My Inner Child Has Been Replaced By an Inner Rapper

henry hill I don’t claim to be a rap aficionado; I only know the mainstream artists and have a few comforting favorites. Before college I was solidly a classic rock fan. We all listened to the “Dazed and Confused” soundtrack on school trips. I have fond memories of Foghat’s “Slow Ride” blasting through my Walkman headphones as we glided along the vast, cotton field-flanked West Texas highways. I have no idea what music was popular in the 90’s because I listened to the music from my parents’ school days. The Beatles had formed my foundation in junior high, accompanied by Led Zeppelin in high school, and later The Who in graduate school.

Over the past year or two I’ve settled into a comfort zone of late 90’s rap, which reminds me of my (somewhat) carefree college days. Each time I get in the car and turn on my stereo or put in my headphones at the gym I gleefully anticipate the sarcasm of Jay-Z, the grumpiness of Dr. Dre, the smart-alecky wit of Tupac, the menacing broodiness of Biggie Smalls, and the psychotic self-deprecating ramblings of Eminem. It started out with a few guilty pleasure songs (come on, Lil Jon is FUNNY, and “F**kin’ Problems” by A$AP Rocky is genius) and then it soon demanded an extensive folder in my iTunes. I’m not sure what flipped the switch–the unintended (or intended) comedy, the aggressive beats that drove my workouts, the poetic gems hidden amongst the drugs and violence, or maybe it was something else.

To say I “identify” with these artists implies that I have an intimate understanding of the desperate struggles of poverty, oppression, violence, and bigotry described by some of these ladies and gentleman. I don’t and to do so would be naive, disingenuous and disrespectful of their real experiences.

So what’s the appeal? Perhaps that “something” was the awakening of my alter ego, the confident badass with the power to shape my future into anything I want. Rap music is the perfect way to indulge that growing flame. The brazen swagger, the almost foolish bravado they demonstrate in the face of adversity is admirable albeit laden with cautionary tales.

Rappers are unknowing proponents of the Law of Attraction. Don’t you think the descriptions of bling and other accoutrements are just a little bit exaggerated? Don’t you think John Gotti just chuckled when rappers playing pretend acted like they knew him? But they sure seemed to have fun pretending they were honorary mob bosses with Crystal flowing every night and diamond-encrusted necklaces shining by day. Why the hell not? Remember the old ditty “We’re In the Money” from cartoons? It was popularized by a Warner Brothers film called “The Gold Diggers of 1933.” If I know my history sh!t had gone down in a very bad way a few years before and would stay solidly there for a decade. I bet there were a few people in the bread line who felt a little better when they hummed that tune despite the misery all around them. Dress for the job you want, adopt the “feeling” of your desires (even if they haven’t manifested yet), muster up the courage to try something new, and you just might up end up getting what you want. That’s actually not a bad approach to life if you take out the…you know…not-so-legal stuff (although some of that sounds fun, doesn’t it? Come on you know it does).

I may have gained some disapproval by what might appear to be glorification of music that promotes violence, misogyny, and sometimes homophobia. I don’t condone any of those things…except for violence towards people who deserve it. I’m not just doing taekwondo for my health after all. This isn’t the first time I’ve rhapsodized about something unsavory–see my blog post on smoking. I’m an adult who can think for herself and treat my pleasure of rap music as indulging in a fantasy like watching a movie or reading a book. Don’t we all root for Hannibal Lecter? Rap music helps me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to, that I’m not the mousy little doormat that took so much abuse for so many years, that I can zero in on what I want and take it (without harming anyone else. I’m a nice gangster).

My fantasy of being a confident, optimistic badass is closer to becoming a reality. Sometimes my taekwondo Grandmaster will have the little kids jump up and shout “I’m the best in the world!” when their energy is waning. I feel the same way when Jay-Z tells me to brush the dirt off my shoulder. Watch out, world. A new gangster is in town.

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Power Trip

HeMan

Powerful AND fabulous!

“Stand in your power!” my favorite yoga teacher likes to shout at us during warrior II. I always like to sneak a glance around the darkened room and see people narrow their eyes, purse their lips, and crouch deeper with determination into the pose. He often accompanies that command with the thought that how we approach the mat is how we approach life. We pour our confidence, self-worth, and self-love (or lack thereof) into not only our yoga practice but into our vocations, our interests,our relationships, and how we present ourselves to the world.

The theme resurfaced in a recent taekwondo class.

“I didn’t see any power in your block,” my taekwondo instructor said to me during forms practice last week. He pawed at the air limply before demonstrating a crisp inside-outside block that made the fabric on his sleeve pop. He took the opportunity to turn it into a lesson for the entire class.

“Forms are the perfect time to practice everything–kicks, blocks, strikes,” he said adamantly. “You have time to think, unlike sparring, and no one’s in front of you like sparring or one-steps. You’re not going to hurt anybody. We’re supposed to practice what we preach so do each movement as if you were using them in a real-life attack.” A-ha. Not only are we telling the story of the form—we’re living it.

Between the urgings of my two instructors I wondered if I really “stood in my power.” My approach to life hasn’t always been positive, eager, and strong. It has been fraught with self-doubt, apologies, pleading, and paranoid questions. My confidence has been shaky for much of my life, and my emotional and mental stability has threatened to crumble underneath me. It’s hard to stand in your power when you hate yourself and don’t believe you’re “worth it.” After years of strenuous self-development and come-to-Jesus meetings with my mind I can safely say that I’m in a much more powerful and happy place. I hold myself on equal footing with my coworkers, who are all men nearly twice my age. I have matured exponentially in how I manage my relationships. I eagerly look forward to sparring rather than dread it. I still have my moments of fear and doubt, but I now have the ability to fight through them and regain my power.

Stand in your power, my hippies and fighters. You’re worth it.

Storyteller – The Poomsae Series Part 8

storybook

The Poomsae Series is intended to glean lessons from the meaning of each form (“poomsae” in Korean). My school studies the palgwe forms so that’s what I will use for each post. Descriptions are taken from the book “Complete Taekwondo Poomsae” by Dr. Kyu Hyung Lee and Dr. Sang H. Kim.

Everybody has a cross to bear, a story to tell, a lifetime of experience behind a single glance. Sometimes we need to hear the full story to appreciate someone or something. It offers perspective, clarity, and depth that is otherwise not visible.

Palgwe Pal-jang is…awkward…not busy and weird like Oh-jang, but it lacks the lyrical beauty of Yuk-jang and the dramatic fierceness of Chil-jang. When I first started learning this form I was very frustrated. I felt disjointed, clunky, unsure of what I was supposed to do next. Granted, it’s the final form in the color belt ranks so if it were easy then I would question the quality of my training. Thankfully I have top-notch instruction with exceptional attention to detail…so there’s no way I’m getting out of doing the damn thing.

This form didn’t make sense until I learned the story behind it. Every movement of every form is intended for self-defense training, therefore each form has a “story.” It’s not just a series of randomly choreographed moves, and if that’s all you get from it then you’re not delving deeply enough into it. Someone’s messing with you and you need to…you know…make sure they stop doing that. Sure, there are some flowery moves that provide a little flash, but for the most part they provide the opportunity to perform a variety of techniques in a single flow. You’re kicking ass and looking good while you’re doing it. From an artistic standpoint it provides form AND function.

Last week Grandmaster corralled the red and black belts to the back of the room, and we walked through the form piece by piece. Rather than just demonstrating the moves he explained the reasons behind them.

“Someone kicks at your left side, you turn to low block, and then punch them,” he said, turning his head to look at us to make sure we were following along. The explanation method isn’t new–we often do that when we’re learning new forms or fine-tuning old ones. What made this training special is that he took the time to explain the reason behind every single technique. It’s like getting a tour of an art exhibit with the curator or the artist herself. The story behind the work provides a much richer context than if you’re just muddling through on your own.

“Someone grabs your wrist,” Grandmaster continued, grasping my small bony arm and pulling it out to the side, “and you pull away.” He gently nudged me so I would yank my arm back and prep for a nasty elbow jab to the ribs. It clicked. As we practiced the form in unison I could suddenly see us telling the story with our bodies, our breath, and our intentions. What seemed disconnected and clunky became crafty and calculating. What felt awkward became strong, beautiful, and invigorating.

Everyone has a story–the boring guy you turned down for a date, the old lady who cut you off in traffic, the distracted cashier at the grocery store, the rude waiter at a restaurant you had been so eager to try, the beautiful woman who invokes your envy because you assume she has everything in the world handed to her. Our stories can be inspiring, heartbreaking, depressing, joyous, disgusting, funny, messy, cautionary. We don’t have to learn the details of everyone’s story to appreciate them. All we need to do is recognize that there is an ocean of depth behind every person who glides in and out of our existence.

And now I need to go practice that form again…and again…and again…

Perfection is Perfected So I’mma Let ‘Em Understand…

perfectionist-grass_BartCo_226x150

“Calm. Down,” whispered my instructor for the third time as we practiced the finer intricacies of hand-to-hand combat, i.e., twisting the crap out of each others’ wrists. Even though I was physically exhausted and wrung out like a dish rag from sparring class I was buzzing with manic energy during the red and black belt class. It came to a head when, jittery and frustrated, I flailed my hands and giggled apologies in a shrill self-deprecating tone after another failed attempt to reduce my “attacker” to a writhing heap on the floor.

Then it hit me–I’m still a perfectionist. I thought I had squeezed it out of other areas of my life–being so chill at work that others came to me when needing to be talked off the stress ledge, FINALLY making peace with my body (well, for the most part), getting past a time in my life where I let another person’s judgments control how I felt about myself, basing my value on whether I was in a relationship and the status of that relationship…and yet there I was, apologetic and fretful because I couldn’t get the mechanics of a self-defense technique exactly right. I was worried that I was frustrating my instructor, and more importantly I was frustrated with myself, the educated, fit, alpha career woman who wasn’t “perfect.” The desire for perfection wasn’t even a conscious effort–it’s been so deeply ingrained that it’s going to take more than one attempt to extract it and reconcile it.

During the drive home it took a few minutes and a few rap songs to get my mood back up from the uneasiness I was feeling. I mused silently that not every taekwondo class is going to be a breeze–if it is then that’s trouble. Sometimes we get too caught up in the performance of taekwondo (or whatever your combat sport or martial art of choice is) and don’t remember the purpose of it. Twisting the sh!t out of someone’s wrist and throwing them on their face IS what I signed up for. “THIS is taekwondo, not pretty kicks,” I muttered as I drove home. If you can’t really defend yourself then you’re just dancing. Funnily enough today someone I just met thought I was a ballerina.

I’m going back to class tomorrow and will try not to let the specter of perfectionism worm its way into my practice.

Is This the End or Just Beginning?

funny-new-years-resolutions-card

“Any New Year’s resolutions?” my instructor asked, raising his eyebrows expectantly at the end of class.
“To not write 2014 on my papers,” remarked one of the teenage black belts with a  smirk. Even though his smart-assotry gets old pretty quickly I giggled at that one. My instructor rolled his eyes and bounced his question back to the rest of the class.

“To get my black belt,” said a classmate proudly. Damnit, he took my idea! My mind had wandered off to my usual internal hippie daydreams like meditating more, being more mindful and present (ironically I wasn’t), start swimming in the early mornings again like I used to, juicing when I what I really want to do is get curly fries at Arby’s. I had forgotten what was so obvious and looming for a few of us:
Black belt. This is it. This is the year.
Holy crap.

Now for those of you following along, you know as well as I do that first dan is just the beginning, not the end-all-be-all pinnacle of training. That’s where so many people, including many taekwondo students, get it wrong. Color belts are basic training; you don’t stop learning (or training although many do) when you achieve a black belt. In fact, that’s when you’re learning really kicks into gear along with leadership expectations and giving back to your little taekwondo community. There are several levels beyond first dan, and they take decades to attain. Even then the journey is never complete.

“2015 is going to be a good year,” our grandmaster chimed in as he padded quietly to the front of the room. “It’s important to set goals,” he said, glaring at each of us in the eye. This is a man who has run a successful business for over 40 years, written a book, and achieved many prestigious awards for his contribution to taekwondo and the community. This is a man who is living proof of the power of goal-setting and focus. We all shifted nervously and made silent promises to ourselves to step up our games.

I usually don’t make new year’s resolutions, and I sometimes even take a break from goal-setting…for a little while. I do frequently put my desires out to the Universe, toy with my expectations to see if they line up with what I truly want, and work my butt off if so required, I mean inspired. Things tend to work out if I don’t stress about them too much.

So here are my new year’s resolutions for taekwondo:

-To stop hopping during 360 roundhouse
-To cleanly and precisely execute a turning back side kick (not lifting my leg like a dog who’s about to…well, never mind)
-To be able to run through all color belt forms by memory
-To be able to accurately teach and correct other students (emphasis on accurately because I have sometimes taught them my bad habits!)
-To improve my left side spin kick to match my right side, which has vastly improved over the past year
-To really execute a flying side kick the way God and nature and all the taekwondo masters intended
-To finally nail a flying turning back side kick instead of getting confused and just doing a half-assed ballet tour jete
-To pull my partners in closer during takedowns (I tend to twist their arm out at an awkward angle)
-To memorize all the hand-to-hand techniques on both sides
-To accurately execute my one-steps….and bonus if I can memorize all the past one-steps
-To improve my speed, stamina, and strategy during sparring
-To break a board with a ridge-hand strike and with my nemesis the spin kick
-To get yoga teacher training during the summer during all this*

-And oh yeah, to get my black belt

*Summer yoga teacher training seemed like a sure thing for a long time. I have the school picked out, the money saved, and time blocked off on my calendar. With the black belt test and necessary training suddenly becoming a reality it forces me to reexamine how and where I will be directing my energy this year. It may be the right time to add this goal, or it may not be.