Saturday, April 29, 2006

Saturday Surprise

So I head over Saturday, expecting, as last week, to be the only adult there. But when I arrive, the dojang is lively, and Ms. Pryor is there!

Up at the front of the room with her are June, Brian A., Cavio, and Brittany, working on forms. A small group of kids, supervised by Jason and Patrick, are building a Tae Kwon Do Fort at the back of the room.

Throughout the class, the children work separately from us, alternating games (like Num Chuck tag, playing in the fort, and that Mafia game Justin taught us) and some Tae Kwon Do exercises. I'm amazed and pleased at how well-behaved they are.

The rest of us have a light workout. We start with step-sparring, something I know pretty well, thanks to Brian's constant repetition at our Wednesday morning workouts! It pleases me to know each one when she asks, to be the one to answer when she says "Do you know Yellow Belt #4?" ("step left while blocking the punch, then two punches and roundhouse, ma'am")

We also run through some self-defense moves, like getting away from wrist grabs and chokeholds. We've done this before, but I still have to be reminded; it's not yet second nature.

"If you're in a situation where you need to disable an attacker, you'll have to hit him a minimum of three times," says Ms Pryor. "You can't hold back; you need to be aggressive."

I guess to be aggressive, you need to know the moves. I still have to think about them.

We end up with board breaking, something we haven't been practicing very much. Ms. Pryor first has us practice elbow strikes into a pad. But when I'm up to break, she wants me to break with a round house kick. Usually, you strike with the top of the instep in a round house. But in a round house break, you flex your foot and strike with the ball of your foot.

I try three or four times. The board is still whole.

"What else would you like to try?" asks Ms. Pryor. I'm grateful that she will let me try somethign different, though frustrated I haven't done the round house.

"Forward elbow strike, ma'am. I had trouble with that at the last test. I think I wasn't lined up correctly."

This time, with Ms. Pryor's coaching, I know that I'm going to break the board (just as strongly as I knew something was wrong when I lined up for the break at the test). I break the board in one try. No bruises.

June broke with the roundhouse after a few tries.

Here's Ms. Pryor holding the board that Brian A. broke with a knife-hand strike.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Good Advice

Thanks to all of you who gave me advice on my outside-inside kick--either here on my blog, via e-mail, or in class.

After class Wednesday, I practiced in front of a mirror, with Brian and Justin coaching me. I'm still not completely happy with the kick. I can do it when I'm concentrating, but I'm not sure I can use it in combination or in sparring.

Speaking of sparring, I was very very disappointed not be able to spar on Wednesday. I'm not usually able to make it to Wednesday's class, so was glad I could go this week. It's usually sparring day. But this Wednesday, we didn't spar.

I feel a bit out of practice with sparring these days, which is a bummer since I enjoy it so much. I found out there will be class on Saturday, despite the fact that Master Hughes and Ms. Pryor will be at a tournament with a group of students. I said to Cavio (who's leading class that day) that I'd try to be there. "Let's do some sparring," I said.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Kicking advice, anyone?

Any of you martial artists out there have any advice on doing an outside-inside kick?

I have a lot of trouble with this very basic kick. I can only get it right about 15% of the time.

It's important these days, as it's part of the tornado kicks that I'm supposed to be learning. Here I am doing one at the test this past month.

For you non-martial-artists, the outside-inside kick does what its name says: goes from outside to inside. If you're doing it with the right leg, that leg starts by moving outward to the right, then it circles up and to the left, crossing in front of your body.

What's my problem with it? I can't get my leg to go out and around with any height or force. And that's the whole point of this move!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Challenges and limits

"My back's bothering me," I whisper to Brian as we line up at some point during Monday's class. "I was doing something in ballet that 44-year-old ballerinas should not do!"

This is what I was doing in ballet: a penché --like the ballerina above. Well, not exactly like hers :-), but you get the idea.

In a penché, you begin in arabesque position, like this

or as close as you can get to having that back leg at 90 degrees. Then you lift the leg higher until your torso tilts forwards ever so slightly. You have to fight against the lift of the leg and hold your shoulders up as much as possible.

It's beautiful, but painful. It causes a pinch ("eagle's claws" says Suki) to your back. Legs don't bend backwards at the hip. The way it goes up is for the back to flex and the leg to turn out at the hip.

Suki's been having us do them in ballet, and it has come back to haunt me later--with a sore muscle somewhere between my left shoulder blade and my spine (the left penché is more painful for me).

So, OK. Why don't I skip it? Or not push so hard? I'm not sure. I'm not one of those "no pain no gain" types. On the other hand, I keep penchéing. Maybe I'm trying to deny the fact that I'm 44 and my back just doesn't go that way. Maybe I'm really a "no pain no gain" type. Maybe I just don't know my penché limits.

I like the idea of pushing myself--like I did in Ms. Pryor's class Monday. The tricky part is, of course, finding your limits. Especially when my limits might be different from other peoples'. Like I'm pretty good at
balance in TKD and petit allegro in ballet. But it bugs me that I'm not good at stuff that takes a flexible back (penchés) so maybe I push harder there.

It's worked a bit in ballet. I've pushed myself when we do arabesques and now my arabesques are now much nicer than before. Except when my back hurts . . .

Monday, April 24, 2006


This is so cool. Zoe Smith, one of the contributors to the KarateForums "Korean Arts" discussion board (her screen name is Kill Jill), has published her blog as a book! It's available from, an organization that seems to specialize in helping bloggers become book authors.

Smith says the book "covers exclusive content about training in the Korean martial art of Taekwondo in its homeland of South Korea. . . . I decided to write this book after I was flooded by questions from people outside Korea who wanted to know if it was worth coming over to train." Smith, who's studied TKD for a total of 5 years, 2 of them in Korea, also discusses cultural issues. I think it would be a fun read.

It's especially cool because the "blook" can be downloaded for free--or sent to the buyer as an "A4" format black and white book for $7.

I want to do this with this blog eventually--in fact it was my initial reason for keeping the blog: to write a book. Maybe I'll make a blook when/if I finish my black belt. But I'm not sure I'll publish this blog exactly as is: I'd want to revise it for the new medium: different purpose, different audience, different format, maybe some new insights . . .

I think I will download Zoe's blook and take a look!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Small Class

I arrive at the dojang Saturday wondering if there'll even be a class. Master Hughes and Ms. Pryor have taken a load of people over to the Superfoot workshop, and Justin's at a tennis tournament. I'm feeling a bit on edge as I've left the boys alone at home to play computer games and have leftover pizza for lunch. I figure they'll be OK. They're 9 and 11, old enough to be on their own in a quiet neighborhood for an hour or so.

As I pull into the parking lot, I see a few people, all kids.

"Is there class today," I yell to John and Dylan.

"We don't know. We'll check and see if it's open," says John. "You don't have keys, do you?" asks Dylan.

I don't, but the security gate at the bottom of the stairs is open, and we go up. Cavio is there. She's signed up to teach.

It's a small group on this beautiful Saturday. I'm a bit worried as I'm the only adult. Sometimes when a teen black belt leads class, the crowd gets unruly. I take a deep breath and realize it'll be my job to keep things under control, to back up Cavio. No problem, but it's just not how I like to spend my class time--too much a busman's holiday for a mom and teacher.

But the class is one of the nicest I've been to when the teachers aren't here. Cavio's idea is to go through all the forms, then go through all the step sparring.

"This is so you can get your boards signed for those forms you don't always have time to do," she says. Wow, the class for me.

Patrick leads forms--I call him the forms genius. He remembers each one without hesitation, the rest of us are a bit slower.

Cavio asks me if I'll lead step sparring. "Yes, ma'am," I say with a bow. "Patrick knows them, too, so let him help, too." Patrick smiles proudly and bows.

So in this way, I get a lot of my board signed off, and a reasonable workout. Still, I'm looking forward to Monday's usual class, and a report from the Superfoot gang.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Super Duper

A group of students from our school are going to a workshop this weekend run by Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. Apparently, this guy is a martial arts superstar. Why is his foot "super"? Because it "has been clocked at 60 mph." Fast kicking is this guy's game. And apparently he's had to contend with a nasty injury to his right leg, so he uses his left leg.

I had mixed feelings about the workshop. I knew I couldn't go because Bruce is out of town this weekend. So I'm sorry not to be part of the small group going. They plan to have a meal with Superfoot. I would want to know more about his upcoming trip to Scotland to celebrate the 700th anniversary of his namesake William Wallace's execution (the Braveheart guy). (You can read about this story on the link above.)

But when it comes right down to it, I'm not sure a 4-hour workshop on kicking techniques is quite what I'm looking for. I'm not really interested in going to the tournament that's coming up next weekend, either.

So what am I looking for?

Maybe another one of Ms. Pryor's workshops like she had last fall. It was a Friday evening class, and we worked on step-sparring and self-defense. I would also love to just get some tutoring from her on sparring.

Maybe a workshop run by Martial Arts for Peace--to learn about conflict resolution and how to help children deal with bullies.

Maybe a workshop on the one weapon I want to learn: staff.

Maybe a workshop JUST for women in martial arts! That would be fun.

I don't know about any opportunities like these coming up. At least I haven't heard.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Noodle Hockey

Have I told you about noodle hockey?

It's a new game we've been playing at TKD. Way more fun than TKD tag.

Master Hughes brings out a bag full of swim noodles and a large nerf ball. We get into two teams, and play hockey, using the floppy swim noodles to try to knock the ball into a goal.

We played last night and I was very sorry I didn't have my camera! It's a hoot to play (and watch) with everyone scrambling for the ball and swinging the noodles like crazy. We laugh and yell and cheer on our team.

I guess we do it for the exercise (it's a nice cardio workout) but it's also just fun to do something crazy like that with a group--laughing together and being a team together is a great way to feel closer with classmates.

The only part I didn't like was choosing up sides.

"This reminds me of school," I told Brittany, who was standing near me as James and Chelsea chose up sides. "I was always chosen last."

"I'm always chosen last, too," said Brittany, who is in 6th grade.

Brittany was chosen last at TKD hockey, too. I wished I'd been a captain--I'd have chosen her earlier. But Master Hughes saw her standing there and, before James could call her name, he called "Brittany, hon, you're with us!" I hope his enthusiasm made her feel better about being chosen last.

P.S. I added a picture to yesterday's post. Take a look!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Dancing

How nice to celebrate Easter by dancing!

Rachael and I enjoyed doing our liturgical dance Sunday. The third service congregation is small, but many people told us how much they enjoyed having dance. Suki was there, too!

You can watch a short clip on Real Player here: Liturgical Dance. There's no sound--you'll have to imagine the music--keyboard and vocals, 6/8 time with a good pulse to it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

TKDmom at a College Visit Day

No, Robbie's not yet visiting colleges.

Justin got accepted to his top college choice, a state university about an hour from here. But he'd never actually been to the campus. So I offered to take him up there for a campus visit.

I'm a great believer in the campus visit--it's one very good way to get a feel for the campus culture and decide if it's somewhere you can picture yourself living for the next four years.

The day was bright and sunny, the campus's brick and limestone buildings shone, and daffodils bloomed among groves of trees (trees are very important in our state of prairies!). The tour guides were outgoing, polite, and full of information. We heard about class size, student activities, and what the dorms were like. We at a very nice lunch in the cafeteria.

Most importantly, Justin got answers to a few questions.

1. He'll start out with a general education curriculum, and will be admitted into the accounting program his sophomore year.

2. There are two study-abroad options in France.

3. Though there is no men's tennis team, there is a tennis club, which plays other college clubs.

4. When Justin asked about martial arts, the tour guide told us there was a Tae Kwon Do club, which was very popular. Justin's face brightened. "I'll have to ask Master Hughes about this," he said to me. (Switching schools is usually not encouraged.) "Master Hughes wants the best for you," I said. "I think he'll want you to stay involved.

After the tour, we wandered across campus. "So can you picture yourself being a student here?" I asked.


"I can, too."

Before we left, after he got signed up for 1st year orientation and housing, we stopped to get a drink in a campus convenience store. I went to get a Cherry Coke for the road.

"Look. I found them." I looked up to see Justin pointing at a box of brown sugar/cinnamon Pop Tarts--one of his favorite snacks. I laughed. "It's a sign. Now you know you can live here."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

3rd Permanent Brown

Seems like different martial arts--and sometimes even different schools--have different belt systems!

In ours, I was just awarded my 3rd Permanent Brown. It means a piece of electrical tape on my brown belt. It also means being one more test closer to that Temporary Black Belt test in Feb 07.

You can see me pointing out my bruise to Justin in this picture.

And here we are--Brian and me, the new 3rd Permanents--with newly-taped belts!

I love this one of Brian and Matthew.
Master Hughes had words of encouragement for Matthew.
More pictures later. Brian A. took a bunch!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blog connections

One thing I love about having this blog is that it keeps me connected with people--family, friends here in town, and friends from far away.

This week I even heard from my Japanese son, Hiroshi, who says he reads my blog over at Waseda University in Tokyo! Here he is with a friend.

You readers had no idea I had a 23-year-old Japanese son, did you? Our family "adopted" him a few years ago when he was spending a year studying at our college. We loved having him over at our house--besides being lively company for me and the guys, he liked to cook for us and even taught me how to make awesome Chinese dumplings!

I've also enjoyed staying in touch with friends I've made through this blog. Kicker Chick posted some encouraging words to me after the most recent test. I appreciate that, and yes, I am going to work harder before that next test!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I think we actually did surprise Justin yesterday evening. When he came into the restaurant with his mom and Master Hughes, there we were: a whole table of TKD friends shouting "happy birthday."

"Didn't you notice our cars out there?" someone asked.

He had, but hadn't made much of it. "I just thought 'there's Ms. Pryor's car, and there's Brian's,'" he told us.

(He didn't see my car because Robbie, who joined me at the party (he thinks Justin is cool), insisted that we needed to park the car elsewhere. "He'll see the car and know we're there!")

It was an enjoyable celebration with cards, gifts, and lottery tickets for Justin, good food and laughter and conversation for all. An 18th birthday is an important one and Justin is a great guy; I think all of us TKD friends were glad to be part of the celebration.

Justin's mom took pictures--I hope to get copies and post them soon!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Not cut out for this

Those of you who do TKD can tell from this picture that I did not have good form when trying to break on Saturday.

When you do a front elbow break, you need to hit the board with the stretch of muscle close to the elbow itself, not along the whole arm, which is where I hit (you can tell by the bruising) and why I was unsuccessful.

You might also be able to tell that I have little to no muscle in said area. My arms, especially my forearms, are exceedingly wimpy. I'm really not cut out for this aspect of TKD.

Ms. Pryor would say (and she has said to me) that's why my technique has to be exactly right when I break--and especially when I break with my arms. I have very little power, so it's technique, technique, technique that'll get me through.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


So I'm home, flattened by today's promotional exam (literally--I'm taking a post-exam nap on the couch) when the guys come in from some errands.

"How'd the test go?" Bruce asks.

"Not great," I say.

"Well, you didn't have all that much time to practice for it," he says.

And he's right, of course. You can tell from my board, which has lots of empty spaces, that I haven't been at class a whole lot. With the trip to London and the conference in March, it's been tough to get to the dojang.

Memorable test moments:
1. We're packed close together in our rows when we're asked to do our forms. Because test day we're lined up by height, I'm between two people with different forms from mine. Every time I turn to do a move, I'm practically on top of someone. I hop back or wait a moment before executing moves, but ty about the third turn, I'm thrown off enough to forget where I'm going on Palgwe 5. I want to just wait until everyone's done and then do my form.

Any advice on what to do in this situation? Wait? Move back? Make your moves smaller?

2. I get to spar with Mindy, a high green belt 20-something, which ends up being quite a treat. She's quick, strong, and flexible. "You're good at sparring!" I tell her. "We should practice together more often!"

"I didn't used to care for sparring," she tells me, "until I got to be a green belt. Now I feel like I know what to do."

"Same with me," I say.

3. Breaking goes badly. I'll post a picture of my arm tomorrow. I line up for my elbow strike, but something doesn't feel right. Still, I focus and breathe. Then I strike. The board is still whole, and my arm smarts.

I try one more time (I've done this before!), but with no luck.

"I need to get Master Hughes," I tell Paul, my black-belt judge.

Master Hughes gives me advice, but my arm is already so sore, I can't manage a front break. He stops me and has me do a back elbow strike. Matthew, who's appeared with a big smile and his Sponge Bob camera, has caught it on film. His presence reminds me to show indomitable spirit. I need that reminder as I go back to my place with a smarting arm, silently vowing to make sure to have someone check my stance, etc. for any future breaks with my arms. My poor "boarderline normal density" bones are not cut out for this.

4. Ms. Pryor has the adults do our 3 & 1-step sparring. Luckily, Brian's my partner--the familiarity helps me as she asks us to do random numbers ("White belt 4. Yellow belt 1") We have to stop and think about them since they're out of order, but we do OK.

5. We get to celebrate Justin's birthday after class! His mom has brought a cake with 18 candles. The children and a few adults gather around for candle lighting and wish-making, etc. Then he cuts the cake with the ceremonial sword. Nice to end with a celebration!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Fear Factor

Probably the day before my promotional test I should write about my training schedule, like how I ran through forms with Brian on Wednesday morning and swam laps at the Y today . . . but instead I'm going to write about something different: something that causes people in our culture to be fearful of their environment, to worry constantly about crimes against their person, to be willing to give up civil rights for surveillance. What is that thing?


Remember back in the 80's how researchers were trying to prove a link between violent TV shows and violent behavior? I remember because students were writing about this in papers! The researchers had mixed results. Studies didn't suggest a link between watching violence on TV and being violent oneself.

But later, they found a correlation between TV violence and a fearful view of the world.

Jacqueline Mitchard, one of my favorite columnists, wrote about this in her column today.

George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication has said that what lots of TV really fosters is the "mean world" syndrome--a perception of the world as a rude and dangerous place.

I'm not a scholar of popular culture, but studies like these overlap my area of rhetorical theory. I've looked at some studies recently and . . . well, it seems to be true. The more TV you watch--especially stuff like reality shows, news shows, news tabloids, and crime shows--the more scared you are!

This helps me understand several things:

1. Why I'm can't get all fired up about learning to protect myself from, oh, people stealing my car, or raping me or beating me up or kidnapping my children. I don't watch enough TV!
2. Why some people ARE all fired up about learning that. Most people watch more than I do.
3. Why a lot of moms I know are more worried about their kids walking down the street to play at the park than they are about their kids playing video games in their room all day. I'd fear the latter more: it would make my kids zomboid, uninteresting, and flabby!

Hey, do any of you have any thoughts about TV and fear? Does this make any sense to you?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Memorize? Or Understand?

I'm preparing for the promotional test Saturday. One way I'm preparing is to study the meaning of my form, Joon Gun. This is what our school's handout says about it:

Joon-Gun is named after the patriot Ahn Joon-Gun who assassinated Hiro Bumi Ito, the first Japanese governor-general of Korea, known as the man who played the leading part in the Korea-Japan merger. There are 32 movements in this pattern to represent Mr. Ahn's age when he was executed at Lui-Shung in 1910.

I have trouble memorizing things, so memorizing even this passage is a challenge for me.

Part of my problem is that my brain wants to skip ahead. I start musing on the significance of this little paragraph. I mean, listen: this Joon-Gun guy loved his country so much that he assassinated a colonizer/foreigner (Japanese governor) who was ruling over Korea! Wow. Of course Joon-Gun was executed. That's what happens to people who assassinate rulers, even ones who do not belong there.

Lots of people at our school, including children, and not including me, can rattle off these paragraphs at top speed, no trouble. I wonder if they sense the importance of what these forms really mean. And I really envy their memories.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dojo Wisdom for Writers

I'm still enjoying this book by Jennifer Lawler. Just about every chapter title is a bit of wisdom that applies both to my study of martial arts and to my work as a writer.

Like "Let your intuition speak," and "Aiki, the impassive mind, brings strength," and "Self-consciousness prevents action."

One chapter I looked at last night, though, impressed me as a martial artist. In "Find your Passion" (that title is advice for life that I firmly believe in), Lawler describes a friend whose passion is forms. But this person knows more about forms than anyone I know! Listen:

She can do every form she ever learned (dozens of them) backward, forward, reverse, according to count ("Do the sixth move of Choryo form. Now the seventh move of Dan Gun"), eyes closed, mirror image, practically any variation you could think of.

I had a ballet instructor, Carol, who made us do this with "combinations," the little bits of dance we do in class. I used to cringe when she called out "OK now, reverse it!"

I am very glad we do not practice this in TKD!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Birthdays at TKD

Two birthdays were celebrated at TKD last night.

John is now 14.

Brian is . . . older than 14. Thirty years older to be precise, and once again the same age I am!

It's fun that we celebrate birthdays at TKD. One more way we act as a kind of family to each other.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Yesterday afternoon was the first rehearsal for our liturgical dance. One of the teachers from Ballet Academy and I will be doing liturgical dance as part of our church's 11:15 "contemporary" service on Easter.

Liturgical dance isn't any specific kind of dance--it can be ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, African. It just means using dance as a part of worship.

It sounds like some new kind of invention from the '70's, like guitar mass or . . . clown ministry (*shudder*). But dance and ritual movements have been used in worship for centuries--yes, even in Christian worship! The trick is to do it well. I've seen badly-done liturgical dance, and it's embarassing!

But Rachael is an excellent choreographer, and the piece is going to be very nice. I'm the only one of the dancers at our church who can make it--Easter is a busy day for those with family in town. I guess this is one advantage of NOT having family in town--one can truly participate in the big holidays at one's church!

I'm not new to liturgical dance. In fact, it was how I got started back in dance when I was in my late 30's--after not dancing since college. My current ballet instructor, Suki, began a liturgical dance troupe back in 1999, and I danced with them for a few years. We did about 6 dances a year, at various churches in town. Suki's also a great choreographer, so the dances were very nice.

The dance we're working on now, though, will be even better. Suki's troupe included a lot of non-dancers, usually retired ladies who wanted to try dance, so she was somewhat limited in what she could include in the dances. I admire her inclusiveness.

Still, I think our Easter dance is going to be very satisfying--for the performers and I hope for the congregation as well.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I skid into class a bit late--having decided that the boys can stay home without me for an hour or so. June is there, and Brian, too. We're the only adults today, us and Cavio, who's doing a great job leading class.

After the usual warm ups and practicing of our forms, we practice board breaking. That's why I'd decided to be here. I need to break two boards this time, and there are no prescribed kicks. I need to decide how I'm going to break these boards.

There is one requirement: one break needs to be a "hand technique." I've already decided to do a front elbow strike. I've done it before and don't want to practice; I'll almost surely get a small injury and I don't need that before the test.

"What are you going to do?" Brian asks me as I come up to break.

"I think I'll do a jump front snap kick," I say. "I've done it before, but had trouble doing it at a test."

I have trouble today, too, but not too much. It's a matter of getting the board lined up just right so the ball of my foot hits it square on.

But then June does hers, lining up two boards on either side of her. She smashes one with a palm strike, and breaks the other with a reverse kick.

That's what I want to do! Line up the two boards and break one after the other. I think the flow will be nice if I break with the front elbow, then turn to break the other way with a reverse kick.

That's what I'll do!

Not a fighting film

The Twilight Samurai was not a fighting film. But it was a martial arts film, and an excellent film.

There were just two sword-fighting scenes, which were good, but certainly not fancy. They seemed very realistic somehow, without any fancy moves; just two people trying to stay alive.

Most of the movie, though, was about other aspects of martial arts, like respect, humility, loyalty. The main character was a "petty Samurai," or a Samurai who had a low-level job for his lord. On his small salary, he supported two young daughters and his ailing mother--difficult, especially since the death of his wife. He had no desire for advancement--his joy was in watching his daughters grow up. But circumstances made him fight, so he did, and it turns out he was an expert in the "short sword."

There was also a beautiful love story between him and a childhood friend. It had a good ending, too.

I liked how the movie showed, in beautful detail, the everyday life of a petty Samurai's family in 19th c. Japan--what they ate, what their house was like, how the children acted, etc. Plus, it was not dubbed. I like that--I enjoy hearing the foreign language even if I don't understand it. Subtitles don't bother me.

If that's the sort of movie you like, I'd recommend it!