Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Close And Personal

Tang Soo Do has a fairly straight forward precept – move forward.  Or, at the very least, Teacher pushes this as a basic building block to our one and two-step sparring.  You’d think something that simple would be easy to absorb, but as with all simple ideas, instituting them becomes a challenge.  For many of us in the class a natural response is to back away in the face of advance to create space naturally and temporally. 

I’m far enough along that I can push beyond that natural response if I put my mind to it.  So during sparring practice I like to focus on my weaknesses (and there are so many) and in the case of last night we’d practiced getting close so sparring gave me the opportunity to try it out with Beard. 

We hadn’t actually sparred in ages.  Maybe 3 months or more to the best of our group recollection.  This was due to the fact the bulk of the class consists of new folks and when they get in the mix someone usually gets hurt. 

Teacher asked who of us that would like to go first and I threw my hand up with most of the experienced folks.  I got to start with Beard and fun began. 

By and large I would have to say that from the first person view that I got popped in the head more often than not, but it was because I was deep into his territory in hopes of bringing the elbows into play; which I did.  The conflict was close and if we did back out it was accompanied by kicks.  

I was pretty tired when we sat down and didn’t think much of how good or bad we were until the next three pairs went to work.  It was as if everyone of them was a new style.  A majority of them looked so good and clean that I immediately felt embarrassed for Beard and me. 

After class I complimented one of the Twins on how beautiful he looked against Tall J, our new Brown from another school.  I said that I was appalled that Beard and I didn’t look anything like that and he said that we looked awesome.  I wish we had film so I could see what happened.  Frustrating to do analysis off adjectives. 
The other side of being up close and personal is that you get the inevitable whiff of body oder or an improperly washed gi.  I was working with Big Ginger last night a few time and noticed to my disappointment that his clothes or hygiene wasn’t up to snuff.  Bummer.  Then while I was banging elbows with Beard I noticed that sour smell of a gi that might have missed a wash somewhere along the way.  At least we weren’t rolling around on the mats.  I’d hate to have a stinky gi rubbing my face into the mat. 

Friday, September 24, 2010


A few years after Teacher got his Blackbelt he said he the experience was very anti-climactic.  “Where was the super powers? The magic bag of tricks?”  I understand what he’s saying on a objective level, but on an emotional level I’d love to have the same thing.  You get a belt and, poof, you walk through walls. 

Last night was grueling for several different reasons but as we filed out Teacher pulled me aside and wanted me to do the unbendable arm.  Mentally I was trying to get ready for failure and think of fuzzy baby bunnies at the same time.  While futzing with that I realized that Dave was bearing down and I wasn’t using any muscle!  I freaking did it!!!  I hugged Teacher and felt a blast of yummy chemicals paint my brain.  After five years and finally I got that damn thing.  I only hope that I can do it again.

The reason class was so exhausting is that Teacher threw some Kounseling (K for Karate) at me the other day.  Basically, I need to stop giving people accommodations.  I need to give them situations where they can explore their limits and try to grow or push beyond.  By giving so many adjustments no one has to try harder than they are offered. 

With that in mind I had to keep biting my lip and stopping myself over and over during warm ups and basic exercises.  I hadn’t realized I was so focused on making sure everyone could enjoy that I was potentially robbing them of ability to test their own limits. 

So my normally semi-relaxed state during the warm-ups left me befuddling and I started second guessing everything I was doing.  Which leads me to the next frustration.  We’ve just had a bunch of folks start in the class with a wide variety of skill and knowledge.  The best being Tall J, a second degree brown, and the worst, Big Ginger,  a borderline obese teenager that may or may not be developmentally disabled. 

In the past couple of years we’ve had several kids like that show up and eventually disappear for whatever reason.  Since the Father has shown up a few times I don’t have a lot of faith that difficulty will drive Big Ginger and his brother away anytime soon.  Big G is one of those folks that says non sequitors and spouts random giggling.  Basically weird. 

Never the less I went home with a spring in my step and barely slept form the excitement of the night.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Semi-casual Aside

The room was sweltering, which I didn’t think would possible in September, but the crowd of 13 bodies drove the humidity through the roof.  None of this was helped by the new addition of finger pushups during the warm-up.  Teacher is one of those guys who can get to two fingers (thumb and pointer) during push-ups and is encouraging us to strengthen our hands the same way.  I was able to do five with all fingers which surprised the hell out of me.  Nothing I’ve ever tried before.  I felt bad for all the new kids in class.

For the first time in a long while, or as long as I can remember, we actually have more people new to class than old timers.  Beard and I are the most senior, followed by the Twins and Robot who just started within the year, and the rest are all sorts of new within the last two months. 

After warm-ups Teacher placed me with Tall J, who I presume is in high school and is very pleasant.  We did one-step sparring and he obviously knew what he was doing so I finally asked and found out that he was Brown in Shito-Ryu Karate.  Hah!  It’s awesome to have folks in the know.  Teacher was spoiling me instead of taking lumps with all the new folks. 

Dave came in a bit late and joined me and Tall J and we noticed something sweet in Tall Js punches.  Both Dave and I are taller than Tall J so his middle height punches come in at that range between a middle and lower block.  It slides in 9/10ths of the time.  Phenomenal!  The fact that he used a casual speed at the start of the punch completely threw us off every time. 

At the end of class Teacher pulled me aside.  I should have known this was coming, but he wanted to find out what I was doing for Thanksgiving.  Was he going to invite me for dinner or ask to get invited to my house?  No, he was telling to get ready for a test.  After he gets back from vacation it’s going to be go time. 

I asked him if I needed to study something in particular.  Other than doing everything with exceeding polish he said he was going to test my “control.”  He didn’t want to give me anymore than that.  I don’t even know why I asked.  Anxiety powers activate!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Karate Kounseling

After I earned my Brown Belt some time ago (7-08!) Teacher pulled aside from time to time to work on my progress towards my next rank or Blackbelt.  I say next rank because I was unclear which route he was going to go with my next ranking.  On all our other ranks we have to “stripes” between each main rank.  So altogether there would be 10 gups – the 10th being the blackbelt.  So based on that logic I’m technically I’m a 7th gup. 

Our school’s ranking system is based on subjective measure so there’s no hours to watch and no skills to acquire to determine what I need to be working on to gain my next rank.  However, Teacher makes it fairly clear that I need to work on two things before he’s ready to test again.  Situational awareness and assertiveness. 

One thing that agitates Teacher more than anything is someone walking around with their head down and absolutely unaware of the surroundings.  I don’t I fit in this category in the extreme sense, but he has caught me texting and walking or just numb and not paying attention – I guess I do fall into that category…

The assertiveness was related to my role in class.  Since the belt test he’s slowly allowed to take portions of the class and wants regular reports on interactions with older students as well as new.  It’s obviously easier to work with the newer because of the lack of history, but the older ones seem to be coming around.  I’m just working hard to concentrate on what I know and stop when I don’t. 

He asked how that was affecting my life outside of class.  I couldn’t put a finger on it, but I can’t help feel like I’m interacting with folks differently.  I have to admit I dealt with some depression this summer and although there was many factors that came into play I wonder if my old roles in relationships were changing and it was causing me some distress.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Burghers of Calais

When I used to live in Washington, D.C. a lifetime ago, I stood in an outdoor sculpture garden and stared at a work by Rodin, the Burghers of Calais.  The work represents the way people might approach death – fear, resolve, etc.  I realized on Friday night that I got a taste of that when I worked at Teacher’s women’s Self Defense course.

The class lasted three hours and moved from lecture to practice about every half hour.  I was fairly interested with how it was going to be laid out because of Bob Patterson’s comments at Striking Thoughts (him doing a self-defense based course). 

Since this was a single class no effort was taken to train from the base up.   We were literally teaching the most minimal moves to excise one from a situation and then get running.  Based on how hard some of these ladies were hitting and kicking they would definitely make an impact on anyone stupid enough to hassle them.

As the women and young ladies cycled through the various stations we had set up I got to see their faces in various states of concentration.  Plainly some of them were using memories to get charged up to strike the various pads.  That’s were I saw the Burghers of Calais.  To some of the members issues were being worked out in front of me.  I felt like a peeping tom.  Being the quiet guy in the back afforded me some anonymity and by that very association I got to take some hard shots. 

One of the easiest shots taught was the kick to the groin.  I held a very heavy pad between my legs and they got to go to town.  There was a few people actually lifted me off my feet.  I’m pretty sure I pulled a muscle in my leg. 

I was trying to emphasize that they needed to, at the very least, look at what they were striking at.  So during one set of combinations (groin strike, elbow strike) a young lady missed the pad I was holding low and smashed a poorly formed ridge hand into my genitals.  Luckily I was wearing a cup, but that didn’t stop the standard man-cringe and wince of pain on my face.  Thankfully she didn’t follow that up with a elbow in the face. 

Every time she cycled through the line on a new technique her face would flame scarlet before she would start. 

A very interesting evening.  Afterwards I wondered out loud to Teacher about using the class as an advertisement for our classes.  He admitted that he wanted to do that a bit and actually had a few people ask him about it.  I was thinking more of a flashy demo where he threw me around or had Little Sister take me down.  He didn’t think it was appropriate and I guess I should be appreciative because I was able to wake up with only the most minimal muscle pains.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bodies Flying

The thing about Beard is that he contains this huge amount of knowledge encapsulated in a person with little or no patience to explain extremely complex concepts to people with only the slightest idea about he’s talking about. 

We had another huge class and because Teacher Slim was there we broke out the mats for almost the whole two hours.  Slim teaches in the most non-linear fashion so you do a couple of techniques and ask him what he thinks and he’ll teach a dizzying array of alternatives while leaving you gasping in shock and awe. 

To wit –our base technique was to block a punch at the elbow and bring our up our other arm (into what could be shoulder/neck choke), but moving to take down.  You can either use you thumb in the neck (preferred) or press the shoulder (tough).  So I’m practicing with two of the new folks and Slim comes up and shows two variations – one with a throw that blew Dave and Swimmer’s minds.  Clearly beyond what they knew they’d be in for.  Slim, thankfully, didn’t demo on them. 

Beard came in at half time and participated in the various groups on the mat.  Eventually working with me and my two folks.  Whereas I’d like to think I’m gentle and repetitive he makes this pin-point focus on a very esoteric issue.  In truth it’s really important and I’ve love knowing it, but he’ll get caught in that stuff and the new folks stand around with a dumb look on their face. 

He ended up getting a bit distracted by Teacher so I was able to work on basic falls with my guys.   I don’t know how anybody teaches this stuff.  I mean I know all the hints and basic exercises to get them ready for the falls, but as soon as we do one they revert to reaching for the ground or landing on an elbow.  Clearly something that takes a lot of time to get used to.  In this case it was killing me because I’d have to stop them from landing poorly putting a huge strain on my already sad back.  No head injuries so I was feeling pretty good about it. 

Beard’s final touch of frustration and genius was the knee and balance.  After we take someone down we are supposed to kneel on their liver (assuming you throw them on that side).  Depending on where you land the person you throw can shimmy out pretty easily if you’re not careful.  Beard’s expertise in Judo allowed him to show us an escape – don’t try to move the guy with your hip upward, try to move the hip on the floor under.  I liken it to holding a cat (when they don’t want to) and then can rotate in their own skin.  It’s a beautiful move, but my back was clearly screeching from the work of it. 

At the end of the night by back was sore, I had a charlie-horse on my right leg, my right knee was slight swollen (wtf?  Where did that come from?) and gi burns on my neck from the collar and the throws. 

Tonight will be an added bonus in helping Teacher with women’s self-defense class.  Three hours of getting punched in the balls.  Wonderful.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


We’ve been getting an influx of new folks for the past couple of weeks so the class hit maximum capacity at 12 last night.  This means we actually have 3 lines for bow in and it also means a larger pool for rotations.  Unfortunately, it means that during the rotations I’ll be placed with new folks.  That means I’ll be doing simple stuff with a huge amount of repetition.  It could be argued that this is fantastic for me in that it helps me to focus on cleaning up bad habits, furthering my teaching skills, and generally lowering my stance (so many short folks).  The only thing I miss out on is the higher speed and advanced creativity that comes with working with a more advanced student.  When I finally do get partnered with one of them I find my creativity at a low and just stick with the straight stuff.

Somewhere in the second hour someone noticed that the heat in the room had hit an unacceptable level.  This is such a profound difference compared to our regular bland cool temperature that no one noticed it until we started grabbing each other during one of the exercises.  Sweat slicked arms, hands and wrists make terrible surfaces in which to grab someone.  This is amplified because several of our young guys have decided to cut the sleeves off their gi tops ala’ Cobra Kai from Karate Kid.  The worst part is that a lot of grabs that I favor utilize the sleeve of the gi.  Ah well, adaption. 

Sensei pulled Little Sister out of class second half of the first hour and had me run through the kicks.  I was inordinately pleased that he had me run the class without prep, but it wasn’t any real big deal.  Everyone was patient and threw in a couple of suggestions that helped me and the new students through some of the more esoteric portions of the foot placement in the side kick. 

I woke up fairly sore because of those low stances and all the kicks, but not so much that I had to run to the Ibuprofen.  Weee!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Almighty Knee To The Balls

I think most guys have felt it at least once in their lives and most women can sympathize, but an almighty shot to the pills is universally cringe-worthy no matter who you are. 

I rarely wear a cup during class because of the profound discomfort, but if I know we are going to be sparring I’ll force myself to “gird up my loins” in preparation.  Ironically, the incident of groin shots is absolutely minimal during sparring.  I presume this is because everyone is working very hard on controlling themselves. 

Last night was filled with a lot of frustration and silliness.  Teacher separated the class and gave half to me to work on an “out of time” move.  In standard hard style feet movement is characterized by making half circles while moving forward.  This allows the feet to remain in constant contact with the ground and allows for a nice trip setup if that’s your thing. 

I ended up teaching my group absolutely backward even though they understood everything correctly.  The Uke is supposed to attack when the student is at the point when both feet are together.  This teaches the student to maintain balance all the way through movement and deal with the fact that reality rarely waits for a user to step then punch.

While we are undoing my mistaken approach to teaching this concept Tall New Guy (Dave) comes in and joins right away.  He’s not warmed up and he knows it so we start easy, but to my chagrin one of his first shots while his feet are together is a knee to my groin. 

After a nice little explosion of pain to my nethers I let someone else take that role while I spent a lot of energy not grabbing my crotch and rolling around on the floor. 

We took our mid-class break and resumed this exercise and I partnered with Dave again.  At the last few minutes of class he mis-judged his distance and punched me right in the throat.  Groan.  I mean urp!

I slept very well. 

Your Clothes, Book Cast With 100%

  At 6:05am I looked at my phone quizzically while trying to wake up.  My SaBomNim (master teacher), who is legally blind, sent me the messa...