push it to the red
i took a few days off of training, to get past the incredible soreness i was feeling. don’t get me wrong, i like being sore. it means i’m growing. means i’m pushing the comfort boundaries. of flexibility, of strength. in fact, i think i’m nearly addicted to feeling sore! when i feel sore somewhere it means i’ve been working hard and i’m overstepping prior limits. and when i feel toned, and springy in my step, it means i’m enjoying the benefits of that work. conversely, when i feel slack in the frame, or don’t feel my body at all around me (interesting notes on consciousness evident in my choice of phrasing, yes), i don’t like it. and i loved the workouts that got me sore a couple days in a row. but it accumulated and, well, it’s sort of a drag to be so sore that your thigh muscles are basically not working, sometimes seize up and leave you missing a step and almost falling, and lend themselves to your obsessing on pain. which is where i was after a few very tough workouts in a row.
approach it all as a rhythm, approach it all intuitively, trust your body, shame not, fret not. so i pulled back a tiny bit. it doesn’t mean i won’t stretch at home (i do), and that i won’t practice kicks at home (which i do, and now can actually get back to, now that i’m not sore). just means i needed to give my body a little break to snap back into place, and adjust to my pace. but back to regular schedule tomorrow (monday).
another reason, i’ve suddenly realized, that getting caught up in who is one belt or one rank above another in geup belts (color belts) is not worth the time is that you are going to spend so much time on red belt before you test to black, that those distinctions will disappear. you might even end up testing for black with people who joined 6 months later than you and have been a few belts behind you for a long time!
why? because of the shape of progress. see, first, you make your way up through the color belts. this includes the “instructor” ranks between each new belt, marked by a stripe of tape added to your old one: Yellow, Yellow Instructor, Green, Green Instructor, Blue, Blue Instructor—and so on. but this deviatess after Red Instructor. after Red Instructor, there is a second stripe. (in some dojangs there is a separate belt used instead of a second strip of tape on your Red belt.) this signifies the special rank of Cho Dan Bo. Cho Dan Bo (in essence, perhaps not literally) means “Black Belt Candidate” or “Recommended First Dan,” and as Cho Dan Bo, all your focus is on preparing to become a black belt. as Cho Dan Bo, you already know and practice all the poomsae for color belts—from Taegeuk Il Jang to Pal Jang— and are working on Koryo, the first black belt poomsae. you are refining your form, your technique across the board, making sure you know all you have learned up to that point, and preparing in all other ways to demonstrate the skills and knowledge that a black belt must have.
you have to spend at least 6 months as Cho Dan Bo. also, there are black belt tests only every six months at our dojang. so you could be Cho Dan Bo for six to eleven months, depending on when, exactly, you pass your test for Red Instructor. in that time, you would watch belts below you continue to test and progress at a faster rate. so you could end up Cho Dan Bo with some of them for a while!
so…i test for Brown Instructor in a couple weeks (red stripe on brown belt). and then for Red Belt at the end of april, i think. and once april hits, i’ll settle into the idea of being Red belt…and forget about advancing anymore, and focus only on refining. because as i just pointed out, i’m going to be there for a while!
i like that. i actually really like that there is this Cho Dan Bo period of time. it will be good to get away from the “climb” for a while; to have to look past it because you are on a sort of “pause.” and to have time to really dig in and make sure you are solid on everything you need to be. for obvious reasons, the black belt test is one that i don’t want to approach feeling anything but totally confident in all i’ve been taught so far.
these observations on Cho Dan Bo also answer to me why I’ve noticed red belts who float in and out of the dojang for a long time, but never seem to turn to black belt. or why people are red belt for so long. on the one hand, aside from the long period of time you are required to spend at Red, there are a few factors which could add up to prevent you from progressing, or sort of just hovering there for extended periods of time. because some of the Red belts i’m speaking of are not just waiting out their 6+ months; i can think of a couple i rarely see, and one i haven’t seen since the summer picnic.
one factor i imagine might come into play is the lack of feedback you are used to getting on your ascension. that is, the regular testing for a new rank. the new techniques, the shot in the arm of a new color, the boost of a belt ceremony. without this fresh recurring positive reinforcement, it’s just down to you and your commitment. which…is good. as i see it. a final obstacle to shake off the non-devoted; a final sieve through which only your best may pass.
another factor—i’m imagining—is knowing you are facing the BIG test. it’s one thing to test for color belts, even for higher belts, which begin to introduce harder breaking techniques, more complicated 1- or 3-step sparring moves, and otherwise begin to require increasingly more knowledge. (Blue Instructor is where I noticed this ramping up begin). but it’s not hard to empathize or foresee that there could possibly be some anxiety in finally facing your black belt test, and finally progressing to that level where—right or wrong—the rest of the students expect you to be on top of your game in each and every area; from skill to power to speed to technique to knowledge of all korean commands and all poomsae that come before Black. i can see how it would be much easier to hang out at the highest possible color rank, where that magical wall of expectation has not yet separated you from the rest of the dojang (or at least all the belts below Black). i suppose i’ll approach that test as all others—in the sense of really diving in to the work and taking it seriously—so i’m not unduly worried. at least not today.
of course, it wouldn’t be my journal if i didn’t comment on color palette! and anyone who knows me to any degree knows that red is one of my very favorite colors. so there’s one more reason i won’t mind wearing a red belt for possibly up to a year. the red belt will definitely bring out the red/yellow of our school patch nicely, too.
but hey! i think i’m getting ahead of myself. Red belt test is still a couple months away. right now i’m a brown belt. and i’m very happy to be one.
i’ve been practicing the foundational moves to the Tornado Round Kick for…what? a month now? the Tornado kick is made of a few steps, and i’m sure the kick can be taught a few ways. master lee (as well as rio, master lee’s right hand man who teaches most classes that master lee does not) teaches it in those component steps that eventually come together to make the entire kick. i place my trust in master lee’s teachings, as he has been teaching this art for as long as i’ve been alive, and is the highest rank you can attain in taekwondo.
as i’ve said before, i understand by now that these kicks we learn take time to master. like riding a bike. or swimming. or any new system of movements requiring balance and coordination. even a front kick or roundhouse kick will require thousands of repetitions until your body knows them like an old, old friend. you think you know the kick, and then they continue to blossom over time. as you grow stronger and more familiar with them, small nuances unfold. it’s an amazing experience, in fact.
i’ve been through this process with many kicks and techniques by now, so i know there is no rushing it. granted, it can feel boring to simply practice a spin, or even frustrating when your body is in that “toddling” stage and can’t make sense of this new velocity or direction you are throwing at it. but by now you know enough not to give in to those kinds of complaints that rise in your mind from time to time.
passion is that part of you that is willing to do the work needed to reach your goal. discipline is that thing that allows you to stand aside from your passion and insist on drills that are not immediately exciting. dedication is that part of you that keeps those two parts wed to one another.
the Reverse Turning Kick (can also be called other names like Spin Back Side Kick, or variations) is very different from the Tornado Kick (also called an Inside Kick, or 540 Roundhouse, or variations), although you might be tempted to compare the two right away. you wouldn’t be original; those kicks are often compared to one another, especially in tutorials or instructive bodies of text. after all, both kicks begin by spinning backward, away from your forward orientation. that might be the last similarity, though.
the Reverse Turning Kick is a very powerful kick, probably one of the most powerful kicks you can execute in Taekwondo. but it takes a long time to get a hold of. as i’ve written before, there is no getting around this because before you acquaint your body with this new motion and gain the balance and strength you need to properly perform it, you simply can’t begin to master it. no matter how agile or fast a learner you are. and it seems to me that there is always a new level to take technique to. for example, i’d guess that balance is the first thing you run into when trying this kick. and until you gain greater ability to balance, you can’t really sense when to extend, or which way to be aiming your body’s inertia, or your foot, and will have trouble keeping your footing once you throw a couple (or even one). once you do gain that balance, you begin to figure out when to extend that leg, but you may find that you need a bit more strength to do it at the right time, in the right way. this is a crude example and i hope not terribly incoherently written, but i hope you get the point. these kicks require many facets of ability, and when one facet is gained, or improves, you then realize the other parts that are needed. and the more progress you make in any area leads to a rearrangement of the way your body engages it. all the while improving, all the while the kick blooms in your repertoire and in the awareness your body has of that kick. so this growing is happening at all times with all your moves, and on all levels. if you continue to train. that’s a very beautiful part about training in martial arts. getting to know your body, taking it to new levels, aligning your will/spirit with your flesh/movement.
your sense of balance also comes into play, for certain, with the Tornado kick. but instead of rotating away from your target but remaining in place to launch a kick toward it, you rotate away from your target while spinning toward it! this sounds confusing, if not contradictory. i’m not going to try too hard to nail it down in text, because moving your body and writing about moving your body are two very different things (as are reading about a movement as opposed to seeing it performed) and i’m not sure there would be a point in getting it ‘perfectly’ down in text. but let me try one more time: you pivot on the ball of your front foot, turning in a direction away from your target, but as you spin, moving your body closer to it. gaining much speed is not a problem. in fact, it’s very easy to spin too fast, and end up in a place you didn’t plan on, or disoriented, or with your body in a situation where you can’t strike your target. no good! then you’d just be dizzy and waiting to get hit.
so it’s about practicing that first spin over and over. over and over and over. at first, this drill just feels a bit nauseating and a lot disorienting. but you keep at it. day after day. as your body gets familiar with the movement (i swear, it almost feels at these stages like your body gets “bored” with what once titillated and confused it and in that “boredom” can “think” more rationally about the movement) it begins to break it down. the movement is no longer experienced as one whirling movement that takes you (you hope) toward a goal you can’t see. the spin begins to feel like two distinct movements. a quick 180º spin backward from one foot to another, where that new foot picks up the movement and spins you another 180º to land in kicking position in front of your target, where you deliver a Roundhouse kick (or Axe, or Crescent).
i got a little positive feedback just on the nature of that kick when doing drills recently with a friend who is Blue Instructor. that’s a rank below mine, and they don’t yet practice the Tornado kick movements yet. so we were trading back and forth Roundhouse kicks (three from each person and then switch) and on one instance, instead of just choosing from left leg high/medium/low or right leg/high/medium/low, i threw a regular Roundhouse, and then i whirled in that 360º movement to land in front of him throwing a second Roundhouse and he just broke out in a sudden laugh. you know that laugh. you let loose with that one when someone demonstrates a move that tickles your martial artist soul. i do it a lot when master lee demonstrates a move with gusto. it’s a laugh of appreciation, a “no way!” sort of feeling. i explained hurriedly where the kick came from (you’ll learn this one next rank) and told him i was still trying to get a feel for it. i’d say you have it down! he said. i demurred, answering, nope, just beginning to. it wasn’t false modesty.
that’s the simple Tornado movement. that’s the foundation component. once this movement is known well by the body and moved into muscle memory, you add the other parts: the step (or more) before it, the jumping up into the air off one foot to kick with the other—and then you practice all those parts as one. in time, i’m sure it will be just another kick that my body knows and my mind can’t quite even figure out how it came to know it! i’m not there yet, as i said. i’m working on it. no rush.
the Spin Hook kick is a kick like that. when you first begin doing it, it feels really weird. you feel “blind” in that you can’t “see” with your body (not your eyes) where you are going, how you are getting there, or where you will land. but you do it over and over and over and your body begins to “see” the kick in a way your conscious mind (still) cannot. this “seeing” that your muscles do in time is muscle memory. there’s the beautiful part. where you don’t have to think about component elements, where you just launch your body into motion, and it knows what to do. it’s a magical process, it really is. not a magic you can buy in a potion bottle. it’s a magic that is awarded in trade for salt. an ocean of sweat, a trickle of tears, and chances are, a bit of blood, too.