The Poomsae Series Part 12: Taebaek, Or, Old is New Again

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I’m officially a second degree black belt now, and that means with a new rank I have a new form and a new addition to the Poomsae Series! Yay! Enjoy!*

“It’s like a recap,” my chief instructor said one day when we were discussing the second dan black belt form Taebaek. “Now you’re second degree,” he continued hypothetically, “So let’s make sure you remember all your old color belt forms.”

“More like a clip show like on TV,” I countered. “They’re too lazy to make new material, so they just put a bunch of random old stuff together.”

I was marveling at the fact that Taebaek, the form we at my dojang learn as a second degree black belt, seemed so much easier to learn and seemingly less complicated than the two first dan forms, Koryo and Keumgang (Some teach Keumgang at second degree, Taebaek at third, etc. We do things a little differently). I’d heard my instructor for a long time claim that Taebaek was a mash up of old Palgwe forms, but it never really resonated until I learned the form myself.

I actually learned this form last summer as a first degree black belt, and it all started as a joke wrapped in a dare. During class one night a second degree black belt, who always seemed to forget that he had to use the bathroom until about 10 seconds before break time was over, was absent from his spot in line.

“Go ahead, Melanie, fill in,” my instructor said, gesturing for me to take my place at the front of the class. “Now you’re second degree!”

“Cool! Does this mean I can learn Taebaek?” I giggled. To my surprise (and utter delight) he took me up on it about two weeks later and taught me and a fellow first dan the form. This was the first form I had ever been able to remember in its entirety the first day of learning it.

If this form is a clip show, it’s also a video game filled with fun “Easter eggs,” at least for certain taekwondo practitioners who still do the old school beautiful and complex Palgwe forms. It truly is a mishmash of a sweet new moves like breaking an arm, which is awesome, and many signature pieces of color belt Palgwe forms, which I know quite well. (I suppose it’s new to Taeguk practitioners. If you’re curious, look up videos of Palgwes Yuk Jang, Sah Jang, Pal Jang, and Oh Jang, and see if you can spot the shout outs.) Like Koryo, it follows the very familiar Palgwe sideways H pattern. Unlike Keumgang, it’s not a directional mindf*ck.

Taebaek starts out with a new move, a crossed knife hand block (I found it a bit drill team-y but went with it) followed by a familiar front snap kick and double punch. Okay, this is interesting. Then as you turn to the front–BAM!–the double knife hand high block/strike from Palgwe Yuk Jang. What!? YAASSSS, the form with flair! Okay, um, that was a pleasant surprise! Let’s keep going. There are a few more new pieces (and in slow motion too!) and then BAM!–the signature “crescent moon” double block of Palwge Sah Jang. Oooh, this is fun to revisit, and it comes with arm break, and a punch! Get it girl, let’s kick some ass in style!

Turning in a 90 degree angle and moving to the back is reminiscent of the block/spear hand combo in both Sah Jang and Pal Jang, and then oh snap, it’s that f*cking scissor block from Oh Jang! Aw, HELL no! I thought we were done with that awkward, needlessly complex blue belt form, but noooo, it just has to get in one more jab. Y’all, I can hardly contain myself. Maybe a nicer way to refer to this form than clip show is homage.

Although Taebaek pulls heavily from lower level forms, it has a freshness and sense of humor to it. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to turn away from your roots when you want to keep growing. What got you to first degree won’t necessarily get you to second or third degree, but you can still draw on your experiences. It’s an opportunity to add black belt understanding to color belt principles. You don’t have to do away with who you are. Continue to draw on your good qualities, and just, well, turn it up a notch.

[*I actually composed this article last summer, but I didn’t want to jinx myself and post it before I got second degree…and then I learned that it’s usually a third dan form at other schools, and I’ve learned that one too already, so the hell with it, I’m writing an article on the third/fourth dan form Pyongwon. Stay tuned…]

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The Case For Getting Your Ass Kicked

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“I think I went a little too hard,” a young red belt whispered grimly to me after a sparring match at a recent tournament. He and a young red belt girl also from our school were doing an exhibition match. Typically students from the same school don’t compete against each other, but because at the time the coordinators couldn’t find competitors in their age, rank, and weight class, these two agreed to have a friendly fight (or…well…we coaches and their parents agreed for them).

This little guy is a natural. He’s fierce, scrappy, and I’m so jealous of his jump spin kick. He was trying to hold back and be more controlled since he knew his opponent (and his classmate) was smaller and less quick in the sparring ring, but sometimes he couldn’t help going full force.

“That’s okay,” I whispered back to the red belt boy. “She needs a good challenge. We all do sometimes.” The red belt girl lost the match but held up just fine and had a priceless little sly smile on her face when she later showed me the gold medal she won in board breaking. We have some great kids.

There are a few people in my dojang whom I can count on to beat the daylights out of me on a regular basis. They’re faster, stronger, usually bigger, smarter, and almost always younger (although I’ve also had the shit kicked out of me by people twice my age). Some are higher ranking than me, and some are lower ranking. They force me to become better.

I always have a little twinge of dread when I’m paired with them, but even more so I enjoy it because of the challenge it presents. My mind jumps into high gear like an excited dog who’s ready to go on a walk: “All right! It’s time to play! How can I outsmart them or at least get out of their way? What new tricks can I try? What habits do I notice so I can predict what they’ll do next?..My brain feels wobbly and I have a headache–did I just get a mini concussion when I was thrown to the ground?”

Challenges can be thrilling, frustrating, fun, scary, or some combination of all those feelings and more. Without challenge, whether it’s generated internally or externally, we remain static. We never change. We never grow. We never live up to our potential. Sometimes challenges show us a fork in the road and give us the opportunity to make a choice. Maybe it’s time to give up a particular battle and choose a different direction. Other times we choose to charge straight ahead into the fire.

So if you find yourself in a situation where you’re getting your figurative or literal ass kicked (one that is not abusive or dangerous, mind you–if that’s the case, GET OUT), ask yourself:
What am I learning from this?
What can I do differently next time?
What were the things that DID work for me?
When can I try out what I’ve learned?
What do I do once I’ve overcome this particular challenge?

It’s not always a bad thing to lose or to fail. It’s not always a bad thing to bite off more than you can chew. Failure can teach us things that triumph cannot. The key is what you do with that ass-kicking. Do you let it keep you down or do you get up again?

And in other news: This is my 200th post! YEEEAAAHH!