Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Red. Stripe.

Class ended early today.  The Master lined us up to bow out, then had us sit or kneel with our eyes closed for meditation while he left the room.

We all knew what that meant.  It was time to hand out promotion results.

He returned and had us open our eyes. My name was called first.  "Testing for First Gup: Red Stripe - Kathleen Savage."  I stood and went to the front to receive my certificate and shake his hand.  Everyone clapped.  The other promotions were awarded as well, and we bowed out.

After class, I reported to his office, where he applied the tape to my belt himself and congratulated me once more.  The one thought that kept going through my mind was that this was the last time I would be presented with a belt promotion at the end of a class.  I have received 9 such color-belt promotions in the 3 1/4 years I've been at the school.  The next time I receive a belt, it will be at the conclusion of my black belt test, in the presence of the others testing, my superiors at the school, and any friends and family who are there to watch.   

Dare I calculate how many hours went into this one promotion?

Roughly 24 hours per week of classes, conditioning, and open practices...

times 14 weeks...

equals about 336 hours since my red belt test in June. 

At this pace, I should have at least another 1000 hours ahead of me as I prepare for my black belt test.

I have three open hand forms, another longstick form, and more hapkido to learn, as well as fine-tuning all of my old material so that I know it forward and backward, inside and out.  I need to be in exceptional physical condition, able to do endless burpees, pushups, punches and squats, able to hold a horse stance for crazy lengths of time, and of course, able to fight multiple opponents for as long as is required of me.  And then still think clearly enough to execute any of 19 lengthy open hand forms and 7 weapon forms with proper stances and chambers - not to mention the 25 fighting techniques, 50 hapkido techniques, the judo throws, the hand techniques, kicks, punches, falls and moving concentrations.

It blows my mind when I think about how much material we actually know by the time we reach this point. 

It also blows my mind to consider the fact that, once again, the people with whom I will be testing are likely to be decades younger and male.  I will have to continue to work twice as hard at conditioning if I want to match their endurance. 

Tomorrow, I'll be back at the gym, running and lifting in the morning, conditioning and training at the dojang in the evening. 

For at least the next eight months, "How much practice can I work in today?" will be the foremost question on my mind as I power up with my morning coffee.  Or energy shake.


Monday, September 24, 2012


 I went kayaking alone today.

I took the lighter of the two kayaks, (which I can lift onto the car rack myself), and headed for my favorite spot.  Carried it down to the creek, got in, and pushed off.

I can't even begin to describe the feeling of calm and peace that came over me as soon as I floated out into the middle of the water. 

It was late afternoon, and the reflection of the sky and trees on the water surrounded me. 

It was breathtaking.

I tried to capture it in pictures, but as pretty as they are, they really don't do it justice.

Nor do they give you the full sense of what it was like to smell the water, hear the birds and frogs and crickets, or feel the breeze on my face. 

I paddled to a small stream nearby and floated through a tunnel.  The tunnel was made of corrugated steel, and the lines running down the sides were reflected as zigzags in the dark, rippling water.  I was surrounded, above and below, with these surreal lines.

 Paddling back upstream, I spent some time exploring the other bank.  I saw some turtles sunning themselves.  When I approached, they plopped into the water and swam away.  Likewise, a blue heron took off as I got close, looking like something huge and majestic and prehistoric, and calling out with a raspy croak that sounded prehistoric as well. 

The blue herons are my favorite.  They're just plain weird.

I parked myself in some floating plants, which kept me from drifting downstream for a while.  Then, I just sat and breathed and watched and listened, soaking it all up. 

I didn't want to leave.

It was a perfect way to get away and think and meditate and just clear my head. 

Thinking I might go again tomorrow.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

1st Day of Autumn

Little and I took the kayaks out today for a little bit of bonding time.  I miss him now that he's in school every day, but I have a new appreciation for the one-on-one time we do have available now.  It was a beautiful day and we saw lots of fish, ducks, geese, herons, and a couple of turtles.



We came home to Middle and his friends, who were getting ready to prepare a feast to share.  Days like this, with the house filled with music and happy kids doing fun stuff together - they feed my soul like nothing else can.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

And Today...

I started learning my black belt material.  Got the first half of the first of my three open-hand forms down pretty well.  I think the second half is the mirror image of the first, so that shouldn't take long to learn. 

The form is short, but it is almost entirely done in a kemasay, or horse stance - meaning with legs spread and bent about 90 degrees, feet pointing forward, back straight.  After running through this form repeatedly for long periods of time today, I have concluded that my legs are about to become VERY strong.

I'm tired, and still sore.  As long as I keep moving, I feel pretty good, but after sitting down, it hurts to get up and move.

So I won't be spending much time on the computer.  Which is just as well.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Test

It was hard.

Was it the hardest thing I've ever done?  I'm not sure.

Physically, unmedicated childbirth is no walk in the park, and it takes a whole lot longer than the test did.  But there are breaks between contractions; time to regroup and refocus.

I've definitely experienced events that have stressed me mentally and emotionally more than the test, but they were also spread out over much longer periods of time, with breaks throughout the ordeal. 

My other belt tests and many sparring nights have been challenging, but not like this.  I think the key difference was the relentlessness of it, especially at the end when we were sparring and grappling and doing forms and burpees, all without a break, without time to catch the breath, grab a drink, take a knee... I felt pushed to the max - and then a bit farther - which is the whole point.

In Living The Martial Way, Forrest Morgan describes the process: "... a ritual observed in some way, shape, or form by every warrior society in the world.  It involves hardening the spirit through severe training or some extreme physical test.  The ritual takes different forms in different cultures, but they all have a common element: the warrior drives himself, or is driven, to a level of endurance beyond what he previously believed possible.  The experience is both grueling and frightening, but the warrior emerges from the ordeal feeling purified.  One who has experienced this kind of training is never quite the same afterwards."

He goes on to point out that most Americans go through their lives never really knowing if they are cowards or not.  They go through their lives not knowing how far they can really run, how long they can fight before they have to stop, not knowing their own physical and emotional limits. Without challenges such as these, he argues that a society drifts into shallow complacency. 

He also recommends that severe training like this should be followed up by a rewarding social or recreational activity.  At our dojang, we have a tradition of sharing a meal together after a test.  After both my red and red stripe tests, we also had a huge group of people back to the house for food and fun.  Fried as I was, it was great to be surrounded by friends and family, looking at the pictures, recounting the experience, discussing what we did well and what we needed to improve - and just celebrating the achievement.  As a result, I have felt recharged and happy - a dramatic contrast to the testing days that were followed up by crashing on the couch and waiting for the stiffness and soreness to set in. 

This is not to say that I'm not sore today - I am.  Very sore. All over.  My body definitely knows what it's been through.  And now I'm taking it to the gym to stretch and work out the kinks.

Looking forward to seeing the stripes applied to my belt - and beginning to train for my black belt test.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

My Last Color Belt Test

The Before Picture: Encouragement from Middle

Bowing in

A whole lot of punches

Hand techniques

Moving concentrations with resisitance



More forms


Continuous fighting

With the 'rents

Proud Middle

Debriefing with the guru, as always

With my ninja girls

... and my mama tribe

Little, looking happy as always to have his picture taken

Middle's bf / my adopted son / testing buddy (the other red belts were all teen boys)
Grateful to the guru for his many hours of mentoring and weekend practices

Zombies are eatin' mah head!
Supportive hubby - and excellent photographer

The After Picture - speaks for itself.