Wednesday, January 31, 2007


At class on Monday, Master Hughes gave me a card from the TKD folks. When I got home, I looked at it.

The entire card was covered with signatures and notes of condolence from all my TKD friends, children, teens, adults. And inside was a collection they'd taken for my parents' memorial fund, an amazingly generous amount.

I was completely overwhelmed.

I will ask if I can publically thank everyone during class tonight.

Mom and Dad would be glad to know I'm part of such a caring group of people.

Monday, January 29, 2007

To Wait or not to Wait

To Wait
If I wait and test in April, I would take a few weeks "off" now because there is no way I can sustain this level of workouts for another 8 weeks. Maybe I would just go to TKD 2x a week for a while. I'd then gear up again about 4 weeks before the test. It would give me time to answer condolence mail, and get caught up at Coe.

Not to Wait
If I don't wait, if I test Feb. 10, I would keep up my 5x week schedule for now and just push ahead. I'm not quite ready to answer condolence mail now anyway, and I'm getting caught up at Coe.

Sunday Workout
I had planned to work out with Brian and Kevin after supper, but when Justin said he's like to work out too, and could meet earlier, I took him up on it. We worked out at the college. He had me do step-sparring, in random order, and watched my forms.

His advice: bigger moves (specifically, be sure to reach all the way back on a double-middle-knifehand guarding block) and be sure to get my feet pointing forward in front stances (specifically after I turn).

An insight
I'm working and studying hard for this particular test, but I don't see it as cramming. When it comes right down to it, I've been preparing for the blackbelt test ever since I was a white belt. I didn't know it at the time! Since this summer, we've been required to work on all our forms before every test.

So, if I can't pass without intense cramming, I'm not doing a very good job as a student. The heavy-duty workouts I'm doing now just give me a chance to get things polished and make sure I have everything exactly right--and so I can do an excellent performance when everyone's watching.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Good Days, Bad Days

Seems like when you're grieving, there are good days and bad days. Just yesterday, I said to Bruce that I haven't felt like myself in a long time. I just feel this constant low-level sadness, interrupted by periods of high-level sadness.

But this morning, I woke up feeling good. I figured it would be a good day to go to TKD.

And it did feel good to get there. My tight hamstring has had some time to heal, so that's better, and I actually had the energy to do Tae Kwon Do. I went through forms with Stephanie and Brian, and remembered them--pretty well.

I still haven't decided if I'll go through with the black belt test. After today, my inclination is to do it. It feels good and cheers me up to work out. I talked to my good friend Wendy on the phone this morning, and she thought it would be good to have something to work for.

Ms. Pryor and I also talked about the test. She reminded me that I didn't have to push myself to test in February if I wasn't ready. Testing now might mean that I'm not my best at one of the most important tests in my TKD life. And that's true. As I said to Brian, "I feel like I've gotten the wind knocked out of me by all this." Though today was good, it remains to be seen if I can continue with energy.

I won't decide yet. I'm going to work out as usual this week, probably SMTWF with ballet on Th. And we'll see. If I get back to the level I was at before Dad died, I'll keep going. If not, I'll just test later. Either way will be fine.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Keep moving

I swam this morning before the meeting with the lawyer about Mom and Dad's estate and trusts.

"That must have felt good," said my brother-in-law.

It did.

I'll be back home by Thursday evening. I think I'll go to TKD Saturday.

It will probably feel good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Parents

We were thrilled to find out that the Cleveland Plain Dealer wanted to do an article about my parents. You can read it at

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Dear blog-readers:

I am writing from Cleveland. My father passed away early Friday morning, one month and one day after my mother's death. We will have visitation and a burial service for him, then a memorial service at their church for both of them.

It may be a while before I begin to post regularly again. But I am a writer. A writer writes. Perhaps writing--about this event or even just about Tae Kwon Do--will help. I think it will. And I know that getting back to TKD will help, too.

Until then, keep my family in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ballet Inspiration

Today ballet classes started up again. It was so good to get back. The exercises just pull one's muscles back into place again in such a delicious way.

Two things inspired me at ballet today (besides just going).

1. It was Joanne's birthday--she turned 60! We all congratulated her on having reached this milestone. I told her she was my role model. "I hope to be doing ballet at age 60," I told her. "What about after age 60?" asked Suki (she is a bit past 60). "And past 60!" I replied.

2. Suki and some of my classmates are very keen to go to my black belt test. Suki even wrote down the date and place in her calendar. I would love it if they came--I think they would enjoy seeing it. There are so many parallels between martial arts and dance. I hope they can come!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Moments of inspiration

I'd spent the day finishing freelance writing projects (including a 30 minute drive to a photo shoot), sorting through administrative stuff at the college, and trying my courses set so students can function when I go to Cleveland. I got back home just in time to head out again to go to Robbie's school conference.

I considered skipping TKD. I'd be late anyway.

But I remember James was going to be there to sign my board . . . so I went.

Everyone has days when they just don't feel like working out. This was definitely one. Plus, I've just been feeling emotionally wrung out recently. It was hard to get into anything at class. Even sparring.

At the end of sparring time, we had the chance to "find someone you want to spar with." I just stood there.

"Jane, do you want to spar?"

Ms. Pryor was standing there.

"Oh. OK!"

Sparring with Ms. Pryor is about my favorite thing. I'm challenged to hold my own while I learn a few things by observation and experience (getting hit!) I want to learn from her "finesse" style of sparring--she uses speed, flexibility, and intuition/psychology to win.

After sparring, she gave me some pointers and showed me a few things I could do to make my sparring better:
1. pick up the pace of my kicks. I can be fast, but I need to work on throwing kicks in quicker succession
2. try new combinations of kicks, and/or learn how to tell which combinations, old or new, will work best in any given situation. (Tall order, but fun.)

She challenged me to work on that so that I can show improvement at the black belt test.

For those moments, I felt my enthusiasm for TKD flood back, despite exhaustion (physical and emotional). "That cheered me up," I told her.

Of course, after class, I was--once more--exhausted. And the top of my foot hurt where I'd roundhouse kicked a pad wrong.

"Maybe I should stop doing Tae Kwon Do," I muttered as I went in to tuck Eli in to bed. I must say that there have been times, especially this week, when I've considered postponing all this testing--as Kicker Chick also suggested in her comment to my last post.

"Maybe, but you should get your black belt first, Mom," said Eli. "You've worked so hard."

That comment, from Eli cheered me up, too. Sometimes, I'm not sure I have the support of my family in this martial arts venture (except for grudging acceptance of all the many hours I've been gone at class over the past months). But maybe they're more proud of me than I realize.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Blog writing and revision

I just revised my last blog post, Children. You might want to read the new version.

Revising it made me think about some of the disadvantages of blogs. I'd just read an article in the New York Times called "24 Hour News People" by David Carr who has a blog with He was doing some hand-wringing about how blogging has affected the way he writes.

"The speed of conversation is a prt of what is good about [blogs], but then some of the reflectiveness, the ability for careful summation and expression is lost," says a blog-expert Carr interviewed, Clay Sharkey at NYU.

I agree. As much as I try to make these blog-posts reflective and substantive, it's not always easy. Unlike Carr, I don't have people telling me in posts what I should write about. But other aspects of blogging shape the way I write.

Yesterday's post, Children, is a case in point.

I hadn't posted since Saturday, and it was Monday. When you start a blog, you make a kind of uspoken promise to your readers that you will post consistently, close to every day. So even if I have no ideas, I have to find some and write. No writer's block allowed!

Mostly, my writing fits this format. Sometimes I think of a post while doing something else. "I'm writing a blog post," I told Bruce as we sat together after dinner and I realized I was staring out the window. Other times, a word, image, or experience will get me started on a post.

But sometimes, I need time: to let an idea percolate and come together. And blogging doesn't allow for that, really.

So I just revised that last, not-quite-finished, not-quite satisfactory post. Which is one of the advantages of blogging: you can always change what you wrote.

Monday, January 15, 2007


"Hi Jane!"

I love hearing children saying this at the dojang. It'll be Matthew or Michele or Jimmy or Georgia standing there, ready to shake my hand, Tae Kwon Do-style. They always have a big smile for me and often have something to tell me, too. ("We're learning long division in school!" or "I slept over at my cousin's last night!")

Sometimes I come to the dojang carrying worries from the day--especially recently. Usually, I'm ready to leave them behind as I bow; other days it's harder.

Saturday was one of those days. Not only did I have class that day, we also had a TKD roller skating party that evening. After talking to the hospice people in the morning ("He's no longer responsive when we talk to him") I wasn't sure I had the physical or emotional energy for either, let alone both.

But I went. Robbie went, too, and when we arrived, those children's voices greeted me again--even before I entered the rink. "Wanna play tag?" asked Matthew as I got out there.

The teens cheered me, too, as they shouted their hellos to me and each other. I got to watch various pairings-off (roller skating is a great excuse for holding hands), which made me smile. Justin and a group of his high school friends goofed off, and when The Macarena began to play, Justin said "Jane, do you remember this?" --we did it together standing over by the coats.

They all reminded me of the joy of now, the comfort of the present moment.

When my mom died, just one week before Christmas, all of us in Cleveland wondered how we'd get through that holiday without her. But it was the children who pulled us through. Bill's girls gave us an excuse to celebrate (their birthdays) in the midst of mom's illness. Ellen's daughter arrived right after Mom died, and my boys did, too. Seeing them after an agonizing week traveling between sick parents in two hospitals brought me back to this world and its joys.

So we did Christmas 2006 for the children. That's what got us through that sad holiday. We took them swimming, tobogganning and skating. We wrapped gifts, and had a luxuriously drawn-out present-opening, on Christmas eve, just like we always did with Grandma and Mom.

If one thing will get me though this difficult season, it will be children, mine and others', keeping my grief balanced with hope.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Two Places at Once

Hard to concentrate in TKD this morning. My mind was in two places at once.

Before class, I'd called over to hospice to check on my Dad again. I call on days that my brother can't get over.

The nurse said that he's resting pretty calmly now--before he's had some restlessness, and had fallen twice while trying to get out of bed.

"He's sleeping, but you can tell he's working through some things in his unconscious," she told me. "His face gets animated, though his eyes are closed, and he sometimes reaches out with his hand."

She said this was a stage many people went through as they were dying.

Apparently, he's not talking anymore, nor is he very responsive to them when they talk. Just a week or so ago, I talked to him on the phone, very briefly, and he talked about my mom. "I don't know what I'm going to do without her," he told me. Now he's not talking at all.

"In the next stage, he'll be more peaceful," said the nurse

They will call me when he gets close to the end.

It seems ironic that I'm working toward this black belt at the same time that my father is moving inexorably towards death. Two journeys, simultaneous, in different places, towards different goals.

When my mother had her stroke, I had just started taking ballet as an adult. I used to get to the stretch on the barre and sometimes feel stunned that I could put my leg up on a barre, while my mother was in a coma, and later paralyzed on the left side. Every time it stopped me for a moment, and then I'd dedicate the stretch to my mom.

I wish I were at a point where I could just dedicate this black belt journey to my Dad, or both my parents. Right now, I'm just torn between the two places I want to be.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Injuries and Working Out

An article in yesterday's New York Times (Thursday, January 11) suggested that it's usually OK, in fact good, to work out when you have a minor injury.

"We want to keep you moving," says Dr. William Roberts, a sports medicine specialist at UMinn. "Injured tissue heals better if it's under some sort of stress."

The article, "When It's OK to Run Hurt," was (obviously) focused on running, but it seems that the advice could apply to . . . say, tae kwon do as well.

It caught my attention because, even after a massage Wednesday (focused specifically on my hamstring and right leg), my right leg still wasn't quite right. My massage therapist said she didn't think it was a big injury. "You would have known if you'd torn it. You wouln't have been able to walk," she said. But she did say it felt "tight."

At any rate, I'm not sure how to overcome it.

The article says "most people can continue with the sport they love, although they may need to cut back a bit." OK. I'm doing that: I'm keeping my front kicks about belt-level.

A Dr. James Weinstein of Dartmouth College (he treats their athletes) has this suggestion: Before exercise, take one anti-inflammatory pill, like aspirin or Advil. Ice the area for 20 minutes. Then exercise, possibly reducing the intensity or time. When you finish, ice the injured area again.

OK. I'll try it. I've already been doing the Advil. If I remember, I'll try the ice, too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


"Do you want me to make you a copy of this?"

Brian is dangling a packet of notecards in front of my face. We're taking a break from our morning walk-through, and I'm having a little lie down on the stack of mats.

I sit up and look at the notecards. They're study cards with Tae Kwon Do terms for our written black belt test on one side and definitions on the other.


"I can make you a copy of the one with the meanings of the belt levels. Then you won't have to cut and paste it."

Brian made up his notecards sometime before the last test. I haven't done mine yet.

Brian is altogether more consistent and determined than I am when preparing for promotional tests, always finishing up all his board signatures (see the last post) and accurately memorizing the "meaning of the form." He goes in early to class and spends his time working on forms--usually with Kevin. "Repetition is a form of learning," he says.

He also makes a point to set up extra practices in between classes. Kind of towing me along in his wake.

I'm glad we're preparing for the test together!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Black Belt Board

This is a black belt board. It helps black belt candidates keep track of their practice for the test.

At our dojang, we're supposed to remember our past forms as we progress up through the belts. About a year ago, Ms. Pryor began having us keep track of our practice on boards. We write down our new forms and all the old ones, as well as other techniques: sparring, high kick, basic moves.

Eight times before the test, we're supposed to show black belts that we know how to do each of these techniques or forms. They then sign initials on our board. Eventually, we'll have 8 signatures for each one.

Black belts have to do even more. We do all our forms for 13 black belts over the course of 8 weeks. That's 16 forms x 13 or 208 forms. Justin can tell you how many movements all together--maybe he'll post the number as a comment here :-)

We also have to do all the step-sparring moves 13 times--they're written on the other side of the board. That's 28 step sparring combination x 13 or 364 step sparring combinations.

All of this is done before or after class. As we get closer to finishing, the black belts get pickier about our movements. Ms. Pryor or Master H. will watch us last. And we can count on doing all the forms--in some random order--at the test in February.

This board will help us be able to do that.

Seemed like a good idea at the time

So Bruce is going to be home early on Monday, and I decide to go over to the dojang early--about an hour before class starts--to work out with Brian. We go through our forms and help the "Ninja Kids" class, then do the All-Belts class.

It's a Ms. Pryor killer-workout class: basic moves, kicks, forms, combination kicking, and then--last--hopping and jumping across the dojang floor . . .

After 2 hours of killer TKD workout, I'm completely wiped. I stagger home, eat, and collapse. Around 9:30, I drag myself into the bathroom for a hot bath, and then ooze into bed.

A two-hour killer workout: not a good idea at this point. I'm not sure if that long of a workout is ever a good idea for me! Certainly not when I'm just getting back to speed.

But I begin to wonder if I need to build up my stamina. Black belt tests can be long at our school.

This morning, Tuesday, Brian and I meet at the dojang. He's somehow talked me into coming over to walk through our forms. "Wasn't I just here?" I ask him.

Walking through forms to strengthen our memories IS a good idea. Having all the forms memorized is a big part of testing at our school. We tell each other we're not going to break a sweat (and basically we don't), but the practice helps us both.

Monday, January 08, 2007


After Saturday's class, I decided to get out my Pilates DVD to try to get my core back in shape. I've done it Sunday and just now (Monday).

At one point, the instructor says "Have your hand on your inner thigh muscles. These are the muscles we're trying to connect."

That idea--that Pilates tries to "connect" muscles--helped me understand what is going on with my general weakness now the ballet studio has been closed for winter break.

In ballet, we operate under the assumption that all our muscles are connected to one another through the core. The core is the abdominal area--abs, back muscles, lats. If our core is not strong and connected to our other muscles, then it doesn't matter how strong the rest of our muscles are. We won't be able to do what needs to be done in ballet: balance, turn, move lightly and strongly, lift legs and arms.

"Every movement originates here," one ballet teacher says, pointing to her abdomen.

Although I've been exercising regularly since ballet let out, I have been missing the killer "core" training I get in ballet! So my legs and arms are strong, but they're not CONNECTED through my core. I think that's why I can't break boards. I can only break boards if the power of my kick is CONNECTED to my body weight. And probably also to the strength in the rest of my body.

(I imagine this core strength is especially important with small people.)

In TKD, we say that every movement originates from our abdomen as well--some teachers say "It should come from your belt" I love this metaphorical way of explaining TKD movements: they literally come from your core--abdomen--which should get stronger as you progress through your belts. We also learn to think with our core--to listen to the "gut feelings" we have. I've read somewhere that there is some connection between intuition and your actual gut.

At any rate, I already feel stronger since starting with the Pilates DVD. I think I have a naturally weak core. Maybe because of my hyperextended knees, which lead to naturally bad posture. But I also have a very responsive core: it doesn't take much to make it strong again.

Still I'm looking forward to ballet starting next week. It's way more fun than Pilates.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Today's class

I was unable to break with a jump-reverse kick, usually an easy break for me.

The weakness isn't in my leg. My core is weak. I can feel it. I need to get back to ballet.

I haven't forgot how to spar. I even scored maybe one or two on Justin!

I did my step sparring and forms for Patrick after class. He really knows all the moves, and gave me some good tips. I'm getting better (or relearning them) but I still don't feel strong. I still have to do them 9 more times for black belts before I take my test.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pulled muscle

I think I pulled a hamstring in my right leg. It's been a while--I've been unable to do high front kicks for a month or so.

My solution: take Advil before class . . . but I don't think that's a good solution.

Hiroshi, my Japanese son, who's staying with us for a couple of days, says that massage, stretching, and alternating heat and ice helped when he pulled a hamstring a while back.

We'll see.

Oh, Hiroshi is an adopted son--we "adopted" him when he was a student at the college a few years back. The boys love to hang out with him, and I enjoy his company! I'll post a picture later this week.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Solace of Physical Activity

Sunday I went back to church for the first time since I got back. Most of the people there knew about my mom and my dad. After the service, many people talked to me, expressing their condolences, holding my hand, and hugging me.

"How are you? Probably fine until I hugged you," said Sherry, noticing my tears.

That's true. When someone hugs me, the tenderness of the moment causes me to remember my loss and the sadness floods back. I knew that would happen at church. It was wonderful to receive so much comfort and kindness from my church family, but I left feeling wrung out. It was a grey day, too, and I felt bleak the rest of the day. At one point, I tried to distract myself by looking at a box of beautiful Christmas ornaments my sister-in-law gave us for Christmas, but I found myself thinking Mom has ornaments like this, too--I should tell her . . .

What finally snapped me out of it was a walk with my family. It was misting out, but we put on our "London jackets" and took a walk in the neighborhood. The fresh air and exertion helped me to feel better.

I think it's been that way with TKD, too. It was one of the first things I did when we got back, and I'm looking forward to doing it again. I'm not sure if the physical activity is just helping me think of something else besides grief, or if it's helping that sadness to heal.