Last night I went to the dojang for an extra day of practice, and it felt like I was finally turning a corner on what has been a weird, mentally foggy month spent in a dark exile of depression compounded by snacks, Netflix, and wine. I don’t know what the hell was up with March, but by the end of it I felt like wrapping myself in a blanket, shuffling around my home with all the blinds closed, and saying annoyingly morose poetic things like, “Now is the winter of my discontent.”
At the end of March I took a much-needed vacation to the east coast to spend some quality time with my boyfriend and get away from the daily grind. It was just what I needed to regain my curiosity, hone my focus, and pull me out of my shell…well, as much as someone like me can be pulled out of one’s shell. I kept hearing George Harrison singing in my ear: “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting…here comes the sun!” And by that I mean the metaphorical lifting of my mood along with my optimism for the future, not just the big hot round yellow thing on the box of Raisin Bran. A good taekwondo practice was the icing the delicious sugary carby cake that I’ll soon be avoiding on the last leg to Black Belt.
Tuesday night is not a class night for me, but I asked to come in and use the space to work out since I am testing for bo dan at the end of the week and had missed three classes due to my vacation. I was a little worried about how I’d hold up in TKD after a week off, but it went surprisingly well.
It was white belt class night, so my instructor suggested that I stay in the back and help two other test preppers with their forms and then work on my own stuff. The best way to learn something is by experiencing it, and teaching and coaching others only adds to your understanding. As I said in a previous post, I’m not that great at sparring, but I caught on to refereeing a lot faster than I thought I would. Some of it involves common sense things like firmly telling a bossy seven-year-old that she was NOT allowed to do head contact even though she swore that last week the instructor said it was OK. Other times it requires a sharper eye to provide technique tips and guidance. So I took the opportunity to see what new things I could learn by helping others learn and practice.
The two other students testing were a young boy whose sixty-seven year old grandfather is a black belt in our advanced class. The other was a tall, lanky twenty-something orange belt who is being skipped to green belt. I had tested from white to green belt two months after I started back in taekwondo so I immediately felt a mix of empathy for the stress he was under and admiration for his advancement. I walked them through palgwes il-jang and yi-jang, first doing it with them by my count to make sure they knew the sequence. Then I watched them flow through it by their own count. I challenged myself to provide useful feedback to them the way my instructor does whenever he leads us through forms. What good is having them do it over and over if the details of the technique aren’t correct?
The boy made the typical mistakes young children do—rushing through it without breathing, loose fists, weak front stances. The adult orange belt looked pretty darn good—his breath was controlled and purposeful, he landed his stances before performing a strike or block, his eyes were focused, and his posture was strong. I reminded him to make his front stances lower and more solid since weak stances stand out more on tall guys (not to mention throw them off balance) and helped him correct a front snap kick that was just flopping forward rather than being snapped back and landed correctly. His mind was getting wrapped up in all the things you have to do at once, which is overwhelming to a beginner. If he was making any particular mistake it was what all adult students do (yours truly included)—worry too much!
Then I got a taste of my own medicine when Grandmaster meticulously walked me through palgwe pal-jang, picking apart each movement until I did it to his satisfaction. “You need to fix your side kick,” he said, glaring at me. His tone suggested that it was not just a friendly reminder. When I performed it the final time I tried to be mindful of everything I saw the other students do plus the things I needed to correct—breath control, strong striking while staying loose and relaxed, proper foot placement, and of course locking and then properly pulling back that damn side kick before landing. And to think side kick was my favorite kick when I was a child. UGH!
I ended my workout by practicing my breaking technique with Grandmaster and my instructor. I started with an elbow break, one of my favorite hand techniques, and then followed it with a jump front snap-kick which oddly enough is a lot better on the left side. My “finale” was a solid spin kick, my old nemesis. It felt cathartic to not only smack the crap out of a practice pad but to also prove to myself that I could do something that once seemed impossible. (But pride cometh before the fall. Funny story about spin kick to come later) Maybe this was all some kind of spring awakening after a mental hibernation. My favorite reader joaquindfw (yes, he’s my favorite and he knows why) shared a comforting thought from Nietzsche: “just as we pass through physical stages in life, we pass through various stages of consciousness. We are constantly growing.” Maybe March was a deliberate and needed period of suffering to work through some old habits, resistance, and mental blocks so I could progress along my journey. Either way, it’s nice to feel like my old (or new, really) self again and get back to life.