Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thinking hard about self-defense

A warning to all you readers: I've just re-read this post (I wrote it last night) and finally decided to publish it to my blog. But it's long and it's intense, so if you're looking for something cheery and light, you might want to wait until another day!

Master Hughes: "I know it's fun to do self-defense moves . . . "

Brian: "We should practice self-defense more often."

I'm thinking: It gives me the creeps.

OK. I've said it before. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I am just not getting it. But of all the things we practice in Tae Kwon Do, self-defense is my least favorite. More than that. It makes me physically and psychologically uncomfortable to do self-defense moves.

Monday night it wasn't too bad at first. We were in our long lines for combination kicking practice and I was across from Zachary, a boy about 11. Master Hughes had us practice the "breakaway" move: escaping from someone who's got your wrist. The trick is, as you martial artists know, to rotate your wrist and pull against their thumb, not their fingers.

(Master Hughes: "Do you want to fight one, or fight four?" Us: "One, sir!" Master Hughes: "Right! Unless you're crazy!")

Apparently Mr. Miyaki taught this to Daniel-san as "wax on, wax off" in the movie Karate Kid. I don't remember the movie that well!

So we practice these escapes--Stephanie joins me and Zach, and it's fun! We take turns being the "bad guy," grabbing our victim in different ways so he or she has to quickly figure out which way to turn the wrist.

Maybe it's especially fun--and not creepy--because these are kids I'm working with. They have the right attitude, and maybe not the kinds of fears an adult might have. I don't know.

Master Hughes then gets our attention.

"OK. Now let's work on what you do if someone grabs you by the shirt. Chelsea, come on up and help."

Chelsea goes up to help demonstrate. Black belts need to know these simple self-defense moves as well as the ritualized moves of TKD. Though she's just 15 or so, she's a 2nd degree BB, and Chelsea really knows her stuff. She's demonstrated various activities before, and she's always being willing to work with lower belts.

Master Hughes lets Chelsea choose the kind of self-defense moves she wants to show at first, but then he wants to show us not just how to escape, but also how to harm your captor. So they switch roles, and Chelsea is the attacker. Master Hughes shows how we don't have to just run away. We can put our attacker in a wrist hold. He demonstrates on Chelsea, bending her arm back around and holding her wrist. Her eyes widen.

"Does that hurt?" he asks.

Chelsea hesitates.

So what do you answer when your instructor asks if something hurts?

In most cases, you're supposed to say "no, sir!" As in when you've tried over and over to break and you finally do it. He asks "did that hurt?" and you're supposed to say "no, sir!" He asks, after a battery of push-ups and sit ups or slow side kicks, "Are you tired?" and you're supposed to say "No, sir!" You're dripping with sweat and the instructor asks "Do we need the AC?" And you're supposed to say "No, ma'am."

Is this a sports thing? A macho thing? A martial thing? I don't know and I don't really like it. I always (quietly) say "yes" if I hurt or am tired, but would not say it to an instructor's face. I know it's probably supposed to build character or to keep group morale high . . but at what expense?

Chelsea does not say anything, and Master Hughes jokingly pushes a bit harder. "Does it hurt now?" And he lets up. She still has not said anything.

They begin to go on, but it becomes slowly apparent that those are tears that Chelsea is brushign from the corners of her eyes. Master Hughes notices immediately, and puts his arms around her in a rough hug. "Chelsea! I didn't mean to hurt you. You need to tell me if it hurts." He demonstrates by slapping his thigh. He immediatly gives her something to do--he has her throw him to the ground.

I am proud that nobody gives her too much sympathy, "oh poor Chelsea!" That would be wrong. She recovers her equilibrium quickly. Still, something tightens in my chest.

We go on. It's time to practice the wrist lock. Zach, Stephanie, and I try twisting each others' hands off the lapels of our uniforms. None of us seem to be able to get it right. We turn and watch Brian and Brittany, the pair next to us. Brian, of course, can do any self-defense maneuver quickly and effectively. He's giving Brittany pointers.

"I can't get this one," I say.

"Here. Grab my shirt." I grab Brian's shirt, and quicker than I can possibly imagine, he has me in a wrist lock, twisting my arm so I'm corkscrewing under his arm.

"And I can do this, too." With one finger, Brian presses down on my thumb. It doesn't hurt much, but I can see that it could. It could, if he wanted it to. I feel myself gasp and I let out a squeak: "hey!" Brian lets go. I back away.

We don't have a chance for me to try it on him.

Master Hughes claps. Class is over.

"We need to practice this more often," Brian says. Now I realize what he means. He means I need to practice this more often. I bet he can tell I'm getting freaked out.

I realize later that he must have sensed my unease, as usual. Or why else would he deliver a short article about a woman using self-defense against an attacker in the woods along with my test form. Still. I don't think he realizes the exact nature of my discomfort. I don't think our class ever address the nature of my discomfort.

Of all the women I've known in my lifetime, I know none who've been attacked by a stranger.

Of the women I've known who've been attacked, hurt, raped, (a small handful of friends and acquaintances, but still too many) it's been someone she's known. A father. An uncle. A husband. A friend. I'd like to say this would never happen to me--I pride myself on having good intuition about who to trust and who not to trust . . . but how do I know for sure?

Like Chelsea, if it did ever happen to me, I know my first reaction would be disbelief. I'll just do what's expected of me. I wouldn't believe that this person would really harm me.

But I'll have to learn to know the difference. I'll have to know when what they're doing isn't not friendly anymore, even if it's someone I'd trusted, or thought I'd trusted. Because maybe they won't even know they're hurting me (Master Hughes would never hurt a student intentionally.)

And that's much harder than kicking a bad guy in the nuts and running.

And for all the emphasis on self-defense in martial arts, this never gets talked about.

Talk about it to me, here on this blog, if you have something to say.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Showing Up

The other day, I asked Justin why he's continued in Tae Kwon Do for 5 years and he wrote a nice entry in his Xanga about it. It made me think about why I'm continuing to learn Tae Kwon Do--and why I continue any activity I voluntarily began.

One reason I continue is that I don't let a bad class or a clumsy day get me down. I keep going because I know that clumsy days are inevitable, and that continuing to work through them will make me better.

Sometimes the important thing is just showing up.

Yesterday was one of those showing up days. Before class, I'd picked up the boys from school, entertained a friend's son for a while, emptied the dishwasher, tidied the living room, supervised Eli while he played with our new pet rats, and figured out what to have for supper. This is typical. Usually when it's time for all-belts, I'm very ready to leave the house again!

Not yesterday.

I was sitting there with the kitty on my lap and the cold rain outside, and I just did not want to go. I knew I'd be clumsy after a week long break.

"I just don't feel like punching and kicking anyone," I said to no one in particular.

But I went anyway. It was mostly habit that got me out the door.

This is the way it is with lap-swimming for me. If I thought about it each time, I would never go! It's just not that fun. But sometimes I'm standing in the shower with my suit and cap on before I realize I'm there--I've gotten there by habit. And my joints and muscles appreciate it later!

So I arrived at the dojang to find everything in motion. Master Hughes was supervising the moving of the rest of our weight and workout equipment into a room that adjoins the dojang. I joined in, glad to be part of it all, glad to see my TKD friends. All that helps on a day when you're just "showing up."

It was probably about 3/4 of the way through class before I finally felt glad to be there.

I think Robbie has not yet discovered the "showing up" aspect of any activity. After his sword class Sunday, he complained to me that he found it "boring" and that he wanted to quit. I didn't say much--when he's in that mood, he won't listen; just wants to argue.

It takes some imagination to understand that bad days and boring days are just part of any activity. You have to keep your sights on some distant goal: becoming a better martial artist, earning a black belt, winning a tournament. Whatever it takes.

This is the way it is with swimming. Habit gets me there and helps me ignore the fact that I hate getting wet in the winter. My reward: fitness. In ballet, I get through clumsy classes by remembering that just showing up and going through the motions will help muscle memory, and eventually help me become the dancer I want to be. When I was learning piano and got discouraged, I'd remember how wonderful it was to listen to my mom play and how I'd like to get that good.

So I guess that's one reason I am sticking with Tae Kwon Do--because it offers me a distant, worthwhile goal (becoming a strong, focused, graceful martial artist) so that I can get through those "showing up" days when they come.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Not Idle

Usually Thanksgiving break means eating lots of food and lounging around on couches, reading the paper or chatting with my sister- and brother-in-law (we spend every Thanksgiving with them).

We're pretty active families, so sometimes, we go to the zoo and walk around. This year, we did that Thanksgiving morning. Here are Robbie and Eli and their cousin, Rebecca, watching the penguins.

The penguins were roaring! They'd put their heads back and let out a foghorn-like sound. Robbie could imitate them pretty well. Wish I had a picture of THAT!

We did some inside things at the zoo, too, as it was in the single digits, with windchill. We had fun visiting the reptile house.

This year, I got an active Thanksgiving. Susan, my sister-in-law, decided to treat me to a Pilates class before we left--as an early Christmas gift.

So early Saturday morning, we headed out to her Pilates Studio. We took off our shoes outside in the hall and entered a small room filled with benches, pulleys, bars, and mirrors.

I'd heard of Pilates from my friends in ballet. It's a system of exercises designed by Joseph Pilates back during WWI. Pilates was a gymnast who'd had a sickly childhood. He'd strengthened himself through simple exercises, and he used those exercises during the war when he helped injured soldiers and influenza victims.

(A total tangent: I just finished an excellent novel about the influenza epidemic. Yes, a great novel about illness! Myla Goldberg's new book Wickett's Remedy is a multi-dimensional historical novel with a strong female protagonist, fascinating reflections on the nature of memory, and a satisfying yet mysterious love-story ending.)

Pilates didn't have much in the way of exercise equpiment to help his patients. He had to make do with cast-off hospital beds, ropes and pulleys. And that's what Pilates equipment looks like, as you can see here.

With that cast-off stuff, he invented an exercise program to strengthen his patients. The patients also gained flexibility and balance.

You can see why ballet people like it.

Susan and I had a great "semi-private" workout with an excellent instructor. She really worked our core muscles--abdomen, back, butt, and hip flexors until we were sweaty and shaking! Here I am using a machine called, believe it or not, "The Reformer" (you can tell this guy was German!).

This crazy exercise, below, is done on a footstool with a springy platform. It's called "The Elephant." You use your abdominal muscles to lift your feet up and you curl over the top, holding on to the footstool.

Susan's been doing it for a while, so she held out very well. I enjoyed the challenge. And afterwards I noticed that my posture was much better than usual--I felt a lift through my stomach and back. I felt balanced and light. I felt taller! (and this is a very good thing!)

I think I will find out if there's someone here who can work with me on devising a simple Pilates regimen I can do at home. I don't have time for another weekly exercise class, but I do think that the benefits of Pilates will help me with balance, strength, and flexibility in both ballet and Tae Kwon Do.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Grueling workouts

So what kind of class did Justin get for his anniversary celebration day?

He--and all of us--got a killer workout.

We began with lots of serious stretching.

I've grumbled before on this blog about the tendency of TKD classes to START with stretching, serious stretching, before we're warmed up. I won't gripe again about how one needs to have broken a sweat before serious stretching. . . . especially those of us over 30.

The good things were: it was fairly warm in the dojang. Also, I paired up with Stacey, which was nice. She's a quiet, gentle person, but a serious martial artist, too. She's small-boned like I am and used to dance. I liked working with her. It made me think once again that an all-women class would be fun sometime.

We did all sorts of stretches to improve our splits. They did work--I got a good stretch. Master Hughes supervised it all and wandered around the dojang helping students and giving others a hard time . . . I got both! He seemed happy to be back to teaching.

After stretching, we did the old "everyone line up on this side" business: hopping, kicking, side-kicking from one end of the dojang to the other. "Keep moving, keep jogging."

I wasn't sore the next day, surprisingly. But ballet class finished me off! Tuesday class is always more of a workout than Thursday. Suki had lots of good barre exercises, including an adagio completely on releve (on our toes) which made us tired, and a petite allegro that we worked on for quite a while. "It's from my advanced class," Suki explained, which made us proud, depite the exhaustion in our legs.

Today, I'm stiff in my calves, but happy. Long Thanksgiving break coming up, so it's good to have some serious workouts beforehand!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


At the end of all-belts class last night, Master Hughes announded that there would be a celebration directly after class.

"Justin is celebrating his fifth anniversary in Tae Kwon Do. I think there's some cake."

There was cake; two, in fact, provided by Justin's sister. I took pictures, then took over the cake responsibilities so Justin could celebrate with his friends.

Stephanie decorated his face with frosting. He didn't seem to mind.

An anniversary like that--five years in TKD--is certainly one worth celebrating. Not everyone sticks with martial arts that long.

Justin and I have talked about this before. Many of the people who started with him five years ago are no longer doing TKD any more. They got their black belts and then faded out of the picture. Or things in their lives changed and they left our dojang.

I recognize that goal-oriented approach to TKD: some people are there to "get a black belt." That goal is an end point for many people. It becomes some sort of proof of ability, strength, etc. Actually, from my reading and what I've learned at the dojang, the black belt is just the beginning of being a martial artist. Still, most people think of it as an ending point.

If you think of it that way, it makes sense that you quit once you've gotten it.

Justin obviously doesn't think of it that way. He mentioned that he will probably not continue with tennis that much longer, but he wanted to continue with Tae Kwon Do. I hope he writes about this on his blog sometime: why does he continue when so many of his peers quit? Maybe that's something that long-time martial artists have to think about often.

How do I view it? I don't think "getting my black belt" has ever been a particular goal of mine. I think I always just wanted to learn a martial art. I like the approach to life that it brings with it: the approach it has to conflict, to discipline, to focus. And as long as I'm learning and enjoying it and getting better and stronger, I'm going to stay with it. It's OK if it's hard.

I told Justin that I want to still be taking ballet when I'm 70. I hope to be taking martial arts when I'm 70, too. At least that's the way I feel now.

Maybe I'll even have a black belt by then!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Watching sparring

We broke today at all-belts, and I was able to do my axe kick break on the 2nd try. Brian and I also went through a bunch of forms. There was some side-kick practice that made my hips ache. But mostly, we sparred.

Justin had us get in circles to do some round-robin sparring. Basically, different pairs get chances to spar each other. Often the winner will pick their next partner; this time, we just took turns with different pairs each time.

You learn different things when you spar like this. Mostly, you get more of a chance to watch others spar. In fact, you have to watch--and watch for points. Kicks or punches to the torso are usually 1 point and kicks to the head 2 points.

I think it's good to learn how to watch for point scoring. It helps you focus and helps you learn to officiate a match, which all black belts need to know how to do. I also watched how others kicked and blocked, and noticed how the better sparrers really moved their arms to cover the sides of their torsos as they sparred.

The guys--the dads, I mean--were full of vinegar today, teasing each other, joking around, laughing. Women seemed to be seriously outnumbered in class (Stacy and I were the only grownups) which seemed to add to the boistrous air.

Brian and Brian sparred in an endless match--or maybe two. They're both pretty good. I can't even remember who won, but I do remember all the guys took it easier than usual, keeping their hits to "light to no contact."

I sparred against Jamie, a green belt high school girl. I'm more than twice her age, but I'm faster and have more sparring experience, so I won without too much problem.

At the end, Justin challenged anyone who wanted to spar him. LOTS of people took him up on that; mostly the black belt girls, who gave him a run for his money. Paul did well, too. Justin must have sparred in 6 or 8 matches. Quite impressive as most people get too winded to do that much fighting at once. Usually the teacher doesn't get to have that much of a workout! It must have been that pop-tart he ate before class that gave him the energy to get through it.

I was disappointed, though, not to have the chance to spar again--maybe back in our usual sparring lines--after our round robin. After watching all those matches, I wanted to try out some things. Maybe we'll have time on Monday; after that, there'll be a break for Thanksgiving that's long enough for me to forget stuff!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Black Belt Photo Op?

At class on Monday, Master Hughes told us a bit about his trip to Costa Rica. He'd visited a TKD school down there, and had a chance to watch classes and talk with instructors.

He also was able to show off our school's new on-line photo album, a blog I set up here on blogspot, Hughes TKD Picture Album. He was glad to have pictures of us to show off to his central American colleagues, and I was pleased that he shared it!

"But there aren't any pictures of me on it!" he announced.

That got me thinking.

We need pictures of Master Hughes on our photoblog. He's a 7th Dan Black belt and national forms champion!

But how and when would we get pictures of him DOING Tae Kwon Do? He's usually busy teaching.

Here was my idea: I would love for our school to have a black belt demonstration sometime, when we can see all our blackbelts, including Master Hughes, working out at their best: doing forms, sparring, breaking. Brian A. could bring his camera to take photos, and I could post the photos to our blog.

A black belt demo would be instructive and inspirational to those of us who are moving through the ranks in Tae Kwon Do. Sometimes you hit a plateau and wonder if you should keep going. Seeing what blackbelts can do might inspire and educate us about what new things we'll learn and perfect.

Also, I think it would be good for the blackbelts. They don't test as often--maybe once a year? Less than that for higher Dans. A demo would give them a performance opportunity to work toward. Maybe there could even be some kind of reward for participating.

Tournament season starts pretty soon; a demo would give blackbelts a chance to practice for tournaments.

I wonder what others think of this. Do other schools offer this opportunity? Would black belts be interested? Would this be fun or at least satisfying for them to do? Would those of us lower in rank show up? (I would!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ballet + TKD = a good idea

I got a bit of ribbing Monday because I was wearing my legwarmers again.

I don't care. I like them!

In ballet, we wear these to help get our muscles warm when the studio's cold. We also do the gentle stretching and isometrics of barre exercises before we do major stretching. In fact, only after we've broken a sweat do we work on jumps and big stretches.

In TKD, we don't have barre. Most of the movements are strenuous from the beginning. So I think it's especially important to make sure one's muscles are warm, especially if one is . . . over 30, say.

I highly recommend these leg warmers to anyone who'd like to start your martial arts class with warm muscles, even during the cold winter months! Slip these on under your uniform and yank them off once you get warm. You can get them in many different colors; the least expensive ones come in black, white, or pink. My favorite source is Discount Dance Supply, where you can order item #5400, 27" leg warmers for only $8.95. And their delivery is fast!

I'm going to order some in white to go under my TKD uniform. If anyone from my school would like me to order you a pair, let me know :-)

Monday, November 14, 2005

All Together Now--and One on One

Master Hughes is back at All-belts tonight. And the junior belts are there. Both Brians are there. Nice to be there with everyone.

Still, it seems like a lot of my learning tonight is from one-on-one work with people.

Master Hughes
We do some work on combination kicking, and after Master Hughes tells us to work on our high kicks, I flag him down.

"So when and where would I use an axe kick in sparring? What do I aim at?" I ask.

"Aim at the head. You use it when you want to move in, or move them back." Master Hughes demonstrates.

For the axe kick, you swing your leg up and around in front of you (an inside-outside kick) and then snap it straight down, like an axe. Master Hughes doing that in front of me certainly makes me want to move back!

I try it a few times, getting it wrong (I'm swinging my leg in from the outside). Master Hughes corrects me, and I manage to get it right a few times.

"You want to intimidate them with it," Master Hughes adds after he's helped me get my kick right.
"So you're wanting ME to be intimidating?" I ask, incredulously.
"You'll get there," he says.

It'll be a while.

At the class on Friday, we learned some new throws and a wrist lock.
"You need to practice these," said Ms. Pryor. "Find someone who'll let you do it on them until you feel comfortable doing them."

I hadn't done this yet, but I figure I can practice it on Brian. He's a good sport and knows about self-defense stuff.

OK, besides, I kind of want to show off . . . Pam had complimented me on the speed and efficiency of my wrist lock.

"Hey, let me try this new wrist lock on you," I tell him. "Grab me by the shirt, just one hand."

He grabs, and I'm immediately thrown off . . . Brian is left-handed, so he grabs with his dominant hand. Oh no! I've only done this on the right hand!

Not that I remember it very well anyway. Brian obligingly switches hands, but I suddenly can't remember the steps Ms. Pryor showed me. Kevin coaches me a bit--he remembers the moves better than I do.

Later, though, Brian confides that there are easier ways to use a wrist lock--he shows me three, and they certainly work on me! I'm going to have to have him show me those again--and I'm going to have to practice them more!

Justin and I had made plans to have a little sparring practice after class tonight. I'm grateful for the opportunity--Wednesday is the usual day for sparring practice, and I don't usually go that day.

So after class, we get our pads on. Alyssa comes by with her pads--she and Justin like to practice sparring each other, too, but she spars with me first while Justin watches.

(Before this happens, though, Chelsea and Cavio wander by.

"I'm going to have a little sparring practice," I say to their puzzled looks. "Justin's gong to help me and maybe give me some tips."

"Like you NEED any sparring tips, Jane," says Chelsea.

Wow. This is a confidence-building compliment, coming from someone whose sparring style I really admire! Still, I disagree. I DO need more practice and any useful tips I can get!)

I like Alyssa's sparring style. She's fast but doesn't hit too hard (at least with me!), and she has lots of high kicks.

When we take a break, Justin gives me some pointers--mostly to keep at my kicking and not to step back so often. I know I tend to step back . . .

Then Justin and Alyssa spar. They're fun to watch, though I'm not sure either of their fighting styles approximates mine. Justin is powerful and intimidating with great balance. Alyssa is fast and flexible with lots of kicks to the head. She got him a few times!

Finally, I spar with Justin, who doesn't seem at all winded from the match with Alyssa. Go figure. I try to remember to stay in there, but get clocked in the back of the head and the cheekbone for my efforts!

"I'm getting back at Alyssa," says Justin. "She kicked me twice in the head and now I've kicked you twice in the head."

Now that's some one-on-one work I'm not so sure about!

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Before class Friday night:
Kevin is looking at the leg warmers peeking out from underneath my uniform.
"What do you have on your feet?" he asks.
"Leg warmers. From ballet. They keep my muscles warm when it's cold in here."
"Are they socks?"
"No," I answer. "They go up over my knees." I pat my legs where the leg warmers end. "I can pull them off when I get warmed up. You probably don't remember when leg warmers were a fashion statement, back in the mid-eighties."
"I remember the eighties, but . . . well, I'm 34."
He doesn't remember the eighties.

After class Friday night:
Ms. Pryor is telling us about some kind of martial arts contest or reality show or something she signed up for.
"They said they were looking for people from 18-34, but I entered anyway. I think they should include those of us who are older!" she tells us.
I agree. "I think our story might be more interesting. Besides, being "over 34" isn't old for martial arts."
"Well, I'm probably the oldest one here tonight," she says.
"I don't think so, ma'am," I say. "First, I don't think you're old. And besides, I bet I'm older than you are. I'm 43."
"You're 43?" she asks. "Then you beat me by just a little. I turn 43 this month."
Then I realize: I was the oldest one there that night.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Adults only

Friday night was a special TKD class, led by Ms. Pryor. She told us about it earlier. She planned to work on 1 and 3-step sparring. "And we'll sweat and sweat and sweat some more."

I decided to do it. I wasn't crazy about the sweat and sweat stuff, but I did want to work on those 1 and 3 steps.

I got there a bit early, and wondered if anyone was there. It was quiet in the dojang, but the lights were on. It wasn't empty, though. Pam and Jim were there with their son Paul, Kevin, Aimee and Heidi, Curt, Justin, and Ms. Pryor. Everyone was warming up quietly and intensely. There was a totally different feel from when the junior belts are there, runing, yelling, teasing each other.

I slipped my leg warmers on under my uniform and stretched out with Sun Salutation.

Ms. Pryor had advertised this class as "solid belts only." The children don't need to learn 1 and 3 step sparring, so they didn't need to be there. It really altered the feeling of the class not to have them there. We were able to focus more easily, move more quickly through the exercises. I did miss the joy and levity they bring to class, though!

Still, it was an awesome class. It's not a Ms. Pryor class without cardio exercises across the floor--we did those, of course. We also worked on some of the lower belt forms, facing different sides of the dojang. Now that's tricky, if you're used to facing the front!

Most of the class, though was devoted to 1 and 3-steps, and some self-defense.

This is what I really needed: to go over those one and 3-steps over and over. I think I now have the white belt 3-steps down. Number one: step back and avoid, step back and avoid, step over, block/punch, block/punch (ki-hap). Etc.!

I worked with Pam when we did throws and other self-defense moves.

"I hate falling," said Pam.
"Me, too," I agreed.
Our tactic: lower the person to the ground so she doesn't fall!

I don't like the throws, mostly because it seems they're not so useful if your opponent is taller than you are (just about everyone for me!). Ms. Pryor doesn't agree with this, though. She showed me how I could use my hip to bump a taller opponent's leg and cause him to fall. I tried this with Jim; he fell, but Ms. Pryor said I needed more practice. "He wouldn't have gone down," she said.

I'm not sure I'll ever need this sort of thing in real life. Probably none of us will. Except maybe Brian, who probably uses self-defense tactics on a regular basis in his line of work. But he wasn't there Friday. (He called me before class started to tell me he'd gotten stuck at work. Too bad!)

We also learned a wrist-lock. I got pretty good at that; still, I'm not sure I'd be able to use it in a pinch.

Justin had to leave early, but before he left, he talked to me about sparring. He'd offered to help me with it sometime; we tried to figure out a time. I think he thinks I should work on NOT watching my opponent's scoring zone. "Look them in the eyes and kick them in the stomach." Yeah. That will take some practice.

At the end of class, Ms. Pryor told us she was hoping to offer these Friday classes on a regular basis. I think I'll take advantage of them. With a small number of hard-working adults, seems like I can learn a lot.

Besides, someone mentioned something about going out for beer and pizza afterwards sometime!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

How hard do you hit?

There's an interesting debate I've been hearing about recently.


ITF and WTF are two Tae Kwon Do organizations. They are slightly different in their approach to the martial art. One big difference is in sparring.

If you learn ITF style Tae Kwon Do, as I am doing, you learn what's called point sparring. That means when you spar someone, you get points for touching a target area--front of torso is 1 point, head is 2 points.

If you learn WTF style, sparring is "full-contact." That means you wear a chest pad (hogu), and you only score a point if your opponent shows the impact of your blow. I believe this is the kind of Tae Kwon Do that's done in the Olympics.

I have absolutely no interest in doing full-contact sparring. Like Justin, who wrote about this issue in his Xanga, I think that point sparring allows us to work on technique, speed, and intuition. For us, those are just as important as strength . . . or pure bulk. For me, that's extremely important. I'm not very gifted in the strength and bulk areas.

Point sparring emphasizes that Tae Kwon Do is an art as well as a sport. It levels the playing field and allows people like me to spar against a wide variety of opponents, including men (even though I'm not always crazy about doing that!)

However, according to what I've read in a discussion about this topic on
ITF schools are "rare"compared to WTF. I feel lucky to have found one.

For you martial artists out there, how hard do you hit? Are there advantages to WTF that I'm missing?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I got to TKD a bit later than I planned yesterday. And I had the keys! But when Eli and I arrived, the door and gate were already open . . .

Upstairs, Patrick was there. Ms. Pryor had noted that he was the "teacher" for the day; I was to assist and help keep order in the class, etc. But Alex and his dad Bill were also there.

"I think they forgot that Master Hughes had asked Alex to teach," said Bill. "We've been doing this for a while. Alex writes up what he wants to do in class, and I help out."

This is the way we did class, then. Alex and Patrick took turns leading: stretching, warm up kicks, basic moves, forms. And Bill and I helped by keeping things going, stopping to give general instructions, and giving individual attention to the 7 or 8 children in the class.

I like the way this partnership worked. Alex and Patrick, both about 11 years old, are excellent at their forms and stances. Much better than I am! They were great examples, and gave a serious, focused feeling to the class. But they needed the help of adults to organize the activities, watch and instruct, which Bill and I could do. It was a bit tricky to have several "teachers" now and then, but mostly we worked just fine.

Just because someone is good at something does not mean that person can teach. That person can be a good model, or example, but it takes different skills to teach. You have to know how to break down material for students to learn. You have to know how to pace a class. You have to know when to give individual attention. You have to know how and when to correct.

And you have to have authority and presence, things that children just don't have. Those are things you earn as you get older.

But letting the children serve as examples while the adults kept class moving and seemed like a good way to get children involved in teaching without asking them to do something they really can't yet do.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Given the Keys

I arrive at all-belts, curious about what will be happening this week. Master Hughes is out of the country for a week, after being gone most of last week when his mother was dying and for her funeral.

Ms. Pryor passes me in the hall. She is wearing jeans--obviously she's not teaching tonight.

When I'm dressed and ready, I enter the dojang. It's lively with the sounds of people talking and laughing. There's a lot of energy there, but it's unfocused. On one side of the room is a clump of younger teens. They're kidding around pushing, laughing, teasing. At the other end of the room are the adults, some talking, some already working on forms or stretching.

As I enter, Stephanie and Alyssa look up. I'd promised to put their picture on my blog, and they're excited when I tell them I have my camera. "Yes!" They jump up and practice some kicks.

They decide on a picture of them kicking at Paul, another middle-schooler. Cute, isn't it? Paul's being a good sport; I think he likes the attention.

But after I take the picture, I begin to wonder if taking this picture was a good idea. Fun, but should I be documenting silliness?

I guess I'm questioning myself because I've felt for a while that there's a bit of looseness to our focus at the dojang recently. Master Hughes has been gone a lot in the past month for various reasons. I've been missing Master Hughes's presence--a presence that helps the whole room focus.

Seems like we're unraveling a bit.

Even on this Monday night, as Chelsea leads the class, though individual people are working hard, I don't feel the singleness of purpose that we often have in class. Chelsea knows her stuff, and she has obviously thought of a plan for the class. But as a younger person, she doesn't really have the presence and authority to keep us completely together. The younger kids joke around a bit, the adults strain to hear Chelsea's commands.

But Master Hughes won't be back for a while. We're really on our own.

It reminds me of another story of a Master, a generous Master, who has to go out of town for a while. Before he goes he leaves everything, EVERYTHING to his servants. To some he leaves more, to some he leaves less, but everyone gets something.

Some of the servants use the gift he's given them and make more of it. Others don't--they hide their gifts away.

I believe that in our dojang, we've been asked to make much of our gifts while Master Hughes is gone. Tonight Ms. Pryor makes that completely clear. She offers to us the chance to use our gifts to keep the dojang running during Master Hughes's absence. She has a chart with class times for the next week. There are blanks for people to sign up to teach. I ask if there's any time they need another adult.

"We can use an adult on Tuesday to unlock the building and help Patrick lead a class," she tells me.

She gives me the keys to the dojang.

We've all got something now, whether it's keys, or the ability to help others with forms, or to make people feel welcome, or to practice with the kind of focus that is an example to others. We could also hide our gifts, just goof off the whole time, work with half our energy.

Is there some way I can use my gifts, whatever they are, and encourage others to use theirs, too? I hope so. When Master Hughes returns, I want him to think "well done, good and faithful students."

Monday, November 07, 2005

Conversation with former TKD friends

On Sunday, I decided I was going to look for the family who used to do TKD at our dojang, but who left a while ago when a new school was started. They go to our church, and I haven't talked with them for a while.

I wanted to hear more about the new TKD school whose creation caused so much division. I wanted to see another perspective on it.

I posted myself where I could see them as they left the service (they usually go to the earlier service) and sure enough, they came out and smiled to see me.

"It's nice to see you all!" I said. "I've been meaning to find you because I want to hear about how your new Tae Kwon Do school is working out."

"Oh, you've heard we left Hughes," said Curt, the dad. Curt is a lean but solidly built guy with a beard and a genial smile.

"Yes, and I also heard that you're with a new school," I said.

All of them gathered round.

"Yes, we decided we wanted something that was more competitive. We also like to have more of a cardio workout, too," said Maggie. She's the mom in the family, about my age or a little older, and she's small like I am.

"We're a US TKD school now," said Curt.

"We like it, but we miss our friends at Hughes," said Maggie.

"How are your boys doing?" asked Curt. He'd helped my boys at a couple of classes last year.

"Well, they quit," I told him. "But believe it or not, I'm taking now."

"Oh, so am I," said Maggie. "I'm a blue belt now."

"I am too," I said, smiling.

"Maybe we'll fight each other in a tournament sometime!" she said.

"You know, I was thinking about you all this week because I was talking to Justin over at Hughes," I told them. "I think he misses you all."

At Justin's name, eveyone's face lit up, including Katrina, the middle-school daughter, and Sean, the high school son.

"Oh, Justin!" said Curt. "Yeah, he's a great guy. I think it was hard for him when we left. He was a black belt, so he could have left, too. Hey, tell him hello for us!"

"Yes, say hi to him for us," echoed Maggie.

"You know, we don't really have any hard feelings toward Hughes," said Maggie, as we walked back toward the Sunday school rooms (she teaches the middle schoolers, I teach elementary school music). "In fact, we really appreciate what we learned there. We especially liked Ms. Pryor and the way she sees each person as an individual."

I nodded. That's certainly one of Ms. Pryor's strengths.

"It's just that we wanted something a little different," continued Maggie. "So we felt we needed to start something new."

"Yeah," I said. "I really wish there weren't hard feelings. It seems like it would be good if some of the dojangs could work together a bit."

"Well, it was nice to visit with you," said Maggie. "Maybe I'll see you at a tournament sometime."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Learning 3-step sparring

I felt like I had a furrowed brow the entire time we practiced 3-step sparring on Saturday. I just have not figured out how to make those moves feel right.

For those of you who are not in martial arts, 3-step sparring sequences are like a combination of forms and sparring. Like forms, they are carefully choreographed, with prescribed movements that one has to memorize. Like sparring, you do them with a partner--or maybe more accurately, against a partner--who is punching at you. You block the punches and then counterattack.

There are lots of these sequences and they're one more thing one has to memorize--now we'll be doing them at tests. They're kind of like prepared speeches, not like regular sparring, which you need to practice, but is basically extemporaneous, to use a word from classical rhetoric (which I'm teaching now). I think I like extemporaneous sparring better. It allows me to use my strenghts: intuition and fast reflexes and allows me to avoid my weakness: memorization.

We worked on them Saturday with Ms. Pryor. We did not just the simplest group ("white belt 3-step sparring") but some others: yellow belt, orange, and green. I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of moves to memorize.

Part of my difficulty with them, I think, is that problem I have with "self-defense." Step sparring sequences are basically self-defense moves against an attacker who's punching at you. I'm not sure I'm ever going to be in a situation where I'm going to need to defend myself against someone who's directly in front of me and punching! There MIGHT be a time, possibly, when I may have to defend myself, but my guess is that person won't be punching at me.

Ms. Pryor worked on doing the moves a bit faster than usual, and she seemed to relish the counterattacks. "Grab the back of his neck, pull down, and smash your knee into his face!"
That's #2, white belt. Yikes. This mentality does not really work for me. It makes me feel like I'm in the wrong place . . .

I worked with Brian A. on Saturday. He really knows the step sparring sequences, and helped me when I felt clumsy. He's a good partner, too, because step sparring seems easier when your partner/attacker is a similar size--he's taller but not too much taller than I am. I told the other Brian that I would never even DO the #2 step sparring on someone of his height (much taller than me) because I'd have no leverage!

I think what I need to do is think of step sparring as choreography, which is how I think of forms. That's what I need to do: find the rhythm, follow the moves, work with my partner. Maybe that will get me through them.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Beginning and Ending

Themes kept coming up at the beginning of class, then returning at the end.

We writers call this a "framing device."

Life of a Cop
Before Class:
When I arrived, Brian pulls up in his little red jeep. I'm glad to see him--sometimes he can't get away on Saturdays. We chat for a while.
"Things quiet today?" I ask.
"Just as I left there was a call for the college," he says. "Someone about cut her hand off with a power saw in your shop."
"Yikes," I say. "Probably working on scenes for the play."

After class:
"Have a good day at work," I say to Brian as he leaves. "Some day I gotta talk to you about my neighborhood. We keep hearing things are getting bad in places."
"Did you hear about that accident on 380?" Brian asks. "Guy got hit by a truck. Got hit here" he gestures to where we're standing, "and the body ends up, oh, about where the flags are."
"Yeesh. You really see the bad side of human nature in your job." I'm sure I am NOT cut out for law enforcement.

TKD Girls and Guys
Before class:
I enter the changing room to find Stephanie and Alyssa sitting on the counter.
"So when did you get your braces tightened?" asks Stephanie.
They look in on my blog now and then. They're probably reading this one!
"Thursday," I say.
We talk about braces for a while, and then the topic turns to boys, a favorite topic of 12 and 13-year old girls.
Alyssa wants to know why boys are "so simple and yet so confusing."
I remember those days!
"Boys mature more slowly than girls," I say, taking on my taekwondoMOM role. I remember the Halloween party: girls looking pretty, even "hot" in their costumes, boys of the same age dressed in scary costumes, clueless.
"Wait until you're in college. Then the boys become much more interesting."

After class:
I ask Alyssa, who is a junior belt, if she could sign my board. She agrees, but seems preoccupied with a phone. Turns out it's Justin's phone, and that's his bag they're going through. They laugh and tease Justin. They're having a hard time concentrating on my forms.

Justin sits on one of the chairs at the back of the room. He puts up with the teasing without much fuss. "Justin's our friend," says Alyssa. Nice for them to have a boy who's a friend when they're trying to figure out boys.

Black Belts/Bad Blood
Before class:
Justin and I were talking before class about his recent Xanga post. He'd written about the black belts--people he'd respected--had left the school to start a new school. He misses these friends and colleagues.

"So what's the deal with the bad blood between them and Master Hughes?" I ask. "Why is there so much animosity when a former student leaves to start a new school? Seems like it would be normal for them to do that."

Justin explains that there "are a lot of different stories about that." Apparently, the people who left were mad that Master Hughes would not allow full-contact sparring. One part of the story, anyway. They started the new school as a way to get back at him. "Their goal was to be 'better than Master Hughes' students," says Justin.

I'm always so sorry to hear about those kinds of splits, "breakups" without forgiveness or reconciliation.

After class:
Ms. Pryor gives a little talk about "respecting people who are different from you." I listen intently. She's talked about this before.

"If people do forms different from the way you do, that's just the way they do forms. It's important for you to have compassion for others. The world will be much better, and it can start here, with you."

I like that thought.

Next post, I'll write about 3-step sparring. I like it . . . yet I find it difficult, even counterintuitive. . . I'm hoping I'll eventually learn it. . .

Friday, November 04, 2005

Another culprit

Another reason I'm tired: got my braces tightened yesterday. And new "chains" (rubber bands) on my lower teeth. This always makes me very tired. I think it is just my body's response to "discomfort."

Stephanie or other braces-wearers, does this happen to you?

Hope I'm feeling more energetic tomorrow. Until then: lots of ibuprofen!

For those of you who like to read other blogs, stop by Justin's Xanga. He has some interesting reflections on being a black belt.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I'm not sure this is the best combination: killer workout in all-belts TKD class Wednesday evening including lots of sparring, 1 1/2 hour ballet class Thursday morning.

I'm beat.

Or maybe I'm just a wimp.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Back to it

It's been an odd couple of weeks. First I was sick and missed class for a week. Then there was Halloween and class was cancelled. AND ballet class on Tuesdays is cancelled for three weeks.

I feel a bit out of it.

I'd been looking forward to getting to class tonight. I don't usually go on Wednesdays, but I did go this time.

When I got upstairs, I was surprised to see Master Hughes. Usually I can tell if he's there by the time I'm on the stairs. But he wasn't teaching. When I got there, he was talking with June, and as I came near, I heard him say that his mom had passed away.

He had told me earlier that she'd been ill, and that she seemed to be getting ready to die. Still, even if one knows it's going to happen, it's hard. I stayed and offered my condolences; he left soon after that.

After he left, I began to watch out for my friend Katharine and her son, 12-year-old Roan, who'd visited an all-belts class earlier. They appeared, and I introduced Roan around again, lining up near him to keep an eye on him and help him follow along.

Justin led the class today and he did well, despite the odd feeling in the dojang. People seemed either still hyped about the Halloween party (the young teens were pretty wound up) or a bit out of it from the news about our teacher's loss. But we stretched (nice warm night for it), worked on forms, and sparred.

Besides working on combination kicking with Roan, I got to spar Aimee and Jim, two opponents I enjoy working with (against?). Very challenging opponents. I also endured a good deal of kidding from Brian throughout the entire class and afterwards; I suppose he's making up for the classes I've missed plus the classes he's missed! Not a problem though; I can take it AND dish it out. Too bad we didn't get a chance to spar each other. My kicks were pretty high tonight.

We ended class with some running races. First we divided up by height (Justin: "Everyone taller than Jane, that side. Everyone shorter than Jane, this side"). I was with the children, needless to say, along with Aimee (shorter than I am), and Heidi (same height as I am).

The races were lively and slightly chaotic, with plenty of drama. Brian A. ended his (victorious) heat by diving into a front roll across the stage. ("Go Dad! Go Dad!" yelled Michelle.) Stephanie showed off her track abilities by winning for the "small people" side (she is probably just 1/4 inch shorter than I am.) Kevin proved that long legs make fast runners. There was laughter and cheering. Perhaps this is what we needed this evening.

At the end, a group of us Tae Kwon Do Moms and Dads--June and me, Brian A. and Brian--locked up because Justin had to go early. It was nice to have a few moments of cameraderie before we left.

I'll be glad for everything to settle down to normal, but with Master Hughes's loss and his upcoming trip to Costa Rica ("I think I'm still going," he told me), it might be a while. Still, it's mighty good to get back together with everyone. As important as our teacher and his qi are to our school, it's the qi of the students--our communal qi and our individual qi--that really keep things going, and that keeps me coming back.