Friday, September 29, 2006

Curb Your Enthusiasm

No, I haven't seen the show. I just like the phrase. When I started classes, I was really enthusiatic, to the point of putting too much effort into kicks and drills. To the point where I was not aware that with certain ways of moving, I could hurt myself by not moving in the most efficient way, for example, not focussing on my pivoting leg.

If you allow yourself to pivot freely on the ball of the foot with most of the work done by your thighs (this can be achieved by bending your support leg slightly at the knee before the pivot, for example in roundhouse or side kick), it is much better than turning by applying the force with your knees.

I've learnt the hard way, that the best way to approach the wish to give more than 100% each time is to focus on details, and to be smart and not emotional. I am trying to focus myself before each class, and to give my best effort while paying attention to how I am moving (rather than how much or how hard). Its hard to do this on your own without guidance. Currently, I am definitely feeling that I don't get enough comments from my instructor. I just try to not be dissapointed about this. An optimistic frame of mind helps against obstacles.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Belt Exam!

My yellow belt exam is two weeks away! My first thought was that I want to be a white belt for longer. Nevermind that my side kicks and Chon-Ji feel far from yellow-belt-deserving quality. I was just enjoying the newness of going to class, learning new things and just being a beginner. Hmmm... maybe I am worried about having to expect more from myself if I am yellow belt. I am pretty resistant to change from the familiar.

As for my knee, it has definitely been improving steadily, though it feels stiff from time to time. I only missed one class because of it, though I might be expecting too much from myself by not taking a break. On the other hand, I have been reading Mindbody Prescription (by Dr. John Sarno) again and it did feel immediately much better. So I am trying to accept that it may be partly real injury, partly psychological and trying to explore the stress I have related to taekwondo. For example, the amount of time it takes, my need for my instructors approval, anger when I don't perform well but others do, and so forth.

I believe in the theory proposed in this book because I cured myself of back pain, neck pain and RSI (repetitive stress injury) which lasted a year by following its guidelines. The theory is a little to involved to go into here, but essentially its that the cause of chronic pain (of many different kinds) is stress in our daily lives, repressed emotions and repressed rage (these may be left over from childhood, as well as a reaction to current stresses). And once we learn to release these or become aware of them and aware of the mechanism by which the brain can create physical pain, it will subside. I want to stress, its not that the pain is imaginary, or `all in your head'. The pain is real, and people have measurable physical symptoms like stiffness or tightness or weakness. However, the pain is created because our brain gives the nervous system an order to decrease blood flow! I highly recommend the book for more information.

Here is a quote from the book. Its in the context of RSI but it applies to many situations, including taekwondo for me, since I feel conditioned to think 'Oh, all this pivoting and kicking; it must be bad for my knees'. Anyway, Dr. Sarno says,

"It is totally without logic that after millions of years of evolution...our bodies have become structurally incompetent, or that we have become so fragile that we must be careful how we move, use our bodies, or engage in repetitive activities. This is unadulterated nonsense. We are not made of papier-mache; we are tough and resilient, adaptable and quick to heal."

On how chronic pain often manifests itself in the same place as an injury:

"..this is a demonstration of the cleverness and ingenuity of the mind when it wishes to create a physical distraction. The mind is aware of everything that goes on in the body, including the site of herniated discs, meniscus tears in the knee joints and tears of the rotator cuff in the shoulder. It may sound fanciful, but experience makes it clear that the brain will initiate pain where a structural abnormality exists, the better to impress you and more firmly keep your attention on your body, just as it will induce pain at the site of an old injury."

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I've decided to do a stretching routine everyday, even (or especially) on off days, twice a day. I got off to a good start today, though I woke up only at 10. After taking a hot shower, did a small warmup and stretching session.

Warmup consisted of 30-50 each of
* Jumping jacks (I never see people doing these in gyms anymore. Is it embarrassing or something?)
* Neck rotations
* Arm rotations
* Hip rotations
* Side to side rotations for hips
* Knee rotations
* Windmills touching toes
* Ankle rotations

Stretching consisted of 5 stretches each for a count of 10
While standing:
* Touching toes
* Touching toes one leg crossed before the other
* Touching toes with legs spread wide
* Lunges, side and front (I skipped these today because of the knee)
While sitting:
* Touch toes of one leg with other leg bent in sitting position
* Touch toes of one leg with head to knee while other leg is stretched out
* Touch toes of both legs with legs spread
* With legs spread (try to) put forearms flat on the ground
* Stretch groin by putting soles of feet together
While standing:
* Quad stretch: hold foot with one hand and touch foot to butt from behind
* Splits, side and front (I skipped these too today)
* Side stretch, reach with hand towards opposite leg while bending sideways

I was kind of making it up as I went along, so now I'm glad to have it written down for future reference.

It felt pretty good at the end. Its probably stupid but I've never paid much attention to stretching. I guess I never did anything vigorous enough to warrant it. When I used to go running, I got by with minimal stretching. So this is probably the longest and most thorough routine I've done. We do have stretching for the first 10 minutes of class, but its so fast paced, I don't think I ever end up holding a good stretch and breathing.

I've ordered 'Ultimate Flexibility' by Sang H. Kim, who is a martial artist, so hopefully I will increase my inadequate knowledge about stretching properly.

I totally forgot sit-ups and push-ups. We haven't had any push-ups in class yet, so I should build up while I can, and not be embarassed in class. I think I can do about 15 right now...pathetic. Sit-ups are better...I can do about 50 proper ones, but when we are asked in class to do 100, I think I lift only my neck for the last 50.

2/07: Just a note that I ditched this routine, and have been using the stretching routine suggested by Kurz for 4 months.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I saw Jet Li's movie 'Fearless' today. The plot was pretty simple, but I enjoyed the movie. It had the trademark scene of Jet Li practicing alone with beautiful scenery in the background, in slow motion at a particularly poignant juncture in the movie. Now that I know there is a difference between Wushu and Karate, I especially enjoyed the climactic fight in the end against the Karate fighter, trying to spot how their styles were different.

Google video has the fight online.

Tomorrow will be my first day back at taekwondo after my knee got hurt. It still feels a bit twingey. I'm trying to ignore my nervousness.

Starting Taekwondo "Later" in Life

This thought is often at the back of my mind. Am I going to be flexible enough? Will I be able to compete and keep up with younger stronger people?

I enjoy and am inspired by reading accounts of people who did start taekwondo later, especially when they had no previous history of martial arts. Here are some such websites:

Steve Conway's Taekwondo Site

Lisa Wise's Taekwondo Blog

My thoughts on this are that its all (mostly) in the mind. We don't realize how much of our physical well-being is controlled by our emotional and mental health. I had first-hand experience of the power of the mind when I was battling with chronic pain. I think the same applies to taking up a strenuous activity. What is limiting me is thoughts of what I will be unable to do. And this is conditioning that has been instilled into me by society and my parents. I need to free my mind of these and believe I will be able to perform well and become more flexible (this is a big goal for me) no matter what my age.

The difficult thing is that its not enough to just realize that the key is in the mind. Somehow it has to seep into your subconscious, or into your very fibres for it to work.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Since I just started this journal today, it feels a bit silly to be putting in all the expressive titles, but I did want to have all my thoughts nice and organized. Even if they actually occurred to me a few days ago.

Anyway, last Sunday, at class, I was doing some side kicks. A black belt, who is also my friend outside class, I'll call him G, asked me to kick his hand which he put in front of me, while keeping my eyes on it. I guess I'd been moving my face away quite a bit and it took a huge effort. My knee gave a bit of a wrench doing this because I had to hold my pivoting back leg harder in place that usual, and I sprained my knee. I went on with the rest of the class, but the pain set in later, and I decided to skip class on Tuesday, and let it heal. The pain has been getting better, but my knee feels all stiff and funny. I asked G if I should just go back to class and tough it out. He said yes, but to stretch. I'm not sure of specific stretches to do though. And my knee gives a twinge when I bend my knees low to practice Chon-Ji.

On Thursday class was canceled because of a football game at school, saving me from making the decision about going or not. I think I'll go on Sunday and tough it out. I went for a tiny jog today, and it was not too bad, though it hurt a bit.

I am agonizing about missing classes on the one hand and reinjury if I don't let it heal on the other.

Why I Like Taekwondo #1

I think one of the reasons is the discipline. The stricter the better. And the feeling that if I put work into it, I will achieve something.

I always feel that in the rest of my life everybody is always polite and soft spoken with each other. They "suggest" you should do something, while probably meaning that they expect you to. I like it that my instructor expects total obedience, but makes it so clear. I like it when he reprimands me for my technique. When he shouts about putting more effort into my kicks or making it faster, I feel very motivated to do it. Its a very physical/emotional feeling, unlike with a lot of my thesis work where a lot of the motivation has to come from inside myself and I never have a physical or such a strong sense of emotional motivation (except dissapointment when things don't work out...ok there are very rare moments of elation too, when something actually works). The second point especially, I often feel that I have to put in a superhuman amount of effort into my research, often with no tangible achievement.

How Old is Too Old?

When I was 18, I felt old because little kids in my class were already green and blue belts. This time around, since my taekwondo class is in my university, the gap isn't as large and everybody is just starting. On the other hand, everybody seems to be an undergraduate! I feel old now not only physically but also mentally. One night after class, my partner of the evening asked if I was a freshman and what major I was in. He was shocked to hear I was a final year PhD student.

Oh well...I'll have to take it as a complement that he thought I was a freshman. But some part of my mind puts it down to HIS inexperience!

How It All Started

I started to learn taekwondo when I was about 18. Classes were held from 5 to 6.30 in the evening on the university campus where my father taught, and my family lived. I was going to college at that time, commuting for a couple of hours in the morning and evening by bus. I didn't have time to go home before class, so I would go straight from college. My parents didn't like this idea at all, and pretty much gave me an ultimatum: either I would make time to come home and eat lunch before going to taekwondo, or I could not go. I myself felt the strain of commuting for long hours and then going to class, and I gave up fairly soon after I started.

Taekwondo has always been at the back of my mind since then, I 'm not sure why (or maybe there are many reasons why, and I still have to clear out in my mind why I am so emotional about taekwondo). I graduated from college, and moved to the US to do graduate work, working for my PhD. The first couple of years were rough academically, and it took me a while to get used to the rhythm of things until I was satisfied with the academic part of my life. It was three years into my PhD before I signed up for taekwondo. But I was not destined at this point to start learning again.

The next two years I battled with chronic pain in my foot, back, neck and shoulders. I won't go into the miracle that I saved myelf by. It was a time during which I became completely involved with my health, and thought of not much else.

I'm almost 27 now, and I have a year left to get my degree. My health problems resolved themselves over the summer (or I resolved them), and I signed up for taekwondo during fall semester! I feel such a sense of fulfilment just having signed up after waiting so long for it.