Saturday, December 30, 2006

What's that balloon?

Everyone wants to know what's up with the balloon in my sparring helmet. Well, if you look closely, you'll see it has a face.

Eli made it and put my helmet on it. "It's you, Mom," he said.

I hope this does not reaffirm my status as an airhead.

(Note the cool photo of Ms. Pryor doing a flying side kick behind my bag)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Dad at hospice

For those of you who are wondering, my dad was moved out of the hospital yesterday. He's now in a room in the hospice at the retirement community where he and Mom lived for the last 3 years. He's OK, but weak. We're not sure how long he'll be there. I'm not sure if I'll see him again.

I am going to the library tomorrow to find a book about hospice.


I went back to the dojang yesterday--the first time I'd been there in about 2 1/2 weeks. The familiar dojang-smell greeted me (you know how there's often a special smell you associate with certain places. . . ). I slipped into my uniform, pulled back my hair, and went out into the empty room.

It was good to be back.

Justin joined me and showed me my new form, Chung Mu. As you TKD folks know, it's a fun form, with lots of new and exciting movements, like the 2-step flying side kick, the ridge hand strike, and the 360 jump (very much like a grand tour en rond in ballet--usually just boys get to do it). We worked on it until I remembered the steps. Then Justin--and Master Hughes, who arrived later--watched me do all 13 forms.

Afterwards, my muscles were deliciously tired. And I realized I hadn't thought about my mom, or worried about my dad for a whole hour.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


The night before we came back home, I called Justin to let him know we'd be coming back. He's been taking care of our pets and bringing in the mail. It was strange--yet comforting--to hear his voice on the phone. I've been living this "family emergency" life for two weeks, not thinking much about home. I was reminded that life was going on just as normal while Mom and Dad were ill, and while Mom died.

Now we're back home. I've spent the morning cleaning the house, and I'm going to work out this afternoon with James and Justin. I need to begin learning my new form, to keep going on.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dad and me

"So you must be daddy's little girl, then?"

This is what people inevitably say when I tell them I'm the oldest girl and close to my dad.

But they're wrong.

I was NEVER Daddy's little girl. Neither was my sister. The thing about my dad is that he never treats us like we're "little."

Memory: I'm in 11th grade and completely stuck on my math homework. This is the year that math finally catches up to me, and my supposed aptitude in math turns out to be very limited. I'm sitting at the dining room table with my bathrobe over my clothes (Dad always kept the house cold in those days of the "energy crisis"), and my dad comes over. "Hey, hey. That's enough of that." He hands me his handkerchief (I think my dad is the last person on the planet to always have a handkerchief in his pocket.) "Now what are you working on?" I wipe my eyes and tell him, in a shakey voice, about the math problem. He sits down beside me and looks at the problem. "OK now. Let's start with what you know . . . "

Memory: I'm 25, I've just bought my first car, and it's a lemon, a 15-year-old Volkswagen Beetle with a rusted floor and unreliable engine. I've driven it home from grad school somehow, and my dad has looked it over. He lists the problems that need to be corrected. I lie back on the living room floor with my hands over my face. "What do you want to do?" he asks. "Work on it, or junk it?" I can't cry or feel sorry for myself now: I have to make a decision. I breathe and think. Then sit up. "I want to work on it," I say. "OK," says Dad.

There are lots of ways that I would hope to be like my Dad. Dad always thinks of problems as opportunities--not roadblocks. He has boundless energy--physical, mental, emotional. He's optimistic even in the face of terrible odds (like his cancer diagnosis). He wants others to enjoy life the way he does, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He respects and reaches out to people, from the LPN who changes his sheets at the hospital these days to his oldest friends, and they love him for it.

If any of that has rubbed off on me, I've gotten it from him. If I can be a bit like dad, I'll be a better martial artist. I'll be a better person.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


My mom passed away last night. That euphemism seems just right for what happened: after the ventilator tube was removed from her throat, she peacefully slipped away. My sister, brother, and I were with her, holding her hands, comforting her, and reading to her.

(I wrote a tribute to my mom on Mother's Day, May 14, 2006, if you want to read about my remarkable mom. Just use the blog archives)

I often wonder how people go on after a loss like this. This is how I keep going on: I think about my parents, about my mom, how she would have wanted it this way. I try not to think about a world without my mom.

Stacey, a black belt at our school suffered a terrible loss last spring. Her brother became suddenly ill and died. Stacey is younger than I am, and her brother wasn't old, either. I wondered how someone might bear such a loss. But she did, and she came back to Tae Kwon Do (she's been gone recently because of travelling for a job).

I want this blog to be about my Tae Kwon Do journey, not about my life in general, but there are some things that are so huge, they affect everything.

Though much else is filling my life in these past few days, I still think about TKD, and about how it will be to get back and begin doing martial arts again.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Staying Strong

"What are you doing to take care of yourselves?"

This was the question the social worker at the hospital asked us after we had the meeting about hospice for Dad.

It's easy, when someone you love is very ill, to be completely consumed with their illness. I remember that happening when my Dad was first diagnosed with cancer--thoughts of it filled my mind almost all the time. I wasn't in the same city as Dad, but I know that my brother, who was, spent lots of days at the hospital.

I think we do this because we want to support the person who's ill. And I think we also do it because we think that somehow, by doing it, we can have some control of an out-of-control situation.

But we, my brother, sister, and I, are trying to take care of ourselves and each other. We're active people, so we treat ourselves with enjoyable activities.

Yesterday, my sister and I went for a walk along the parkway. Bill took a long bike ride.

And this morning, I'm going for a swim at the local Y.

It's good to get away from it all. I hope that it makes us stronger. We'll need that.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Family again

Dear blog readers:
I was hoping that today I'd be posting pictures from Wednesday's belt ceremony. But I wasn't at the ceremony on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, I got a message from my brother in Cleveland that my father was gravely ill and that I needed to come out right away. So I did--I flew out Wednesday morning.

By that time, my mother, who was also in the hospital, was also very ill. Both have pneumonia, which is very threatening in their health conditions (my mother had a severe stroke 4 years ago; my dad has been living with multiple myeloma, a nasty blood-borne cancer that eats away at the bones, for 6 years).

The doctors at both hospitals have requested their living wills.

So today was filled with visits to hospitals and solemn talks with doctors. We discussed hospice care with my dad in a family meeting. "I thought that was for people on death's door," said my dad, whose white blood cell count is drastically low. He never seems to think he's sick. "But dad, you can't take any more of that chemo, Dad," I told him. "It makes you too sick." He drifted off after that (he has occasional lucid moments punctuated by restless sleep). Hospice is moot at this point. Dad's too sick to be moved anywhere.

He wants Mom moved to the hospital where he is.

Mom's condition has worsened, so that's pretty much impossible. The pneumonia has spread to both lungs despite antibiotics and she's on a respirator. "She's very sick," said her doctor. "We'll be able to see in the next day or two if she will even recover."

This isn't a TKD entry, is it. I'm sorry if it's depressing.

But I decided that I would continue to post, when I can. I am a writer, and that's one way I respond to crisis events in my life: I write. It's a way to make sense of events, to tell the story of these days to you.

And it's not as depressing as it sounds. I'm here with my siblings. That's nice. Two of my aunts are here. And whatever happens, my parents will be OK. My father's not afraid of anything, so why should he be afraid of dying? And if they both die, well then they'll finally be together again.

If I stop to consider that loss that I will face--that my siblings and I will face--then it seems overwhelming. It is hard to fathom a world without my parents. Will planets go off their orbits? Will there be some tectonic shift in the earth once they are gone from this world?

So now, I'm not thinking of loss. I manage to go on day to day, hour to hour by just thinking of them, of Mom and Dad, and of these moments I'm having with them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Family Photos

At most TKD tests, my older son Robbie comes to take pictures. He's been doing this for a while and he's getting good at it.

But this time, he didn't want to come to the test. Neither did Eli, my younger son ("I'll go to your black belt test, Mom," he said.) So I was family-less at the test. (Of course, Bruce needed to stay home with the guys.)

I envy those TKD students whose parents, spouses, siblings, or significant others watch their tests. It would be nice to share this moment with those who are close to you, for those close to you to show they care about your progress in TKD!

I brought my camera anyway, and asked Christie and Stephanie (who were not testing this time) if they would take pictures. They said they would.

Then Master Hughes did his usual announcement: "There's someone in this room who's the most important person to you now, and it's not me. Go give your mom or dad a hug!"

I began to feel lonely, but then Stephanie and Christie both gave me a hug! That was nice. It reminded me that even when my family isn't at the test, my TKD family is there.

I'm not exaggerating when I say TKD family. We work out together 3x a week. We share moments of vulnerability, moments of frustration, moments of victory. And at our dojang, we have fun together outside of class, too--trips, parties, meals. My classmates have become a second family to me, some more than others, but a sure and stable source of support.

I will just share a few photos that Christie and Stephanie took.

Here I am doing some basic moves at the beginning of the test. I like the way this photo captures the whole group, too. I think it's an awesome sight to see all of us moving in unison, like a dance.

Here are three black belt candidates! The black belt test was after the regular test, so Michele, Matthew, and Chelsea had to wait and watch.

This photo is of me setting up for my front elbow strike. I have more photos of me breaking which I'll share later. But this one is significant because of the holders. I looked up to see that Justin was holding for me--that somehow helped me feel calmer about the break, just knowing he was holding. You can't see him at the picture because he's behind Christie. She dashed over to help hold, which also meant a lot to me. Stephanie took the photo.

Great family, eh?

And I'd just like to say that if you haven't looked at the comments to my last post on the post-test blues, you should. I love what Little Cricket says about the experience of giving up something you've worked on for a long time--almost a sense of loss. And Justin gives an insight about what it's like for black belts tests. Thank you, both!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Post Test Let-down

I did OK on the test--broke the boards, did fine on my form, etc. So why have I felt a bit "down" all afternoon?

Today, I'm distracted and a bit worried about my parents, who are both in the hospital today--back in Cleveland.

But even when there aren't crises, I've noticed that I'm often a bit blue after tests. I'm exhausted--both physically and emotionally. And also there's something anticlimactic in coming home to laundry and cleaning and dealing with the kids after being at a Tae Kwon Do promotional exam, where I've fought off imaginary foes, sparred with my classmates, and broken boards with my bare hands.

I kind of need some time to decompress--or what is it the government calls it? Debrief? after an experience like that. But no one here is particularly interested in hearing about the tests, though Bruce usually asks.

In February, when that black belt test rolls around, maybe I should plan something celebratory post-test. A huge ordeal like that might lead to a big emotional let down--or a need for a nap.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Breaking tips

Brian A. coached me again last night on breaking. He held the big blue pad and helped me practice the front elbow strike and the knife-hand strike, the two hand-techniques I'm using at the test.

He must watch people closely when they break. Several times he said "from watching people, I've noticed they tend to make this mistake . . ."

There are lots of things I need to remember. "I better write all that down," I told him after I was done. Maybe these will help some of you (or for those who don't do TKD, help you picture how we set up!)

Breaking Tips for Front Elbow Strike:
Stand close to the board.
Press right fist into left palm (right knuckles up works for me).
Hold elbow level with shoulder; don't let it drop.
Tighten muscles along arms.
Swing back, then stright into the board; don't dip down.
Swing all the way through. Don't stop at the board.

Breaking Tips for Knife-hand Strike
Line up to the left and slightly in front of board
Bring hand across body in ready position.
Tighten hand muscles, bend tip of fingers slightly.
Swing through the board, leading with the elbow.

I like this photo I found on Google Images. The (woman) martial artist swings her whole body into the strike. You can see her hips have turned and her feet, too. That's how I've been practicing:

Last night Brian A. told me he thought my strike would work. "You'll break easily with that," he told me. I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Being a nerd, I wanted to find out more about the meaning of my form. All we have to memorize is this:

Hwa Rang has 29 movements and is named after the Hwarangdo youth group, established in 520 A.D., which was instrumental in uniting the three Kingdoms of Korea, the Silla, Koguryo, and Baek-Je.

A Youth Group? Like my high school youth group at church? Or like Girl Scouts? Or Boy Scouts? Or Hitler Youth?

I looked up more info on TaeKwonDo Tutor (great site), and found that Hwarangdo youth were upper class young men (maybe boys) who were trained in human relations, scholarship, and service. In fact, they had a pretty well-rounded education:

The youth were taught dance, literature, arts, and sciences, and the arts of warfare, chariot, archery, and hand-to-hand combat.

The site compares them to knights-in-training. They had kind of "code of conduct" based on Buddhist and Confucianist principles. Believing strongly in that code helped them eventually unite the three kingdoms--

The zeal of the Hwarang helped Silla become the world's first "Buddha Land" and led to the unification of the three kingdoms of Korea. Buddhist principles were so ingrained in the code of the Hwarang that a large number of monks participated in the Hwarang-Do.

So what was the Hwarang code? Lots of the principles sound like the tenets of Tae Kwon Do:

humanity, justice, courtesy, wisdom, trust, goodness, virtue, loyalty, and courage.

This week one of my students apologized to me about some question she asked. "I'm such a nerd," she said. "Don't say that like it's a bad thing," I replied.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Board breaking used to be the coolest part of TKD. I mean, here was a board, made out of wood, and I could put my foot right through it! I even won a 1st in Breaking at the little tournament my dojang held when I was an orange belt!

But now . . . I dread breaking. I'm not sure what caused the change. I think it was the addition of hand techniques. That, and having to break more than one board at a test.

The board breaking ideal is to be able to break different numbers of boards (1 at a time, 2 at once, 3 at once) in different ways, or trying out new and different ways to break boards, challenging oneself each time.

I prefer finding a way that works and sticking with it. If I have to do it at all, that is. I figure if I didn't break a bone last time, it's probably safe.

I'm worried about breaking bones because my bones are slender, and, according to my doctor, only "barely normal" in terms of density. I don't have osteoporosis (yet), but I'm kind of on osteoporosis watch.

So contemplating a board break makes me nervous. As a small person, I have to have perfect technique. And I worry that if I don't, I won't only not break the board, I might break something else. I have to break 4 boards at this test, 2 hand, 2 feet, so there are plenty of opportunities to break . . . something.

Last night after class, Brian A. coached me on a knife-hand strike, which I'm considering for this test. A knife-hand strike is that stereotypical "karate chop." Brian had some good advice: line the holders up carefully, put your shoulder into it, follow through.

I felt a bit better about it after that coaching session. I won't feel completely at ease until after it's over.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Brian and I met at the dojang today for a workout. Neither of us had gone Saturday, so we needed to go over forms.

I was guessing that the boxing ring would still be in the middle of the dojang. And it was. So were the chairs for spectators.

Not only that, the dojang was absolutely littered with . . . litter! There were pop cans, popcorn bags, torn up paper, and broken boards.

"I can't stand to see it looking this way," said Brian. I agreed, but was thinking it could have been a whole lot worse. I didn't see any blood spatters (thank goodness). And the spectators weren't smoking or drinking alcohol.

Still, it was a serious mess.

Matthew got to work collecting cans. We have a deposit in our state, so he was thinking he'd make a bit of money. Brian and I moved chairs out of the way, and Brian got the big mop to sweep the floor.

We were able to clear a space to work out, but both of us were pretty sure that the boxing ring would still be there on Monday.

"I wonder if Master Hughes required a deposit," I mused. "I think he should keep it."

Saturday, December 02, 2006


There's a boxing ring in the middle of our dojang today.

Actually, it doesn't look quite like this one . . . yet. It's not quite done being set up.

The local boxing club has set up a boxing night at our place for this evening. There are posters all around town advertising it.

Brian A. says he might go, but he doesn't think he'll take Michelle and Matthew. "It's kind of a rough crowd," he said. "And if you sit in the front row, you might get spattered with blood."

I'm not going. But this all makes me think of Bob, the student who used to box (the one who said "don't fight"). I wonder if he'll be there.