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!