moon on the rise
my focus here is mostly on my own experience of training in taekwondo. it can be easy to forget that little luna has been training faithfully for over a year now, too. i am very proud of her. i remember the early days when she wasn’t ready yet to walk past the yellow part of the mat to join class, and would only sit at the edge and watch. or, eventually, begin frolicking somewhat gymnastically, or running alongside the class, next to the mirror.
i’ve kept her on a pretty slow pace, in terms of advancement in rank. one that just about matches the pace of my first two years in training, at young’s tkd, where i began. she is now Yellow Instructor, and if i can afford it, she’ll test at the end of this month for her green. if not this month, then in September.
luna’s biggest challenges have been nerve-related, to my understanding. social dynamics and such. the loud, intense energy of testing days, which often pack the dojang with students as well as family, trip her out a bit. she’s covered her ears before when it was too much for her nervous system. like she does sometimes when foreboding music begins playing in a film.
she is, in the dojang like all other places, sensitive to any unusual amount of attention on her as an individual. (this is the one, after all, who only agreed to try on the hanbok i brought her back from korea after getting my agreement on one simple rule: No Comments on Her Appearance Whatsoever, Even Good Ones.)
but she’s pushed on and through, and for all of that i’m very proud of her and know she has gained much already for her effort and commitment. obviously, it is much more of an accomplishment (with, i’d argue, a bigger payoff) for a nervous person—or one who balks with fear at a thing—to rise to the challenge and overcome it; than it is for a person who never felt any doubt to move forward on a path.
while her body is still only capable of doing so much in terms of fine motor skills, her kicks are now distinct from one another. i’ll always remember her carving out her roundhouse kick in the very early stages. very attuned to it’s sideways angle, over-exaggerating the posture to the degree that she would fall over every time she tried to throw one. (once in a while she still does, especially when suited up in cumbersome still-too-big sparring gear). she remembers her self-defense moves for her rank, and everything is improving all the time. especially lately. more and more seems to be clicking for her.
the other night she really surprised me when she pretended to run a class in the living room. at the dojang, she is often shy, and sometimes won’t even do things if she is to be the only one. (she wanted to back out of her last belt test, but i told her she could do it, and she did.) but at home, she was quite confident in showing her knowledge and technique. i was laughing. she can count to ten in Korean from memory, she will lead the room in stretches and punches and kicks, she can do her poomsae (it’s only half of Poomsae Taekwondo, but that’s all the little kids are required to do at that point) and she clearly has absorbed a lot in the year she’s been showing up to train (and sometimes to play in the sitting area while i train).
most importantly to me, she keeps trying to do new things. last class, she was really working hard on getting the Jumping Front Kick. as the technique part of martial arts is especially challenging to a young child’s motor skills, it’s great to see when they are striving to perfect it. you really must play it light on correcting kids’ techniques. if they feel that all they do is wrong, and they simply cannot physically do the things that would make them excel or receive reward, it will become a joyless thing and they will stop showing up or putting any good energy into it. so you learn to give them lots of confidence for their efforts and for where they happen to be, in terms of ability. both emotionally and physically. i’ve learned much about this kind of thing in all the time i’ve been assisting the instruction of kids’ classes.
i told luna as a white belt that when the day came that she passed her green belt test, i’d buy her a new dobok; one with the red and black collar (if you are over 15 years old, it’s a black collar) instead of the white she has now. she’s pretty excited about that, too.
paloma will join in December, after she turns three, and also, has been trained to manage and move about without a diaper. she will be very prepared for this event, having spent many. many days at the dojang watching and often punching and kicking right along with the class. paloma knows to bow coming in and out of the dojang, and can even say the proper korean phrases upon doing so. in any given situation, she may begin chanting “Tae Kwon, Tae Kwon,” like they do every Friday on Games Day for kids.
watching this gradual training/indoctrination/preparation happen in paloma has been fascinating for me, and has convinced me that 2 years old is a perfect time to start with any long-term teachings or interests you want a person to have. of course we could say even younger than that, for it doesn’t have to be active teaching, simply environment.
luna has come far in her time at the dojang, where she began from zero—including any knowledge or prior exposure to taekwondo/dojang culture. and if she keeps with it, it will always feel natural to her, and part of the fabric of her childhood and upbringing. but even at this point, we can say that paloma has been groomed for taekwondo, and for her it is simply what has been around as she came to understand the sights and sounds in her everyday; it is part of life. i suppose that all sounds obvious typed out. but to watch so pointedly how a person’s environment and community shapes them in this instance has been enlightening to me.
tangentially related thoughts:
paloma is a natural brawler, and luna is not that. luna you can knock over with a feather. luna is about 2.5 years older than paloma, but already thinks of paloma as stronger than herself. she may be! paloma feels like a little brick piggie in your arms. luna is physically slight, almost frail. they are only young children, so there is no reason to obsess over any of this, and no way to predict how/if/how much these things might change, or in what way they will matter. just making notes.
luna can defend herself physically against paloma—when she’s in a rare mood, i’ve seen luna use her longer legs to repeatedly stop paloma from charging her, greatly frustrating the bullish palomez with basically a Front Push Kick—but striking is simply not luna’s first response as a person at this point. on the other hand, paloma’s impulse to charge or swing when angry is quite natural. then again, paloma is the youngest. she’s always had to push back hard to make her will known, because she is the least able to wield language, mass, or know-how, in order to affect her reality.
luna, so far, shows practicable benefit from training in specific techniques, as well as in facing social challenges anxiety/nervousness in tkd. paloma will (one hopes) benefit not only from honing technique and learning discipline, but also from absorbing and practicing the Fourth Tenet of Taekwondo: Self Control. she’s going to need to get a rein on that!
there are many potential benefits to training in martial arts, and gaining the confidence that comes with staying committed, and achieving goals in training, and rising to challenge repeatedly, and overcoming fears is no small part of it. i know luna is gaining these, i can see it in slow motion as the days pass. plus, its been a good community for her to be supported by and take part in before school begins.
highlights in my memories of the last year:
• hearing about how at pre-school, luna had fallen while her and peers were taking a walk down a pitched terrain, and luna had basically tucked and rolled her way to standing up again. the teacher was sort of stunned at the motions, and asked if luna were in dance class or something. no, only taekwondo, was the answer.
• later, once luna was actually enrolled in a dance class (ballet style), she raised her hand during the first pseudo-recital they had (she was still 4 years old then), and told the whole room that she took taekwondo! like, out of the blue. sort of how one time at the dojang, her contribution to a conversation was to tell people she loved playing video games at my house. completely out of context. maybe someone will say they love axe kicks. and she’ll be like “well, you know what i love? playing pikmin at my papi’s house.” (she’s actually always doing that sort of thing. just talks about what she’s into, with no real mind to the venue she’s in at the moment. the thought makes her happy, and she shares it.)
• seeing luna use one of her self-defense moves at home, when paloma grabbed her by the lapels. i laughed! (no, luna didn’t throw the final elbow, so i wasn’t worried about our robust palomita.) but unprompted and in the course of a day, she broke the lapel grab with the very move she’d trained with so many times.
when i play Boss Monster with the girls (in which i am a raging monster on all fours and they are armed with soft weapons they can strike me with in order to fell me and grab the prize behind me), i play out the strategy of sparring, or fighting; one that is also programmed into many video game fights.
i announce “i’ll swing my huge paw at you, but you stay back until i swing, and then rush in and strike me here, in my ribs. remember the strategy! once i swing, i’m exposed, and have extended my arm out so I can’t swing again, yet.” and they do, and learn the pattern. unaware all the while that they may just be roaring with laughter and happy to play games on the rug, i am training them even then, to understand the idea and movement of strike/counterstrike.
i used to joke i was having kids to raise my own little tribe; my own little fighting platoon. but even though i’ve long planned to enroll my girls in martial arts (a shot of my eldest, she’s now 18), i am not advising my girls to fight everything and anything head on. i don’t think its wisest to make head-on combat your first response. anything can happen in a fight, and you will probably be hurt, even if you emerge victorious. hurt can last a long time. sometimes one encounter can leave you with permanent pain or injury. but even if you choose to run every time, you must be equipped and ready to recognize and appraise such moments as soon as they appear.
because mostly what i am after with them—right behind the confidence they gain, and the feeling in touch with and in control of their own bodies—is for self-defense and struggle to be in their physical lexicon. for it not to be shocking that the world has violence in it. for it to be “on the table,” that you may have to strike or block a person in the right circumstance. just that fact that this reality is understood by practical (non-traumatic) lessons, drills, or experience is important to future ability to handle something drastic. this makes all the difference.
the biggest advantage any potentially traumatic scenario or action has on our psyche is simply its trauma. it’s the newness and rareness of it. the bigness, the suddenness, the extremeness that numbs us out, or freezes us up. we have to spend time conceptualizing, or bending old insufficient conceptual frameworks to adapt to this new, strange reality. but training makes for an understanding woven into the striated muscle fibers. it teaches bones particular arcs and dances. it’s not “what the hell is happening, someone is being forceful with me, someone is grabbing my clothes what do i do what do i do” it’s a few movements that break the grip with a practiced motion and hardly a thought.
to some, the loudness of blows to a dummy or yells and kicks in the air is jarring, or nerve-jangling. to my girls, it’s just another day at the dojang or home next to my kicking bag. i love how accustomed both of them are to poomsae, or hitting the heavy bag, or in suddenly throwing down a horse stance and some du bon chirigi.
one night, while me and luna were watching an animated film, the character walked by a clothes mannequin that was in their room. having spent far more hours at the dojang with man-shaped dummies than in any department store, luna jumped up and yelled joyously, “look papi! they have a punching bag!”