Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Test - A Week Later

Here are some of my favorite pictures from last weekend:

Before picture with Middle

With Teen Ninja Girl, testing for her 2nd Dan


More forms

Fighting Middle

And the other teen boys

Hapkido sets

Grappling Middle

More grappling

Still grappling

Home stretch

Soaked, and almost done

Receiving my belt from Middle
Thanking The Master

Making the switch

Happy and relieved

With one of my best training buddies

Traditional group shot

The very excited Teen
The After Picture - speaks for itself again :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

How I Earned My Black Belt

That's Middle presenting it to me - a nice tradition at our school.  

It was an exciting morning, and I thought the test went well for all of us.

But when I think about earning my black belt, I don't think about the test itself.  

I think about the last year of my red / red stripe training. Showing up at the dojang early, leaving late, taking classes six days a week.  Seeking out the extra help and open practice sessions, pushing myself as hard as I could in class, in cardio, in sparring.  Being at sparring every Friday, plus fighting drills on Mondays with Kickboxing Guy (before my usual hour of cardio, and then the extra-challenging Monday night class).  Crunches and leg lifts. Fighting and grappling before or after class with the younger guys. Nursing the bruises, the tight hip, the sore muscles, the injured fingers and toes. Winter mornings at the Y, stretching, running, lifting, drilling forms and taekwondo actions in front of the mirrors.  Burpees, burpees, burpees. Weekends with the guru, accepting his often harsh criticism and pummelings, hearing him tell me that "good enough never is" and taking that mantra with me into another week of striving to "be better." Videotaping myself and wincing to see a floating hand, a sloppy chamber, a shallow stance, or my eyes not looking where they should be.  Doing the same action or form over and over in slow motion trying to fix the bad habits, the floppy arms, the wobbly posture. Holding myself in a deep horse-stance until my legs were shaking.  Boxing and getting punched in the face whenever I dropped my guard.  Working longstick forms in the yard.  Forcing myself to do all the jumps.  Drilling the fighting techniques and hapkido, insisting that my partner not give me anything unless I do it right. Throwing and being thrown. Asking the stronger men to practice random grabs with me until I could escape without stopping to think. Reading books, watching YouTube videos and sharing long conversations with peers and mentors about martial arts philosophy and technique. Cleaning, painting, and helping out where I could at the dojang and with the Demo and Competition teams. 

Struggling to find balance with my husband and family while I do all this.  Failing at that and sleeping on the couch. A lot.

This was a hard-won piece of cloth.  

I will wear it with both pride and humility, knowing what I put myself through to get here.  

It was never about the test.  

Saturday, June 08, 2013

One Hour

Getting ready to leave for my black belt test.

I have nourished my body with a breakfast of bacon, avocado, and sweet potato, and I've packed a bunch of bananas and a few containers of coconut milk to take with me.  Hopefully, I gave myself enough time to digest all that....

I'm listening to good music and trying to have a relaxing, enjoyable morning.  I only had about 5 hours of sleep, and last night was a complete disaster, so I'm trying to get today started off on a good note.

So far, I'm not nervous at all.  It's either going to go well, or it isn't.  I need to stretch, stretch, stretch.  I need to stay focused and in control.  And I need power and "raw physicality."  Will tap into the anger and frustration I was feeling last night if needed.

Packing up and getting out the door.  Pictures and reflections later.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Countdown

It's Monday.  Four days from now, I will be getting ready for bed, knowing that I will be waking up to go to my black belt test.

I had a busy weekend. Friday night (and Thursday morning, come to think of it) was spent sparring, doing my best to keep my guard in close, not reaching to block stuff, to turtle up and move in, looking for openings and resisting the urge to throw the same right-leg side kick that I always throw.  Saturday morning was spent in class, where I felt like the whole group of red stripes, myself included, needed a lot more work.  I took a break, went to watch Little at Little League, then went back to work with the guru.  He had me do the same form a bajillion times in super-super-slow-mo, then regular slow-mo, and just when I began asking myself why I was doing this wacky exercise, I watched myself and saw I was better.  Much better.

"See that?" he asked. "Now do them ALL that way."

Right as usual.

I also did a lot of videotaping. "This could be a real confidence-killer," I said as I brought in the camera.  "Why?" he asked.  "It's honest.  Never be afraid of the truth."  Sure enough, when we looked at the video, there were things to fix.  I didn't like watching the mistakes, but at least I could see where they were and do something about them.  Got some video of myself sparring as well, which will need some closer examination too.  There's lots to fix there.  In any case, it was an excellent final-color-belt-session with the guru and I was grateful to him for the time he put in with me.

Sunday was challenging in a different way, as I spent it running with The Master and 5 of my fellow students at the Tough Mudder in Lehigh.  I registered as a spectator and didn't do any of the obstacles, but I did surprise myself and run almost the whole 10 miles so that I could stay with the team and take the pictures.  Considering that the whole reason I didn't want to register for it was that I was concerned, not about the obstacles, but about all of the running on difficult terrain and the possibility of slipping and blowing a knee or something the week before my test... I did all that running and it was just fine. And the last two weekends, I did two 5K races, which were also fine.  Kind of bummed that I missed out on the fun obstacles, but it was a good compromise and it only cost me the $20 spectator fee, so I was happy.  And the team got a lot of good pictures.  Win win.

I wanted to treat this week as much like a normal week as possible, maybe with some extra hydration and extra (paleo-friendly) carbs starting Wednesday. I spent a chunk of my day with my favorite female mentor, then trained with Kickboxing Guy at 5, took cardio at 6 and class at 7 as usual.  Tomorrow, I will work for about 2 hours in the morning, go out to lunch, then come back for evening classes and practice.  As for the rest of the week, we'll see.  Some people take the last few days off completely, but I don't see myself doing that.  I might even spar on Friday.  In some ways, the test is a Big Deal, but in other ways, it shouldn't be.  If I'm not ready for it, taking Thursday and Friday off isn't going to make a difference.  Might as well do what I want.

In any case, the 10 mile run and the 3 hours of practice tonight has earned me a hot bath and a cozy bed.  Headed there now.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The Paper

Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist. – Pablo Picasso

                Six years ago, I walked into the martial arts school with my three boys, thinking karate classes might be a fun and character-building activity for them to try.  Little did I know on that day how important the school, the people I would meet, and the martial arts training itself would become in my own life.  I had no idea that I would soon embark on my own journey – one that has transformed me in body, mind, and spirit, and will continue to shape the person, the athlete, and the martial artist I am to be.  In these final days leading up to my test for the rank of 1st Dan black belt, I am reminding myself that this step marks the beginning, not the end, of my real training in the martial arts.  These last four years have been very much about acquiring, memorizing, and more precisely executing my color belt material.  I have only begun to explore the meanings and applications of these forms and techniques, and I look forward to the years of study and practice where this will be my primary aim.  As I make that step, I take with me the lessons and wisdom I have gained from these initial years of my training. 

                JSD is a Korean martial art system which combines Tae Kwon Do (hand and foot way), Hapkido (way of coordinated power), and Yudo (gentle way), into a balanced, versatile study and practice which can be applied in a variety of combat situations.  Weapon training, self-defense, sparring and grappling, meditation and cardiovascular fitness are also elements of our training at our school.  JSD itself means “straight mind way” and its practice is guided by five tenets: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control, and Indomitable spirit.  The practice and teaching of these tenets is pervasive throughout students’ time in the dojang, from the way we address each other as “ma’am” or “sir” to the way we push and encourage one another to put forth the best effort possible and not give up. 

                While JSD is certainly martial, in that it teaches us how to defend ourselves or fight an attacker, it is also an art.  The history, honor, and tradition inherent to the study of the martial arts have been a gratifying part of my own training.  The process of learning a form, breaking it down, working to execute each technique properly and understand its purpose, then putting it back together into something seamless and powerful and beautiful to watch takes tremendous discipline and perseverance.  I continue to be amazed at how, after several years of working at this skill, I still struggle with my stances, my timing, the balance between relaxation and power.  Even the most basic form will always need more work, more practice.  For me, the benefit derived from all of this effort and repetition has not been so much the perfection of the form itself, but the incidental training and discipline of the mind, body and spirit that develops along the way, as it has for countless generations of warriors, training in every part of the world. 
                Modern science has its own perspective on this kind of pursuit.  Martial arts training is a prime example of what neuroscience describes as a “flow” activity.  This is best described as a state of optimal experience, doing something for its own sake and not for extrinsic reward.  Engaging in a flow activity requires full concentration and often results in a lack of or decreased awareness of time and self.  The feeling of being fully immersed in a challenging pursuit, being “in the zone,” focused solely on the current moment, engaging every resource in achieving the current goal, has a positive effect on both brain and body, resulting in feelings of well-being, happiness, clear-mindedness, and overall health.  The neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine released during both flow activities and vigorous exercise have powerful motivational and antidepressant effects.  People who regularly engage in a flow activity know all too well how poorly they begin to feel when their routine is disrupted.  No matter how unmotivated or lethargic I feel going into my daily practice, knowing that I will emerge with a boost in these vital neurotransmitters keeps me going back, despite the aches and pains and frustrations that are part of the same package.

                Dealing with frustration has been one of the disciplines I’ve had ample opportunity to practice over the years of my training thus far.  Frequently falling short of my own expectations can be discouraging, to the point that I don’t always recognize real progress that has been made.  During one such discouraging moment, an influential mentor encouraged me to simply “be better.”  After some consideration, it became clear that striving to “be better” – even just a little bit better than last time – each time I do a form or a technique – will eventually lead to more noticeable improvement.  Progress toward a goal in the martial arts, as in life, often happens in the form of tiny, almost imperceptible steps, and occasionally in giant leaps.  Between the leaps are the plateaus; the periods of time where the work continues without much visible improvement.  Moving off a plateau is extremely gratifying when it happens, and developing the patience to continue working at something, even when the progress is not yet obvious, has been a valuable practice for me. 

                Similarly, I’ve had to teach myself not to let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good.  Knowing that there are things I will never do as precisely as I would like, and being at peace with this knowledge and continuing to try regardless, has been a challenge for me.  However, the balance I have needed to find, and still struggle to find, in this aspect of my training has spilled over into other areas of my life.  I find that I have become more accepting of myself and others while still strongly encouraging continued improvement in areas of struggle.  The focus becomes less about being perfect and more about putting forth the best effort possible each time, no matter how long it takes to see the changes. 

                Reading and learning the history and traditions behind much of what we do has added depth and perspective to the day-to-day rituals of classes, conditioning, and outside practice.  Another of the more unexpected pleasures of my training has been taking part in the cleaning and upkeep of our dojang.  For centuries, this has been a mandatory component of a warrior's training, and I have felt honored to participate in this ancient tradition.  This ritual has not only deepened my connection with my fellow students, it also unites me with countless martial artists throughout the centuries who have swept the floors of their own training halls.  The satisfaction of leaving a clean dojang at the end of the night knowing it is fresh and ready for the next day’s classes is an experience I can say I’ve shared with students all over the world going back hundreds of years.

                Given the amount of time devoted to classes, practice, study, and at times, cleaning or helping with the Academy’s Demo and Competition teams, I have struggled to find a balance between this flow activity that has been so good for me in so many ways, and my responsibilities to my home, family, and career.  I am fortunate in the fact that my husband, parents and sons have been willing to make sacrifices in order for me to devote so much time to doing what I love, and I owe so much of this particular milestone to their love and support. 

                Similarly, I would not be where I am now were it not for the tireless support and encouragement of my mentors, teachers, and peers.  The hours spent patiently breaking down and working through a rough spot with me, celebrating movement off a plateau, encouraging and pushing me past my own perceived limits, and accepting nothing less than my best effort, have helped me see myself and my capabilities in a completely different light.  As a result, I have learned to take myself less seriously – and more seriously – in the ways I have needed to. It is my goal to be as much a support to future students when the time comes, and to follow the example that has been set for me.    

                Training in JSD at the martial arts school has changed me in more ways than I can articulate.  I am not the same person I was four (or even two) years ago, and while change is not always easy and there have been growing pains throughout the process, change is necessary and important throughout life in order to avoid stagnation and apathy.  Engaging in a flow activity with the amount of exercise and challenge and social time that I need has made me healthier and happier in so many ways.  I am grateful for every minute of this training, and for every person it has brought into my life.  I look forward to continuing many years into the future and I look at this milestone as a bridge, taking me from learning and memorizing the basics to delving into the meanings and applications and variations of these techniques for a deeper understanding of all there is to appreciate about JSD and the martial arts in general. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I Need to Write a Paper

... and I'm procrastinating.  I started this thing a month ago, then set it aside, and now it's due and I've hardly written anything.

My black belt test is scheduled for two weeks from this morning.  It was my intention to have my application, testing fee - and paper - turned in by today, but alas, still no paper.

The Master said it was okay to turn it in whenever it's ready, but I am determined that this will be Monday at the latest.  I just need to buckle down and do it.

Part of the obstacle is that I want to prepare something that will do justice to the last 4 years of my life, and the way that my martial arts study and practice has transformed me in mind, body and spirit.

Words fail.


I have no idea of where to even begin.  I've thought of going back over the years of blog posts on the subject, where I have only scratched the surface of the joys and struggles and discoveries associated with this endeavor.  If nothing else, that would give me a few more hours to avoid actually writing.

Not surprisingly, I've avoided even blogging about it since the test has begun to feel like a reality.

Despite all the soul-searching that was involved.  A week ago, after weeks of back-and-forth, weeks of limit-testing with both myself and with those close to me, I had firmly decided that I was not ready to wear black and was going to delay this step until I felt truly worthy of the rank.

A few pep-talks from trusted friends and teachers (and a threat of divorce from Savageman) succeeded in  convincing me I was indeed ready.  The decision finally made, the necessary reassurances given, I felt a load had been lifted. I approached my training with renewed determination this week.

And a renewed urgency to write the paper, which I have successfully avoided for yet another night.


Monday, April 01, 2013

New Routine

So Savageman is working. Our lives have changed in a big way.

We get up, get the older boys up; I make them breakfast, he drives them to school, he heads to work.  I get Little up and see him onto the bus, unless I'm substitute teaching, in which case I leave as well and that job falls to my Mom.  If I have a neuropsych evaluation to conduct, I leave shortly after he does.

I try to keep Tuesday and Thursday mornings open for karate classes and lunch with the Master, although I won't turn down an especially good work opportunity.

It's been nice.  I've had some pleasant time with friends, done quite a bit of math and science, and we're in the process of cleaning out the extra bedroom so that Middle and Little can each have their own.

That particular project has dominated a good bit of my free time in the last two weeks.  I've spent days going through boxes and bookshelves of materials from my homeschooling years - a bittersweet task.  I'll be glad to get back to my own learning, hopefully this week.

I haven't made it in to the gym once, even though it was a regular thing I did with Savageman when he was home.  Too busy.

Keeping so busy makes the daytime go quickly.  Before I know it, it's 3:00 and Middle is home, and we're jumping in the car, picking up the girls for their dojang dropoff, then I'm back home to get Little's homework going and run him and the Teen to and from their own activities. (The Teen got his permit Wednesday, so now he'll be behind the wheel for his trip home from lacrosse.)

Once Savageman gets home, it's time to head over to the dojang for my own classes.  I kick and punch and struggle and learn for the next several hours, emerging feeling blissfully spent. By the time we get home, it's usually 9:00.  We eat and Middle does his homework; I do laundry and cleanup and other house  / parenting stuff then settle in with Savageman to battle each other at Words With Friends and watch Breaking Bad together.

We go to bed Way Too Late and get up and do it all over again the next day.

It's funny - I've adjusted rather well to the new schedule.  It was harder to adjust to the time change, which threw my sleeping, eating and exercising routine into a tizzy.  Everything just seemed an hour too early.  But other than a slight reduction in my dojang time (which I think I recouped on the weekends in the last month), it's been fine.  It's nice to see Savageman feeling happy and productive and making money again, and it's nice to have a chance to miss each other a little during the day.

Grateful for paid employment for both of us, and a positive change in general for our family.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Yesterday, The Master clearly stated his intention to test me for my black belt in June.

I'm good with it, at least today.  I had spent some time going back and forth, considering the pros and cons of waiting another six months if given the option.  One of my most influential mentors won't be at the June test - it's her son's high school graduation day - and for that reason alone, I would have liked to have waited.  But she promised to celebrate with me later, and she firmly believes that I'm ready. I'm still seeing all the things I need to practice and improve, but she and others have emphasized that this is always going to be the case.  Which is a good point.

Over the last month, I have continued to work to move beyond the techniques themselves and put my focus more on application.  The last two weekends were spent working on fighting - boxing even - with the guru.  I'm slow at it; I drop my guard; I get punched in the nose.  He's got me watching videos, fighting myself in the mirror, thinking about timing, awareness, speed, power. Protecting my head and face.  ("I'm a turtle, I'm a turtle, I'm a turtle...") It's frustrating, but at the same time, gratifying to be working on a new skill.  Sunday, Middle came as well, and it was nice to see him learning something new that we can practice together.

Material-wise, I finally got the jumps in the longstick form - the last challenge in my forms I had been struggling with and didn't think I'd ever accomplish.  As it stands, most of the adult students my age at the school skip this move - which consists of jumping forward and backward over the stick like a jump rope - a hard, heavy jump rope, which hurts your feet when you don't clear it, or even worse, knocks you on your butt.  It was a major psychological hurdle to get over it in one direction, so to jump it backward as well seemed almost insurmountable.  Thanks to a very patient teacher who persisted with me until I did it, I have been jumping it pretty consistently for about 3 weeks now.  Which feels great.

The rest of the longstick form is another story - it's kind of choppy and still needs work.  The guru encouraged me to imagine myself doing it, and my other forms under a waterfall - visualizing both strength and serenity.

He's good like that.  Trying to keep this image in my mind when I practice.

Not a bad image for life in general, as a matter of fact...


Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Yesterday, for the first time in a year, a month and 10 days, I kissed Savageman goodbye and saw him off to work.

He seems happy with the new job. He'll be doing work that he enjoys for a good organization, making roughly the same salary he was earning before. With me working part time as well, and after a year of careful spending, I'm happy to report that we're none the worse for his year off.  And what doesn't kill a marriage often makes it stronger, so hopefully we've reached a new level of understanding of ourselves as individuals and as a couple.

So, moving forward into a new phase of life.  A rebirth, if you will, for our family.

I'm experiencing a Renaissance phase myself right now, which is both thrilling and gratifying.  The decision to end my years of homeschooling has freed me up to examine my own academic life, my long-neglected career, and of course my martial arts training, all of which have taken a surge forward as I clear out the cobwebs and challenge myself to move into new, less comfortable territory.

In addition to taking more substitute teaching assignments, I've returned to AWOL Grad Student status, picking up the math and science where I left off, filling in the gaps in my knowledge.  Of top priority is the Calculus I've been avoiding since my freshman year in college.  Now that I've committed myself, I'm happy to say that I actually really enjoy the challenge of it, and the satisfaction of working on a problem, flipping to the back of the book, and noting that I got the right answer.

It makes me wonder what else I can do if I try...

Which brings me back to (big surprise) my karate training.  As I begin the transition from color belt to black belt (I think the Master expects me to test in June), my focus needs to shift from the techniques themselves to exploring their application in various situations, being more curious and creative with them, and examining my own weaknesses and mistakes.  The more I can move myself into this less comfortable territory, the more I will improve, and the better I will be able to help others improve when the time for that comes.  For the last 3 1/2 years, I have been fairly tied to the memorization of the techniques themselves, much like learning the alphabet, or playing scales on an instrument.  Going the next step and using what I've learned to do the equivalent of writing or playing music is an ambitious goal, but an exciting one as well.

And of course, the lessons learned, the discipline practiced, the hardship endured in the course of my training have bled into other aspects of my life, shaping who I am and showing me what I'm capable of doing.

As they should.

Waking up parts of my brain that have been dormant, forcing myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible, embracing change and challenge - it's all been extremely good for me.

Feeling awake and alive, and so, so grateful. :-)

Monday, January 14, 2013


Stuff's getting better.

After a week of back exercises and forcing myself to consistently stand up straight, then five (I kid you not) five hours Sunday of nothing but taekwondo actions and two of my most basic forms, I felt something beginning to click.  I'm looking better.

Part of it was finding the balance between relaxation and tension.  In recent weeks, with my enthusiasm to do everything with more power, I have been tense all over, the whole way through a form.  The Master encouraged me to think about snapping a chain - muscles more relaxed up until the block or strike itself.  This idea, combined with some observations and suggestions the guru has made while home on break, led me to drill the taekwondo actions with more dynamics - relaxed, firm, relaxed, firm - until it started to feel natural to do them this way.  The basic forms are built of these individual actions - and doing them like this, along with maintaining strong, straight posture - made everything look and feel much better.  I was happy with the progress, and with the feedback I got yesterday.

More importantly, the problems and frustrations I've been having are starting to feel less overwhelming.  I've resigned myself to the fact that it will take years - decades, even - to begin to master the vast amount of material we've covered.  But at least for now, I have a handle on what is required at this particular point, to get off this particular plateau.  I have specific goals to work on that will make me better.  Problems have been identified and I know what I need to do toward solving them.  Putting in the hours to do it is sometimes the easy part.

My work / financial situation is also better.  As much as I hated middle school as a student, I love it as a teacher.  I taught 7th grade English last week, 6th grade English / Social Studies today, and tomorrow I have 7th grade Science.  Definitely looking forward to that.  Savageman thinks I'm very brave, but honestly, most of the time I'm grinning to myself, thrilled that I have the good fortune to actually be paid to do this.  Today, I spent two periods watching a movie, and two more (plus lunch) in planning / free periods reading by myself.  It was the most peace and quiet I can remember having in a long time.  In the 4 other periods, the kids were generally good and did what was asked of them.  It's a good age - they are old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient, but young enough to still (usually) respect authority.  I hope we're doing something cool tomorrow in science.

Savageman seems to better enjoy his role as house-husband.  Today, I came home to a clean house, laundry done, dishes done, doctor appointments made and/or rescheduled, and kids driven to physical therapy and religion class.  Maybe tomorrow I can get him to cook and pay bills.  That would be awesome.

Finally, the kids are doing better.  Tonight, the Teen had two basketball games and Middle had an orchestra concert at school, and we managed to juggle all that with the help of the grandparents.  I was tickled to hear Middle perform - he's new at the violin and still can't play very well, so he was given a tambourine and a wood block.  He rocked on extra percussion and likely faked the pieces in which he had his violin.  He hadn't been too sure about participating in this concert, but we were all very proud of him. 

The Teen has a new girlfriend (they made it "facebook official" today) who is smart and sweet and fun and nothing like the other girls he's brought home.  We had a nice family evening with her last night.  He's determined to lose weight and he's actually studying (a little) for his midterms.  It's progress, it's a glimmer of maturity, and I'll take it. 

I'd like to say something about Little as well, but he's just his usual sweet self.  Which is enough for me.

And I'm beat.  The phone starts to ring with sub calls at 5:30 a.m. if I haven't taken an assignment before bed.  5:30 is okay if I go to bed at 10.  But that never happens - 1 a.m. is more often the case.  Savageman has LOTR on and is waiting to rub my feet, so I'm going to join him before I turn into a pumpkin.  At least I already have a job tomorrow and won't be getting those early calls.

It's been a good couple of days.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Day 364: Yes, It's Been a Whole Year

... and we're still alive, still married.  Today, he shaved off his beard and had an interview that went pretty well.  Tonight, he is soft and smooth and looks ten years younger.

It's been quite an adventure having Savageman home these many months.  I will certainly miss him when he does start working again.  I will miss our almost-daily excursions to the gym together, our lunches together, and our many long conversations about this or that while we putz around the house together.  He's good company, and we've had a good time together.

On the other hand, I think he'll be happier once he's working again.  And without him home, I will certainly be bored and lonely and will want to work more as well.  I've been called for two substitute jobs in the last two work days that I couldn't take because of prior commitments. Once I clear my calendar, I could start working every day if I wanted to, for a neuropsych practice and three different school districts.  Not to mention the Catholic schools, if they'll accept my recent certification.

With both of us working, we could actually have Money.  Money to buy more than just the bare necessities.  Money to save up for the boys' college, or a new vehicle to replace Savageman's aging truck.  Neither of us has ever been particularly driven by the mere acquisition of dollars, but I have to admit, it's nice when we don't have to worry about whether we have enough of them either.

But mostly I just want Savageman to feel happy and fulfilled.  He's a good person and he deserves it.  Putzing around the house isn't all that fulfilling for someone of his brains and talent. 

As for me, I was in the gym bright and early this morning, working mainly on posture and core.  I look ever so much better when I stand up straight (and I am much taller as well). I took my posture awareness with me to kickboxing and class, where I kept it as my primary focus. My back is tired tonight, but in a healthy way.

The visceral reaction I had to VideoMe has attenuated a bit.  The guru reminded me tonight that everyone feels that way when they see themselves on video, himself included.  I'm realizing that the camera is a valuable tool with lessons to teach me, but I need not be so easily shaken by it.  I will tape myself again after a few weeks of work on my core and posture, with the expectation that I will see a difference.  And maybe a few weeks later, I'll do it again. 

Improvement, whether in small increments, or in giant leaps forward, adds up to steady progress. Just a little bit of improvement each time I practice something, each time I push myself harder physically, each time I incorporate new knowledge into my techniques - I get a little bit better.

Just be better

Maybe that's what he meant. 

Or maybe it's not.  Who knows? 

Maybe it's for me to figure out. 

Maybe I'm supposed to stop thinking so darn much and just do the thing.

Open and ready for all the good stuff that will be coming in the next 365 days.

Monday, January 07, 2013


It's been an intensive training weekend, and not all of it was good.

Good, yes, in the sense that it was useful and important stuff I needed to know and practice.

But at the same time, it was seriously frustrating.  Discouraging, even.

I rolled out of bed, threw on half my gi and stumbled into Saturday morning class with just enough time to finish dressing and spend a few minutes stretching.  This class is an extra long one, with emphasis on strength and fundamentals, so I've been dragging myself out of my warm bed on Saturday mornings to do it.  This week was no different, and since only black belts and red stripes showed up, it was especially challenging.  We were reminded many times of what might show up on our black belt tests, and we had plenty of practice running through our forms while mentally and physically exhausted. 

I received many encouraging words from the Sabumnims after class.  This after lots of equally positive feedback the previous night at sparring, where I also felt I had done really well against challenging partners.

So far, so good.

Feeling pumped, I came back in the afternoon for open practice.  The guru showed up and worked on forms with me, then sparring (with an emphasis on protecting my face whilst being pummelled about the head by him).  We spent a good amount of time working one-on-one and wrapped up with somewhat of a pep talk regarding thinking outside the box, and my frustration about wanting to improve, but not always knowing the best way to do so.  He would show me something, and I would try to copy it, but I couldn't objectively tell if I was doing it like he was or not.  It occurred to me that I needed to see myself on video to really understand the differences and he agreed that it might really help.

"You know, this whole conversation could be summed up in three sentences.  Actually, one," he told me as he packed up to go.

"Which is?"

"Just be better."

I laughed.  "If it were that easy, I'd be doing it."

"Someday you'll understand what I mean.  Just be better."

See why he's the guru?

I spent much of the evening trying to figure out what he was talking about, and today I took the video camera in with me and videotaped myself doing a form.

I was dismayed when I looked at it, and texted the guru:

I look much worse than I thought I did.  I might cry.  Or quit. :(

And he texted back:

Well, that would certainly be one way to handle it...


So I recorded the rest of my forms, and when he came in, I recorded him doing a bunch for comparison.  My assignment: watch everything and figure out how to fix what needs fixing.  It's clear from the video, just like he said back in November, it's not my knowledge of the forms, it's my execution of them.  It's my body.  I lack power and efficiency and speed and crispness.  On the video, I look... wobbly, especially compared to him. 

Warriors don't wobble.


After many hours and many viewings of the videos in question, I'm over my initial disgust with myself tonight and back to working the problem.  I need a stronger back, a more solid core, and I need to pay more attention in general to how I hold myself and move about, both in and out of my martial arts practice.

More strength, more yoga (I started up again last week), more awareness, more fundamentals.

I'm taking comfort in the fact that it's fixable stuff, but remembering that this was what he had described a few months ago as the largest hurdle I will face since starting my training. 

Tonight I saw why with my own eyes, and it was indeed humbling.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Thank God it's 2013!

We made an extra pork roast for extra good luck this year. Because it's coming.

Good things are coming this year.

The extra pork was also good because I had two carnivorous Adopted Daughters to feed New Year's Eve, and the group of us made fast work of the thing before midnight, in addition to the shrimp and fruit and fruit and fruit and... chocolate and caramel dip for fruit.

We've reached the point in life where the kids really want to spend special occasions like this with their own friends - which is great for us, since we love their friends as much as they do. They are wacky and silly and smart and sweet and so so much fun to have around.

They complete our family in a way none of us ever expected, and we're so blessed to have them in our daily lives.   

Apparently my head was also on the menu.


So, so grateful for the family we've created, biological and otherwise - and for all the good fortune coming our way in 2013.  Happy New Year!