Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Physical Terrorists

My Dad calls physical therapists "physical terrorists." He's had many many major surgeries, including, most recently, hip replacement, so he's had some tough PT!

My ankle and I went to a physical therapist today, and it was completely unlike physical terrorism.

I went on recommendation of my doctor, who I finally went to see yesterday. I'd been putting off that visit. What's the point, I thought. He'll probably just tell me to stop dancing and TKD.

Well, he didn't. Turns out he's a runner, and he understands about these kinds of injuries.

So today I got to see a physical therapist, a new experience for me.

She started by asking lots of questions: does it hurt all the time? Or when you do certain things? Have you been doing ballet and TKD long? How long? Have you gotten new shoes? Do you walk in hilly areas?

As a freelance writer, I'm usually the one who asks the questions. It was fun to be answering. Also, the questioning was kind of like solving a mystery--narrowing down the problem. That was cool.

She also had me walk while she watched my feet, and she asked me to do some of the ballet moves that bothered the ankle. So there I was doing jet├ęs!

She ended up prescribing a set of exercises to strengthen two muscles: the one along the front of my shin bone, and the one along the side of the foot. If I strengthen those, that will give my foot more stability.

Here's the little stretchy device she gave me to strengthen those muscles.

I also got some arch supports. My extra-high arches are partially to blame for unstable feet and my metatarsal ligament problems . . .

"Now it'll take a while before you can tell a difference--at least 3 to 4 weeks," she told me.

"No problem," I said. Exercise is like that; I know that already. And I'm willing to stick to this strengthening if it helps me do the things I love.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

About Tournaments

I'm still thinking about participating in a tournament. I figure Stacy's right and I ought to try before becoming a black belt--competition won't be quite so stiff and I might have a chance to do well.

"If I wait until I'm a black belt," I explained to Ms. Pryor, "I'll have to go up against you and I'll get wiped out!"

Ms. Pryor would also like to enter a tournament, namely, the big one that'll be happening right here in our hometown. It sounded good to me, too--has forms and point-sparring as well as Olympic sparring and Kum Do (sword).

Problem is, Master Hughes isn't on good terms with the teacher of this dojang either.

"You can go if you want," he said again. "But I don't feel like I want to support their tournaments if they don't support ours."

He's speaking about some long-ago slights, as far as I can gather. He is a stubborn person at times. I don't think it's good for our school, or for our students.

His stubbornness won't affect me, really. If I want to go to that tournament, I will. As a brown belt and adult, I feel I can make my own decision. But Ms. Pryor, as the other head teacher at our school, doesn't feel she can go: she is tied very tightly to the school and is very close to Master Hughes. I feel bad about that--I'd love to watch her kick some butt, because she would.

Will I attend this big tourney? I don't know. I talked it over with Brian on the phone today. He also wants to go to a tournament, but, like me, wants to find one that's appropriate for true amateurs (LOVERS of martial arts, not killer athletes) like us. I don't know if this is the one, thought the group photo from last year doesn't look too intimidating: lots of children.

Brian suggested getting a group of people from our school to go and watch. "We can watch, take a break and have a nice long lunch somewhere, then come back."

That sounded great to me, and it made me wonder if the cameraderie is a very important part of the tournament to me. It wouldn't be as fun to compete in the tournament if there weren't a big group from our dojang. We work and learn and do forms and spar in a group. I'd want to compete in a group, too; be able to watch each other and cheer each other on.

I don't yet know how this will shake out. The local tourneys are at the end of this month, so it would be nice to decide soon.

Of course, if Justin is participating in the other local tournament (two in one weekend in our small city!), I'll go watch him. Or maybe compete there, too . . .

Monday, August 28, 2006

Blogging and aching

Sorry, but Blogger is unable to process your request at this time.

Boy, I've gotten this message a lot recently, when trying to post pictures to my dojang's photoblog.

I wonder what the deal is. They don't say, and there aren't any messages about outages.

Perhaps blogging has become so popular that they're unable to keep up with requests for picture posting. I hope they figure it out soon as our students like to see their photos online.

I had slight aches in both shoulder muscles after Saturday's class. Ms. Pryor had led us in some calisthenics at the end of class--good ones, almost Pilates-like abdominal curls, pelvic lifts, leg lifts, pushups, etc. I guess the pushups worked! Sadly, I also had sore elbows: we did a "plank position" exercises where we balanced on toes/elbows. This is a good exercise . . . unless one has bony elbows :-(

Aching is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it shows that you've had a good workout. Other times it shows that you pushed too hard, didn't warm up, or didn't cool down. This time, I think it was the good kind of aching.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Responding to readers

Some bloggers respond to their readers' comments by posting comments themselves. But I'm not sure those readers will get back to see the responses. I'm not sure I would go back to check!

But some of the comments recently have been interesting. I'll respond to them, and maybe other readers will have insights as well.

Flexible Faculty
This comment by "cim" about faculty made sense to me:
I've also noticed that faculty tend to be fitter and also look younger. I agree with all your theories, but I also think it has to do with the flexibility of an professor's schedule. Unlike those folks who need to commute to an office from 8-5, professors have more control over their hours.
Yes! Both my jobs, teaching and writing, allow considerable freedom and flexibility. No clock-punching, just get the job done well.

This means that I can take a break mid-day for a forms workout with Brian or go the the Y for a swim. Being there to teach is non-negotiable: there are no substitute teachers for college. But other than teaching, office hours, and meetings, no one cares where or when my work gets done!

As many others of you who are professionals know, this kind of work also means that there are some weeks I'm in the office every day, bringing home stuff to read or papers to grade, and going in on weekends.

"cim" also said this:
I also think the proxmity of all those 20 year olds makes a difference as well. Professors may be inspired by firm bodies to stay fit themselves. When you're around active people, you tend to follow suit. Or maybe keeping fits helps some fend off anxieties over growing older while the students seem to get younger and younger.

Anxiety about aging? Me?
Actually, I'm in better physical condition than many of my students :-)

Tournaments and Other Schools
I'm still hoping to do a tournament sometime soon. Interesting that right after I wrote about it, I found out about 2 local tournaments! I believe they're on the same day . . .

Still, I feel like I need to really clear this with my instructors because of the way Master Hughes feels about other schools' tournaments.

John Vesia , who has an interesting blog, had this comment:
I think your instructor should make the first move and let some of his people compete in the other school, it would be a showing of good faith. Some teachers are very jealous of letting their students train in other schools, or acquiring knowledge in other arts.

I totally agree: a unilateral move might be quite powerful at this point. It would show that we make choices based on what's best for the students, not what seems to be in the best financial interest or pride of the school's instructor.

And besides, I want to try a tournament.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Tonight at class, Master Hughes talked to us a bit about tournaments. One of the other local schools is having a tournament soon, but our school does not promote that tournament. I think that's odd, but it's a long story.

According to Master Hughes, he won't encourage students to go to other local schools' tournaments because they won't send students to ours. In fact, one school stipulated that none of their black belts were allowed to attend our tournament or a seminar we had once with Bill Wallace.

I don't understand this approach. I understand that if I join our dojang, my money won't be going to the others, so there's a competition/capitalism thing going on here. And each school emphasizes different aspects of TKD; they might even do some things quite differently.

Still. It seems like it would be good for everyone if there was more cooperation among dojangs, less guarding of students.

Justin ran into this at his University. The TKD club there won't let him join as a black belt. He'd have to start all over again and give up his membership at our school! How odd! It seems like a club at a University could attract black belts from different places and give them a place to work out. But that's not what they want, I guess. They want everyone to be trained by their teachers.

Anyone have any insights about this?

When Master Hughes mentioned tournaments, I remembered what Stacy told me: "Get into a tournament as a brown belt. If you wait until you're a black belt, you'll be up against people like Ms. Pryor!" I've only participated on one tournament: a small one our school held.

I'd like to try a tournament if I could find one this fall. I'm feeling good after doing well at the last test. So many people today and at the test said nice things to me: "Good job, Jane" and I don't think they were just being nice. I felt like things were going well. Maybe that's a sign that it's competition time!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fit Faculty?

I noticed something the other day while sitting at the all-campus meeting Monday (classes start in a week at my college).

Of the people in the auditorium, the fitter-looking people were faculty (teachers). Almost every faculty member there was fit-looking and fairly slender. The more heavy-set people (as my mother would say) were staff (secreteries, administrators, etc.) They looked like your average mid-westerners: overweight, some even obese.

So, are college faculty more fit than your average person?

I thought about that as I sat there, and I remembered hearing once that the more educated you are, the fitter you are. On average.

College professors are certainly an educated bunch, so that theory may be true. But I wonder what makes educated people more fit? Maybe they've read more about fitness, and good, healthy eating, so they know its benefits? Of course, this applies to anyone who reads and finds out about stuff and thinks of education as an on-going thing, not just those who've been formally schooled.

It may have something to do with money. We aren't THAT highly paid--Bruce and I are a bit over the median income for the U.S.--but we do have more disposable income than someone who's a secretery. We have money for things like TKD and ballet and a Y membership.

I also think it may have something to do with the nature of our work. Sure, we spend a lot of time with our butts in chairs, reading or writing. But we also teach, which can be active, and we have to make our way around a campus to go to classes, the library, meetings, etc., rather than being cooped up in a small office. Being a college professor is not a desk job.

I wonder, too, if it has something to do with the amount of discipline it takes to be a professor (or any kind of job where you're learning for a long time). I mean, think of all that grad school we had to endure! And dissertation-writing. We're used to sticking with a plan. Maybe.

I know profs who are very active: I think of John, a philosophy prof, who does triathalons. And Terry, an English prof, who plays tennis. That guy in computer sci swims at the college pool every day at noon, as do Charlie, the retired English prof and his wife Martha, who taught french. And my friend Kerrie, who teaches journalism, just got a job teaching spinning.

I'm not saying that ONLY professors are fit. Of course not. But I thought it was weird that most of the profs at my college--unlike most of the people I see at the mall or at a restaurant--look like they are active, fit, and in shape!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Breaking Movie!

Robbie made this wonderful movie of Brian A's blackbelt break at the test. It uses QuickTime which is easy to install if you don't have it.

In the future: Brian has a movie of MY break! I'll see if I can get it posted here . . . I can't wait to see it!

Brian A. breaks boards.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Last and First

The first class session after a belt ceremony is always fun: we all get to learn new forms. Mine, Palgwe 7, looks very very cool. Ms. Pryor showed me the beginning before class, and I worked on it later with Paul and Brittany.

It was also the first time I've sparred--or done any TKD--since the test, so I felt creaky. Others must have, too, as I saw lots of awkward kicks and sparring. Still, it was fun, and I must say that I would have scored a number of points on my various opponents . . . though Stephanie did score one awesome 2-pointer to the back of my head!

It was Justin's last day at TKD for a while--he leaves for university tonight. I'm glad he made it to class today because I had some college necessities to give him . . . and I wanted to take him out to lunch! Brian A. and family joined us at a local Chinese buffet.

Leaving home for college--or for whatever--is kind of a mixed thing for most people. I remember it was for me. I was excited, yet anxious about being away from home, from family and people who loved me. "I don't want to leave here," Justin said before class, nodding at the dojang itself. I don't blame him. It's a great place to be, a wonderful group to be part of.

We all wish him well, though. Master Hughes gave him a cell phone, Brian offered him an answering machine and printer (along with wonderful big-brotherly advice about College Survival), and I gave him a writing handbook and a hug. We all gave our, phone numbers, email addresses, and best wishes for a great first semester!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ready for ballet

We've had a 2-week break from ballet classes, and this summer, I've been able to get there only 1x a week at most. So I'm ready for classes to begin again next week!

I tried working out to my Pilates DVD the other night. It had a similar effect to ballet: core strengthening, stretching, isometrics.

If I have to give up ballet for some reason, I suppose I could do Pilates. But Pilates is one of those activities that feel really good . . . when you stop. Ballet is just so much more FUN!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Belt Ceremony

Yes, I passed my promotional test. I am now a . . .

Second permanent brown belt.

The belt for this level is black and brown, brown stripe up.

They did not have a belt in my size (4), so Master Hughes took a size 8 belt and wrapped it three times around my waist!

Here we are!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Black Belt candidate photos!

It was their big day! They look great, don't they?

My Break?

I never wrote about my breaks at the test.

I had a bit of a surprise: I found out that I needed to break 2 boards hand, 2 foot. I'd thought it was just 1 and 2.

So when I was called up, I had to think fast.

"I'll do a palm strike, then a back elbow strike. Then I need to do a jump reverse kick," I told Mr. Carter, who was up there.

He helped me set up the breaks so they would go one after the other. There were three stations: two people holding a board in front of me, then two holding one in back of me, and two people holding the two boards for my jump-reverse kick, off to one side.

"Which do you want to do first?" he asked.

"I'll do the palm and elbow. The jump reverse might take a while."

Before my break, I'd been enjoying watching the men break--Brian, then Kevin. I love to watch strong people break, I thought. The boards just CRACK! and fly out. And CRACK again. It's a great sound. Those guys broke quickly and effectively.

Now it was my turn. I focused, lined up, breathed. Then kihapped, and broke front--CRACK!--then back--CRACK!

"Now right away, the jump-reverse," coached Mr. Carter.

I focused, lined up, kihapped, jumped, and . . . BROKE THE BOARDS!

Totally surprised me.

I'd been expecting to do at least two tries.

So as I stood there, mouth open (my friends tell me), I heard lots of applause and Ms. Pryor saying "that would have been a gold medal break."

I will see if anyone has a photo.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Meaningful test

(I am having trouble posting pictures to I will add them later.)

At what point do martial arts students decide they’re going to become black belts?

I know that for me, it was about a year into joining TKD. Before that, I never thought about that particular goal; I was just enjoying the learning. But some people must have that goal in mind when they begin.

I think if I were to reflect on the meaning of a black belt test, I’d need to start way back at the beginning and reflect on why someone begins martial arts in the first place.

Our black belt candidates are required to reflect on this. They’re asked to write a two page (only TWO!) on the topic “what has TKD done for me?” Hearing those essays read at the test on Saturday by the black belt candidates was extraordinarily moving. They told us joining TKD with their children—to have a chance to spend time together, to encourage each other, to get fit together, to protect each other. They shared stories about injuries and disappointments and steady progress. All of them told us how important it was to have friends to work out with, especially during this last two months of preparation. Great stories. Moving stories. Inspiring stories, too!

For those of you who haven’t been to a black belt test, it’s worth watching as a display of determination, strength, grace, stamina, and focus. As I expected, Pam, Jim, Brian A., June, Patrick and Grace all did well during the test. It was long—over 1 ½ hours.

They started with basic moves, which were only called out in Korean. After showing their best kicks against a pad, they were all asked to do all 13 forms, all the ITF forms, and all the Palgwe forms up to the black belt level. Master Hughes mixed up the forms and had the candidates face different walls while doing forms.

Then they did 3 and 1 step sparring, regular sparring and 2-on-1 sparring. There was very little rest time; everyone was red-faced and sweating.

Of course, there was also board breaking. At our school, black belt candidates must break 2 boards with a hand technique and 3 with a foot technique. I have a movie of Brian A. breaking with a double knife-hand and then a jump-reverse to break 3 boards.

The breaks weren’t easy, and it took some of the candidates more than once. “Shows indomitable spirit,” I told June, who had to try more than once. All of it was amazing: the essays, the forms, the breaking, the stamina they showed. But knowing how hard they worked was probably most impressive to me.

“We gotta get to work,” said Brian to me as we watched from the sideline. “I think we can do it,” I replied.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Test Photos

It seems that the higher I go in the TKD ranks, the more . . . important . . . and emotional the tests become. This month, Saturday, I had not only my own test, but I got to watch some of my TKD friends test for black belt, people I've known since I began here. That made the test Saturday extremely loaded with meaning and excitement and anticipation.

I stayed for the black belt test, so was at the dojang for about 5 hours, then returned home to the usual Saturday stuff: chores, shopping. Although the children had been at the dojang during the black belt test (Bruce had to go to a funeral, so he dropped them off), no one at home really understood what I and my TKD colleagues had just been through, so there was no one to talk with about it.

So I've been thinking about Saturday's test all weekend. There was a lot to think about--my own test, and then the black belt test. Eventually I'll figure out how to write about it.

Until then, here are some photos from the first test that day.

Me sparring Jason.

The children doing their forms. The first test was almost entirely children.
Me at the end of Toi-Gye.

Brian and Kevin practicing combination kicking.
Brian and I line up to spar.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Good Luck, Black Belt Candidates!

On Saturday, Pam, Jim, Brian A., June, and Patrick will be testing for black belt. And they are going to be awesome!

It's been such an inspiration to watch them prepare for their test. They come in on days we don't have class to get in extra practices. They're often at class early--or they stay late--to do forms in front of black belts. (They have to do each form 13 times for black belts, and the 3 and 1 steps, too).

And the coolest thing: they are clearly helping one another out as they practice.

Master Hughes and Ms. Pryor have invited the entire dojang to come and watch the test. "Show them your support." I'll be there.

Good luck to you, black belt candidates! You're going to be great.

Foot protection

These are "Dance Paws," which can be used in modern dance to avoid blisters. I'm thinking that they might be useful for TKD as well!

Most of the black belt candidates have torn up feet from all the practicing in bare feet on sticky floors during humid weather.

And I wonder if these would help at all with my metatarsal ligament problem . . .

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Philosophers and Forms

Toi Gye

Yul Gok
"Did you know that Toi-Gye knew Yul-Gok?" I ask Kevin before we run through the Yul-Gok form.

He looks at me kind of funny.

"See, they were both scholars and lived at the same time. Like a couple of college professors, chatting together about their studies . . ."

This is the danger of trying to learn the meaning of my form: odd looks from TKD colleagues.

Of course, I should just memorize the little paragraph-long description of Toi-Gye ("Toi-Gye is the pen name of the noted scholar of Yi-Hwang (16th century A.D.), an authority on neo-Confucianism . . . ")

But the problem is, I start to wonder what the heck am I saying?

I mean, what is neo-Confucianism, anyway? It's got that little "neo" prefix, meaning it's "new" Confucianism . . . but I don't remember what Confucius taught. Or when he lived.

So I look this stuff up.

Confucius lived in 6th century China. He was a kind of philosopher/political consultant. Went around during a time of "moral laxity," teaching people how to be more moral and ethical in their behavior and how to act appropriately for your station in life. It's not a religion: no god(s) or heaven. It's more of a philosophy.

Much later, then, this guy Toi-Gye comes along (in 16th c. Korea) and professes neo-Confucianism. What's new about it? It blends Taoism and Buddhism (important religions at the time in Korea) with Confucius's ethics.

And, apparently, he knew Yul-Gok ("Yul-Gok is the pseudonym of the great philosopher Yi I . . ." ),!

See, it all ties together.

Still, I don't think I'd like to have my name on a form that includes a groin grab.


Three things I need to do to get ready for the test:
1. practice 3 & 1 steps
2. practice jump reverse kick
3. learn the meaning of my form, Toi-Gye

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Friends and feet

In an ideal world, I'd spend Sunday afternoons visiting my family.

However, with my family 600 and 900 miles away . . . I often substitute a phone call and a visit with local friends.

Today, Robbie and I were on our way downtown to an art exhibit. As we passed the dojang, I saw familiar cars in the lot.

"There's June's SUV. And the Gaylords'! And that's Brian's white van!"

On our way back home, the vehicles were still there. I stopped in to say hi. They were all just done with a workout. June, Pam, Jim, and Brian A. will all be testing for black belt Saturday and have been getting in lots of extra practices.

"How's your foot?" they asked.
"Not great," I replied.

June suggested that I should see a podiatrist.

I've been putting off seeing a doctor about this foot. My family doctor basically told me to stop doing whatever made it hurt. This is not the answer I wanted to hear. I figure any doctor would say that.

"If you're going to keep going with this, a doctor could tell you what you need to do to make it work," June pointed out. Maybe she's right. June herself has been getting some physical therapy to help her recover from a TKD injury.

After Robbie and I got home, I started to think that maybe I should see one of those sports doctors. I know there's a special office for sports medicine somewhere in our town. Maybe a doctor at one of those places would understand that just giving up TKD and ballet is not really an option. I bet my family doctor could refer me so I could get in.

Going to a sports medicine place! My siblings, who know my totally unathletic (and anti-sports) background, are going to laugh!

So it was a good day, for that insight, and for the added delight of seeing friends unexpectedly--I'd forgotten how that can lift one's spirits.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Where we're going . . .

Monday night--or maybe it was Saturday--the whole class was working on difficult kicks. After a while, Ms. Pryor called the black belts over to the back. She stood on a chair, held out a pad, and had them run up and do a jump front snap kick.

I remember looking at them and thinking: I don't want to do that.

Later, Chelsea broke a board with an awe-inspiring speed kick. But although it was awe-inspiring, I was thinking: is that what black belts do? Not interested.

I've seen lots of Inspirational Posters with variations of this message:

Life is a Journey, not a Destination.

For me, that's the way it is with TKD. Though I certainly know when my black belt test is (Feb. 2007), but I'm really more into the day-to-day learning of things. But sometimes I wonder about my destination.

Recently, TKD has seemed like a sport: competetive, athletic, physical. Destination: victory. What I want to learn is a martial ART, an art that's physical, creative, spiritual, graceful. I'm not really interested in learning a sport.

Do I have some say in where I'm headed as a martial artist?

Troubled hearts?

Wednesday's reading was this one: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . " It was like a balm to me, reading that after TKD class. I decided it would be my mantra for life for a while.

But as a writer, an essayist, troubled hearts are . . . well, the heart of my work.

Essay writers look at troubled hearts, examine them, figure out what makes them troubled. Otherwise, my blog would just be "this happened, then this happened." That's not a story, as I often tell my students. Where's the conflict, the struggle, the troubled hearts?

But what do I know about hearts, troubled or otherwise? The only heart I know something about is my own, so that's the heart I examine in the pages of this blog. And on the way, I examine mind and body, too!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Foot troubles

After a great workout in class and some after-class practice of my jump-reverse kick, I came home just about crippled.

It was the right foot, the one with the metatarsal ligament problem and the ankle problem.
I hadn't noticed that I was overdoing it . . . until I got out of the car and walked into the house, or limped, really.

It's very discouraging to have an injury like that. It just won't go away!

And I'm frustrated because TKD seems to aggravate the injuries (or chronic conditions) more than anything else I'm doing. Ballet doesn't give me this trouble. And besides making it difficult for me to do a proper back stance and horse stance, the injury seems to be jinxing my desire to learn to dance en pointe this fall. With my right foot so troublesome, I'm not sure I should even go and get fitted for pointe shoes, which had been my plan for the fall.

So I'm wondering: Is TKD bad for me?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Turns and Injuries

"You need to lean back on that wheel kick. Your back was straight up and down when you came around," says Brian A. to me as we all practice step wheel kicks.

You'd think that being a dancer would give me an advantage when doing spinning kicks.

I've found the opposite to be true. My ballet training seems to cause me to have trouble doing TKD turns!

In ballet, turns are always done in a lifted position: you think "up!" as you go around, tighten and lift core muscles so your weight is over one foot, and rise to half-toe (the ball of your foot) as you turn.

Not true in TKD. Often our turns are done while leaning over, or even with a slightly bent standing leg.

I also have trouble because I'm used to turns that are 360, like pirouettes, or even 180, like chaine turns.

Spinning kicks look like 180 turns, but as you execute the kick, your standing foot is only 90 from where it started! So I often end up going around the wrong amount.

OK, there is one similarity between ballet and TKD turns: both require spotting (looking at the target or a spot and snapping your head around as you turn).

Justin came in with his foot wrapped in gauze: He has a large abrasion on his toe and the ball of his foot. It's a summertime injury from playing ball without shoes.

After class, he showed me the injury, which caused two reactions in people:

Adults came over and scolded Justin for not going to the ER with this nasty injury, warning him that his foot would fall off if he didn't get it treated, and offering to pay for the doctor's fee.

Children, most notably little boys came over to show me and Justin their injuries: scrapes and scabs from summertime fun: skateboarding, biking, running.

Interesting the way people of different ages view injuries!