Saturday, March 31, 2007

I stopped at a really nice dance store this weekend to pick up a pair of tights. The owner was in; he's the guy who fits pointe shoes for the students at our ballet studio. I mentioned that I'd thought about pointe, but had injured my ankle, and had pretty much decided against it.

"You should try it!" he said. "It will actually strengthen your feet and ankles. I know a number of moms who are learning pointe along with their daughters. They're really enjoying it."

His enthusiasm was catchy. For a few moments I thought again about learning pointe. Suki did encourage me--it's not just my crazy idea. And if I don't learn now, I won't. It would be cool just to try it, feel what it's like way up there. . . .

But as I drove away, I began to think again. Do I really need another training goal like that? I mean, I've worked toward--and gotten--my black belt. That takes a lot of time and determination. I want to keep it up. Do I need to add a couple half-hours of pointe training to my week? And the expense of shoes/pads (about $100)?

Ballet twice a week is probably enough for now. I was thinking that what I really need to do is to work toward strengthening my ankles and feet, especially the right side, so I could do reliable pirouettes on both sides.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Spreading the Word

At church last Sunday, my friends Tricia and Darrell were telling me about their daughter, Emily. She's a bright and energetic 14-year-old whose strong will sometimes gets her in some trouble, despite the fact that she's very small--about 5'1".

"She was looking in the mirror," said Tricia. "I asked why. She said she'd been in a fight. Again. She didn't know if she'd gotten a black eye or not."

I asked if Emily would like to take martial arts.

"It might give her the confidence so that kids wouldn't want to mess with her," I said.

I gave Tricia and Emily a Free One Week Pass card (our school passes them out to current students). She seemed interested. I would enjoy having her in class.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I'm not going to be in town Saturday, so I decided to go this Wednesday. And instead of going to all-belts at 6 (and miss dinner with my guys again), I went to the kids' class at 4:30. I figured I'd do forms with any adults who might be there--or help teach if I needed to.

When I got there, Brian was up in the front teaching. There was a small group of kids--maybe 10 or so. I helped out, giving individual attention when necessary, helping a visitor learn some kicks, keeping the sparring going, finding mitts for those kids who didn't have any, etc., etc.

I decided that it's hard to do sparring with kids. Most of them don't really know what they're doing--they look every which way, don't get close enough, or, on the other hand, they hit each other too hard. I tried to keep a few of them focused . . . but it was tricky!

Brian and I ran through our forms after class--another problem with teaching is that you don't get the same degree of workout. But we solved that problem!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stand up straight!

Oooh, I remember how many times my mother said this to me when I was a teen! Little Cricket talked about "hunched shoulders" in a recent post, and it made me think of this. But the problem is, people don't really know how to stand up straight. I see this in TKD when we stand at attention. Many people stand like this: military posture.

Does the military really recommend this for standing at attention? Perhaps Ms. Pryor, Brian, or Jim will tell me. It's actually not good posture for someone who might need to move into action quickly.

Why? By throwing the shoulders back and sticking out the chest, you are not allowing your core muscles to be engaged. They aren't helping to keep your back straight--it's going to get tired. And your core muscles--the muscles of back, abdomen, and laterals--should be the epicenter of every movement. If movement starts from the core--or from the belt, as we like to say in martial arts--it will be stronger, more graceful and balanced.

Taking ballet has helped me improve my core muscles and has given a core of strength to everything I do, including TKD. In ballet (and in Pilates, I think), we learn to stand like this.

Do you see how her shoulders are right over her hips, and hips over knees, and knees over feet? That's good alignment. She's ready to move.

To achieve this, I think about aligning all those levels of my body, stacking one over the other. And then I think about my core: Carol says "short in front, long in back." You don't so much pull in your stomach as you close the rib cage and feel your ribs pull gently down toward the navel. Most people will need to tip their pelvis forward (lengthening the back).

It's easier to do this if your core is STRONG! I find this position rather unnatural; when I've been out of ballet class, my posture gets worse quickly! But when I'm doing ballet, it becomes more natural.

If you're not taking ballet, you can improve your posture by taking Pilates. Or you can do curls (modified sit-ups: press your lower back into the floor and initiate a small, curling upward movement with your abdominals)--maybe start with 10 and work up. I always like to start small when it comes to exercise!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


At the very beginning of class Saturday, I pulled a muscle. It was during one of our first moves--riding-horse-stance, middle punch. I felt something go twang in my shoulder.

I got through class, which included some good sparring practice, but I was feeling sore.

"Oh yeah,that's happened to me," said Brian A. "I hurt my hip in class last Monday and couldn't do class on Wednesday."

Yeesh. I hope I won't be incapacitated that long.

Friday, March 23, 2007

No More Stick Arms

Three people have noticed the fitness of my arms recently. This is amazing to me because I have always been a person with stick arms.

Stick arms are the bane of skinny girls everywhere. There is nothing sexy about stick arms. They don't look good in short sleeves or sleeveless tops or swimsuits, so skinny girls hate summer clothes.

That's the way I always felt anyway.

But somehow, my arms are no longer stick arms.

The people who've noticed my arm fitness are ballet friends. Carol, who teaches ballet at the college, said she noticed that my "arm carriage" (or maybe "shoulder carriage") had improved. "You look strong," she told me. That made me feel good, as I'm currently taking a couple of weeks of ballet with the college kids.

(I think it might have been Carol who wrote the anonymous erudite and fun post about the lifespan of blood and the growth of muscles after my last post--on staying young.)

Lisa also noticed my arms looked good. We chatted for a while about being skinny girls--Lisa is still slender, but fit now. "I wish someone had told me that if I just did a few push-ups a day, my arms would look better," Lisa laughed.

The third person who noticed my arm fitness was Bruce. I told him I thought it was a side effect of middle age. "Lots of women who had nice, round, pretty arms when they were younger are now complaining about having arm fat," I said. "I complained about my arms when I was younger, so I'm getting nice ones now!"

I actually don't think it's arm fat. So take heart, you skinny-armed ones out there: some TKD, ballet, and a measly 10 push ups a day can make skinny arms nice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

You can stop "normal" aging

This was the title of an article in this weekend's Parade magazine. Maybe you read it.

It had this information in it:

Most aging is just the dry rot we program into our cells by sedentary living, junk food, and stress. Yes, we do have to get old, and ultimately we do have to die. But our bodies are designed to age slowly and remarkably well. Most of what we see and fear is decay and decay is only one choice. Growth is the other.

So how do we achieve growth rather than decay? According to the article:

The hard reality of our biology is that we are built to move. Exercise is the master signaling system that tells our cells to grow instead of fade. when we exercise, that process of growth spreads throughout every cell in our bodies, making us functionally younger.

The article went on to talk about cell replacement. Most people know that our cells are constantly being replaced by new ones. Dead skin cells flake off, white blood cells just last 10 days, etc. I guess exercising means that the new cells stay strong and get stronger rather than just decaying from their birth day on.

I was imagining my cells getting stronger and my body staying young last night as I did combination kicking across the floor!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Have or Are?

I have this bracelet that I like to wear to TKD--it says "black belt."

It made me think about how I explain being a black belt to people. I think I say "I am a black belt." Or maybe I say "I have a black belt it TKD."

I suppose it depends on the particular situation.

So, so we "have" a black belt? Or "are" we black belts?

Friday, March 16, 2007


Robbie and I were practicing his trumpet solo for instrumental contest this evening.

"Have you practiced this with the piano before?" I asked. I practice with him at home, but he has another pianist for contest. The music is a bit too hard for me.

"I played in front of the band!" he said.

"Were you nervous?"

"No. I was just playing the piece," he said. "Sometimes when I play the trumpet, I kind of forget I'm playing. I just concentrate on the music."

"Be the music!" I said, smiling.

I'm glad Robbie's experiencing Flow when he plays music. What he said reminded me of my black belt test--I was each form at that test!

I hope Robbie achieves some measure of flow tomorrow morning at contest!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eli Day

I didn't make it to class tonight because it was Eli's 10th birthday. We had a special dinner (Eli's choice of hot dogs, watermelon, and chips), presents, and cake.

So instead of going to TKD, I wrote a few blog posts! Enjoy.


After class, Justin's mom appeared in the hallway. We chatted for a while; she seems to be very generous about letting Justin use her car during his spring break.

Suddenly she looked at me and said, "You're really short!"

And suddenly, I was--I didn't feel short until she said that.

I'm never sure about how to respond to comments like that ("Your hair's getting long!" "How do you stay so skinny?" are some others I've heard.)

I responded by saying, "Oh, I don't know. I'm 5'3"--is that short?"

TKD Field trip

"We haven't gone to the Asian Market in a while, so anyone who wants to go, get your shoes on."

This is the way Master Hughes ended class today. And we all trooped down the stairs and out the door. Everyone was instructed to pick out one thing for $1 or less.

I forgot my camera, which is a bummer because there were lots of colorful moments:

--everyone walking down the city street in our white dobboks
--the children gathering around me as I showed them where the Pocky sticks were, and explained that they were long thin cookies you dipped in frosting
--Brian and I looking at the variety of teas--ginger, jasmine, green teas. I talked him into buying ginsing.
--a bunch of us looking at dried squid, which had a pungent ocean smell.
--the teen boys taking careful sips of the crazy drinks they bought: bird's nest soda, etc.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bad Ideas

Bad Idea #1
"Chris, are you taking Justin to the ultimate fighting matches this week?" I ask. Chris nods.

"Could you talk him into just watching this time, and not signing up to fight?"

Chris laughs.

"I just think it's a bad idea to sign up to fight without watching to see what they do first."

Justin had told me about trying out ultimate fighting while he was home on spring break. I think it's a Bad Idea. Actually, I think ultimate fighting in general is a Bad Idea.

Maybe that's just because I'm the taekwondoMOM.

Bad Idea #2
"Do you want to try a ridge-hand speed break," asks Ms. Pryor.

"Ummmmmm . . ." I answer.

I don't like breaking with my hands, but I think the ridge hand break looks mighty cool. I wish I could do it.

So I give it a try at class.

Bad Idea.

Not only do I not break, the attempt leaves my hand stinging and aching. I've got bruises all along my index finger and thumb.

Maybe that's what happens the first time you try . . . but I'm not sure I'm willing to risk a second try!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Meeting and Greeting

Meeting people
Last week at the black belt dinner, the subject of meeting people came up. I think it was connected to a discussion of Justin's joining the Drum group and other ways people might meet friends when you're new to something, like college?

I didn't have any general suggestions, but after a while, I thought of a few ways I met people in college.

What worked at college for me
1. I joined groups where I could do things I liked to do with others who liked to do them, like chorus, the women's spirituality group, German table.
2. This phrase came in very handy: "Are you going to lunch?" Often I'd make sure I left the classroom with people I liked (chatting on the way) and then ask if they were headed to lunch. Or supper. Then we'd go together.
3. Another phrase: "Stop up for a cup of tea sometime." I had a hot pot, tea, and tea pot. A cup of tea is friendly and non-threatening, and it gave me a chance to chat with people one-on-one, which I like.

Meeting and greeting at the dojang
Being in Tae Kwon Do gives us the opportunity to meet and get to know people in a friendly atmosphere. In fact, I'd argue that we are bound by the tenets of TKD, especially courtesy, to reach out to others, and to make people feel welcome.

Meeting people in TKD is easy. I just go up to new people and extend my hand and say "Hi, I'm Jane." We're supposed to do that. And I usually stay and talk to those I meet--in fact, I often get caught up in a conversation with just one person.

There are two things, though, that puzzle me about martial arts courtesy/hospitality.

1. It's easy for current students NOT to greet people. You can either come in and get started working out, or you can hang out with your friends instead of making sure to welcome everyone. Lots of people at our school do this, and I admit I am guilty of this at times, too.

2. There's this odd (to me) tradition, at least at our school, that lower belts go around and greet black belts. So black belts could, if they wanted to, just wait until people came to meet and greet them.

I don't like this tradition. I'm sure it has something to do with respect and seniority. But I think that those who are most connected with the school and most senior should reach out to those who are least connected. Why couldn't black belts set an example by reaching out to others instead of waiting until people came to them? Some black belts do this at our school, and I think it's nice.

As a new black belt, I still try to walk around and say hello to my fellow students (unless I get caught up in a conversation with just one. . . )

I wonder what it's like at others' schools.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Blog Profile

A few weeks ago, Justin mentioned that I ought to update the profile on my blog. It used to say:

Welcome to the Tae Kwon Do Mom blog. Over the next few months you'll find here descriptions and reflections of a 40-something writer, teacher, dancer, and mom of two boys who is, with mixed feelings, learning the Korean martial art Tae Kwon Do. I'd love to hear your comments!

If you look at the top of the blog, you can see the new text! Thanks for the writing suggestion, Justin.

TKDmom with a clipboard

I went to the dojang yesterday with my clipboard. It's about time I got another dojang newsletter out, and I needed to do some interviews.

We'll have a couple of stories--one about Chelsea and Paul, who recently were promoted to 2nd degree and 1st degree, respectively. Aren't they photogenic?

There's another short piece about the mini-ninjas (4 and 5 year old students), a list of upcoming events, a schedule of classes, and a column by Master Hughes.

He wants me to leave room for an address label so newsletters can be sent out to students who haven't been around for a while. Maybe we can bring some back.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Road Trip, Drum Concert

"Let me know when your concert is and I'll come up."

This is what I told Justin when he told me he was joining a West African Drum Group up at the university.

His first concert was yesterday, the first day of my college's spring break. So I went on a little road trip!
I planned to get there early so we could do a little TKD workout first. Justin says he hasn't been working out this term, and I wanted to go through all my forms once a week. We found an empty gym at the expansive fitness center and went through all the forms.

After a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown, it was time for the concert. It began with some music majors in an ensemble with typical western percussion instruments: snares, field drums, marimbas, cowbells. The music was fun and surprising: one piece sounded like music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, another was a setting of some 40's music, another sounded like a marching band cadence.

I love drum music. Always have. There's something about the rhythm, the way the sounds go right through your body. It was easy to spot the percussion majors--they were the ones who never seemed to hold still, like they had metronomes inside!

Justin's West African group came after the intermission. The students came out in West African tunics, and played djembas (I think that's how it's spelled).

The students--about 20 of them--played call-and-response pieces. The charismatic conductor led them, playing the "call" on his own drum.

Later, about half the group danced one of the songs while the other half played drums. The dance was communal and circular, with the earthy downward motions of African dance. Justin, who doesn't take dance or music lessons, was a natural at it--no surprise, as TKD teaches stage presence, and helps people learn combinations of movements.

I would have enjoyed the concert even if I didn't know someone in it. But it was especially fun to see Justin being a part of a group like that.

Monday, March 05, 2007


"Aren't you proud that you got your black belt?"

Two people asked me this question over the weekend. I saw Nancy at the Maple Syrup Festival, and she told me she'd seen my black belt pictures. And Kim, at church said the same thing. Her 10-year old just got his black belt, so we were chatting.

Am I proud?

I don't know if pride is the emotion that's foremost in my mind about the black belt.

Everyone seems to remember a conversation in the dojang when I was maybe an orange belt: I said I wasn't even sure if I were going to get a black belt. Everyone seemed shocked.

Many people do this martial arts thing because they want that black belt! They want it bad! So they work hard and . . . get it! Then some quit. Lots quit, I think.

But for me. I am doing this martial arts thing because I think martial arts are cool. I like DOING them. I want to learn more and get better. The black belt is kind of a side effect to learning more and getting better.

OK, I also had to train pretty hard for it. And have a good test.

The black belt signifies a lot, and I'm grateful that I've been able to do what I needed to do to get it. I'm pleased to be among the ranks of people like Master Hughes and Ms. Pryor, who are black belts.

But I'm not done with it yet. The black belt wasn't my end goal. Being a martial artist, a good martial artist is the goal, and I'm still learning. I don't think there'll be an end where I can sit back and just feel proud.

By the way, I'm going to comment on some of the posts about the last post (TKD Parties/BB Parties). My answers will be posted after your posts.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

TKD Parties/BB Parties

I had some pictures of yesterday's black belt dinner, but they accidentally got deleted off the camera.

I wonder how many dojangs do social activities as well as TKD practice. Ours has both. Seems like about once a month, there's something fun to do outside class--a party at the dojang, dinner out, a party at someone's house, a trip.

Yesterday, the black belts had barbecue at a local restaurant. It was mostly social, with some business thrown in. The business: deciding on our next social events! There's definitely another black belt dinner planned, after the next test. And Justin suggested ice skating at the local rink--that would be fun for the kids . . . and those of us adults who love to skate! I hope we do both.

Maybe social events seem unnecessary to some martial artists, but I suppose that depends on the reason one does martial arts.

At our dojang, we don't just work out together; we work together, too. We do work days at the dojang--cleaning before every test, of course, and a group has been working sporadically on a renovating a new women's changing room.

We play together, too--at parties, roller-skating rinks, on day-trips around the state.

Some people don't participate in the "extracurricular activities." Maybe they are too busy to include TKD in their social life. Apparently, some students also feel offended that we're asked to do work around the place. They feel that since we're paying for classes, we shouldn't have to work, too, etc. etc.

My response to that is, again, it depends on why those people are taking TKD. Are they taking it just to get exercise and become a black belt? Probably that person will just come to classes and skip the extra stuff. To get their money's worth? That person won't want to participate in work days. Or are they taking it to do all that AND become part of a community? That person can and will take advantage of working and having fun with fellow TKD students.

I didn't start TKD intending to become part of a community. I'm part of several communities already--the college community and my church family for example. But I have become part of the TKD community, and I've enjoyed it. I now have friends of all kinds and ages who love TKD. We've worked out together--now we work and have fun together, too.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

MY black belt

I got MY black belt today.

See--it has my name on it--in Korean!

Master Hughes didn't have this one in time for the belt ceremony, so he gave it to me today, just before class started.

It was a good class. I got there early and went through forms with Stephanie. During class, Master Hughes helped me with my form, we practiced kicks, and had a sparring round-robin. I did pretty well--beat 3 teen boys (not bad, eh?!) and got to spar Dillon and John, some of my favorite sparring partners.

Then I faced Justin, and got shut out! I also got to referee the match between Justin and Brian A. which was fun, too.

Now that I'm a black belt, I have proper black belt leg warmers, which I needed since the dojang was chilly when I got there.

They really helped getting my stiff muscles warmed up for class. I would recommend them to anyone. Click here for a link to the leg warmers on the website. They're not expensive ($5.95) and Discount Dance ships very quickly--you'll have them within the week!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Visiting ballet student

Yesterday my ballet class was cancelled due to the weather. I was very disappointed. Last week, one class was cancelled, too! And I really wanted to get back to 2x a week.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I could go to the ballet class at the college, which meets TTh.

A couple of semesters, I've taken dance (ballet and modern) at the college. Carol, who teaches the classes, also teaches at the ballet school where I usually take classes. Although it's odd dancing with a bunch of 20-year olds (some of whom I've had in class), it's fun to have a different teacher.

"Can I dance with you today?" I asked Carol when I got to the theatre building where they hold class.

"Sure!" she said. "And I want to tell you I've been enjoying your blog. Congratulations on your black belt and I am so sorry about your parents."

It's always a special thrill to me when I find out someone else is reading my blog! I suppose Suki gave Carol the URL!

Class was great. The students are mostly beginners, but that doesn't matter. Any ballet class can be a good workout--beginners do the exercises and combinations at one level; more experienced students work at a higher level. I left class feeling that satisfying exhaustion of muscles that have really worked.