons, their classmates (all children), and the teacher were all encouraging. ("Wow, your kicks are really high!")so I found myself becoming hooked. Hooked in an odd way: I'm intrigued by the movements, the Korean language, the way the class is run (warm up kicks, stretching, basic moves. It goes the same every time, just like a ballet class). Yet I'm less enthusiastic about sparring--face-to-face, hand-and-foot "combat" with a partner. And isn't that the point of this discipline? It's not that I'm afraid, or want to run away, I just feel ambivalent. More on that later, too.

But this month I'm going to actually sign up, be a real student, so I can't just pretend it doesn't matter to me. And besides, it seems like a cool thing to write about.

Will I take tests and advance in rank? Don't know. I'm not even sure I'll buy a uniform. But I'm going to try it.