Friday, October 12, 2007

Thanks to all who visited and left their comments.

It feels like a deserted spaceship here. This is mainly a post to say that as I will not forseeably update this page very often, do feel free to dismantle your links to it!


Monday, September 03, 2007

To mark what is hopefully a new chapter in life, I've moved to a new weblog. (Actually, its because I couldn't resist the spiffy looking wordpress themes).

I haven't been able to locate a good taekwondo school fitting my logistic constraints (time and distance). I have taken up aikido, which I am sure will be an interesting experience. I've made my peace with not necessarily training in one art for a lifetime (ha! kind of silly to think that after just a year anyway). I think this will necessarily be a side-effect of holding a job that doesn't let you settle in one place till later in life. Not a problem!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

End and a Beginning

I've spent almost a year learning taekwondo at my university. Its always been a rather bussinesslike relationship with my teacher and fellow students. In the sense that I haven't gotten on very friendly terms with anybody. My teacher knows me, but nothing about me. So I couldn't exactly say goodbye to anyone, even though I did want to. I went to my last class, with nobody knowing that I would just stop showing up. Its on to new things now I suppose.

I did a pretty thorough search for taekwondo schools in Berkeley (as far as you can do these things over the net), and though I've got a few schools in mind to check out, there hasn't been anything which I just instantly knew I could join (except the UCSF tkd, but its out due to distance constraints). One reason is that I wanted to continue in the particular style that I practice, but also its a bit difficult to tell without seeing a class whether the atmosphere is to your liking. For example, maybe I am prejudiced, but at the moment, I would like to be learning in a class with adults, and not, say teenagers.

Anyhoo, I have been looking into other arts, and there is a dojo which particularly appealed to me, at least when I read about it on the net. I'm visiting Berkeley in the next few days, ostensibly to look for an apartment, but I'll scout around some MA schools as well.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Nothing to do with taekwondo, but I wanted to share that I defended on the 22nd of June, and now have a PhD. It is kind of neat. I tend to put myself down and be excessively diffident. But I won't give into that just this once. *Giving myself a pat on the back*. It took me 6 years (jeez, its really all gone!) and was fairly hard work.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Five Things

Five things I learnt as a beginner about practicing taekwondo. Interestingly, the common theme is to detach myself from the outcome of my practice.

Have patience. Whether it is some technique which is frustrating you or dealing with training while injured, patience will see you through. I find that one tends to become discouraged and overwhelmed most because of a lack of willingness to savor the experience of learning a technique or working through injury. Sounds weird, but yes, looking back all the hard work put into learning a particular kick feels very satisfactory now. And it would have gone even more smoothly had I been patient with the learning process. Similarly, training through injury isn't as hopeless a task as it sounds like if you have the patience to believe that your body will heal even if mild stress is put on it.

To practice patience, one has to practice letting go of expectation. This doesn't mean that you lose all desire to improve. Instead, you practice putting yourself in an accepting frame of mind. Be an observer to your progress.

Keep at it. This one I never had much trouble with. I have never so far been low on motivation to go and attend class. (Now that I think of it however, in the great balanced-ness of all things, I have been low on motivation to get my other work done.)

In any case, there will be times when you are low on motivation, and you'll never regret pushing through your inertia. Since I have been practicing taekwondo, which, like any other activity requires a significant time commitment, I notice that I have become more laid-back about other time pressures. For example, I don't get overwhelmed anymore if I am a little late with school work because I got back late from class. In the great scheme of things, it doesn't matter. You'll stay up a few extra hours and get it done.

Relax. In class, I try to be focused and very relaxed at the same time. Extra tension serves no purpose, and I feel makes techniques harder to learn. Relaxation has to be both physical and mental. Mentally, don't put pressure on yourself, and keep thinking 'I better get it right this time'. Physically, don't tense up your body in anticipation to do a technique. I found this to be good to keep in mind while learning all the the various different, complicated and confusing ways that you lift your legs and move your torso to do wheel kicks, spinning stomp kicks, and spinning hook kicks.

Again, the way to achieve relaxation is to lose expectation, but not your focus. Focus is not that difficult to achieve, just empty your mind of thought about anything except what you are doing. The trick to relaxation is somehow not to focus too much.

No experience is wasted. Nothing that you learn is wasted. It may be that what you have learnt is not the most efficient way to defend yourself from an attacker. It may be that you learn something for a while, and then due to circumstances, have to take up some other martial art. It may be that you didn't learn from the 'best' teacher. Nevertheless, even that experience is something which is a part of your new personality, and is something more than not having learnt anything at all.

Practice. Both physically and in your mind. There is no substitute for lots of practice to perfect your technique. Keep in mind everything your teacher has pointed out to you during your practice, and try to perform your practice remembering these things.

Often, imagining yourself doing the thing which seems hard in real life physically helps overcome barriers. What I like to do is keep a mental video of somebody in my class who does the technique particularly well, and then 'photoshop' myself into the video, so that I see myself doing the technique with all the details in place.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I think I am going through post-thesis-submission depression. I submitted on May 25 and have been feeling persistently apathetic and lethargic since then. I also have a lot of anger. I am dreading that I have to move, work at a real job and switch TKD schools.

Although I suppose its so easy to think something and make it become true. Its ironic that before, you don't realize how much power over actual events the mind holds. And now, you know it, you would think that you would gain more control. But it just seems to become more and more powerful.

I am struggling with understanding whether my feelings of depression are real or whether they are there because I think I am feeling depressed.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


At least when I move out to California there will be good places to go climbing! No need to worry about styles and whatnot. Maybe I'll be content just learning some martial art from a good teacher even if its not the style I am in right now. I think learning some form of martial art is good preparation for climbing. I had a much easier time of it after learning taekwondo for the past year than when I tried last year. I was more focussed, my will to get all the way up was stronger. Not to mention I was in much better physical condition.

I wrote some emails out asking about classes and styles, but so far, its either no response or just saying 'good luck finding something'.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


I admit it ... I like attention (but I'm shy). I just mean I like to be given feedback during class. Sometimes a whole class goes by with not too many comments from my teacher, like today. Other people had to do their forms and get corrections. I can't be doing everything right?! Maybe he overlooks me a LOT more than other people :). Only a correction to my step punch and a block during Chon Ji and Yul Gok. No comments while sparring. I think about whether I am just too bad, and my teacher doesn't want to waste his time with me or if its just by accident.

Taking taekwondo has certainly made me better about my insecurities. But if this is where I am now, I was in pretty bad shape before.

I should just focus on the class.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Yul Gok

Homework: Go read about Yul Gok and practice a lot.

Favorite parts:
* The 'falling sidestep' before the second sloooow punch.
* The arc hand blocks
* The jumping backfist - that has a kind of flair to it :)

I practiced my step punches in Chon Ji and Dan Gun quite a bit today. I think I am getting the hang of how to step onto my knee while lunging forward.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


That's a sigh of satisfaction. The first class of the summer. I didn't do much training over the break. I felt really springy and was kicking and stretching higher than before. I totally believe the people that say after repair, the body becomes stronger than before. I've heard that's the principle behind working out with weights. You tear some muscle when you lift weights and when that repairs, its stronger than before...then you lift more weights, I guess.

I started learning Yul Gok. Today's class was spent almost entirely on Chon Ji. My teacher emphasized the following

- When preparing for low blocks, back knee is very close to ground with weight evenly distributed, NOT over front knee. This can be achieved by tilting the knee just a fraction up and outwards, like riding stance, but in the prep position.

- Look towards where you're blocking.

- On middle blocks, keep line of arm straight almost till last instant. Do most of the turning with hips, not the arms.

- Step punches, the idea is to start by moving body forward, putting weight onto front knee, not stepping 'outwards'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


If all goes well, I'll be moving to sunny California in the fall. I'll be living in Berkeley. I'd love to know if anybody has any thoughts on where to train in Taekwondo or martial arts in general in that area. I would prefer to continue in the style of Taekwondo I do now -- we call it Traditional Taekwondo or Korean Karate, and do the forms starting with Chon-Ji. I'm still not sure entirely which *TF it is. But I am definitely open to other styles and arts. I guess what I am looking for most is a rigorous studio with roughly the same style so that I don't feel like I am starting right at the beginning again; I would love to continue with the same set of forms. I'm ok with the above conditions not being satisfied if its a very good studio. I would also like a place which gives equal emphasis to drills, sparring and forms. I like all three aspects very much and wouldn't want to give up on any of them.

Aaaa...I am so resistant to the unfamiliar! What I definitely am looking for is a teacher who has a good self-interpretation of the art. I.e., not someone who just regurgitates the things they have learnt without thinking about it.

I will be checking out the TKD program at UC Berkeley. Has anyone had any experience there or heard of anyone who trained in TKD there?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I'm close to deciding what I'll be doing after graduating. Fortunately it looks like there will be time for taekwondo, but its going to be much harder to make time. We'll see. I started writing my thesis. And I'm considering doing some climbing instead of tai chi over the summer. Less stuff to memorize. I'm swamped.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


It looks like I'll have about a 3 week break before classes start up again. I have that butterflies in stomach feeling of excited anticipation waiting for classes to start. I'm glad though of some time to rest up and let all my bruises from the last few months heal.

I'm spending a couple of weeks near Seattle in the meantime. Most places to hike are still snowbound, but a few moderate walks and hikes are open. I think about taekwondo from time to time, everyday. Practicing my forms when I can find enough space. Or just doing them in my head. Keeping up with situps and pushups. Planning out what I'll do after I graduate. If I get a job at X -- then I'll check out this studio. Or, if I get a job at Y, then I'll ask so and so about a good place to learn. And so on. Kind of nice, but I'm very sad that in all likelihood I have only two more months with my current teacher. A few days ago I got email about a job opportunity that I might have to start in July for, and my mood was kind of down! When I heard another place would like me to start in October if I got the job, I thought excellent, two extra months here, and my mood was up!

I daydream about classes that I've had or things that I learnt, playing them out in my head. This semester, we focussed a lot on how to counter various kicks and punches from your opponent during sparring. I think the motto was "make sure your opponent hurts if he tries to kick or punch". We learnt for which kicks to move in and counterattack and for which to move out at first, but then come back in quickly not allowing your opponent to recoup.

I'm leaning strongly towards learning tai chi in the summer, as opposed to aikido or hapkido. I really want to learn how to tumble and take falls at some point since I am completely lacking in that department. But I think it will be too new for me to learn in just a few weeks. I want to amend that -- what I really mean is that it would be so new to me that I would feel overwhelmed by it and stressed during an already hectic semester.

Tai chi is going to be an experiment. If it takes too much time away from taekwondo, I'll drop it for now. I wanted to have something to do on my taekwondo off days. I guess martials arts type stuff is novel enough at the moment to attract me more than going running on off days.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


After our tests, the class goes out to pizza together. I've had...let's see...four tests so far. I went to pizza after my very first test, but it was a bit uncomfortable. Nobody talked to the new students and we didn't talk amongst ourselves either. I didn't go for the next two outings but I did go after my last test. It was kind of fun hanging out with them.

One young guy in my class is a freshman in college and is in awe of how old I am, and the fact that I am doing my Phd and that I started it right after my undergraduate degree (which happens to be what most people in my field do, so nothing special). I mentioned to him that the previous night, I'd gone to a party for a friend who had gotten a job offer and had gotten fairly tipsy -- I had returned home at around 3 and wasn't sure I'd be in good shape for the test. The poor guy was quite shocked -- he blurted out, "You drink!? But I thought you were perfect!" That felt kind of nice -- (oooh somebody thinks I'm perfect, but I'm really badass) -- in a dissolute kind of way.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Last Class of the Semester

Tonight was the last class of the semester and also a test day. I tested for a blue stripe (our belts are white, yellow, green, blue, brown, black). For the first time, I didn't feel terribly nervous about it. I just tried as hard as I could and didn't think of anything else. I have to improve some things before I get the stripe. This was my test:

* Spin stomp kick, tornado kick then back kick
* Rear leg side kick, flying side kick
* Quarter front kick, back kick, moving spin back kick
* Reverse punch, jab, backfist, reverse punch, hook punch

* Flying side kick

Whon Hyo, Do San, Dan Gun

Free sparring in a 5 point match.

2 board flying side kick over 3 people (that sounds really cool to me, though I didn't end up breaking. I managed to go neatly over everybody and do the kick, but the boards remained stubborn.)

I'll retest the things I need to improve in the summer semester. Classes will probably start again sometime in early May. I'll have to get a good chunk of my thesis and other work done by then. I'm considering taking classes in either Tai Chi or Aikido also in the summer (because I don't feel like I'm under enough pressure yet with classes 3 times a week during the semester I'm defending my thesis- actually, I just want to try some things that might improve my balance and focus.).

Thursday, April 19, 2007


* Spin stomp kick then tornado kick

* Jab with left, backfist with left, reverse punch with right, hook with left

* Quarter kick with right, jump spin back kick with left

* Front twist kick: lift right leg as in squat, kick in to out

Whon Hyo:

* First step is 'bowling' action
* Lean back while prepping for knife hand, striking hand back and below ear
* Hand to shoulder on knifehand, and heel VERY close to foot in cat stance
* Prep the side punch by opening shoulder.

* To prep for side kick, after 'hands together' thing, move right foot to left without leaving ground first

* For knifehand blocks, prep with shoulders open, and level (don't scrunch down)

* Front kick: lift knee high first, toes pointing down, then kick with ankle straight
After kicking, land in FRONT stance, i.e., good width

* Side kick: chamber with knee high against shoulder, can be on toes of left foot. Then stretch out without turning, then use butt muscles to turn, and stay with leg level.

* After side kick, bring right foot close to left before prepping for last(name?) block. Left foot back, body pointed right, arms up and in center, head looking left. Block. Same on right.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My First Board Break!

So its good news. I'll start by saying that all the cliches are true...

its imperative to believe that you can put your foot through the board...

you do need to aim a little behind the board and throw the weight of your body behind the kick...

and of course, when you actually do break it, you hardly feel a thing, you could have been kicking through a sheet of paper.

On my last test, for a green belt, one of the tasks was to break a single board with a back kick. I wasn't able to do it during the test (1, 2) after a couple of tries and I was pretty bummed out because everybody else in my group did break theirs. My kick felt ok, but I felt like I just kept bouncing off the board! I wasn't sure what I was doing wrong, perhaps I was just too weak, and needed to get more power in my legs.

In our school, we improve on the things that are pointed out to us during the test before we move to the next rank. So I had until the next testing cycle to do all my improvements. I kind of pushed the board breaking to the back of my mind. I slowly retested on all the other techniques. I went kind of slow because of having to miss a bunch of classes because of travel. Why did I save the board breaking for the end, I keep asking myself. Some weird reason like it was the last thing we were tested on, and I was doing all my retests in the same order.

Anyway, I ended up in the situation where I had two classes to break my board, Thursday and today. I tried on Thursday with black belt helping me by pointing out what was lacking in my technique, like the best way to chamber, starting with butt slightly pointed to target, chambering without turning the body and then exploding the kick out - causing the turning action. I tried and tried but wasn't able to break it on Thursday. I was pretty depressed that night. I had the same feeling of bouncing off the board, and I could feel that as I made contact I was withdrawing too quickly as though I was scared of going too far.

Also, I'm a bit ashamed of succumbing to it, but in part I felt bad because everybody else would advance while I felt I wouldn't be able to complete the break by Sunday.

Miss Chris had suggested once that getting a wavemaster was a good idea. I can't fit one of those into my apartment, but we do have them at school. Thursday night I decided I needed to kick against that and get over my fear of following through. That night, I read on the net something like a 3lb hammer can easily crack plywood and our legs can do much more damage. I have a block of plywood, which is actually a cabinet door that I use as a small coffee table. I tried smashing through it with a hammer, and indeed it produced a satisfying crack without even hitting very hard. For good measure, I hit it again with the ridge of my hand to crack it some more. I wanted to get over my fear of committing to the strike while hitting hard things. I went to bed that night a little less sad.

I've never practiced kicking on a wavemaster before, and it was an eye-opener. You can kick with so much more power when there is resistance. I always hold back when sparring in class, and though we do drills with pads, I guess I still hold back because I don't feeling like 'letting it all go' with someone behind the pad. I also didn't realize how far I could go. But somehow I knew that to break the board I'd have to get over that. I spent an hour on Friday on the wavemaster just doing back kick. I felt quite a bit of improvement in committing to the kick. Another aspect I felt I needed to improve was leading the kick with the heel and then striking with the whole foot. My senior helping me test had pointed out that many times I was hitting with the ball of my foot, and this was causing the 'bouncing off'. I practiced really hard getting that right. At the end, suddenly I noticed that I was so engrossed by it that when I would hit, a shout would come deep in my belly. That felt very natural, and I think it helped me push energy in the right direction.

I went back on Saturday and did another hour of back kicks. The wavemaster is REALLY GREAT! I am definitely going to practice on that from now on.

I spent the day not thinking about the breaking very much at all, and I wasn't at all emotional about the outcome, whether I broke or not. I was certainly more confident about it after my kicking practice. I had a niggling doubt about the fact that it was a board and not a springy wavemaster but I pushed it away.

After class, I started trying to break. First, my senior asked me to practice with sheets of paper. Those kicks were all good and she told me to kick the board in the same way. Finally I tried on the board. I tried about half a dozen times or so. Sometimes too close and I couldn't extend my leg out. Sometimes I wasn't pushing out my thigh first on the kick, and it would go too low. Sometimes, my knee would splay out after the chamber, and I would hit the side of the board. And it was all in the details because my kicks weren't bad; they just weren't perfect. Finally, I corrected each of these things and then the shouts from my belly from practice started coming out and I was more in my groove. It still wasn't breaking though. Another senior took a look at my kick, and asked me to throw my body weight behind the kick, so that when finishing the kick, I landed on the kicking leg, in the direction of the kick. Two more tries with that in mind, and then it broke.

I felt a lot of satisfaction and realized how correct your technique has to be before you break it. Its good practice. I felt good, but I actually didn't feel surprised when it broke. I think that's good. Maybe it means deep down, I really did believe I'd do it.

I feel kind of stupid posting this (because the rest of you have probably done this a million times and don't make a big deal out of it), but I'll do it just this once, because it was my first time. Its 3/4" thick and about a foot square.

I feel very grateful to my seniors and friends in class who helped and encouraged me when I thought it just wouldn't happen.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I suspected this might happen. I got to the gym to find nobody warming up. I guess there was no class because of Easter. I ran around and around the track for a while, ran through my forms and then headed home. Oh well, back to work tonight!

There were actually 5 or 6 people from my class practicing together in another room, but I was too shy to go join them. I had hoped to continue with my retesting, which is getting a bit delayed with all the traveling I'm doing. I'm out of town from the 21st again, so my aim is to finish my retests that remain by then - spin stomp kick, Do San form and breaking a board with a back kick (can you tell I'm scared I'll never manage this last one?) (screw it, I am going to break the damn board).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Kind of Cute

Feeling a bit nihilistic this morning? Feeling some of your teenage angst coming back? Sick of things and just want to blow something up? This is kind of entertaining (for a while).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The last few months have been rather stressful for me. I'm graduating in the summer, and this is the time when I look for jobs and the prospect of actually writing up my thesis work is looming closer and closer. That's why I've especially appreciated going to taekwondo class these days. Academic life brings out a lot of insecurities in people and I think it gets worse close to the end -- can I really finish, am I really good enough for this degree...? Sometimes I feel so paralyzed by what I'll achieve if I do finish, that it takes my energy for action away. I stop thinking about all this when I go to class, so I get a lot of mental relief from it. I love the feeling of doing something so physical (that I don't have time to think of anything but the motion or kick or punch at hand) for few hours. When I went back to my class after spring break, my Sir saw me, gave me a friendly slap on the back and said, "good to have you back!". I thought it was nice that in big class at university he noticed the existence of a relatively new student.

I've been interviewing at U of T-- yesterday and today. So I had to travel out of town and miss class on Tuesday and today. It weighed somewhat on my mind and I am starting feel some heartache that after I graduate I'll probably move elsewhere and have to start at a different school. I'm really eager to get back to class on Sunday. I think it is partly the stress of waiting for interview results as well as the feeling that time is going by and I wish things would stay as they are -- me doing my Phd, and studying taekwondo in the evenings -- and not change.