Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Our dojang has some classes for very small children--ages 4 and 5. They're called "mini ninjas."

Master Hughes was the first TKD instructor to have classes for this age--he got a national award for it. He's excellent with those tiny kids: enthusiastic, patient, and encouraging. Kids at that age don't have good attention spans, and some of the ones he gets in that class are obviously headed for an ADHD diagnosis. But he gets them to learn to concentrate.

Recently, the mini ninjas have been working out with the all-belts classes. It just worked out best for Master Hughes's schedule. They start off stretching with us, then get some individualized instruction. . . . from black belts.

At first, I thought "oh no, I'm going to be asked to help teach them." Being a mom and a teacher, I figured he'd have me pegged as a good instructor for those little ones.

But at first, Master Hughes enlisted some of the younger teens: James, John, Dillon, and Stephanie.

Apparently the kids liked working with "teenagers"--they thought it was cool.

But the past two classes, I've been asked to help with the mini ninjas.

OK, I am fine with little kids. And I'm used to hyper boys, having one myself. And I know about teaching and learning. I actually enjoyed it, and felt like they learned something--my goal Monday was to get the kids to stop and look at the kicking pad before they kicked, and they were doing it. They are awfully cute.

Still, I don't want to be pegged as "the mom" whose job it is to work with and/or babysit little ones. I'd like to work with other people--the other new women in the dojang, for instance--and I want to learn my new form!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Brian's Shoes

Kicker Chick was interested in hearing what Brian had to say about his martial arts shoes. They were a part of his Black Belt essay.

Here's what he said about them:
And finally, some of you still ask why I wear shoes? Due to flat feet, they allow me to come out here and take class. I would like to thank students who has sparred with them, and apologize to any students that may have had more contact than a “light” to “no” contact. And that apology goes for Jason also who never wanted to get close to “those shoes.”

Monday, February 26, 2007


The ice storm got worse. Saturday night, we lost power. It went out just as we sat down to supper, and didn't come back until after midnight.

Some places in town still do not have power, like the neighborhood where Ms. Pryor and Brian live.

Downtown seems OK, so the dojang should be functional--still, I wonder if we'll have classes.

All this reminds me of January 2005, when I started TKD. Then, a snow day postponed my first day as a student!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ice Storm

No TKD today, and the Black Belt dinner has been postponed. We are in the midst of an ice storm!

Here's my kitchen window . . .

and my little green car!

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I need some new ballet slippers, obviously. See those holes in the toes?

This is not a cause for celebration. Most dancers feel proud of ratty, worn out slippers. They show how much we've worked. Plus, new ones are a pain to break in. You have to wear them and sweat in them until they mold to your feet and start to feel good.

For a while, I thought about getting martial arts shoes
--I thought they might help that inflamed tendon below my ankle. It's hard to workout barefoot on a hardwood floor, especially as one gets older. Brian, who has plantar fascitis, wears shoes for Tae Kwon Do; in fact, he wrote about them in his black belt essay.
And now Master Hughes has started wearing shoes in class. He has the same plantar fascitis trouble. For a while he wore martial arts shoes. But now he wears

In ballet, teachers often wear "pedinis,"
a teaching shoe that's flexible, but has a heel to give more support through long days of being on your feet to teach. Maybe Master Hughes and Brian should try them!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Black Belt Questions

Question #1
TKDMom (coming in to class on Saturday, wearing my black belt for first time): Is my belt the right length?

Brian A: Looks good!

Ms. Pryor: It should be to mid-thigh. The ends should make a curve, then hang down. (She shows her belt's graceful curves which look like a fu-manchu moustache.) Black belts should hang. (This comment causes Brian A. to crack up.)

Question #2
TKDMom (realizing that I need to line up somewhere different because of my new black belt seniority): Where am I supposed to be? I think I must have a new home.

Someone points to the spot: now I'm ahead of James and Stephanie, who have not yet tested for black belt.

Ms. Pryor: It's not a new home, it's always been your home.

Question #3:
How do martial artists celebrate a birthday?

"There's a birthday to celebrate today," says Master Hughes at the end of Monday's class.

Everyone lines up in two lines while Jessie and I ("two birthdays!" says Master Hughes) stand at the top. Everyone sings "Happy Birthday" to Jessie, who is 10, and then she runs down the gauntlet, getting lots of good-natured "spanks" and pats on the back.

Then it's my turn. "Jane is 23 this year," jokes Master Hughes. Everyone sings. As I look down the lines at them, I am warmed by the sight of the familiar faces looking back at me--friends, now--people I've spent a lot of time with.

I run the gauntlet, too, and then go over to get my treats. Jessie is handing out red licorice whips. ("I can't eat any," I tell her as she offers me one. "It'll pull the braces right off my teeth.") I hand out Hershey's Kisses and Hugs. Brian jokes that he heard I was handing out Metamucil. I give him chocolate anyway. We make plans to go out for breakfast this week to celebrate.

When I get home, I get a call from Justin. "Happy Birthday!" he says. "I was going to call early this morning, but I overslept." I tell him it doesn't matter.

It doesn't! I just like the way martial artists celebrate birthdays, especially around here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

What Tae Kwon Do Means to Me

Hey martial artist readers: was there a written portion to your black belt test?

There is to ours. We have a several-page-long test on terminology, meaning of forms, flags, TKD. And we have to write a 2-page essay on What Tae Kwon Do Means to Me.

I enjoyed writing the essay. If you want to read it, I've posted it here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Birthday Season

Usually, I'm not one of those adults who "dreads" birthdays--in fact, I love celebrating them: mine and others'. I always say that people should celebrate for the entire birthday week . . .

But this year, I've been feeling a bit down during my own birthday week. I miss my parents.

It's not so much the childhood parties I'm nostalgic for: it's the way they celebrated with me once I was an adult. They would always call me up on the phone, usually in the morning and sing to me, even in recent years when their health wasn't good. I'd look forward to that birthday call.

They gave wonderful "grown-up"gifts, too: plane tickets to come see "Marriage of Figaro" (the opera) in Cleveland with them, a sewing machine, and, for my 40th birthday, a collection of reference books for writers (American Heritage Dictionary, a good thesauraus, a book of quotes).

But that phone call was always the highlight. I loved getting the call and hearing them sing to me.

So you can see that tomorrow, the actual day, will be strange without their call to expect.

Maybe my guys (especially Bruce) thought I might be feeling odd at this birthday. Or maybe they just had a great birthday idea. Because at the end of this day, which I spent trying to keep busy so I wouldn't feel sad, they gave me a great birthday party.

We had supper at home, and then they brought out two presents. The first was a gift certificate to an art shop that does frames ("so you can frame your Black Belt certificate."). The second was . . . look!

They got me this beautiful ceremonial sword. It seems huge--but I guess it's regular size--and it has an engraving of a dragon on one side. It will be beautiful hanging on a wall. I understand Master Hughes had some part in the gift purchase!

I've never gotten a gift so unusual before! I love it!

I'm still going to miss that phone call from Mom and Dad tomorrow, but the sword will remind me of some new things in my life--of my family's pride in my TKD accomplishment, and of my own future in TKD.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Beginner again

I love having a chance to be a beginner again!

The black belt test is over, the belt ceremony is over, the cake has been eaten. And now I get to learn a new form: Kwang-Gae.

It's just like learning my very first form: I feel awkward following the new moves, and excited when I finally get them.

It's good to be back at work.

Friday, February 16, 2007

More Belt Ceremony photos and reflections . . .

(Robbie wants to show off that without my shoes, I'm shorter than he is)

The belt ceremony was fun, and it was great to have that beautiful cake. But about 1/2 way through I just felt tired of being the center of attention. I kind of wished I could have just gone on to start learning my new form!

I don't mean to sound ungrateful--I was very very grateful for all of those who made the party fun, and it was a hoot cutting the cake with that Korean sword . . . but it's kind of like getting married, or having a baby. It's nice to have all that fuss over you for a while, but at some point you just want to go on with your life in your new role.

I look forward to that at Saturday's class.

And of course, I'm going to get prints of all these great photos . . . :-)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Belt Ceremony--first pictures

Sports Photography

Funny to think that I am the subject of sports photography . . . but I guess I am!

After every test, we all get copies of the photos Brian A. has captured with his good eye for a picture and his high-tech digital SLR camera.

Here are a few.

Me and Brian, in the front row, with our really high kicks.

The end of Chun Mu, the high form for this test.
This is probably Palgwe 2 or 6. I like this because you can see Bruce in the background!
Palm strike through two boards!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mixed Feelings

Two months ago, when I took the December promotional test, I wrote about how I often have mixed feelings after a test, even if I do well. Many of you readers wrote in to tell me the same thing happens to you.

I certainly had mixed feelings after my black belt test, even though I did well. I had a hard time sleeping that night--maybe because I was still processing all that had gone on that day.

Good things--focus
I was pleased at the way I was able to focus at the test. That was one of my goals in TKD--to be able to focus enough not to get jittery or mixed up. It just felt like everything else just fell away. I was aware of the others doing their forms, and of people taking pictures, but they were far away.

This is helpful in so many venues, not just TKD. I think my increasing ability to focus helped me at the ballet recital in June, and it helped when I gave a eulogy at my parents' memorial service.

My forms went well. Ms. Pryor had given me advice on my back stance, and I was determined to use that advice. I slowed down enough that I could "lead with my knee" and get lower in the stance, just like she told me.

High Kicks
That pesky hamstring wasn't bothering me, so my front kicks were high! Brian A. took some photos, which I'll post later. Maybe I was able to kick because of all the ibuprofen I took before the test :-)

Board breaking went well. I didn't break the first time, but the only person I've seen do that at a BB test was Brian! Everyone at the August test needed at least one extra try. I think even Ms. Pryor had to take a couple tries in her 4th degree test.

It only took me 2 tries for the 2-board palm strike. I wish I could have broken with the jump-reverse, which Master Hughes wants us to try, but it just wasn't working. Luckily, he let me break with a flying side kick, and that went better. Cracked the boards on the first attempt, and broke the back two (why didn't the front one break?) on the second.

Not so good
The past 2 months haven't been very good for sparring for me. My same-size partners, Mindy, Jamie, and Aimee, haven't been there. It's OK to spar with Brian or Kevin, or to spar with children, but it's just not good practice. So I know that I was not my best at sparring. I just hoped they'd remember this fall when I was at my best in sparring!

Also, we were asked to do 2-on-one sparring. I'd kind of forgotten about that (it's not on the "what you need to do for the test" sheet). The Wednesday before the test, Pam and Brian gave me a quick tutorial, but I was having trouble. So when time came to do that, I felt totally unprepared.

At one point in the test, Ms. Pryor gave me some feedback. She told me I didn't do well at sparring and didn't break 1st time because I was thinking too much. I wasn't relying on instincts.

As she talked to me about instinct, I began to have a sinking feeling. I don't really have much of a fighting instinct. Maybe none.

(I've never been in a physical fight with anyone--my brother and sister were teasing me about this when I was home. My instinct is paralysis, or disengagement when met with a physical threat.)

So I told her I'd need to practice and learn that instinct, or strengthen it. She said that you can't practice for it or learn it.

I had this sudden gut feeling: Oh no. I'm doomed. I can't be a really good martial artist.

I've since wondered about fighting instincts. I believe I can learn it, or at least strengthen what I have, but it'll take practice, just like someone with the opposite problem, the person who fights ALL the time has to learn to back off or negotiate. And they have to practice that.

I can learn and practice.

Monday, February 12, 2007

After the BB test

It was hard to leave the dojang after Saturday's test. Even Eli wanted to stay after Bruce and Robbie left; he and Justin discussed the best Star Wars episodes. Black belts and other students stood around chatting, congratulating each other, laughing. The kids ran around, as usual.

My dear friends from ballet, Katharine and her daughter Leihrin, came to watch the test--Bill and Roan were there, too (Katharine's husband and son). Bill and both kids are learning Tang Soo Do--something I want to watch sometime. They all congratulated me and gave me a box of gourmet chocolates!

Once we were ready to go, someone proposed going over to The Olive Garden. We took over two huge tables, a total of 22 people--TKD students and their families. There was a lot more laughing, storytelling, and teasing!

Later that evening, there was another TKD party--this one I wasn't able to attend. I had a date . . .

Here I am with my date, my son Robbie, at the college presidential reception and ball--I am wearing my yin-yang necklace in honor of my test. Robbie and I hung out with college friends and loved the great food and drink and inspiring jazz music--a celebratory way to end the day.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Black Belt Test: The Day After

No suspense necessary. At the end of the test, Ms. Pryor asked me some questions about how I thought I did, and gave me some advice/goals for the future (as usual!).

Then she said "You passed."

Now, this isn't the final word. Ms. Pryor is 2nd in rank to Master Hughes. She told me she'd share HER view of the test, but that the ultimate decision is up to Master Hughes. I didn't talk with him--in fact, he left right after the test.

Here is what I think of my test: I did my personal best.

I know that's a cliche, but it's how I feel. I don't always do my best at "final performances;" sometimes I get a case of nerves, or haven't really rehearsed that well.

But this time, I did live up to all the practice. I did do my best. What is it those annoying "inspirational" posters say? I gave 110% at that test!

Very satisfying feeling, that.

There will be lots of picture soon--Brian A. had his nice camera, and he's also going to put together a DVD with footage that others shot on camcorders!

Bruce and Robbie took a few pictures. Here they are.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Black Belt Test Week: Almost ready

The dojang gets ready for the test: lots of students show up to do vacuuming, mopping, cutting boards.

TKD Mom gets ready--uniform pressing, and flowers from Ellen, Ken, and Gabi!

Black Belt Test Week: Mentor

Last night, Ms. Pryor watched me do my forms and step sparring. I'd saved the last column of my board for her. Both she and Master Hughes have been great mentors to me as I've been learning TKD.

Master Hughes
Master Hughes teaches by example, showing us all how to have enthusiasm and energy for teaching, how to welcome new students, and how to encourage and challenge others.

He challenges us, too. I especially like when he works with us one-one-one or in small groups on our forms. He has won national competitions in forms, and his moves are powerful and dramatic. Sometimes recently, he's been busy getting new people started--and he even has some of the tiniest TKD students working out at the back of the room on MW. I hope that as I continue as a black belt that he's able to continue instructing me. I wonder, now that we have so many new black belts, if he might start a Black Belt class.

Ms. Pryor
Ms. Pryor mentors by challenging us--to do forms with more power and crispness and drama, to work harder at aerobic stuff, to move to higher levels in sparring. She helped me prepare for the two tournaments I went to in the fall, and I'm sure it was her advice that helped me do as well as I did. She sets an example with her intensity, her love of Tae Kwon Do and her devotion to good teaching.

She also is very reflective and philosophical on the meaning of martial arts in her life, and she wants us to be, too.

Last night, before we started, she handed me her belt. "I want you to get the feeling of this belt," she said. She pointed out that it's thicker and wider than the other colored belts. Hers, I noticed, is slightly worn at the edges. It felt heavy and full of meaning.

As I worked through my forms, she gave advice. She corrected movements, but more of it was general: to make my stances bigger, to lower my back stance, to make blocks more powerful. That kind of global advice seems most useful to me.

She surprised me, though, when we were done. "Take all this advice with a grain of salt," she said. "You can use this advice when you're doing your test--or not. It's up to you."

I think I was already sorting out what parts of her advice would be most helpful to me, but it meant a lot that she was letting me choose. That seems to be an important step for a black belt. Now my martial arts education is truly going to be my own.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Black Belt Test Week: Eat!

I've noticed something during the past weeks of training for the test: I need to eat more than usual to keep my energy up. If I forget and have a very light lunch, I'm starving and out of energy by the time class comes around.

Kind of fun to be able to eat what I want, though!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Black Belt Test Week: "Are you ready?"

"Are you ready for Saturday?"

Everyone wants to know. This test is a big deal: all the forms, sparring, basic moves, kicks, step-sparring. And of course breaking: two with hand, three with foot. Maybe there'll be 2-on-one sparring or some self-defense. Plus the written exam. Plus reading the essay. It's a lot.

How do I answer?

The funny, joking answer: "I'm ready to be done training! I'm tired."

The real answer. "Yes. I'm ready."

Black Belt Test Week--Study Cards

I'm trying to memorize TKD terms, meanings of forms, and things like numbers in Korean. Brian had the idea to put them on notecards. It works pretty well. I can study them anywhere! Part of our test is written, so we need to know these pretty well.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Black Belt Test Week: Learning styles

I'm glad I'm training for this black belt test with Brian. He reminds me to study. "Repetition is a form of learning," says Brian.

Personally, I like the light bulb method of learning myself. You know, when you're struggling to get something, or faced with something new, and someone says something to you and suddenly--!--you get it!

That's happened to me so many times in TKD, like learning how to do a flying side kick. Someone pointed out that I needed to jump sooner, and he pointed to the exact place on the floor where I should jump. "Oh!" I said, and could do flying side kicks just fine every since.

I think this is probably because I'm a "global learner." At least with TKD. Well, actually, for most things. That's the way I feel most comfortable learning. I have to be reminded, by people like Brian, that learning takes many different approaches.

What kind of a learner are you? You can take the Learning Styles Questionnaire for free and find out.

As usual, most people aren't always ONE style, but if you think of one particular activity that you're learning about--TKD or math or writing--as you take it, you can get a sense of how you learn in that situation.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Black Belt Test Week: Getting Advice

Over the past couple of months, I've had lots of black belts from our school watch me do forms. That's been quite an education. Each person notices different things and gives slightly different kinds of advice.

Brian A. and Patrick are really good at remembering and noticing the small details in the forms--Brian noticed that my hands weren't in quite the right position as I started up the "I" in HwaRang, for example.

Justin said that he watches for general trends--like the fact that I don't always get my back foot straight in a front stance, especially after turning.

Ms. Pryor had me work on things like phrasing and punctuation (!). I like the way she sees each form as a dramatic piece. Once I finally "got" that idea, I think my forms improved immensely.

Today, Pam had us (me, Brian, Kevin) do our forms facing different directions--different from each other, and different directions for each form. She also called out two, which we'd have to do in succession. That was good practice.

Pam also had some encouraging words. "Your forms look good," she told me. "You have good strong moves--you're bringing your arms way back."

That made me feel good to get praise from her--Pam is very good at forms.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Black Belt Test Week: Test Prep

Earlier today, Brian and I met Master Hughes at the dojang to do our forms for him. He and Ms. Pryor are the two last ones to watch us do our forms before the test. Everything went pretty well, though I went through 2 or 3 forms before I was really concentrating enough to do them without hesitation. I told Brian that we needed to get there before our test and walk through all the forms, just for memory's sake.

Robbie came along with my new digital camera (I finally replaced the one that was stolen.) You can see he was having fun taking pictures. I'll have more pictures in this blog again from now on.

(Yes, I'm wearing my ballet leg warmers under my uniform in these pictures. It's REALLY cold here these days.)


I found this bunny when my sister and I cleaned out my parents' apartment.

It was a toy that came with a McDonald's Happy Meal. I can just picture the circumstances.

My dad is out with one of his retired friends, running errands (he couldn't drive for the last couple years of his life, but there were always friends to take him to appointments, etc.). As they're driving back, Dad sees a McDonald's.

"Let's go through the drive-through at McDonald's," he tells his friend. "I think I'd like a Happy Meal." It was hard for Dad to eat during the last year or so, too--he had lost a few molars due to the cancer and meds.

He takes the Happy Meal home and shares the fries with my mom, maybe the cheeseburger, too. He shows Mom the black belt bunny that came with the meal.

"Oh. That's Jane," Mom says. They put the bunny with the photos of kids and grandkids in the bay window. That's where I found it after Mom died.

The bunny's always in my TKD bag now, not so much a good luck charm as a reminder of my parents.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Deadlines . . . .

I don't know if I'll make one of my black belt deadlines.

At our school, we have to have other black belts watch our forms and step sparring before we test--13 times. The black belts sign a board to help us keep track.

I still need 4 more signatures.

I'd hoped to get someone to watch and sign on Wednesday, but there weren't any adult black belts there except Ms. Pryor and Master Hughes (they'll watch our forms over the weekend).

Today, I went to forms class, hoping to practice and get someone to watch. But no black belts were there except Brittany, who didn't want to sign my board (she just tested, and has to retake part of the test).

So I still need 4 signatures.

I didn't want to be getting signatures during the last week of training, but I guess I will be. I just hope I can get all the signatures and finish my board. At this point, I'm totally dependent on others to help me finish my training.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Black Beltish

I felt black beltish yesterday evening.

I'd brought my test application and my checkbook to pay for the test. Master Hughes told me about the Black Belt Club at our school and invited me to join it. I think I will. They get a red uniform (and/or workout pants with "Black Belt Club" on them), free boards to break, discount on future tests. They used to have parties and dinners together--maybe they will again.

I was asked to start class, which was fine. Though teaching at TKD is a bit of a busman's holiday, I don't mind. I did the standard warm up stuff plus some work on front kicks (I'd heard Ms. Pryor reminding someone to chamber their kick, so I thought maybe we needed to work on those.)

During sparring, I was mostly paired up with children, so got to work on teaching some more. At the end, I was paired up with Ms. Pryor, who seems to be pushing me to move to the next level in sparring. I'm glad.

I'd like to spend some time getting some one-on-one sparring coaching with her. Maybe after the test . . . or maybe even before! I want to work on speed, new combinations, and learning to anticipate openings so I can land the point more often. I love sparring.

We often end with flying side kicks; we did yesterday, too. Again, I was having trouble seeing the bag--what's with that? I don't have trouble if I do a flying side kick into a pad that someone's holding--or a board. But there's something about that heavy bag--the way it has no feet!

So after I had trouble, I went up and just looked at it from the side while people jumped. I think Ms. Pryor thought I was crazy. But that helped me be able to see where I needed to jump, and the next jump was spot on.

We celebrated Master Hughes's birthday, too, a bit late! It made me wish I'd replaced my camera by now . . . maybe I'll have one by the time of the test.