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.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

No longer new

"Most people quit martial arts after getting their yellow belt," Mr. Houtz told us the other day.

I can see it. There's something exciting about just beginning an activity, going from not knowing a THING about martial arts to knowing how to do some simple moves, memorizing a form, breaking a board. In fact the theme of this blog has been what it's like to be NEW at something.
I can see how it might be tempting to quit because you feel like you've done enough after you've passed that hurdle. It's tempting for me to quit . . . except I like writing about this too much!

I have to admit, though, now that I'm a yellow belt, the newness of learning a martial art has worn off a bit. There's a bit of a plateau in terms of how much I'm learning. The story isn't so dramatic. The challenges are more subtle now, like learning how to make my moves "snap," and keeping all the forms straight in my mind.

Somehow, I've got to figure out a way to write about my experiences and keep the drama, keep a focus, make it exciting--or at least interesting--to myself and to you, my readers.

That's the challenge I have ahead of me. It seems that along with narratives of my experiences in classes, I might follow more of those tangents about fitness, being 40-something, being a mom, being a writer. Maybe I'll write more about ballet. We'll see. It will be a good challenge for me.

And of coure, I do have a really NEW challenge ahead of me in class: learning to freespar. That means fighting against my classmates while wearing padded gloves and leg padding. Without running away (my initial instinct in these situations). Yikes. Well, if that isn't laden with rich, dramatic ambivalence, I don't know what is!

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Strangest thing last TKD class. Mr. Houtz asked me to do Palgwe 1 . . . and I could not remember it at all! When he showed me the first move or two, I kind of remembered ("Oh yeah!") but still made mistakes. It's amazing how quickly that sort of thing goes. Is it because I'm learning a new form? Because between learning it and now I turned 43?

I also went to ballet today after a week off (last Thursday I was home with Eli). It felt very good to be there, but it's amazing how much you lose when you miss one week! I felt clumsy and loose during barre work. I had trouble doing the ballenets and even the simple jetes and turning assemble--all those moves from my favorite part of class, the petite allegro. (OK, Bill. No "petite"' jokes.) But, hey. I still loved getting back despite my klutzy day.

So I guess the theme today is memory--muscle memory and regular "what move goes next" memory. The thing about fitness--about being good at arts like ballet and Tae Kwon Do--is that it is a process. You don't gain something fixed when you learn how to do Palgwe 1 or a pirouette. You have to keep doing it to make it work for you.

Of course, if you do it enough, it might be like riding a bicycle and it will come back to you even if you've taken time off. Playing piano was like that for me. When we got our piano last fall, it had been, oh, probably 30 years since I'd played regularly, and I'd played only at Christmas in between times. But I was able to start playing and even learn new songs.

Something's different when large muscles are involved, though. You must have to keep generally fit to be able to get back into one of those moving arts. Arts of motion. Hmm. I need to concoct a new phrase for them. Something that includes both ballet and Tae Kwon Do. . .

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Promotion Test Pictures

Here are the pictures of the promotion test a while back. I like them because they give some indication of how many people were there--and they give a feeling of our wonderful high-ceilinged, wooden-floored dojang.

Everyone lines up according to height during the tests, which is different from classes, where you line up according to rank (black belts in front). Eli liked being in the front row, he said.

You might be able to see Robbie in this picture. He's in the middle.

Here I am, right in the middle of this picture. I'm doing the ballet thing, spotting to the front. Mr. Hughes says I'm not extending my leg fully, and that my hip needs to be turned a bit. Do I look scary?

Board Break Pictures

Board breaking seems to be an important part of Tae Kwon Do. Besides being really dramatic, it takes focus, correct technique, and self-confidence to break a 1x12 (or for the kids, a 1x8) pine board.

Breaking is last at the promotion tests here. Everyone goes to the back of the dojang, and we're called up in groups to break. Each belt breaks in a particular way--as a white belt, I broke with a step side kick. It may take a person several tries to get the board broken, and the rest of the crowd cheers you on. Applause erupts when someone breaks.

We didn't get any photos of board breaking from the exam, but here are a few from an earlier class.

Robbie has just broken a board with a reverse kick in this picture.

I didn't actually get Eli breaking, but here he is holding his board. As you can see, he was thrilled.

Even skinny moms can break boards!

We talked our teacher, Mr. Houtz, into showing us a black belt break that day. He did this front snap kick speed break, which was awesome. As you can see, the board is only held at the bottom, so the kick has to be very fast and powerful. The broken top of the board spiraled back after he kicked it, and he caught it in his right hand! "I've never done that before," he told us.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Did I tell you all that I passed that test? My uniform now includes a yellow belt--and as my classmate Brian says, I no longer look like "a marshmallow in a snowstorm."

Our school (and perhaps all schools) has a belt ceremony after the exam where students are awarded their new belts in front of everyone. Robbie and I went to ours (Eli was sick that day) and got our new belts tied on by Master Hughes. Everyone applauded, and before the ceremony, a black belt, who'd been on the judging panel congratulated me in the dressing room. "I think my first test was as scary as my black belt test," she said. It's an important milestone.

I had been a bit worried about passing, considering I didn't even know the answer to that question about Palgwe. But, according to my new fun Tae Kwon Do book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tae Kwon Do, "just between you and me, it is nearly impossible to flunk your very first test. Most instructors understand that you are very nervous and have not been training very long."

By the way, I really like this Tae Kwon Do book--the lively and informal writing style, the helpful advice, and the approach that Tae Kwon Do is more than just a bunch of physical moves. There's a lot in this book about focus, concenteration, etiquette, and even how to deal with odd classroom situations, like the "big bull" males in class who show off their strength.

Anyway, the first day back to class after the ceremony, Mr. Houtz was so pleased to see us with our new belts. "Hey, look at all my colored belts!" he exclaimed. I know that feeling--when those I've mentored succeed at their craft. It's a great feeling. We had a quiet day in class, spent mostly learning our new forms. I'm working on one called Dan Gun now, an exciting form with high punches, C-blocks, and a knife-hand strike or two. And of course this time I'll learn Palgwe 2!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

On Being Ill

Our family hunkered down today, spending most of our waking hours in the living room, watching T.V. Not our usual active weekend day.

During the past 5 days, each of us has succumbed to a nasty stomach virus, going down one after the other for about 24 hours, followed by a slow, appetite-deprived, weary recovery. Eli was the first. As The Mom, it was my job to stay up in the night with him (I was able to be home with him the next day, so I let Bruce sleep so he could work the next day). Eli was home from school 2 days. Then I got it. Then Bruce and finally Robbie.

We're all exhausted now. And out of it. It's been 5 days since I've worked on college teaching at all. Luckily I was able to get freelancing done, but I'm way behind in everything else.

Being sick and being around sick people, though, has its odd rewards. Before I was a mom, I always dreaded the time when I'd have to sit up with a vomiting child. I really didn't think I could do it, and now I know I can. There's something satisfying in knowing you can do something you didn't think you could do. Robbie and I even have a system worked out. I come and sit with him between episodes in the bathroom, and we talk about various random topics. "Come out here and keep me company," he says from the hall near the bathroom where he'll camp with a pillow and blanket.

And then when I was sick, I remember feeling relieved (now I didn't have to go on wondering "OK, am I going to catch this or not?") and competent ("I can handle it.") The next day, it was somewhat freeing just to say "I'm not going to meet with students today. They can meet together without me."

I lounged around in dirty hair and pajamas all that next day, looking out at the (rare) sunny February day, alternately dozing and listening to hours of NPR, watching the two TV shows I tape each week, moving slowly, talking to the kitty, not thinking much.

There's something alluring about invalidism, or at least at some level. The idea that nobody will be expecting anything from you while you're ill (quite a relief to a mom who's been on sick-kid duty). The chance NOT to think or plan or judge or devise an assignment, or write anything that makes sense. Today, I was thinking about how much work it will be to get back to reality, to reconnect myself to everything I've had to leave behind this week of illness. I felt the tug of invalidism. Maybe I'll just stay sick.

I think that once my energy and appetite fully return, I will once again be ready to go back, to step back into the world of thinking and walking and doing. The sojourn here in the sickroom will come to an end.

Oh, and did I tell you it was also my birthday this weekend, in the midst of all that? Saturday morning, I made the decision to postpone the actual celebration until next week. By then we'll all be well.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Jane the Writing Prof

You know, if there's anything I want to teach my students it's the concept expressed in the quote below: that an ability to become fascinated with new ideas, activities, etc. can lead to a wonderfully exciting life.

I do some freelance writing, and I told my Professional Writing Students about the articles: one on photo voltaics, one on renovating old houses, and one on driveway cracks. One student, a fairly smart one, wrinkled her nose. "Driveway cracks?" she said. Meaning "how boring!"

But I would argue that to be a writer, you have to have a capacity for fascination. Maybe to be a student, you need this, too. What do you think?

Back to Tae Kwon Do topics next time. I just had to say more about that cool quote.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

This yellow belt's current favorite quote

"To become fascinated is to step into a wild love affair on any level in life."

Thomas Barry
Cultural Historian

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What I Should Have Said

Blog-readers: I wrote this originally as a letter to Mr. Hughes about my test experience and my inability to answer a question, but I decided it would be fun to post it here instead. Enjoy!

You know that nightmare that students have, the one where they come to an exam to find a question they have no idea how to answer?

Well that happened to me on Saturday. Except it wasn’t a nightmare. It happened at my very first Tae Kwon Do exam.

At the end of the exam, I stood in front of the judges table and heard this question:
"What is the meaning of Palgwe 1?"

I had no idea what the answer was. Not even enough to BS my way through.

As you know I learned Palgwe 1 under unusual circumstances. Because I’m taking class with my children—in the Tuesday-Thursday Ninja Kids session—I was not taught Palgwe at all. When I found out I had to learn it, one week before the exam, I looked it up on the internet, had Robbie read me the instructions, and I learned it in my living room.

The instructions from the internet did not come with an explanation of its meaning.

So my answer to that question on test day was "Sorry, sir. I don’t know."

But then I was curious. After the test, I went back to the internet to find out what I could about the meaning of Palgwe. There I discovered this paragraph:

Palgwe is descriptive of a world made up of elements that are both conflicting and harmonious, i.e. sky and earth, light and dark, man and women and good and evil. These elements meet and depart from one another according to the rules of nature, always growing and developing.

This was familiar—Pam and Brian had rattled it off to me on the test day. But maybe I’m dense or something, because that paragraph didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. "Descriptive of a world"? "Meet and depart from one another according to the rules of nature"? Huh?

However, some of it sounded familiar. The "conflicting and harmonious" elements sounded to me a lot like yin-yang, the familiar symbol that I see on the Korean flag at the front of our dojang. I Googled "meaning of yin-yang" and found some more material about it. I’ve always loved the look of the yin-yang circle with its swooping black and white shapes. And I love the idea that Yin-Yang represents. According to the Wikipedia,

The outer circle represents "everything", while the black and white shapes within the circle represent the interaction of two energies, called "yin" (black) and "yang" (white), which cause everything to happen. They are not completely black or white, just as things in life are not completely black or white, and they cannot exist without each other.

Cool. I like the idea that supposed opposites need each other, are part of each other, share energy, work together. The shady side is yin, the sunny side is yang. The traffic light is yin, the bustling traffic is yang. Listening is yin, speaking is yang. And not only that. Every yin has yang in it, and every yang has yin. Or, maybe, every ballet dancer has a bit of warrior in her, and every warrior has a bit of dancer.

So if I were asked again "What does Palgwe 1 mean," I don’t think I would recite that "descriptive of a world made up of conflicting and harmonious elements" paragraph. Instead, this is how I might explain the yin-yang-ness of Palgwe 1:

When I do Palgwe 1, I move through seemingly opposing postures. Defensive postures (inside block, back stance). Attacking postures (middle punch, front stance). Those postures are a physical representation of yin and yang: passive and active. Female and male. Contracting and Expanding.

Not only that, but each posture of Palgwe 1 itself is both yin and yang. Before I place a punch, I twist my torso back. As I place a block, I step forward. That counter-movement/movement seems very yin and yang.

There seems to be more. One website explains that each Palgwe not only has a number, but also a name: Heaven, Lake, Fire, Thunder, Wind. Perhaps all the Palgwe done together represent the philosophy of Yin-Yang.

If I kept going I might be able to argue that all of Tae Kwon Do could be an incarnation of yin-yang: a physical embodiment of all that is peaceful yet strong, inward yet active, individual yet communal.

I’m looking forward to thinking about this more, doing more, learning more. This is a time when I am glad that, as the On-line Tae Kwon Do magazine says,

It will take your entire life to learn martial arts; there is no limit.

because it’s going to take my entire life to really figure it out.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Thanks to you readers!

I just wanted to send out a big thank you to all of you who are reading my blog. I know that my brother Bill reads my blog regularly, and my friend Steve, too--they've told me as much in their e-mails. Thanks, guys. It means a lot to have an audience.

I also enjoy reading some of my readers' posts. It's been fun to read ongoing posts from my friend Ewa in Poland, who I met almost 25 years ago in Germany--thanks Ewa! And it's cool to get posts from other Tae Kwon Do moms, too. I'm always interested to hear about your own thoughts and experiences.

Keep reading and feel free to post a response anytime!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

First Test

My computer monitor is broken, so I'm writing this on campus in the Hickok Hall computer lab. Two of my students are here, women from Pakistan, and the boys just rambled in after scootering around campus. It's a beautiful day, maybe 50 degrees, and they have spring fever. They love to ride their scooters on campus, and I like it too, as I don't have to worry about them crossing streets.

This morning was my first TKD exam; Eli's too. We were in the dojang for a total of two hours, doing basic moves (blocks, kicks, and punches), forms, and breaking boards in front of a panel of black-belt judges. The large, high-ceilinged gym was filled with students from back to front--maybe 40 or 50 people, all in our Hughes Institute uniforms, different colored belts, and bare feet. An exciting time--a bit nerve-wracking, but mostly fun. Or maybe I should say deeply satisfying.

Instead of a narrative of the exam, I'll just give a rundown of some memorable moments, not in any particular order:

Doing basic movements in a room with, say, 50 other people, all of whom are doing the same thing. The turns seem especially impressive.

A couple black belts wished me well, including Jason Schmidt, who helped me out at one of the All Belts classes. Mr. Carter also shook my hand after the class and said "good job."

I was asked to do my Palgwe 1 form over because of a mistake. Two of us white belt adults were asked to repeat a form, Brian and I. I had done my low block wrong--not on Chun Jee, but only on Palgwe 1--odd! But I didn't mind being singled out. Maybe this is diva-ish, but I kind of enjoyed the opportunity to perform for the entire room! As I came back Pam said "Not bad for having learned it in one week," and we had a laugh.

Later, I had to admit to the black belt who asked me questions that I did not know the meaning of Palgwe. Oops. I didn't know about that question. Better get researching.

Mr. Hughes noticed me missing a turn during basic moves and gave me a friendly nudge in the shoulder.

Little Jacob came up to me with a big smile at one point. "How ya doin', buddy?" I asked. He just smiled.

Breaking boards is one of the best parts of the test. It's cool to watch the different break techniques--each belt has a different break technique. People go up to break in groups of 5 or so while the rest sit on the floor at the back of the room. Everyone cheers everyone else on, especially if someone's having trouble. Stacey had to break 2 boards--she had some trouble but kept at it, and eventually she did it. A huge cheer went up. As a white belt, I had to break using a step side kick. I broke the board on my second try. Robbie also did well, and Eli broke twice, both times with some help from black belts who held his foot steady while he struck the board.

We left, exhausted, at 1 p.m. I was grateful that Bruce was there, but I felt bad that he had to spend so much of his day in a gym with sweaty Tae Kwon Do students! I bet he got some good pictures, though. I hope to post them by the middle of next week, so watch for them!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Last class before our test

We get to the dojang early today--Eli's idea. He's excited about the test and skitters around the room once he's outfitted (still needs me to get his jacket tied up). Robbie approaches Mr. Houtz with his sign-up sheet for the Jump Rope for Hearts project. Mr. Houtz asks me to run through Palgwe 1, which is difficult considering the chaos. Eventually we get started.

The class goes more smoothly today. The new students seem to be catching on and don't need separate tutoring. We also do flying side kicks, something I used to dread. I'm getting a bit better at them, and the black belt holding the pad says encouraging things.

The best part of class today, though, is after class--standing around and chatting with Mr. Hughes and Mr. Houtz. Our conversation, though short, is relaxed and friendly. Talking with them makes me feel young--later I realize it reminds me of being in college, where I'd chat with guys like that regularly. The two of them are obviously good friends, yet they seem to enjoy our presence--their friendship doesn't exclude us. Both men listen to the boys and treat them kindly, not condescendingly. Both Robbie and Eli really look up to them.

Funny how in my life, I just don't hang out with men too often. My officemates are women. I take ballet. I like to sew and crochet, girl things. Despite the presence of girls and women there--most notably Ms. Pryor--Tae Kwon Do feels to me like a male domain where women can also belong, kind of the opposite of ballet. I like the androgyny of it, being able to go somewhere to learn to be strong, to fight (!), to yell, kick, and punch.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Teaching Tae Kwon Do

Today there are new students in class, two girls and two boys. Mr. Houtz needs to get them up to speed on basic moves, so he leaves Patrick to lead the rest of us (Robbie, Eli, Dylan, and me) in the usual basic moves drill.

Patrick knows his Tae Kwon Do. Despite being just 10, he is a solid-belt, which means he is learning both kinds of forms, as adults do. He attends classes every day, and last Saturday, he stayed for both the Ninja Kids class and the all-belts class! He's home-schooled, and a bit heavy--maybe both those are reasons why he spends so much time at the dojang.

We all line up and wait for Patrick to call out the order of basic moves.

"Low block!" Patrick calls. We all perform a low block, and stop. Patrick turns around and goes down the line, correcting stances. We do another, and he corrects again. Dylan starts to act up, falling on the floor or yelling, which makes Patrick mad. He orders Dylan to do push ups. Dylan does them in a floppy kind of way.

All this time, I'm waiting for my workout, and Robbie and Eli are enjoying the goofiness. Order is breaking down. I glance at Mr. Houtz, but he is wrapped up with the new students.

I should be doing this, I think. I'm only a white belt, but I'm an adult and a teacher. I could keep order.

Peer-to-peer teaching is hard to do, especially if your peers get unruly. What authority does Patrick have to order someone to do push-ups? He thinks that his status as a senior student allows him to correct his peers, but I don't think that really can happen. Johanna makes the same mistake, thinking that her black belt gives her the authority to criticize and yell at others, while she rarely shows encouragement or kindness.

Children who are learning to be senior belts need to be taught that the way you lead your peers is through example, not through bullying. You need to be an example of respect and courtesy, you need to set an example with your good moves and forms. Using your seniority to push people around just will not work.

I think that's really the way it is when anyone teaches, to be honest.

Well, I do get a chance to teach a bit. At the end of class, while the older kids are practicing their breaking techniques, I help the new students work on their roundhouse kicks. I'm not a black-belt but I am a teacher. Teaching I can do.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Something New to Learn

I go to Saturday's All Belts class alone this week. Robbie found it a bit too intense when we went together last time. I don't blame him. It is pretty intense.

Ms. Pryor is the teacher for this class, as she was last time. She is a very serious and earnest person, a little taller than I am, maybe a few years older. She tells us she's been feeling under the weather this week because of tests she had to undergo. Ms. Pryor is a thyroid cancer survivor, and her doctor told her this week that she doesn' t have to be tested anymore! As a spectator of cancer survival, I feel like clapping for her, but I don't see anyone else who understands the importance of this statement.

One black belt in the front row raises his hand. "Since you're feeling tired, does that mean you won't work us until we're mummified? Ma'am?"

No smile from Ms. Pryor. "My brain is still working. I'll let you black belts help me demonstrate so you can get a good workout."

Besides being extremely intense, Ms. Pryor is not as patient as the other teachers--I hear her say "now why did you do that?" with a slight edge of frustration as she supervises a boy practicing black belt moves. However, she is quiet and patient with us lower belts, correcting my back stance and gently moving an orange belt's arm for a block. She even rewards me by telling me "you really know your form" after I do Chun Jee.

Luckily, today's class seems to focus mostly on kicking. My legs are strong from ballet, and I'm having a good balance day, so it's not so bad. We practice "power roundhouse" kicks, hopping across the floor on one foot (kicking the other one over and over without setting it down), and slow motion kicks with partners. I am feeling grateful for modern dance training; I use the same techniques I use when doing a lateral T.

After class, we're all huffing and sweating. In the women's room, two moms, Stacey and Pam, talk with me about the test. Suddenly it becomes apparent that I have not learned one part of my test, something called Palgwe 1, which is another kind of form. "I don't remember that from watching Robbie's test," I say. But then I realize I was only watching Robbie, not the adults during the test, and only adults have to learn both TaeGuek forms and Palgwe.

(By the way, there's a really good explanation of how those two different versions of forms came about on a cool website I discovered. I guess it has something to do with nationalism. Check out the story here.)

Anyway, Stacy is concerned. "Maybe you shouldn't take the test. You need to know the Palgwe. They'll have you do it in front of everyone."

I don't know. It doesn't worry me. "I'll learn it this week," I tell her. "If not, I guess I'll have to skip that part of the test." Stacey thinks this is reasonable and quickly shows me the form in the changing room.

On my way home, I realize that this is an extra challenge I need. Mr. Houtz was trying to challenge me with a new break technique last week. Now I have a new form to learn.

I have the directions for Palgwe 1 now--from the website I linked earlier. I'll practice at home and run it by Mr. Houtz. Maybe I should be worried but I'm not. Now if it were a different breaking technique . . . :-O

Friday, February 04, 2005

Martial Arts Book

I read a good book last night about martial arts. It was a kids' book: The Martial Arts Book by Laura Scandiffio (Annick Press, 2003).

This is one of the wonderful advantages to being a parent: having the excuse to read children's books. This one was full of colorful pictures, and was skillfully written, neither talking down to nor being too technical for the average child. Or for me.

What I really like about the book is its focus: on martial arts as arts, or ways of living. It points out that many martial arts have the term "do" in them: Tae Kwon Do, Kendo, etc. Do means "way," I guess kind of like tao, which the book also mentions.

This is one remark the author makes about Tae Kwon Do: "Like other 'do' forms, it is more than a system of moves. It is a way of living and thinking, of always trying to be your best--in mind, body, and character." I like that. I'm not how one might teach that explicitly, though the instructors certainly model doing one's best in mind, body, and character. I think of Joe Houtz's patience, Greg Hughes's kindness and generosity, their clear teaching methods and acceptance of their students.

Another thing I liked about this book is the introduction it gives to many different forms of martial arts. I'm intrigued by Aikido (though the idea of having to fall often in practice worries me and my thin bones!), and Kendo. Maybe I'll try them someday.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sunshine and Chun Jee

I cannot remember the last time the sun shone all day. Today it is not only sunny, but warm. There are small creeks of snow-water flowing down the streets and water drips from the eaves. We go to Tae Kwon Do without our jackets--a bit of an overreaction, but we are feeling good.

Before I even get into the dojang, Eli is showing the teacher that he knows Chun Jee. He makes it ALMOST all the way through without a mistake, and the teacher gives him a red tape stripe for his belt. He is pleased and works hard through the whole class.

Two brothers we've seen before, Alex and Jacob, are there again. Alex, about Robbie's age, has a brown and black belt. Jacob, age 6, is a white belt. Alex is extremely intense during class. He never plays around like the other boys; he's all business. His kicks are neat and powerful, his movements precise. When he practices his flying side kicks, the look on his face is downright scary, and he practically knocks his father--who's holding the pad--right over.

Jacob, on the other hand, is a happy-go-lucky guy. I don't think it's just because he's younger, either. He goofs around with Eli and seems to relish the puppyish rassling around that Eli likes. They play-punch, giggle, and jump on each other until I have to get between them to calm them down. Jacob smiles and is quiet for a moment, but then starts wriggling around on the ground, barking, and his dad calls him over to sit by the wall.

Everyone's having trouble breaking today. I comment that perhaps the humidity makes the boards hard to break. Savaun finally breaks a board, and the teacher calls me up.

"I think jump side kick is going to be too easy for you," he says. "Let's see. What else can you do? How about a front snap kick?"

A moment of panic. "No way!" I say. "I value the balls of my feet too much to do that!" Alex and Jacob's dad laughs. "OK," says Mr. Houtz. "Step side kick then."

It is too easy; I knew it would be. The board snaps on my second try. I start to wonder if I should have tried the front snap kick. I suppose I'll have to lose my fear of damaging myself if I want to keep going. I need to see someone do it first, and ask if it hurt. Kicking something witha heel is one thing--with the balls of your feet is completely different. At least I'd think so.

Before I leave, I pick up three test applications. We'll all be there on the 12th.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Eli and Books

Eli got very frustrated yesterday in class when he couldn't do Chun Jee, the first form. He stomped off and sat glowering on one of the folding chairs along the back wall. He hit me angrily when I came to sit by him.

We're still working on his bad temper (it's a long process), but I thought I could help him learn the form. We worked on it later that evening in the living room, and today (in the kitchen), he was able to do the whole form, heaven and earth, from beginning to end! OK, his stances and blocks need some work, but the trickiest thing about that first form is learning how to turn and where to turn next. I'll have him practice once more before we go to class, and then he can do it for the teacher.

Now, on to one of my favorite topics: books. It makes sense for me to buy a Tae Kwon Do book, doesn't it? I am looking for a good book that will give me nice pictures, good advice, and maybe some info about Tae Kwon Do philosophy, whatever that might be. I was looking at two of them, available through Tae Kwon Do: State of the Art, and Tae Kwon Do: a step by step guide. Haven't decided which one yet. I think maybe the latter.


Please note that I've added a couple pictures! Look at these entries: Teacher and Like Boxing.

I promise I will add more, now that I know how to do it.