i’m definitely at the point where i’m beginning to feel a bit antsy after taking it easy for weeks. my foot is not well enough yet to put weight enough on it to go through a class proper. which is why i’ve sat out of classes altogether.
i went to help coach demo class only days after the injury (5 days or so) and went there too early. so i was dressed and idle (stretched out tho) when a green and up class started so i said hell with it and joined in because it was my first day back as a black belt and i just felt wrong about standing on the side of class and watching or something. so of course i get in line and begin doing the workout and of course i’ve not taken my inhaler because i wasn’t planning on getting all cardio. so i’m trying to do sabum ahpchagi and sabum yeupchagi and sabum neryachagi and all this intense stuff without leaning on my toes! and i am not good at holding back because of an idea (like “i better take it easy on this foot so it doesn’t get more injured”) so i start trying too hard and if i don’t knock that off, i will injure myself worse so instead i’ve just abstained altogether from working out.
on a good note, i made it–again–through an advanced class workout with my natural, unmedicated, lungs. i’m not against taking my inhaler! i still prefer it. but if you’ve not been following this blog for the last couple years, then you may not have seen the whole lung narrative evolve. and it was, again, in afterthought that it hit me how i’m able to do this now. and when i think back to the days of coming back to training via the white/yellow belt classes at USTC…wow! even with medication i used to have to lean on the glass cases halfway through class and would mentally entertain the (very very silly) notion that maybe this GGM Lee guy would let the time between exercises lag just a wee bit if he noticed how i was about to fall down. (let me pause again for a very hearty laugh at where i was back then and the grand notions i’d survive by).
so yeah. after that day, i stopped testing my restraint. because i can’t do it. i can’t go at half speed.
and at home i get antsy. and don’t feel good about letting muscles so used to working out sit and stall. nor do i want to stop imprinting all the blocks and strikes and stances on my memory because more is better with that stuff. PLUS i just learned a bunch of new awesome moves in poomsae keumgang (the 2nd black belt poomsae) and i want to begin them. so i whip into stance or a strike or practice some of the hand to hand combat moves i learned in my instructor training qual course. it’s always comforting to see that i remember these moves. i’ll try to “spring” it on myself. Jebi Poom Mokshigi! i’ll think and then spring into position. Keumgang Ahp Chirigi! and Rozanto Arrimakki! (i cannot vouch of course for any of these spellings. there is no standard of romanization of so many words in korean, or it differs, and anyway in our dojang we learn by hearing and imitating, seeing and imitating. we do not get all heady or papery about what we learn. so we don’t really need to spell it “right,” just know what it means and speak it.) and then i’ll check my stance. point by point. either confirm or correct. and again. and again.
the other day i got too careless/anxious to practice nunchuks (i should’ve just walked out into the driveway, but then you have to be ready for people to see you and all that) and i smashed the ceiling lamp in my office. soon the garage will be cleared and i can get going in there.
i realize how much i love the “passing on of lore” aspect of martial arts. and not just that, but the lore itself. as well as the mechanisms and traditions for bringing members into the know. a focus here, then, not so much on a belt color or status, but on a sectioned aside area of knowledge that you are now entrusted to possess and integrate into yourself (which of course is what the belts represent). learning techniques that are not taught or practiced until you reach a new level of knowledge and mastery. and that undeniable arc you will undergo should you remain with that path. i love that so much about taekwondo. all that. apprenticeship. mastery. knowledge, guarded and precious. meaning. dedication to a greater understanding. were it not for tkd, where would i find such traditions and finely-tuned and carefully watched practices of initiation and the passing on of technique and lore? oh, it’s something every human should experience.that’s what i’m loving so far about being yudanja. the 9 month stretch at chodanbo really forces you to bear in and focus on what you know and have learned in all your travels through the geup ranks. no new info. grind and polish. and as always, keep working on getting the burrs out of Koryo (sorry, i might should be capping all these names to show just a bit more respect!), your first Dan-level Poomsae. that’s all great and works great, but it doesn’t mean you won’t be a bit hungry for some new technique. which you always get at a new level. that was, i think my favorite part of testing and leveling up: getting the new lore. hitting up a Yu Dan Ja for those first pointers on how to do the move, or to run you through at least one pass of your new Poomsae. it’s very exciting, new ground, new challenge, new trust.
and i’ve been sort of sniffing around Poomsae Keumgang territory even before my 2011 trip to the mountains of South Korea, where i photographed an ancient statue on a mountain pass striking a Keumgang Arrimakki pose. and since seeing Yu Dan Ja practice Keumgang in class. so i’m pretty excited to now be let in on that piece of knowledge and all the techniques that come with it. those of us who did a little bit of training at Kukkiwon under a Korean Poomsae world champion Master on that 2011 trip were allowed to practice a couple Black Belt techniques (like the Palm Strike), but we had no formalized or recognized way to practice them after the trip, so of course we could not work them into our repertoire in the same way.
with Poomsae Keumgang, there are now Palm Strikes, as well as Crane Stance, as well as an awesome spinning elbow strike/block/punch thing that i don’t know the name for but which feels so good to do. so i’m really loving this Keumgang thing. and i guess that’s good because i’ll be practicing it for another two years before i can learn a new Poomsae! (Poomsae Taebaek).
THE REALM OF YU DAN JA
yeah, and my first Yu Dan Ja-only class was pretty awesome. it had such a different feel than any of the other classes i’ve ever taken. it’s one of those things that maybe i don’t want to run on and on at the mouth about…but even being jibed here and there for being the “white belts” of the black belt only class–as we newly-belted students grappled, in the Baptism By Fire manner, with learning a body of new technique–was a good feeling. an (out of state) martial arts friend of mine said to me “you won’t ever have to prove yourself in that way again,” about reaching black. i guess i felt that spirit in that class. sure, we’re reminded that every time we tie the belt to be aware that “i am a beginner” in this body of technique and lore and tradition and ideal. sure, we are held to higher standards as role models in the dojang. sure, there is an unending continuum of beauty and mastery one can demonstrate through the art, and so there is never a reason to slack or feel you’ve arrived. and yes, ego and showing off are never traits that will make GGM Lee proud of a student…but at the same time, there was definitely a warm, jovial, collective (i hesitate to use the word “conspiratorial” but if i could divest it of its negative energetic connotation, i would use it) sense in that room. if you write “black belt club” anywhere on you, your items, or your home, it will probably come across as corny, self-aggrandizing, and silly. but the spirit of such a thing exists unspoken, and manifested in such meetings as we had that night. that sense of pride you have looking at your belt was now no longer your own, and it was a collective feeling in there. we all knew what the journey required; we all were on the other side of it, together.
and even more satisfying than that to me was seeing the discipline and commitment of the room. don’t get me wrong: no black belt is perfect! by any measure. not a perfect person, student, or martial artist. none could answer every question possible about every technique, or korean term, or what have you. all will have varying degrees of technical achievement. and strengths and weaknesses will vary in area and intensity. but nobody was slacking. nobody was not paying attention. everyone minded their line and column. everyone responded with respect and protocol. all focus was beamed in. that degree of focus and respect and attention and energetic output that you correlate with higher ranks was on display and that felt very good. less distracting. more reinforcing of the good things i was trying to do and be.
GGM Lee taught us our new techniques, and Poomsae. at one point, he threw a drill at us where we had to decode Korean language to a slight degree on the fly. he expects, as Yu Dan Ja, for us to be able to use Korean a bit more dexterously. to read Hangul enough to find our belt and know it is ours, and to write our name and understand why it reads as our name. to use Korean language for blocks, kicks, strikes, and all other commands. as you rise in rank, and mostly beginning in that year or longer stretch of Red Belt (in a TKD system where Red is the penultimate color), you start to understand the language in a sense where you know why all the blocks have “makki” in their names, and the kicks all have “chagi” and the punches “chirigi” (or a near variation) and so on. you know that a face/high block is “eohgohl makki” (or some similar spelling) but that it is used in blocks that have “Keumgang” in them. this all comes at you contextually, in an immersive fashion, as you attend class after class and hear and respond to the commands. so in this drill at our Yu Dan Ja-only class, GGM Lee is yelling out names for blocks and block/strike combos that we are not yet familiar with, but that we should be able to decipher just through knowing what words indicate “high” “low” “kick” “block” “inside” and so on. it was fast…i didn’t make all of them, but i got some right away…it was fun. a fun drill, and again, fun to see the results of training you didn’t know at the time was taking a hold of you. never through talkee talkee….but flushed out of you with no warning, as a trained response. beautiful stuff.
so far, it seems to me, there is a lot of fun to be had at this level. and number of new challenges. that’s what makes me happy. i definitely don’t think i’ll be training in quite the same frequency or intensity as i did in those geup years. whew! wow. but i’ll always have made my foundation there. and it will always be part of me. and i look forward to the refinement of technique. to the new growth, to practicing all the new techniques, as well as passing on the knowledge i do have.
STAY ON THE GOOD FOOT
my foot is a lot better than it’s been. i give it another week to heal enough to jump off of. we’ll see. at home, i’ll gradually build up my exercises. keep stretching. and soon i can get back into a little workout routine. the break’s been good. i’ll tell you why: you push so hard for so long as you ramp up to black belt that you forget how much you love it in a way. and it becomes more about staying strong, keeping energy up, practice and drill, practice and drill and push. and don’t give up. and stay focused. and stay positive. and practice and drill and push and practice and drill and drill and drill and push and before you know it you’re there, you’re through it, you’re exultant, you’re relieved…and you need a break.
and i really needed one. and now i’ve got it. and it’s taken me out long enough for my body to begin remembering how much i really love doing these things. and when i come back to them–soon–it won’t be with the same frequency of the geup side of it…but i will give no smaller effort and i will engage with passion just as large.