koryo. little battles and long wars.
i almost have poomsae koryo down. not at full speed. but i think yesterday was the first day i could go through the 30 something movements without losing my way. poomsae koryo is the first black belt pattern, and you begin learning it at red belt.
it’s been about a week (2?) since i tested for red belt. one of the black belts who were showing me the poomsae today expressed surprise that i was just beginning to learn it. another one made similar comments. it always feels good to be complimented in such ways by the black belts. you respect those comments more than ones from belts below you, or anyone else. i guess i have the ability to focus my mind power in some ways. when i tell it i am going to learn something, i make it bear in with all possible focus …i sort of shift my mind into super absorbent mode.
i am in love with using my body. i’ve always wanted ways to do so. sometimes i say that in another life, i’d have been a dancer. when marketa kimbrell asked me at NYU if i were a dancer because of the way i leapt up to the windowsill to fix the curtain with a quickness, some glorious part of me died and will never again be sullied by a mundane or despairing thought but will live forever in that blissful pause.
earlier in life, it was gymnastics. or wrestling. or breakin’. but of all the things i’ve been into, i don’t know a one that i’ve yet spent so much single minded devotion and time in training with as i have with taekwondo. it is one of the great loves of my life.
poomsae koryo is quite the vicious little poomsae! not only the neck strikes, but the knee breaks…and if that weren’t enough, the tearing away of the testicles. koryo don’t play. i had to laugh, hearing that section of the poomsae explained to me in class. okay. well, i realize i say that a lot, but it doesn’t mean i actually laughed. in my head i was laughing. “knife hand for both hands, but this one is palm up. so you can grab the testicles. now, pull them toward you, and bring your other arm down in a low block…” the rest of the motion where a scrotum held taut meets descending swinging arm is implied through gesture. ouch.
it’s not out of place in a martial art whatsoever. it was just hearing the words so literally. i wasn’t expecting to hear such a phrase that day.
bit of a silly situation at the dojang recently. bumped into someone i haven’t seen for a while. they’ve apparently taken a break or something for some of the time i haven’t seen them because when i was green belt, they were brown. that’s a four rank/two belt difference. now they are brown instructor. while i’m red. so we’re almost the same, but i am one rank above them. this is no big deal at all, and will soon be absorbed as we both chill at Chodonbo for a long stretch. but it felt really awkward. i don’t think it would have been that way with everyone. but this particular moment was definitely fraught with subtext. almost overwhelming, all the things not said!! i tried to be friendly…but the energy was making it tough to be casual and non-intense. the fact is, i had leapfrogged him. i saw it all over his face when i smiled and nodded. i don’t even think he met my eyes! humans are funny. in a place as hierarchical as a dojang, it’s not unexpected. but i shouldn’t act too flabbergasted or anything; i get it. and there’s more to this story. there’s more that feeds into his being jolted out of a previous view.
there’s someone else who has been out of training for about six months, now. remember that guy who i wrote about last year who had given me slightly weird energy when i joined up? i’m not positive, but i think he was a Chodonbo. and i was certainly not at the point i am at now in terms of…well, everything. rank, technique, lung power, endurance. i’ve come a long way in all those areas, i can safely say. it’s been over half a year since i’ve seen him. i think his job changed and interfered with his training from what i’ve heard. i don’t know when he is coming back, but meeting him again will be an interesting moment or two, i’m sure.
both he (unless i’ve named him already, let’s just call him “cherubby”) and mister brown instructor (whom i’ll hereby call ‘mister mellow) were both there on the night i had my ribs cracked in what i think of as a bit of new-guy/low belt “hazing” type of evening when i was new at tournament training class. and pretty new at the dojang. mister mellow was no part of that, he was just present and i’m noting that so you can begin to see the juxtaposition he may have been dealing with. he last saw me that night, when i was a fresh greenie coming back to training from a long, rather sedentary stretch and struggling to keep up lung wise, and taking a beating from a few different people in the class.
since then, i’ve done a lot of consistent, painful training and hard work. since then, i’ve earned a bit of a different reputation around the dojang.
for myself and for my memories and posterity, i’ll probably write out the whole of that night. but i don’t know that i need to post it publicly. it’s not that i mind writing it up. it’s that real people are involved who attend the same Dojang, and not everything needs to be scrutinized out here.
i ultimately take the bone-cracking blow i received as a compliment to my reverse turning kick—which i think landed pretty squarely, and initiated the exchange. also, for me that was a good lesson! a very good lesson that directly and immediately changed the way i spar. specifically, i’ve never left my ribcage open since that day in the same way i used to. that’s a pretty important lesson, and sometimes you pay for things of worth.
cherubby (who was not the one who struck that blow), in my opinion, was certainly a bit of a jerk or bully in how he approached certain conflicts that class (giving pushups for making mistakes in your technique that fouled him in drills when he wasn’t even an instructor in the class and you were only a christing green belt after all), but i don’t feel he had any personal problem with me. (or…it doesn’t really matter, if so.) i think if anything, there was the understanding declared or shared by a small crew (or maybe just him) that i was due to be initiated into their clique’s cool little fight club circle. cherubby joked as much to me, before that night. that’s all fine. i take it and keep on rolling. there are short bouts of battle and there are long war strategies. you don’t need to win all of the former to succeed in the latter.
i know that my energy makes itself clear to people in no subtle fashion, and that’s a large part of why cherubby felt the need to address it; to give me lots of pushups; to kick me as hard as he could in our drills, to assert his rank in every way he could that night. it was a little funny, in a way. on one hand he was repeatedly whining about pains he got from kicking my elbows, or my accidentally kneeing him, and on the other he was trying to appear strong and dominant. me? i don’t complain when i bang a knee, kick an elbow, or even when i get kicked in the head hard enough to pull my helmet over my face. i just don’t do things that way. i double down and lean in harder. i test injured. i kick even when my foot needs stitches. i test sick with fever and don’t mention it to any of the judges/black belts. i get kicked hard enough to crack bones and still show up to train for two days after that until i finally am forced to rest. that’s how i train. and i am also kind and welcoming to the new white belts. but that’s my approach. that’s my idea of “martial arist.”
on the whole, most of the dojang is very positive and there is nothing like this little situation i had with cherubby. but hey, we’re all humans, no matter what else. and rough spots like that condition us like everything else.
you keep your eyes on the ribbon, on the road. you don’t look at the waving faces, and you don’t listen to the sneers, either. you stay locked on your goal. keep the legs moving, wipe away the sweat. bear up, keep moving. time will pass. don’t give up, don’t try to change anything but yourself. time will change everything else on its own.
it’s a bit exciting. to have master lee begin to talk to me about black belt. even in a very gradual way. well, it was about koryo. you have to know “70%” of it to test for red instructor. you have to know all of it to test for chodonbo. you have to know all 8 taeguek poomsae as well as poomsae koryo to test for black belt. but i’m closing on in koryo even now, after a week or so. i will test for red instuctor knowing 100% of koryo. before and after that day, i’ll just keep refining it.
meanwhile, lots of great things are happening. practice continues to yield beautiful results, practicing continues to bring me joy, and it’s great to always be challenged; to have terrain and testing ground upon which to flay away the dead tissue that clings to or accumulates upon your spiritual, energetic self.