Scene from my Sunday afternoon

This morning my Master sent me a video breaking down the 540 kick, which I had set a goal to learn this year. No prompting, no explanation, just a video as a little nod to my practice. It was a step-by-step tutorial that built the kick one piece at a time. It didn’t explain the full kick all at once or contain a lengthy description. It was simply one step at a time. I watched the video and mentally filed it away for the next time I was in the dojang.

Later in the day I cracked open my classical guitar case, which I haven’t done in about two weeks. After not touching the guitar for about seven years, I’ve begun very slowly getting reacquainted with my instrument and building up my strength and dexterity, not to mention re-learning how to read music. I felt clunkier than usual, like what little skill I’d built up recently had taken a slide back. Guess I’ll need to make time to practice more often.

Today I did something new and started reading and toying around with Francisco Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,”one of the most beautiful and recognizable classical guitar pieces ever written. I’ve always wanted to learn it, especially since it’s my dad’s favorite piece. Maybe one of these days I’ll surprise him with it. (Shh!)

It’s really a simple piece when you look at it in its entirety…and it’s also very difficult for a beginner (or a rebooted beginner like me). Its signature tremolo technique is a lot harder than it sounds for fingers that haven’t rebuilt that skill yet. I thought about trying to sightread as much as I could, but that was too overwhelming, so I broke it down, step by step. I plunked around on the accompanying melody, and then after I’d warmed up and practiced other things, I went back to the famous tremolo and just picked through the tune and pretended I was playing it, like a child banging on a piano, fully convinced they’re playing a coherent song.

And that was all I needed to do today. I looked at it, tried it, and recognized things I’d need to work on to build up to being able to really play the whole thing. I took it one tiny step at a time.

Just like the 540 kick.

A complicated taekwondo kick, form, or self-defense technique (or an intimidating sparring match) can be frustrating and overwhelming if you try to take it all in and do the whole thing at once. So is classical guitar music. I’m advanced in one thing (taekwondo) and remedial in the other (classical guitar), and yet both times today I realized that I could take the pressure off myself and try it one small piece at a time. I didn’t get my black belt in one day, and I didn’t learn how to play the guitar in one day either.

I don’t sound very good right now when I play the guitar, and I don’t look very good when I try out pieces of the 540 kick. So what? I have to start somewhere, and starting with crappy sound or clumsy jumps are better than not starting at all. If I let self-consciousness hold me back I’ll never get anything done or do anything fun.

Thinking big and setting lofty goals is A-OK. That’s awesome. Daresay I even advise it. And it’s perfectly fine to start small so you don’t get overwhelmed, frustrated, or worse, discouraged. Starting small on a big goal can help you appreciate the little details and pieces that make up the whole. Starting small can teach you how to face a big challenge with courage, trust, and confidence.


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Stay tuned for my upcoming book – “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!

2 thoughts on “Thinking Big? Start Small…

  1. 👍 I enjoy your writing style and can’t wait to read your book/buy your book….I want to buy a copy for Miss Gayla and I asap. ❤️

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