of tornados and time
so, my black belt testing date is set. the invitation was extended; i, in turn, requested permission. it was granted. and we are five weeks away. i feel relieved that i am formally slated to test. that will help me concentrate a little more, not having that thing to take care of before i commit 100% with my mind, to preparation.
the funny part is this test is coming up in five weeks, and all the while the demo team is preparing for the biggest martial arts demo that hits town all year: the asian celebration. which takes place in three weeks. and normally i’d be more ratcheted up on nerves about that. but it almost feels soothing to concentrate on those drills. once upon a time, the spotlights and stage of a demo like this would definitely be unnerving me a bit more. and yet, at this point, a demo is something i’ve done over and over. i know that when we are out there i can fall into a zone that relies on nothing more than the training i’ve drilled on. and it’s training i’ve drilled on for a while now.
on the other hand, i’ve been anticipating my black belt test (a goal which gets increasingly and speedily less abstract since 1995). so that looms larger, of course.
but i’ve found that the best antidote to nerves is proper preparation. maybe not for everyone, nor every situation. but for me, in this case, the tighter your memory/muscle memory is on what you are to do, the less reason to worry. the less room there is, even, for worry to exist.
hard to believe i’ve been practicing with the demo team since march or april of last year (2011)! i think of what we’ve done together…i think of the challenges we’ve had to deal with, with no time to prepare. like the time it rained so hard at an outdoor demo the little stage was flooded and we weren’t sure how it would go with spinning kicks and such. visions of us flying off our feet and landing on our heads in front of all the park. or the time the stage was half as big as the space we’d been practicing for. or the time we couldn’t do the demo inside after all, and the team didn’t all have tkd shoes so everyone decided we’d do the demo barefoot to maintain a uniform appearance—and on the gravel of the parking lot. we’ve always pulled it out, made it through.
funny how that happens. it doesn’t seem long ago that i was training for my very first demo…korea night of 2011.
and then you look up one day and realize you’ve gone and become practiced at a thing.
i’m very grateful for the time i’ve put into training with the team. doing so, for the past year (10 months) has forced me to consistently practice advanced techniques, breaks, and performance–as well as repeat, over and over, all the basic moves. self defense grabs, one step sparring, and basic kicking techniques. as these have been part of our practice and regular demos, we never stop going over these things. you go over some of that in classes…but this has definitely afforded me a deeper level of training, and i’m glad for it. honestly, i’d not want to be testing for black in a month without it.
i talk my head off about all this, as you know. and as i’ve noted at least once before in this blog, that’s not really what martial arts is about. i’m sure i’ll underline the point again after another year of blabbing my head off! don’t get me wrong: what you read here is the extent of my blabbing. i don’t go around talking about taekwondo with cashiers, people on the bus, or at the bar. in the spoken world, and in the moving about world, my taekwondo becomes a private thing. but here, well. this is where i take notes. keep notes. and i’m more glad of that habit than perhaps i am now for any blog i’ve kept. it’s allowed me to look back and very clearly see where i’ve made progress, and to remember what the challenges are that i’ve dealt with. that’s been very helpful. but there’s not a need in every day life to talk so much about it. it’s more of a doing thing, as massive attack says about love. it’s a doing word.
and how i do love doing it.
i’m feeling some progress in my tornado round kick. this has been a slow one to get down for me. it’s been since brown belt i’ve been working on this kick (a year and a few days), and you know how it goes: a little bit at a time. almost like a plant growing. you don’t notice any movement for a while. suddenly one day you see that the plant has three leaves where only two existed. one morning you see that it stands higher than the little sculpture next to it. when did that happen? you don’t know. but suddenly, there is noticeable change.
i could try to qualify exactly how i experience this change. i’d say, mostly, i feel a bit more balance…or control. i don’t lose so much of my orientation with that spin. in turn, i can spin a little faster. so that when i end up on the other end of the spin, i am not so off-balance. just a fraction more sense of balance in your body and brain helps a lot. the more control you can retain of your sense of directionality, for example, the better you can target your kick. the more you can stay upright, the more force you can bring to your kick. then there’s the spacing thing, which is a huge part of this kick. “controlling your distance” master lee calls it. (a big part of how effective you are as a fighter is how well you control the space between yourself and your opponent. the tornado round kick is a great one for closing a little distance, if you need to. but ideally, you should be able to do one without closing distance. either way, controlling how much space this kick takes up is a big part of learning how to throw it successfully.)
so it’s coming together just a bit more lately. i could feel it throwing some tornado round kicks into the bob dummy on…tuesday night. i was landing all of them on target and bob was rockin’ hard. i was like yeahhhh. love that sound. you know when your technique is on point for the night when you begin landing kicks on bob that go WHOMP and the sound bangs through the whole dojang. you know you are hitting the tornado round kick right when you slam that dummy with your foot, and suddenly are in close, still on your feet and seamlessly able to throw multiple jabs at his head without pausing. work those combos, son!
this pleases me because this kick means a lot to me and i’ve specifically been working on it for so long. i can finally begin to feel it beginning to come under my control. beginning! i am not out here trying to kick an apple off a fork, or anything. but give me another year.
speaking of progress, i’ve noted some on another front, too: focus. this was something i remember noting at some point [me: link here if you ever find the earlier mention!] that i needed to tighten my focus. if i didn’t write it here, i definitely thought it and even mentioned it in the locker room or something. i realized that if master lee yelled a command i wasn’t expecting, or if someone so much as stopped and looked at me while i did a poomsae, or if someone doing poomsae with me messed up–i was thrown. i’d mess up. i’d stagger, or do a wrong move, or freeze, or have my mind go blank. and i thought to myself “this is no good. you must learn to focus more.” and i knew it was a particular challenge. you can have great technique if you want, or you can hit like a barn falling, but if your concentration is fragile and easily shattered, how can you be effective?
on this, i’ve definitely tightened up a lot. i can stay honed in closer on what i’m doing, stick with the movement from beginning to end without being so easily thrown off track. still, however, master lee standing at the sidelines of demo team practice and watching us with pointed attention can still unnerve me! but overall and over and over, i’ve seen improvement here.
i’ve especially felt a change in that place where we are preparing to begin. ready to spring into action on command or signal. i’ve noticed that i’ve found a…room in my mind that i’d not really used before. a space. a mental space where i am on high alert, waiting for nothing but the signal to begin, my body completely ready to spring forth, and (here’s the important part) with no undue tension or tightness. a narrow degree of concentration that amps up everything to a keen point, and just hangs there. until.
it’s wild! where this space is now, i used to “get ready” or “be ready” or sort of anxiously jitter…it was not a relaxed place. and because of that, i could miss the exact moment to move, or i could be moving from a place of anxiety, or too tense. i did not know i could find a place where i was both fully relaxed and yet also be cocked, loaded, and with no safety on.
i have no examples yet…but i can feel this is something that will affect everything, not just a specific action in martial arts practice.
apparently this is a post for noting progress! wow. on many fronts. i’d not known that when i started writing. what a great way to start a day.
the other night i was in the dojang and getting ready for class and suddenly realized i had no inhaler on me. i’ve written here more than a couple times about my lung issues. while i’ve made a lot of progress in my lung power and lung capacity, i can still hit a wall with sustained exertion and my chest can begin to burn like you wouldn’t believe. it’s not just like being short of breath. when this pain hits me, it’s like a deep pain in my heart that makes the thought of continued exertion a laughable matter. and i fear that pain. i fear the pain stopping me, and i fear having to stop in front of everyone. but training regularly, using my inhaler, and not smoking all seem to make it work out. so it’s been manageable.
but when i reached for my inhaler to get my pre-class blast, i realized there was not an inhaler in my locker, my bag, or my jacket. i nearly panicked. that’s my lifesaver. what, i’m gonna suddenly leap cold into an advanced class that i’m only able to handle, after all, after hundreds of hours of conditioning and training AND my inhaler?
so i thought, hell, i’ll skip this class after all. and then i thought, yanno what? it’s a little weird that my backup inhaler is not in my locker, and neither is there one in my gear bag. because i was sure there was. so maybe it’s a sign that i should go for it. see what happens. risk it.
as i’ve said, so much of martial arts is stepping to your fears.
so i did it. i changed clothes and jumped in. i won’t lie, i did my warmup routine (all basic kicks, blocks, punches, etc) at 60% or 70%, but after that and for the rest of the class, i just did my best and saw if i could keep up. master lee had us doing his olympic training runs up and down the floor, so there is no holding back on that. and he put in me in line 6, the last line, and that means everyone is watching your line come up the floor so there’s no hiding. i felt like i was treading water at the edge of the deep part of the sea. sure, i was doing well, hanging in there…but at what moment would the cold water rush up and try to claim me?
and then all of a sudden it was diro dorah! all students face the back and straighten your uniforms. dobok tangun. and we were into the routine that ends the class. i had made it. i was incredulous.