I haven’t written a plain old “class diary” in a few weeks, and I can’t think of a better night than tonight’s debut of the adults only class. This may not sound like a big deal to those who belong to a mega-dojang, but we are a very small school. A new student (especially and adult) is an addition to be celebrated, and we ache from absences and drop-outs.
NOTE: This is intentionally a longer post than usual. I’m including details from tonight’s class in case any of my fabulous readers are martial artists and wish to use these techniques in their home dojang.
The nice thing about belonging to a small school is that there is a deep sense of camaraderie and in turn a deep sense of obligation and accountability. Barring a vacation, family visit, or illness I rarely miss class. During a recent stressful period I did stay home more often (a dark mood is a tempting bedfellow), but after the fact I realized that I needed taekwondo and my little dojang community more than I knew. I don’t just do it for myself. It’s gotten to the point that I show up for my instructors and classmates. It’s like my job, which I happen to enjoy very much. I don’t just show up for a paycheck; I show up for my boss and my team. My work and taekwondo comrades are counting on me just as much as I rely on them.
As I’ve stated in a previous post, taekwondo more than other martial arts tends to attract the kiddie set. A new adult student is like that extra Christmas present that’s tucked behind the tree, the forgotten one you don’t notice until after the wrapping paper is crumpled haphazardly into a paper bag and most of the cinnamon rolls have been eaten. Suddenly your afternoon is brighter. You can guess my excitement when my instructor announced his intent to hold an adults only class last Friday.
It didn’t quite go as planned. In fact…nobody showed up. I was there in spirit but had a very good reason to be absent. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. We tried again tonight, and it was a resounding success. There were seven students (remember, we’re a really small school) ranging from orange belt to black belt and ages from teens to late sixties. As usual I was the token girl. Unlike the nights where I have advanced red and black belt class after sparring I wasn’t bone tired and brain fried by the second class. We were all enthusiastic and cheerful, and I was actually disappointed that the hour flew by. I could have kept going. My instructor was just happy that for once he heard more ki-yaping than chit-chatting.
First we warmed up with some light cardio and then moved into some jumps, which were meant to simulate jump front-snap kick and jump roundhouse kick. The sticking point is to hike both your knees up high so your feet are in a neat point and you gain some serious air. With roundhouse you want to make sure you turn your hip over, which is both a little scary and a little fun mid-air. If you try it at home be sure to land lightly with your knees bent, hitting first with the ball of the foot and then curling down to the heel.
We then did some work on the ballet barre. Yes, we have a ballet barre in our dojang, and it’s a fantastic training tool. With partners we stretched our legs straight into the air, mindful to keep our shoulders and hips square to the wall as we grasped the barre behind us. Then we moved onto a an exercise that hits a few techniques: facing the barre at a 45 degree angle, flex the foot that is closest to the wall. Fling your leg straight up behind you, heel out and torso dipping toward the ground. It’s a great stretch that warms up the hips and legs and gets your body used to being tipped over for side and turning back side kicks. Be sure to keep your foot flexed and slightly turned inward with toes curled to practice for the side kick foot position. My instructor bemoaned the fact that his phone’s camera wasn’t strong enough to snap a photo of all of us mid-kick.
Finally we did my favorite barre exercise, one that my instructor created several months ago to help me with my spin kick. Standing parallel to the barre, grasp the barre with the arm that is furthest away, i.e., cross your body. Then spin out towards the shoulder closest to the wall and either swing a straight leg through the air or pop it up into a spinning hook kick. Return to the ready position with a roundhouse kick.
This improved my spin kick so dramatically that I am confident enough to use it for breaking technique at my upcoming bo dan test.
Then we moved on to hand-to-hand drills. We began with what I can’t describe any other way than “the blocking game.” My instructor took pity on my fellow classmates and threw himself to the lions as a sacrifice, i.e., I have dense bony little forearms that hurt like the dickens when they’re slammed against somebody else’s arm so he took one for the team and let me bang up his forearms. It’s great practice for sparring, when you don’t have time to do full blocks. Facing your partner in front stance, both right legs back, raise your left arm as if you’re going to do a low block, fist held tight. Smack your low blocks together, then cross your arm the other way and do low blocks again. Still using the left arm (both partners), flick your forearm into an inside-outside block and finally pop it up into a high block, smacking your arms together with each block. Low block, low block, outside-inside, high block. Then one partner will step back with the left foot and the opposing partner will step forward with their right foot. Same thing on the right side, and keep moving forward (or back if you are in the Ginger Rogers role). My instructor and I have done this several times before, so we got into a good groove fairly quickly. Pretty soon we were sliding back and forth furiously, breathing rapidly and lulled into the rhythm of our slapping arms. We glanced up to realize that we’d left the other students in the dust. My instructor wandered off to help my classmates and I admired the red welts forming on my arms.
Then we practiced blocking punches from the ready position, which is a little more realistic than someone throwing a punch from a static front stance. We played around with blocking and grasping the wrist, twisting our opponent towards the ground. It was a good lesson in gauging distance. I tend to grab too far up on the arm if I’m not paying attention or get sloppy. We continued the lesson in precision and distance as we practiced a few one-steps. It wasn’t so much about doing it “right” as it was about doing it “smart.” We explored issues that can’t be delved into as much when the kids are around—correct distance, positioning yourself based on your size, making sure you’re grounded enough that you won’t inadvertently lose your balance as you throw an opponent to the ground.
We finished with some target practice on the bags, again practicing distance and precision. Slamming your foot into a dense bag is much different than slicing it into the air. We took turns improvising different techniques–a roundhouse here, a ridge hand there, a sliding side kick followed by a spin kick. Once in a while we’d giggle with the self-consciousness only seems to affect the adults rather than the kids in taekwondo class, but we were having fun and experimenting. The most impressive move of the night was by a giant of an orange belt, a lanky fellow well over six feet who makes the little kids’ jaws drop when he wanders in with his motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm. He lurched toward the bag and whirled into a heavy-footed 360 roundhouse, bashing the bag with a sickening thud. It wasn’t the most precise or graceful 360 I’ve seen but I certainly didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it.
There are many fun, exciting, rewarding ways to spend a Friday night. Tonight was pretty high up on my list. I can’t wait to go back next week. The best part actually happened as I was driving home (listening to Snoop Dogg, naturally). Something inside me shifted and I realized that I don’t even care if I get a black belt. That’s not what’s driving me anymore. I just want to keep doing this. I want to keep learning and improving my skills and sharing it with the people around me. I’m home.