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.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

More Sparring Notes to Myself

* Opponent does front foot roundhouse. Watch for the chamber (i.e., lift of the leg far back and pivot of foot), move forward to block, and then punch/kick when he's vulnerable.

* Opponent does front foot side kick. Take the kick on your side, but move in quickly and check that he doesn't have time to chamber again and kick.

* When doing double front foot side kick, try to chamber knee all the way to initial position on second kick.

* Double roundhouse kicks. On first kick, opponents instinct is to move head back, off balance, but then return balance by becoming upright. Try to use the second roundhouse at this point.

* When opponent performs a turning kick or punch, turn with them, e.g. counter reverse punch with spin stomp kick. Or counter back foot roundhouse with a back kick.

I forgot to say that these are notes to help me remember the drills our teacher made us practice, I didn't just have revelations about all this!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To Watch for While Sparring

Today we practiced the following while sparring (or as much as I can remember).

Is opponent on front foot or back? He's on front if rear leg is under backside. If he's on front leg, he can do front leg kicks. Otherwise not.

Move away from front foot side kicks. But after the kick, move close enough quickly so that opponent doesn't have enough time to chamber kick and hit again.

Block roundhouse kicks and move inside to punch since his front is exposed.

Counter front foot quarter kicks with a front foot side kick.

Try countering reverse punch with spin stomp kick.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Whon Hyo

I have started learning my next form Whon Hyo. I think this is my favorite yet. Its more complex than the others I've learnt so far, Chonji, Dan Gun and Do San. It might be I feel that just because its new.

This is the first pattern with side kicks. In the front foot side kick, from the fighting stance, say with the left foot forward, you pivot on your right foot while turning to the right, and chambering the left knee by bending and pointing it downward towards the floor. The back foot side kick is from the front stance. Say you have your right leg at the back. The first step is to lift your right leg high while bending the knee, towards your torso/shoulder. This is the chamber. Next, you pull your torso back while extending the leg in a kick. At the instant of the kick, the standing foot pivots, and you end up in the side kick position.

We used to practice the back foot side kick a lot when we were just beginning, but in class now, we mostly practice the front foot, just because we rarely start in the front stance. So my back foot side kick is a bit rusty, but its not a very easy kick either. So I'm glad to see its in the form, and I'll be getting some practice at it.

I saw a video of a person doing Whon Hyo here. We use more exaggerated low stances and a lot more pivoting motion of the hips while blocking. Power from the hips is one of the things that my teacher emphasises a lot, the other being really deep stances, the idea being that the deeper you are, the more stable, and the harder it is for someone to push you over.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Exercise => Mental Strength

Something a friend, TT, said to me:

In yoga, the poses are not an end in themselves. Their purpose is to prepare the mind-body for the rigors of meditation.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

More Thoughts on Testing (Or, Its Not Just Me!)

It seems our school's way of doing tests is different from what I've heard about elsewhere. When we test, *most* people don't pass the the first try, especially all the way up to brown belt. On our last test for a green stripe, only one person out of about 10 or 12 passed right away. I'm not sure whether black belt candidates also go through testing and retesting, or whether they are expected to be more perfect.

Anyway, I don't know whether our system is good or bad. On the one hand it seems that we test *very* frequently, at least in the lower belts. We get good feedback about what we need to improve, and retesting and improving one's technique continues over the course of the next few weeks or sometimes months. So its certainly good practice for perfecting your technique, which is hard to do in a huge group during class. On the other hand, during testing, there is always this rise and excitement about testing, and then the fall of disappointment on not passing. I would think it kind of bums you out, time after time.


I have mixed feelings about this test. In January, I'd made it one of my goals to pass my next test on the first try. That didn't happen, but I can tell that I have made a lot of improvement, and its no longer as much a matter of chance that I do well. I feel that I've got more power and better stances while doing my forms, which was lacking last time. And the kicks that I know the right techniques for, I can do well, its just a matter of saying the important points to myself in my head. So on the whole, my feeling is kind of bittersweet.

The white belts tested first. There were about 12 of them. I tested with a group of 7 other yellow belts. The start of the test threw me off a bit. First, my teacher called out our names, and of course completely stumbled on mine. It made me feel kind of bad and alien, I have to say. Yes, its long and unfamiliar looking but its not *that* hard.

We lined up in front of the judges, who sit in a row. I saw my judge take a look and something on my sheet, which had my name and rank, and laugh a bit. He then pointed out something to the person on his left, and smiled and then to the person on the right, and smile a bit again. Weird. I caught my judges eye and looked a but puzzled about what it was. I thought he was pointing out that I'd written my rank as 'yellow belt with green stripe'. Why was that funny? Were they laughing at me or my inexperience? Was I not supposed to write green stripe? Should I just have written yellow belt? I kept asking myself this crap and feeling slightly embarrassed. Finally, the test started. First, a sequence of different punches. Then spin stomp kick (huh!, I wasn't expecting that), sliding side kick, sliding roundhouse, hook kick, spin hook kick and finally a sequence of kicks -- double side kick, back kick, reverse punch.

We then performed out highest form Do San and the lowest, Chon Ji twice each. For sparring, we got paired off and my pair was last, since I was shortest. So I got a bit of time to catch my breath. My sparring match started out well, I managed to roundhouse kick my opponent, and got 2 points (I think for the very first time in a match). After that, I didn't do as well. My opponent would stand and wait a bit, not making the first move. Tired of this, I'd make the first move, and he would quickly move in and punch or kick. This happened a couple of times, and that was the end of that.

The last part of the test was breaking a single board with a back kick (this was our groups very first board break ever). My kick was feeling decent, but I didn't manage to break the board. After my second try, which hit one of the board holders fingers, my teacher said to me, "Well, you're done for today, and so is he." All the other 7 people broke it. So I'll be doing that again while retesting.

Finally, the results of my test were that I have to retest:

* hand combinations, since my hook punches are too wide
* spin stomp kick (! there it is again, it seems this is my nemesis)
* hook kick (my lift is good, but I need to flip it out better)
* spin hook kick (make it faster)
* Do San (Need to lock knees on punches, knifehands at the end shouldn't come over head. Backfists need a little work. Speed and power fine (yay!)).

The comments I received for free sparring were: Be more aggressive with your kicks. Try something other than roundhouse.

Reading over this, I realize I make it sound like everything was negative. I did get some comments on what was good:

* sliding side kick: very nice, could slide a little more
* sliding roundhouse: good, release foot a little sooner

...and that's all folks.

After the yellow belt test, a few blue belts and a brown belt tested for stripes. Then two blue belts tested for their brown belt.

After this we had our sparring seminar, which consisted of everyone who wanted to spar fighting against one of the three people on the team which had come to visit. One of the differences in their style was a lot more punching.

The testing ended with one brown belt testing for his black belt. He was first tested on all the forms. Next, he had to kick with various kicks onto a kick shield which our teacher held from one end of the room to the other and back. Then he sparred with one of the visiting black belts. It was quite vicious, and he had cuts on his face after it. Then more sparring with various people from our school. Next, he broke 4 boards with (I think it was) a side kick. Then broke 2 boards with a flying side kick over a table. Then a test where about 5 pairs of people held boards at various angles, and he had to break them with any kick he liked, all in 15 seconds.

And that incident with the smiling judge? I think I realized what it was. On my sheet with my test comments, 'yellow with green stripe' was crossed out and replaced with '2nd green', which I guess is the term they use in my school for the same thing. So I had gotten flustered over nothing.

Test Heebee Jeebees

My knee has been sore and painful since the last class, and some muscle on the inside thigh or the underneath of my rear of the same leg has been feeling pulled for a week now. I am about 80:20 in favor of the hypothesis that its nervousness about the test.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Testing, Stripes, Belts etc.

I finished all my improvements last class, and got a green stripe taped to my yellow belt today. I'll test for a green belt on March 3rd. We'll be tested on only four kicks:

- sliding side kick
- sliding roundhouse
- hook kick
- spin hook kick

so hopefully I'll devote a good bit of practice to each. In sliding kicks, you slide ahead with your support foot while kicking to get a bit of extra distance. I'm best at sliding roundhouse and hook kick. My sliding side kick is passable, but my spinning hook kick is rather miserable at the moment.

I tried back kicks for the first time while sparring today, but I must have been slow, because I got bopped in the face for my efforts. I've tended to stick with roundhouse, side kick and hook kick during sparring so far.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Falling Asleep in Class?

How, you say, can one fall asleep in a fast paced class which seems to keep you interested so that you don't even feel the hour fly by?

For almost every class since the beginning of the semester, we have followed the following pattern. We start out with a quick warmup and stretching. Then its on to practicing combinations and kicks and being told how each might be useful while sparring. We then have about 15 minutes of free sparring where every person spars roughly half of the class, in parallel. This is achieved by lining up in two rows, and each person sparring the opposite person for a few minutes, before we're given the call to "switch!" and then moving down the line. Sometimes, in the middle of this, we'll be called to "form a ring!" and then two people are called to freespar in a match. After freesparring, we practice our forms. Time permitting, we end with situps or leg raises.

As I mentioned, things happen really quickly. Though we've followed this routine, there is enough variety that I've never been bored by it. A couple of classes ago, perhaps due to our dismal showing in forms, Dr. S. decided to do nothing but forms the whole class. So not a few were surprised when after warmup, we were suddenly all asked to launch into our highest form. I noticed some people completely blanked out, just because its not the usual order we do it in. And these people are usually good at their forms and I see them practicing after class and so on.

So that's how you can fall asleep in class.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Yesterday during class, I was channeling Anatoli Boukreev. Boukreev was an exceptional mountaineer who saved several lives in extreme conditions while climbing Everest in 1996 when bad whether and a series of unfortunate circumstances caused many deaths. Strangely, just about a year later, Boukreev himself was killed in an avalanche while climbing another mountain in Nepal, Annapurna. In his posthumously published diaries Above the Clouds, translated from Russian, you get a sense that he was a remarkable athlete and human being. He was physically and mentally superior and would climb tall peaks without supplemental oxygen. His preferred mode of ascent was a rapid climb, usually in under a day, which often amazed other seasoned climbers.

What I liked most was that he was not at all egoistical about his capabilities or triumphs. It's clear that it is his love for the mountains and the experience of the climb, the feeling of oneness with the mountain which drives him to climb these peaks one after another, not the quest to 'conquer' the mountain. He dislikes the increasing trend of 'clients' on guided expeditions who with little or not enough training for climbing peaks like Everest attempt to do so by literally paying their way there. Sherpas carry their heavy loads, oxygen, and clear the trails for them. They expect that by shelling out enough money, they can hire the expertise of the guide gained through years of experience to rescue them in difficult circumstances. Near the end of his life (he dies at about the age of 40), after the tragic events of 1996, he contemplates why people put themselves in great danger to try to summit Everest without the proper experience:

What is it that pushes a person to climb? Clients on our expeditions pay great sums of money to endure the hardships of camp life...Of course, inside each one of us is the ambition to reach the summit, to realize that you are stronger than obstacles, that it is within your power to do something uncommon and indeed impossible for most people. But one must be prepared to *face* these obstacles.
It would be far better if ambition compelled people to train, to commit to preparation that went from simple to complex, hardening the spirit. The individual should derive pleasure from the process of physical and mental development. The payment for ambition should be made in preparation, in training and improving oneself, not in the loss of a life.

His story really focussed me in class, and I found some hidden reserves of willpower to perform my best.

Monday, February 12, 2007


When I first started, I used to tape up my toes (with tape left over from the jammed toe incident) to avoid this, but the last few months I've decided not to be a wimp, and to toughen up my feet!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Last Night I Decided

to shake off my gloomy thoughts and go down to the local chain bookstore at 10 in the night. I'd gone wanting to find books like Mark and Delia Owens' Cry of the Kalahari, which I had found very engaging, but the store didn't have much of a 'nature/ nature ecology' section, which was what that book was classified under.

Randomly, I found myself in the martial arts section. I ended up going home with Joe Hyams' Zen in the Martial Arts and finished it by midnight. I liked the story of the karate instructor who speeds the healing of his badly fractured hand by visualizing little construction workers working on his hand as he went to bed every night. I liked the small reminders scattered throughout the book like

'The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.'-Bruce Lee.

which gave me the resolve (I hope) to practice without unnecessary straining. And I liked the reminder about the distinction between having patience -- having the capacity to endure setbacks calmly -- and giving yourself time -- working towards a goal without setting a limit on how long it will take. These are things that we all 'know' but its good to remind oneself and to think about them.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Maybe Not

Lest my last post give the idea that I can now do flawless wheel kicks, I'll disabuse you of any such notion. I can't. I think I've just begun to learn that I needed to let my torso 'lie down' during the last portion to the kick, making it easier for the leg to spin levelly.

I had such a frustrating time yesterday retesting on the wheel kick. So, for the last few days, I've been retesting on all the techniques which needed improvement from my last test, and yesterday I ventured to do wheel kick. Result: I've passed wheel kick on one leg. I still find it very hard to keep my leg level all the way. I hate the initial jerking motion you have to give yourself to start spinning. There must be some more efficient way to do it, it feels so forced. And I'm not able to do the initial lift of the leg for long enough. A very helpful brown belt was helping me retest. I chose him because he's very good, and gives good advice. Also, he doesn't just easily pass you on the retest. By the end of it, I was almost in tears from the strain in my side of doing it over and over again. I also feel I am still doing something wrong if it is such a strain. But what?

I'm rather depressed today also because during the last few classes my side stitch has been bothering me again. Its quite bad when I walk uphill. It started in November and has been there on and off. Kidney stones were ruled out, and I scare myself thinking that its something like a ruptured liver from sparring. It would be nice if I could get some kind of scan done to set my mind at ease. But that is easier said than done. In November, they told me to come back again if it bothered me, and I hate this back and forth we have to do. I told them it could have come from an injury during sparring, so why can't they just take some kind of scan? It would really set my mind at ease. My focus has been really bad as I worry about this during class a lot. Its entirely possible that I just strained my diaphragm (or my side or something), and the stress of not knowing what it is (not to mention the stress of job-hunting) is at the bottom of perpetuating it. I am going to go and cry.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Look Ma, I Can Wheel Kick

Today we were practicing a combination where you spin stomp kick and then do a wheel kick. And something just clicked and for the first time, so that I felt myself doing a wheel kick the right way! It was as if a channel had opened directly from my brain to my leg and information was flowing freely along it -- it really felt like that. I think what I finally got was how to separate the motion of my upper body and my leg so they are at 180 degrees during the 'wheel' portion of the kick. Actually, I couldn't make out what I was doing differently to achieve this, so it seems a bit magical at this point. I have to think of a better way to explain, perhaps in pictures. Anyway, finally some kind of missing piece was put in place. I hope I don't lose it!

What's fascinating to me is how there is a kind of subconscious learning going on all the time, perhaps from watching others, perhaps from doing it wrongly and it feeling wrong. Then at some point, there is a threshold where the subconscious learning becomes enough to translate into action.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Combinations to Practice

1. Reverse punch with right hand -- pivot body before starting punch, then hook with left -- keep elbow on level with hand.

2. Side kick -- remember to have knee pointing down, then cock leg back so knee is pointing down, and kick again.

3. (??not-sure-of-name??) front kick -- cock leg close to body and then a high front kick moving foot from up to down (the idea being to surprise your opponent by bringing the kick down from above).

4. Reverse punch with right, front kick with right, then step across side kick -- remember to have legs cross before kick.

5. Side kick (left leg) then back kick (right leg).


6. Quarter front kick with right (right foot lands ahead), jab with left, roundhouse with right leg.

7. Front kick (right leg from behind) then back kick (left leg).

8. Knife hand (scythe motion) with right hand from behind -- keeping feet almost fixed, twist until torso faces left while doing this, then backfist with right, then hook with left.

9. Front stomp kick -- cock left thigh up, move leg high and in an outward circle, jab with right hand, then roundhouse with left leg.

When sparring:
Remember to counterattack when opponent's attack fails, since they are vulnerable at this time, instead of both just waiting to try again, as if by agreement!

Turning Kicks

I don't know if its because of the long break or something else, but I am having a lot of trouble with my spinning type kicks like tornado kicks or wheel kicks. I seem to have developed a mental block as well. Every time I do it in class, I find myself thinking...I'm acrobatically challenged, you need to be young and flexible to do this...and feeling that I'll have to resign myself to doing them terribly. Rather frustrating, as I'm not sure how to improve.

Recovery from Sprained Knee and Jammed Toe

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, but always put it off because I wasn't actively thinking of my injuries anymore. This is mainly for all the people who wind up here searching for injured knee or toe. Older posts (1, 2, 3) mention how I got hurt and what I was doing about it. But this post is about the recovery.

I strained/sprained(?) my knee some weeks into starting Taekwondo. For about three weeks it felt 'out of joint' (whatever that means), it hurt and twinged while walking on it, and would get worse when I went to class. I combined trying to rest and journalling about my anxieties at that time regarding my knee and other things going on in life. The pain gradually started subsiding after three weeks and I missed only 1 or 2 classes because of it, because I used to force myself to go, really. Two things: at the time it was getting better, I jammed my toe and promptly the residual knee pain disappeared as I was totally focussed on and terribly worried about my toe. Second, looking back, the recovery was speeded up when I stopped obsessing about when I'd be able to participate properly in class. I'm also glad I tried to go to class and do what I could. This wasn't without anxiety: the worry of making it worse, the worry of telling my teacher that I couldn't participate fully. In hindsight, I think being active helped.

At this point I jammed my toe while one-step sparring one night. It subsided in two to three weeks. Close to two weeks after the incident, I had to travel to San Francisco, and spent an afternoon walking around Chinatown, without any ill effects. After this, recovery was almost immediate. Going to class was certainly worry inducing. I was most afraid of it being smooshed by someone again, or delaying the recovery. Again, though it didn't seem so easy then, in hindsight, it helped to keep going to class. As time progressed, I noticed that my toe felt less and less worse after a class. This definitely increased my confidence about it getting better.

Oh...and though I rested and iced and elevated initially, I didn't continue after a few days, and I did no other physical therapy than trying to keep going to class, and trying to keep up my daily routine.