Monday, October 31, 2005

Working (out) Together; Playing Together

Learning Tae Kwon Do is tough. As a person who's had very little instruction in sports, I sometimes feel at a disadvantage as I learn tough moves that take strength, power, and grace.

Learning to spar can be especially scary. Fighting with someone in close range can be quite intimidating. Getting hit can be scary and painful.

One thing that keeps me going, however, is knowing that my classmates are watching out for me. We watch out for one another.

I've written about the importance of our little TKD community before, and I think it's important to more people than just me. I notice that our Tae Kwon Do group doesn't just dissolve when class is over. We're a community together even outside of class. We email each other, read each others' blogs, encourage one another.

One thing we often do is have parties! I've been to several parties over at the dojang, and there's something special about them. It's nice to see another side of your classmates, to share some time-off with them.

This was especially true this weekend, when I got to see my classmates, especially the younger ones, in costume at the dojang Halloween party.

Here are some of the girls who planned the party. Master Hughes decided to let them do it, and a good idea. These teenagers have lots of energy, and a party like this is a good, safe, fun place for them to use it! I think they enjoyed figuring out cool yet attractive costumes! Here are Chelsea, Stephanie, and Alyssa (who's Alyssa's friend? I don't know her).

Luckily there were some boys there! Though I think girls outnumbered boys on the dance floor!

The dance featured a DJ. Lots of the dances were the "Cha Cha slide" and "Hoky Poky" type that everyone could do without a partner, though there were some slow dances, too.

Of course I danced! I love to dance! Here are some young folks dancing.

I wasn't the only adult there. You can see here that Cheryl Crow, Lance Armstrong, and Evel Kneivel joined me. (Are these great alter-egos or what?)

Here I am, Maid Marian. That's a toy bow and arrow I'm holding. It kept getting borrowed by young people!

Here are my "Merry Men." Eli was King Edward VI, otherwise known as Edward Tudor, who was king when he was 10 years old. Eli found a picture of him in a book about Kings and Queens of England. Eli could be his double! So I made Eli the outfit the boy king wore in the picture. Isn't he adorable?

Robbie and Jacob wanted to be scary. They were both Death. I'm not sure what convinced me to buy that rubber mask for Robbie. He showed up at my bedside this morning wearing it. "Good Morning and Happy Halloween, Mom," he said. Yikes.

The boys thought the party was "too much dancing," and perhaps it was for them. But I think the teens liked it. I did, too! More dancing!

The boys hung out together and admired each other's costumes. And maybe that's all they needed. That and lots of sugary snacks.

All in all, it was fun to spend some time with my TKD friends. Fun, too, to watch the young people being with their friends. All of it will strengthen our bonds as a community of people learning something tough: martial arts. I hope we do another party soon!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Breaking with the Guys

I should probably call this post "Not Breaking with the Guys" as I had no luck breaking today.

After a grueling workout at all-belts (we stretched, worked on basic movements, and sparred) I stayed after class. I had intended to have someone sign my board, but then I heard Brian A. and Justin making plans.

"Want to practice breaking?" asked Justin.

They did. I thought I'd hang around for three reasons:

1. I need some photos for this blog. Breaking makes great photos.
2. I haven't yet don't my axe kick, my new breaking kick, and thought I could get some help on it.
3. Get my board signed.

We didn't have a whole lot of luck breaking, but it looked good.

Here's Mr. Schmidt trying a speed break.

We talked a bit about hand techniques. I held out my long, thin hands to the guys.

"I really do not think this hand can go through a board. Do you think they would let me break a small board? I don't want to break my hand or wrist like Stacy did."

The guys seemed totally unconcerned about the possibility of breaking bones during a board break. This amazed me, as it is one of my fears.

Maybe this is because they figure they won't break a bone. Their hands are way bigger than mine: the bones are bigger, their hands can actually be muscular.

Maybe it's just that some people--guys?--accept the idea that one will get hurt doing sports. Justin's knuckles are big and tough, especially his right hand. Probably he likes them that way. Even Robbie likes to do knuckle push-ups on the floor to "toughen up my knuckles."

They probably have no clue why I'm concerned about my hands.

Anyway, Brian A. looked awesome doing a tornado kick. Board was not cooperative and did not break.

Here's me lining up my foot for an axe kick.

Ideally, your foot goes, heel-first, right through the board, just like an axe. But getting your foot positioned correctly and not wimping out midway are tricky, for me anyway.


Saturday night was the dojang's Halloween party. Yes, we went (Robbie, Eli, Jacob, and I), in costume! Justin wondered whether I'd write a blog on it, and I told him I would once I got some photos from Brian A. So send them on over, Brian (or should I say, Evel?!)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Professor Blue Belt

"How did your martial arts test go the other week?"

It's a transitional moment at the end of my morning class at the college and one of my students is talking to me as I walk by her desk.

I'd mentioned my TKD test to them before their mid-term. Apparently my exams have a reputation for being . . . difficult . . . and they were worried. It's an upper-level theory class, and the material is challenging. So I encouraged them, gave them some tips for studying, and then told them that I, too, was facing a scary test. That was a while back. And Jamie was asking about my test now.

"Well, thanks for asking, Jamie," I reply. "It was a hard test, but I passed."

"I think I'd like to take martial arts, too, someday," says Jamie.

"I bet you will," I answer. "Just think, I was 42 when I began taking martial arts!"

"Are you over forty?" exclaims Marie, sitting next to Jamie. "You can't be in your forties! I never would have guessed!"


"You made my day, Marie!" I put my arm around her, laughing.

The other students are apparently listening. They can tell someone's getting me off-track.

"So what belt color are you?" someone asks.

"I was a white belt with a stripe once," says Zach. Everyone laughs.

I tell them about being a blue belt, and I explain how it fits in the scheme of things.

They're all looking at me now, expectantly.

I find it fascinating that some of my students are interested in who I am outside the classroom. I don't remember having that curiosity about my own professors. Except maybe the very young and interesting ones--OK, maybe they think I'm young . . . Or maybe they just want to derail me!

"So could you knock me out?" asks Garrett. He's about 6'3" and sturdy, a basketball player.

Everyone laughs.

"Well, Garrett, I have to live by the tenets of Tae Kwon Do, and one is that I will not misuse Tae Kwon Do. So, no, I'm not going to knock you out." They laugh again.

"But, OK, can I brag about Tae Kwon Do just a tiny bit?" I ask.

Everyone sits up straighter. "Yes, Yes!"

"We had a little practice tournament in class on Saturday, and in my little group of four competitors, I came in first in sparring. I beat a young woman about your age, and then I beat a 6' tall guy who's a police officer."

A bit of chaos erupts.

"Watch out Garrett!"
"You did? You're so . . . small!"

"You beat a guy?" asks Nate. He's about 6'2" and a football player.

"Yep." More chatter and chaos. "So watch out," I say.

"OK." I turn back to my notes. Did everyone get out your syllabus? Take a look at the reading listed for Monday."

They turn to their papers and take a look. Maybe with a new-found respect for their . . . small professor.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blogs and Forms

I don't know how many of you, my readers, read other blogs. I would like to recommend Jase's Journal, a blog written by a young college student on his experience fighting cancer. He's written some great posts recently.

A new blog, Gadfly Professor, might interest those of you who are news junkies! The writer is a retired engineering professor (and news junkie himself) who has considered some hot button issues and shares his opinions. Oh, and he's also my dad :-)

I'm feeling much better today, just about recovered from that virus, but I can't get to all-belts tonight. I am hoping that SOMEONE from the dojang will still be there and be willing to practice with me on Thursday when I arrive with the boys for their sword class at about 6:30. It sure would be great to practice forms, especially my new one. I haven't even THOUGHT about it since Saturday!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dancer on drugs

Got tired of being ill today, so I took a Sudafed and went to ballet class.

They make Meth out of Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). I wonder if the buzz is similar to a Sudafed buzz.

Some things in ballet don't work so well when you've got a cold and have taken medication. Stretching for one--my joints felt a bit stiff. Also anything where the head is tipped back or hanging was a bit much. I had trouble doing the port-de-bras to the front ("Top of the head facing the floor! Kiss your knees!" says Suki) and the ones to the back.

Some things, though, work amazingly well. Perhaps because of the "no worries" Sudafed buzz, I was able to do pirouettes better than I've done in a while! Also, the petit allegro, where you need to think with your body and not your brain--that went very well. When your head is in a bit of a fog, your brain doesn't get in the way of your dancing.

So feeling a bit spacy from the cold and/or the med got me through class. Enjoyably.


I'm down with a cold or some sort of virus. Made me miss all-belts class Monday, so I did some thinking and reading instead.

Being sick actually made me think about the topic of energy again.

On Sunday morning, I woke up with a sore throat and a feverish feeling. But I also noticed something I often notice when I'm just coming down with a cold: my energy had retreated.

I don't know how else to put this. It's not that my physical energy level was low. That's not it. It feels more like my physical energy and psychic energy retreated to deep inside myself--I could feel it hovering along an axis from my brain to my gut.

Sheesh. This sounds wacky. I hope no one's going to pack me up and haul me off to California.

Well, maybe I am wacky. The concept of spiritual/physical energy interests me. Then I remembered a video I saw once that mentioned it.

It was a video about the spiritual aspects of martial arts. I remember one of the practitioners talking about something called qi. (It's pronounced "chee.") He said that understanding qi was central to martial arts, and it had to do with energy and focus and breath. I am pursuing this.

I looked at one of my favorite internet sources, the Wikipedia. This is what it says about qi:

Qi, also commonly spelled ch'i, chi or ki, is a fundamental concept of everyday Chinese culture, most often defined as "air" or "breath" (for example, the colloquial Mandarin Chinese term for "weather" is tiān qi, or the "breath of heaven") and, by extension, "life force" or "spiritual energy" that is part of everything that exists.

See, there's that "energy" idea. I guess qi is what gives life to living things, a spiritual and physical energy.

I think qi different from the Christian/western concept of a soul. Soul seems very spiritual or ethereal: one's soul is in one's head or heart. Qi seems to be both physical and spiritual. It seems to make the connection between our intentions (what's in our head /heart) and our actions.

Well, what I felt when I was first getting sick may be mostly a physical symptom of a cold. Being sick just happened to influence my mental/spiritual energy as well. I think it affected my qi, though probably not my soul.

I think I have an energy field that fluctuates. Recently, I have been very aware of it, physically. Sometimes I feel like my qi fills all of me to just below my skin. It's contained by my physical presence. But usually when I'm around people, when I'm doing TKD, or I'm teaching, I feel my qi radiating outside myself, reaching out to the qi of others.

This is something I've really noticed recently, as I've become more older and more intuitive.

When I was younger, I think I conserved my qi, kept it protected inside myself, didn't let it radiate out. Especially when I was, oh, say, in junior high, and I wanted to be unnoticed (a good survival tip for small, nerdy, smart girls).

I'm also basically an introvert (INFP on the Meyers Briggs scale), and conserving my qi, keeping it protected inside myself, is one way to keep myself sane, especially since I'm an outgong introvert.

I wonder if and how extroverts think of their qi. Anyone out there an EN on the Meyers Briggs scale?

Master Hughes is clearly an extrovert, and I can tell if he's teaching before I even get up the stairs: his qi fills the entire place! There's just a different energy in the air.

Internal aspects of martial arts are not really discussed at our dojang. So if anyone out there has any insights, questions, or resources to help me to continue to think about qi, please let me know!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Practice tournament

"Today we're going to practice tournament etiquette," says Justin, who's teaching all-belts today. "I was at a tournament a few weeks ago, and most people's etiquette was not good."

We're all sitting on the floor at the back of the dojang. Justin has set up a small area for our touranment practice, about 15 x15. He and the black belts and some high browns are sitting on chairs, just like judges would. The rest of us are competitors.

Tournament etiquette is all about respect and self-confidence. We practice jumping up, bowing, and saying "yes, sir" when our names are called. We bow before we enter the ring, and bow to the judges, standing at attention to recite our name and form.

I'm glad Justin wants to work on this. It's a good way to show you're serious about your activity in the tournament: to begin with good etiquette. Plus, the movements help you focus.

Unfortunately, I haven't practiced or even THOUGHT about my forms in a long while. We didn't work on them Wednesday, so I figure it's been since last Saturday. But that gives me an opportunity to ask a question.

"So, um, what do I do if this happens during a tournament," I ask, half-way through my form and experiencing a brain blip.

"Do what you can remember, or even end with the movements from a different form," says Justin. Good idea. But then I remember the last moves. Still, not so hot.

In our group of four competitors, Brian does the best form. He knows Yul Gok already! AND has obviously thought about it recently as he does it smoothly from beginning to end.

Then on to sparring. I begin sparring Jamie, a low-green. She is getting really good at sparring; still, I am able to beat her. We're both winded when we sit down.

Brian and Kevin have their turn in the ring. What a difference from me and Jamie--and from all the other pairings. They move our fast and furious with power and determination, kicking and punching hard enough that I hear the impact of mitt on mitt, foot on leg.

"Guys!" I yell. "Chill out! Light to no contact!" (Later Kevin asks me "Were we going at it too hard?" "Didn't you hear me yell?" I ask. "I was a bit worried about that surge of testosterone in the air.")

Justin warns them to lighten up on the contact, and they continue, with Brian winning. He's not even winded, as far as I can tell.

Justin looks at me. Yikes.

"Next match. Brian," Justin points at one spot in the ring. "And Jane." He points at another spot.

I am glad that I'm not having sparring angst these days. I'm ready to compete, and I figure it'll be good practice for both of us.

"I tired him out for you," shouts Kevin. Yeah. I certainly hope so. Brian smiles.

We bow to Justin, to each other, and get into our fighting stances.

The match could have gone either way. The judges are missing a lot of hits, by both of us. I am wishing for mercy as we go along: I get so completely winded from this sparring business, partially because it's such killer exercise and partially, I think, because my adrenaline is keeping me from breathing properly.

We each score a couple of times. In the end I make the final point to win.

"Winner is Jane," says Justin, holding up my arm. Brian is smiling, big. I think he's actually pleased that I won. I'm just totally wiped, and collapse. Takes me about 10 minutes to catch my breath.

Though I'd been hoping to work on my new form, tournament practice was good, real good. I do have some performance anxiety (one reason I never liked to solo, musically). Justin did a great job running it. We'll work on forms Monday.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Not the only one

Feeling really spacey in all-belts tonight.

"You look tired," says Brian.

"Just out of it," I reply.

Midway through class, Ms. Pryor has us divide up into groups. I somehow miss where my group is supposed to be. I stand there, looking vaguely around and June grabs me.

"You can work with us."

She and Stacy are standing there. We're supposed to practice sparring in groups of 3.

"I have to warn you. I'm pretty spacey today," I say.

"So am I," says Stacy.

"It's the barometer," says June. "A cold front is going through."

"And we just had a full moon," adds Stacy.

"Thanks you guys," I say, gratefully. "I'm glad it's not just me!"

And we have a good sparring practice. It's good to work out with women for a change. Both June and Stacy are flexible and fast. We encourage each other and take long breaks in between bouts to catch our breath.

The exertion helps a bit--afterwards I'm feeling a bit less spacy. A little, anyway.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Board

New policy at my dojang: Everyone needs to have one of these boards filled out for promotional tests.

On The Board is a list of all the forms you have learned, along with Basic movements, sparring, 3 and 1 steps, and your breaking kick for that test. Between now and the test, we have to have a black belt watch us do all these things and sign off on the board. Ideally, each student will have eight signatures for each item.

This is a familiar practice to black belts. When you test for your black belt, you have to do all your forms for each of the other active black belts, and when you do them correctly, the black belt signs off on the board. That means doing all white belt through black "Chon-ji" forms and also Palgwe forms if you're an adult. Doing that for EACH black belt at the school, usually before or after class.

Now we all have to do this. The idea is for us all to practice and be comfortable with all the forms, and not wait until black belt status before we revisit them.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, it makes me feel good to know that I'll be good at all those past and present forms. I'm also glad we're going back to doing 1 and 3 steps in class again.

Still, it's an awful lot to remember, especially for those of us who are adults and have more trouble memorizing things than children do.

But here's my real worry about these: that they'll cut into the socializing aspect of class.

That sounds really superficial, but I would say it's not. Maybe "socializing" is not the word I want. Maybe it's more like "community-building" or "fellowship" or "connecting."

I think that we'll eventually be expected to meet with black belts before or after class to get boards signed. Maybe not. Maybe it'll all be done during class. But if it's done before class, I will miss the chance I have to greet and talk with my peers and seniors.

I really like that aspect of TKD, and I think it's important. I don't usually do what we're supposed to do: go around and shake hands with all the black belts. I tend to greet a few people and spend some time with them talking. I try to greet different people each time. I prefer that to moving around quickly, but I think both happen at our dojang, and that's cool.

Why is this important? I think it has something to do with the energy-sharing issue I discussed in a post. We work closely together here; we need to be comfortable with each other. And we have to trust each other when we spar with each other--trust that the person's not going to hurt you.

I guess I intellectually know that my classmates are trustworthy, that I can fail while I'm with them, that I can trust them not to hurt me. But for me, I'm more relaxed, more willing to learn when that knowledge is more than intellectual: when I have an emotional connection with my classmates, know something about them, share a bit of our lives with each other. I want to feel that connection to my peers as I go through my martial arts training. If filling out the board gets in the way of that, I will be sorry.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Off days

There's a discussion thread on about workouts on one's day off from TKD classes.

I'm kind of interested in this. On my days off of TKD, I have days on ballet (about 2x a week). Sometimes I swim laps. I also like to take walks. Does this count as "working out?" I find all those things fun.

When I'm away from home, as I am now, I sometimes get antsy for exercise. My joints tend to get stiff, so often if I travel--say, here, to visit my parents and brother--I take my swimsuit and goggles. As a Y member, I can get into a Y anywhere for a little swim. Makes me feel less cranky.

The trip I'm on now (I'm writing this away from home) is short--too short to spend it in a pool somewhere. So this time, my brother and I did our usual exercise, a walk down the parkway to Isaac Lake, around lake on the path, and back. We try to do this every time I come by myself for a visit.

It's kind of a walk back into our childhoods. We spent a lot of time playing in the parkway, a strip of woods between two sections of town. A small creek runs through the parkway; we always liked to splash there, clear away trash, and look for minnows.

Lake Isaac is really a pond, surrounded by scraggly woods. We'd bike up there when we were kids and spend the whole day adventuring around, finding "forts," and blackberrying. Since that time, the metropark system has taken over that spot of ground, tamed the woods a bit, and spiffed up the trail. It's less wild than it used to be, but there are still kingfishers and snapping turtles. I'm glad, too, that someone looks after it, and it's not going to turn into a subdivision.

Bill and I walk briskly, talking and watching out for birds, mushrooms, leaves turning. It takes about an hour or so. Probably a few miles, enough to stretch out the few remaining kinks from last Saturday's grueling TKD workout. All in all, it's a great walk. We've done it with the kids when I come with my family, but sometimes it's nice just the two of us.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Class Report

Meeting Roan

Today I'm meeting Roan at All-belts. He's the 11 year old son of my friend Katharine, who takes ballet with me. Roan has taken TKD before, but wasn't happy with his school and dropped out. He wants to start again and his mom suggested he try our dojang.

I arrive just as the children's class is ending. Roan and Katharine arrive soon after, and I take him around to meet some people. The young people, Alyssa and Stephanie, Paul and Chelsea are there, and I make introductions. This school is a nice place for tweens and teens. They can work together, boys and girls in a challenging yet collaborative way.

Ms. Pryor is leading the class today. We begin with the usual stuff, then she calls out "everyone line up over here."

We all know what that means when Ms. Pryor is teaching. We're going to go back and forth across the dojang floor, kicking, jumping, hopping, until we're completely exhausted.

That's just what we do. Side kicks across the floor, jump roundhouses, grapevine, all sorts of exhausting moves.

I wonder about Roan. He's at the other end of the room. Katharine had told me he wanted a school where he gets a good workout. I suppose this counts.

After that, we do some sparring exercises, and I pair up with Roan. He's about my size. He seems to enjoy the exercises--quick feints and dodges. He's smiling, and seems to like it when he tags me.

Forms and Energy

Then we work on our forms. Aimee hasn't yet learned Yul-Gok, so we go through the movements slowly. Mr. Schmidt comes over to help us out. "I'm never going to get this one!" she says after some of the tougher new moves. Sounds like me! What seems hardest to both of us: an elbow strike after a side kick and those scraping blocks (the last entry has a photo of Ms. Pryor showing me and Brian the scraping blocks. I guess I should learn their real name . . . .)

At the end of class, we line up to go through all our forms, from Chon-ji up and Palgwe forms. This is new school policy--that we all need to be working on ALL our forms, not just when we test for black belt.

I'm able to go through the forms, but I notice something. After the familiar Chon-ji, which I could probably do in my sleep (though NOT with my eyes closed, if that makes any sense!), I feel my energy output decreasing. It's not that I'm not doing the forms energetically--I am. But I'm off on one side of the dojang without anyone near me, doing the forms alone (some people have left from my row).

It's not so much that I need someone near me to watch--except for Yul-Gok, I know the forms pretty well. It's just that doing forms WITH someone creates a kind of shared energy that you can't get alone.

Everntually, I skitter over to be closer to Brian and Aimee. It's amazing how that affects the way I feel doing the forms, especially being alongside Brian. You'd think that it would be Aimee I'd work best with as she's about my size. But Brian and I practice so much together that we're used to each other. Despite our differing sizes, our pacing is about the same--our kicks are even similar heights. Plus, he's amazingly attuned. Even when he's facing away from me, I notice that he slows down when I get behind. I guess no surprise there. He is the one who pointed out I wasn't breathing during sparring!

At the end of class, I stay to ask some of the black belts for help with the new form.

"It's going to take me weeks to get that side-kick, elbow strike thing," I mutter. I try it, and get the elbow strike wrong: wrong elbow, wrong direction."

"Just think of what you'd do in a fight," says Justin. "You're kicking this way . . ." he demonstrates, ". . . and you slam them in the face."

Brian had given me this advice, and I'm afraid I just looked at him blankly. Didn't help at all. I think men forget that most women don't have much fighting practice.

"Oh yeah, that's really helpful," I joke to Justin. "Like I know how to fight someone."

"You have to be aware of where your legs and feet are," says Mr. Schmidt. "As your leg comes around into a front stance, your hip will rotate and bring that arm around." OK. That makes a bit of sense.

"You have to reach for that action-reaction," says Ms. Pryor. She does the move, reaching way out with the arm opposite from the striking arm.

I try a couple of times, and get some encouragement. Luckily I've got time to learn this one!

I'm hot and sweaty and tired as I leave. I'll be on a plane and in airports all afternoon--it'll be good to be ready to sit down.

Friday, October 14, 2005


I was glad to see June at the belt ceremony. She and her son Raidon been gone for a while.

"Did you and Raidon test early?" I asked her.

"No. We tested on Monday," she told me. The Monday after tests is make-up day. "And look what happened." She pushed up her right sleeve. Her forearm was black and blue and swollen.

"June! What happened?" I asked.

"I broke with an elbow break." June showed me the elbow break--you bend your arm in front of you and break by slamming into the board with your bent arm. The muscle that runs along the bone hits the board.

"Yikes," I said. "I am not looking forward to hand and arm breaks. Maybe I'll quit before I have to do them. My hands and arms are too small and skinny."

Actually, I began to wonder if June was also a victim of not-quite-seasoned boards.

I was sensing a pattern. Brian had told me that the day after the test, his foot had swollen up. I'd thought he hadn't had any trouble at all--he broke on his first try with the jump front snap kick. But after the test he had told me that he'd really felt it when he broke. That's probably why he had trouble.

Later, after the ceremony, I greeted Justin.

"How's your hand?" I asked. "Do I dare shake it?"

He showed me his right hand; the knuckles were still black and blue from breaking at the tournament. "Still a bit swollen," he said.

"I think maybe breaking boards with your hand is a pretty dumb idea," I kidded. "Did you see my foot?" I showed him my injury.

"That's a pretty dumb idea, breaking boards with your foot," he kidded back.

My resolution: I resolve to protect my limbs by breaking only wood that I KNOW is seasoned. I'll bring my own boards if I have to. I have some one-by-twelve pine in the basement, sitting right by the dehumidifier. That's what I'm using from now on! Now I just need a saw . . .

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm so blue: Belt Ceremony

Belt ceremonies are festive gatherings. They're a time of great celebration. After a hard test (aren't they all?) it's nice to celebrate. This time my favorite photographer, Robbie, came along to take photos!

At a Belt Ceremony, we arrive and line up close together, and often start with a few punches and kihaps together.

Master Hughes then calls us up to the front, beginning with the lowest belts. We go up with our peers. We bow, then turn and take off our old belts. Master Hughes comes to each person and ties on the new belt.

Then there's lots of time for pictures and congratulations.
Here I am (in the picture below) with Michelle and her dad, Brian A. Michelle cracks me up. When I came into the changing room before the ceremony, she greeted me with "Hi Jane! I'm learning algebra!"

Both she and Brian A. are great to be around; their sunny, optimistic personalities and great senses of humor are contagious.

Here I am with the other blue belts. I'm hamming it up and showing off my tattoo. You don't want ALL the belt ceremony pictures to look the same. Maybe we should do a human pyramid next time.

After the celebrating, Ms. Pryor helped me and Brian with our new form. It's a really cool form with some moves I didn't understand. Ms. Pryor explained them to me. That slow punch at the beginning is kind of pushing someone away. The scrapes down each arm are blocks.

"This form really shows off your power," said Ms. Pryor.

"Oh great," I replied. "Like I have any power."

"This form will bring it out," she reassured me. Here's Brian patiently showing me the first moves.

Brian worked with me on the form for a while. He knows it from helping Matthew. Actually, Matthew wanted to help me, too. Here you can see me learning the form in a movie that Robbie made. "It's called 'Mom Learning Her Form,'" says Robbie.

I think I'll have Robbie take a movie of us doing the form when I actually know it, too!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Korean or American? has a really interesting strand going now in their Korean Martial arts section asking the question: "Would you prefer to train under a Korean instructor?"

So far, 16 people have answered the poll, and 76% says "doesn't matter." 19% say they'd rather have a Korean instructor.

Those who say "doesn't matter" explain in several ways--that both Koreans and Americans can be good--or bad--teachers. It's the skill and ability to teach that's most important, not the country of origin. Sometimes, in fact, if the Korean instructor isn't good at speaking English, that can make the class more difficult. One person said that he'd had trouble with a Korean instructor who seemed to prefer other Koreans, though many others took objection to that post.

Those who said they wanted a Korean instructor said that the Korean instructor may be "more in touch" with the spirit of the style. One person said that with a Korean instructor, you'd get more of a sense of that culture.

Master Hughes and I were just discussing this issue the other day. He told about a student who came to him after taking classes with a renowned Korean martial artist. The student was not very good, but after taking several classes with Master Hughes had improved a great deal. The student's parents said that Master Hughes's class was much better than the one with the renowned Korean's.

How does one choose a good teacher? I think that different people look for different qualities in a teacher: skill, strictness, ability to encourage, approachability, ability to explain difficult matters, patience . . .

I've written here before about the problem of just assuming someone who's good at something can teach it. That's certainly not true. Not only do you have to have skill in an area, you need experience in helping people learn, and you need to remember how you learned. In fact, sometimes I feel better at teaching something I've had to struggle with. At any rate, you really have to learn how to teach, through experience, mentoring, and reflection. TKDRocker has written about this in her blog recently. I think she has a good mentor!

Our school has a nice variety of teachers--we've often talked about that in the locker room. Master Hughes has high expectations, but endless patience, good humor, and great ideas for breaking down the steps of diffucult moves. He sets a wonderful atmosphere for learning--which is half the battle with teaching.

The other teachers add to this learning atmosphere. Ms. Pryor is super-athletic, willing to work on the basics with us, and good at explaining things one-on-one. Mr. Wasson is a young teacher still, but he has a calm presence, lots of energy, and is also willing to walk around and help people during class.

Stacy is great at working one-on-one--she knows her forms really well. She also remembers what was hard for her and what worked. I think it's important for teachers to remember the struggle!

I also think that Jeanne must be a great teacher after having her be my judge at the test. She noticed things, and was helpful and encouraging.

There's a great variety of teachers at our school. I'm trying to watch them and learn how best to help others learn--that's a big part of being there.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Responses to my test day tattoo:

Robbie: You have TWO tattoos, Mom.
TKDMom: Yep. That's the yin-yang and the symbol for joy.
Robbie: I need a new one. Is there one that says "destruction"?

Brian: You have a tattoo again!
TKDMom: Yep.
Brian: I bet it says "nerd."
TKDMom: Well then it would be very appropriate for me, wouldn't it!

TKDMom: Matthew, do you want a tattoo? I have a bunch of them.
Matthew: No!
Brian: Aw, come on Matthew! She could give you one.
Matthew: Only if you get one, Dad!
Brian: No thanks. I'd be afraid she'd give me one that says "nerd."

Brian A.: Did you go and get yourself a tattoo?
TKDMom: It's not a real one. If it was a real one, I'd have to have the same one all the time.
Brian A.: Good point!

Saturday, October 08, 2005


I should probably not write a blog entry so soon after the test. (I got back about 30 minutes ago).

I have noticed that after exams I feel a bit let down.

Still, the guys took off soon after I got home ("I did OK," I hinted, after no one inquired about the test), so might as well write a bit while it's quiet.

Good things
I had extremely good focus during the test. I felt very focused and sure during basic moves. Master Hughes yelled out a "good, Jane" as we stood in a side-kick position, balancing (the balance muse was with me today). I felt like there was an impermeable bubble around me--I could see what others were doing, but my focus was contained.

We kicked pads while our black belt testers held pads. Jeanne liked my jump front snap kick. I got a "good job, Jane" for that, too.

My ITF form, Wan Hyo, went very well. I was in between Heidi and Aimee, and we all did it together. I didn't forget or miss anything.

I sparred Jim--an intense brown belt (yikes). Despite being a bit intimidated after a few seconds, I came back with some reasonably good kicks. I think I might have scored one or two on him.

I also held my own against Heidi, who is, in a way, a more difficult opponent because she is my size.

Not-So Good Things
Right before Palgwe 4 (adults were doing Palgwe forms), I reminded myself that Heidi, to my left, would be doing Palgwe 3 and that I should not be distracted. But as we started, she accidentally began to do Wan Hyo! It was her mistake, but it threw me, and I was off for the rest of the form. :-(

I couldn't break with one of my favorite kicks, the jump front snap kick. I hit that board hard three times, but it didn't break. Master Hughes had me break with the jump reverse, and that took 3 times as well. And I got a nasty heel cut: a breaking wound. :-(

Jeanne asked me if I knew how many movements were in Wan Hyo. I had no idea. Actually, I don't really care. I also was pretty weak at counting in Korean, and I do care about that.

Rather than just handing me a band-aid, Brian A. bound up my breaking wound. "You need some tape on this, too," he said, putting tape over the band-aid. I wasn't sure I needed the tape, but I let him take care of me.

Back in the locker room, we all kvetched about the non-breaking boards. I told Pam I was reassured when she couldn't break hers. "I figured if YOU couldn't break it, there must be something weird with the boards," I said.

Pam told me that she loved to watch me do a jump front snap kick. "You've got great form," she said.

I told the women in the changing room that I figured when we don't break on the first try, it turns into a test of our indomitable spirit.

I walked out of the building with Brian and Matthew. "How'd you do?" I asked Brian. "I'm still here," he said. "I guess we'll get rid of these green belts on Wednesday." Now that's sensible.

For his part, Matthew darted around like a little TKD sprite. He showed me the cans he'd collected for the 5 cent deposits (a whole pile on the floor of the front seat of Brian's Jeep) and assured me that yes, his dad's car was REALLY fun to ride in especially with the top down!!!

It's a good thing to have TKD friends--they can lift a person's spirits, even after a tough test.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Lap swimming today for my cross-training. I'm hoping it will help make me feel extra strong tomorrow for that test.

Swimming is a great exercise: aerobic, good for joints, doesn't take too long to get a good workout, uses lots of different muscles.

Only problem: having to get wet and cold.

Oh, that and goggle marks around the eyes.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tonight at the dojang, I . . . .

1. Talked to Justin. He'd been in a tournament over the weekend run by Master Hughes's old teacher, Master Jung. It was a very big tournament, apparently, with lots of competitors. Justin showed me his knuckles, swollen from an unsuccesssful break attempt. Still, he did very well, bringing back a first place in forms and just barely missing the Grand Champion.

2. Watched the boys learn something new. Master Hughes had them learning how to take care of a jukdo, the bamboo practice sword. They were doing something with the string that holds the swords together.

3. Practiced my forms, backwards from Palgwe 4. I wished I'd had someone to help me, but no one was there. But it was good just to practice them.

4. Felt proud of Robbie. Robbie really loves the sword, and it shows in his hard work and focus in class. He looks good swinging it--he seems to have the strikes learned pretty well. Master Hughes says he's ready to test for his yellow belt!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

attitude and etiquette

At the parade on Saturday, I was talking about my colleagues about the pleasure of being a student in TKD and ballet. Lisa said she'd recently learned how to ski alongside some students, and had found it cool to be a learner while her students were the experts.

Karla said "I love learning, but I hate having to do what people tell me to do."

Eli piped up, "Me too!"

In Tae Kwon Do you really have to be OK with having people tell you what to do. There's a clear hierarchy in TKD--that whole belt system with people being "higher" and "lower" than each other. Those higher than you CAN tell you what to do!

I guess I don't hate that as much as Karla does. I'm OK with letting someone tell me what to do, with following instructions. In fact, I think it's kind of cool when all of us follow Master Hughes's instructions and do "basic movements" all at once. Thirty people (or more) doing low blocks together. Or Kwansu with a kiap! Cool.

Still, I am not completely OK with obedience. Sometimes when we're running through basic moves I think "this looks like an army." Blind obedience. I'm not big into obedience; at least I'm very picky about whom I obey.

In fact, when I filled out my test form, I noticed that there's a section called "attitude and etiquette." I immediately thought "yeesh, I'm not very good at that."

I sometimes think of attitude and etiquette in TKD as "yes sir" and "no sir." I don't naturally say those things. I tend to want to think about what people ask me to do: note my reaction to the self-defense move! I'm surprised Ms. Pryor didn't make me do push-ups.

Master Hughes talked to us about etiquette at the end of class yesterday. He challenged us to be more aware of etiquette: to bow properly, to greet blackbelts when we arrive. But the way he explained it was that it was politeness, not obedience, that should make us do this.

OK then. I can go with that attitude.

In fact, he then segued into a little talk about standing up for yourself and NOT going blindly along with other people. He gave an example of smoking, which he tried as a teen, then quit. "I got teased for that," he said. "But I know I was doing the right thing."

So maybe at our dojang, etiquette isn't mere obedience. It's more like integrity and respect along with some kindness and ethics.

I have to keep thinking about this. Maybe I won't fail that segment of the test after all.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"I like that story, Mom. . .

. . . about how when you kicked the heavy bag and it went ka-creak ka-creak. That was funny."

Says Eli.

The story, as I told it to Eli and Robbie:

We're working on flying side kicks Wednesday, and Master Hughes has all the adults line up to do them with the heavy bag while he holds the pad for the children.

So I'm watching the others do their kicks. Mr. Wasson first. He runs, he jumps, he kicks, and the whole bag and frame shudder with a huge KA-WHACKA-BOOM-rattle-rattle.

Jim goes, and the same thing. KA-WHACKA-BOOM-rattle rattle. Jim has to stand there for a while holding the bag so it stops moving. Others run and jump. The heavy bag swings and rattles, its frame practically coming off the floor with some of those kicks.

My turn. I love this kick, and I'm good at it. I run, I jump, I kick, I hit the bag.

Ka-Creak. Ka-Creak. The bag swings gently with the weight of my kick . . . Mindy yells out to me "That was cute!"



Maybe I'll have seconds on ice cream tonight.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Not at class

I didn't go to class today. I was otherwise occupied.

The students at the college asked me to be a Homecoming Parade Judge. I was honored and amused. So I went. Eli joined me as assistant judge.

Here I am with some colleagues, in a very judicial pose.

The float that gave us the bribe won.

They would have won even without the bribe. Really.

Bruce and Robbie came up, along with Robbie's friend Derek. It was a beautiful day for a parade, cookout, and football game. I take Robbie and Derek to the game after the parade. They watched the game intermittantly, eating candy from the parade and occasionally leaving the stands to run around in a nearby field.

I stayed in the stands and tried to concentrate. I'm actually not a big fan of sports. In fact, I am a terrible football-game-watcher. I have this tendency to space out as I'm staring at the field.

I wonder if their feet get tired from standing there, I think. Or I wonder which ones are my students. They all look the same with that gear on.

However, this time, I looked up at one point to see one of my students, Nate--who is number 88 and a WR, which I guess means Wide Receiver--catch the ball and make a good run with it. I stood up and yelled "Go Nate!" I felt like a real fan, at least for one moment.