A Black Belt Takes a LesMills Body Combat Class


Good lock of the kick, but y’all need to turn your hips and point your toes down…then again, what do I know. I’m just a black belt.

Two years ago I wrote a review of the ballet barre class my gym introduced in early 2016. I’ve since gotten the hang of it, have become pretty proficient in the moves, and have seen some improvement in my core and leg strength. I usually did a little barre and swimming on the side while I took 5-6 taekwondo classes per week.

Now that my taekwondo training has dwindled to next to nothing, I need something else to keep me in fighting shape. About 2-3 months ago I started taking Body Combat at my gym. Body Combat is one of the latest parts of the Les Mills gym class machine, which now includes 16 different branded classes that are taught at gyms across the world. There are certain “versions” that are released every few months, which keeps both the certified instructors and participants on their toes.

Spoiler alert: I LOVE IT. I’ve taken my share of aerobics classes over the last 20 years, but I’ve never found one I wanted to stick with for the long term. Barre is turning out (no pun intended) to be one of those classes, and it looks like Body Combat will be the same. The course purports  to combine techniques from boxing, Muay Thai, taekwondo, capoeira, and karate (sorta). I like to think of it as a technique class as opposed to specific practice on things like self-defense, poomsae, or fighting. It both helps me hone my well-trained skills and let’s me spend time on techniques I rarely or never get to practice.

So what is the experience for a trained martial artist in a Body Combat class? Training pickiness aside, it’s an excellent high-intensity cardio workout, which keeps me in good cardiovascular shape for my sporadic appearances in sparring class. It hits all the major body parts–legs, butt, core, arms, shoulders and back and offers enough variety that it’s very difficult to get bored. Hell, yesterday my Tuesday instructor threw in a flying side kick! Most of all, it is pure FUN! Having absolute fun is something I’ve missed over the past six months in my taekwondo classes.

I recommend that any martial artist go into this class with an open mind and a goal of refining the basics and building speed and strength. They simplify some techniques (for example, roundhouse kicks and side kicks are only done on the front foot, there’s no turn to the back kick, and their “front stance” is most decidedly NOT a front stance)…and that’s okay. This is not meant to be for only those who have advanced fighting training.

The simplicity of the techniques gives you the opportunity to tweak and refine the foundational skills that you still rely on as a black belt. I’m short and have a hard time hearing the instructor with her muffled mic, so I intentionally plant myself in the front in every class so I can see her. The added benefit is that I can watch myself in the mirror as I punch, kick, lunge, and throw knees and elbows. I have a visual target when I punch to the side of the head or snap kick to the torso. There’s lots of repetition, so I can make tiny changes every time I strike, and I definitely take this technique training with me back to my traditional taekwondo classes.

Another benefit is this class breaks me out of my taekwondo rut. We will sometimes go through an entire tkd class without doing one hand strike, and those who know me well know I loooooove hitting shit with my hands, even if it’s just the air. My favorite breaking techniques are hand strikes, and I try to punch as often as I can in a sparring match. From a practical point of view, I’m most likely going to be using my hands in a real self-defense situation, so even though my Friday instructor is just dazzled by my head-high roundhouse kicks and the occasional spin kick I throw in (meh), I’m paying more attention to the technique of my punches and elbow strikes. And in Body Combat there are so many punches…oh the punches…so many punches…

Finally, theres’s a sense of both anonymity and camaraderie I get in Body Combat that I don’t get in taekwondo. In taekwondo I’m either an instructor or a student, and I’m constantly communicating with students or other instructors. I can’t go to class and just be. As much as I love the closeness I have with my other black belt instructors and students I also want to be left completely alone once in a while when I’m working out. There’s certainly no pressure for me to teach at the gym, nor is their pressure to perform (although most of that pressure comes from me). Sometimes I get funny looks at the gym when I’m warming up before class with a form or two, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m enjoying silently critiquing myself in the side and front mirrors. Extra practice!

Some days in taekwondo I look into the (sometimes) listless eyes of my students and realize none of us want to be there. We’re all tired of the routine. I have to repeatedly remind my black belts to do simple things like keep their hands up and bend their knees with a snap kick, which is frustrating and tiresome. None of that in Body Combat. Sure, the technique is kinda terrible, but people work their butts off. Hands are up all the time (and I think it’s cute how some of the women will wear MMA gloves). Feet are moving all the time. People are eager to keep up and try their best. I’m punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing my ass off like a good second degree black belt. Everyone wants to be there because they know it’s their workout and no one else is going to do the work for them. We all have off days, days when we’re tired and bored, but I wish I could see more of that self-motivation in taekwondo.

If you’re a martial artist needing a supplement to your training, give your local gym’s kickboxing class a try. You may be surprised at how much you like it.


Two Months Until Second Dan Begins With Rest, Wine, and Whataburger

texas whataburger

YAS! That’s how Texas black belts fuel themselves!

So it’s still the plan that I will be testing for second degree black belt in about two months. Even though I’ve had two years to prepare for this test as opposed to six months for first degree, I’m more nervous and leery about it this time around. If you’d like to read more about the psychological aspects and musings on it, read this post. I’ll continue with that theme in another post. Now I’m going to talk about what I plan to do with myself until that eagerly awaited day.

I’m kicking of my two months of training with…rest. I have a few minor lingering injuries that keep getting aggravated by training, plus I’m getting mentally burned out from taekwondo, so I’m taking the week off. No taekwondo or ballet barre although I’ve been walking and doing yoga, plus I’ll try swimming if it doesn’t aggravate my shoulders, both of which are snapping at me with memories of old injuries. I need to stop and let my body and mind heal and reset. My biggest hope is that the swelling in my sprained finger will go down, and I can wear my favorite ring again. #taekwondivaproblems.

Next week I’ll get back to reality with getting my physical fitness in gear. And boy do I need it.

My physical health and fitness isn’t quite at the level it was before first degree even though I weigh about the same, actually a little less. Most people would probably agree that I needed to gain weight this year. At one point I was below 110 pounds, and I know I’ve lost muscle tone. Maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog post. I’ve put a few pounds back on although these extra pounds I’ve put on are not muscle but rather the result of Texas-shaped waffles, chocolate, and what may very well be the best pizza in my city.  Worth it.

I still fit into my favorite short black skirt (which I couldn’t last year), and the slacks that used to be snug are still too loose, so psychologically I’m satisfied. After this forced week of rest and a few final indulgences, namely wine and the most unhealthy and delicious food I can find, it’ll be back to chicken breasts, brown rice, vegetables, and fruit smoothies. A healthier diet and an increased exercise regimen will hopefully help me build back some muscle in a few weeks. I’m also giving up alcohol until my test so I’m sure I’ll deflate in no time. Today, though, as I write this, I’m drinking a giant glass of pinot noir so I can, you know, remember what it tastes like through two months of agonizing dryness. And like a good Texan I’m going out this weekend in style with a Whataburger meal.

As for exercise, I’ll go back to ballet barre class, which is fantastic for my lower body, increase my swimming sessions, do my balancing exercises on my BOSU at home (I finally broke down and bought one after getting really good results in physical therapy), and work in extra cardio and yoga at my gym since I’ll be decreasing my time in the dojang from six days to three or four. My taekwondo classes are usually intense enough that I get a very good workout each time anyway.

I’ll go back to my regular classes although I’ll teach less other than testing and tournament weeks to avoid burnout again. As much as I love all the students and the opportunity to improve my teaching skills, I need a break. Given that I have a full-time job (which also involves public speaking and coaching) and a household to manage I really need some quiet time at home. Perhaps my introverted tendency to be drained by too much interaction has finally gotten the better of me, so for a while I’ll only attend the classes designated for higher ranking color belts and black belts. Something is telling me that right now I need to focus on being solely a student.

Rest assured the post-test celebration of Champagne and cupcakes will once again happen, and it will once again be glorious.

When Your Brain and Body Are Conspiring Idiots


Sometimes our best laid plans are sabotaged by our own habits, shortcomings, misgivings, or desires. We fall into patterns that are comfortable and routine although not always the healthiest or the most challenging for us. Lately I feel as if my brain and body are two kids that goad each other into getting into trouble. Here’s what some of their conversations look like:

Brain: “Let’s do a spin kick! We finally got it down and it was looking really good last week.”
Body: “Nah. I’m gonna tighten up the left hip to limit mobility and give us vertigo every time we try to lower the shoulders.”
Brain: “But we understand exactly how to do it! This is a fundamental—“
Body: “NOPE. Hip tightening in three…two…”
Brain: “You’re a jerk.”

Body: “It’s really early and I’m awake and energized! Let’s go swim laps before the 5:30 crowd gets to the pool.”
Brain: “Nah, let’s go back to sleep. This bed is so comfortable and warm. Besides, it’s cold and dark outside and we hate the cold. Besides, don’t you think more sleep will help us feel refreshed?”
Body: “But swimming makes us feel even more refreshed! We can nap after we swim!”
Brain: “You’re getting very sleepy…”
Body: “You are such an a…..zzzzzzz”

Meanwhile I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, shaking my head with irritation at my good intentions once again being ruined. What are we to do when we want to make a positive change or try something new but we’re the ones holding ourselves back?

Psyche Yourself Out
There are all kinds of ways you can motivate yourself: giving yourself compliments, tough love, reminding yourself of what’s truly important, staying positive. As long as you’re not being abusive or too self-deprecating there’s nothing wrong with talking yourself into doing something challenging. When I’m having trouble with jumps or tricky balance exercises in physical therapy I’ll roll my eyes and think, ”Come on, Black Belt!” Other times I just remind myself of how freaking good I’ll feel after exercising or how relieved I’ll feel after finishing an arduous work project.

Good Old Fashioned Bribery
My goal is to swim two miles in one workout. I’ve worked my way up to about 1.6 miles. At this point is my motivation is not the cliché of overcoming obstacles or pushing myself beyond what I thought was possible or even getting a killer workout. No, at this point my number one motivator is pancakes. Now, can I have pancakes any time I want? Yes, of course I can, and I even made some at home not too long ago. But there’s something deeply pleasurable about eating a heavy meal after a long hard swim, and bonus points if I pass out for a nap afterwards. Maybe I’ll get pancakes or maybe I’ll get something like pizza or enchiladas depending on what time of day I complete my mega swim. Either way, carbs and a nap are happening. Brain and body, it’s time to get on board.

Forgive Yourself
You are not perfect. Neither is anyone else. You may not always live up to your own or somebody else’s expectations. Maybe those expectations aren’t realistic. If you’re feeling discouraged or losing confidence put the challenge on hold. Take a deep breath and reassess what is important to you in this moment. Does it make you feel good pursuing this goal? Would you be happy even if you didn’t achieve this particular goal? (Hopefully that answer is yes) What do you need right now to feel satisfied? What can you do differently? Is it still worth it?
Sometimes we have to put down goals for a while or even give them up entirely if we choose a different path. Other times we simply need a breather so we can get back on track, refreshed and ready for the challenge.

This morning I woke up feeling alert and refreshed at 4 AM. I almost rolled over and went back to sleep, but I dragged myself out of bed…only to discover that a cut on my foot wouldn’t stop bleeding when I took the Band-Aid off that I’d put on it last night. Now, I certainly can’t go swimming with (1) a bleeding cut or (2) a bloody Band-Aid that is guaranteed to peel off my foot and float around in the pool like a rubbery little germ ball. Grudgingly I went back to bed, but I did it for the good of all the people at the gym, I swear! I WILL be going to ballet barre class mid-morning so I’ll still put my useless brain and body to work.

Sometimes we have to indulge our brains or bodies and let them have what they want. Eventually though, it’s time to get back to work and do what you know is ultimately best for yourself…tomorrow anyway.


South American Headache Remedy


Wednesdays are my long days and usually leave me exhausted, drenched in sweat, and mentally a little out of it by the time I get home. Seeing as it was my first week back after way too many schedule interruptions I was determined to go to class whether my body could keep up or not.

“Wow our students suck!” I joked as I walked into the dojang to find my instructor by himself, stretching on the floor. Apparently everyone in Texas is out of town for spring break, at least all of our orange and yellow belt students. The nice thing about spring break is the lighter traffic, so I had extra time to change and warm up before sparring class. As we warmed up my instructor mentioned that he was fending off a headache, and somehow we got on the topic of the power of the mind over the body such as the Silva technique and the law of attraction. Little did I know that was going to come back into play much later that night.

We ended up having a huge sparring class, mostly junior green and blue belts with a few older upper belts. One of my favorite things about big sparring classes is that the adults get to have more breaks. Wait, did I say that out loud? I mean we have more time to referee the kids. I didn’t think I would enjoy refereeing since I’m not very good at sparring, but I actually enjoy it very much. You don’t have to be a top athlete to coach a top athlete. It certainly helps, but the job of a coach is primarily to observe and provide feedback.  A side bonus is that it helps me learn and file away ideas for what I can use when I am actually sparring.

All the kids disappeared and we were down to five for red and black belt class. We had perfect partner pairs – two black belts, two bo dans, and two black tips, so we spent most of the time working on testing requirements. We all agreed to do a test prep workout on Saturday.

“You’re going to be tired on Sunday,” my instructor said.

“I need it!” I replied. “I gained three pounds during the ice storms!” He just laughed and rolled his eyes.
I finally made it home, gulped down some Gatorade and water and went to sleep.

About two hours later I woke up with a horrible headache, likely due to dehydration and/or being rattled from having the crap beaten out of me. I tried everything to make it go away—popping Tylenol, drinking water, telling myself silently that my headache was fading, being grateful for my pain-free head, doing a few gentle inversions to flush the blood. None of that provided any relief until I remembered a trick my boyfriend taught me. He is quite cosmopolitan and modern, but once in a while he brings up home remedies from his childhood in Bolivia. He swears by the headache trick—douse a bandana in rubbing alcohol, tie it tightly around your head, and let the magic happen. It took a while for it to work this time, but eventually I was fast asleep with the reading light still on, a book smashed into my pillow, and a light blue bandanna tied snugly around my head.

Dull remnants of the headache remained throughout today until I had a piece of dark chocolate after lunch. Coincidence? Hmm.

No Spring Break for You!


Maybe he’s just in savasana.

Last night was my first taekwondo class in a week, thanks to winter weather and other scheduling  conflicts. I was a little nervous about how I would hold up, but I was also excited and ready to be back into my normal training routine after too many snow days and too many snacks.

It was a small class due to spring break absences—it was just me, a male bo dan close to my age, a teenage black belt, and two little newly minted blue belts. We had our usual pre-class chats of the latest aches and pains and recommended movies to watch. For a moment as we ran around the room to warm up and my legs refused to pump any higher I longed for my electric blanket, glass of wine, and bowl of popcorn, but I soon forgot about my creature comforts as my body warmed up. To my delight I was even more flexible than ever, and we did my favorite barre exercise to finish warming up our legs.

Oddly enough, the teenage black belt’s reported ear infection suddenly (and conveniently??) took a dramatic turn for the worse just as we began some conditioning drills across the floor. Panting and gasping he flopped to the floor, collapsing whenever he tried to pull himself up into a push-up position. We showed him some sympathy but didn’t coddle him and moved right along with class as he sat down to rest. I had an ear infection and the flu when I was a few years older than him, and I still managed to drag myself to my college dance classes. Just sayin.’

I suspect his sudden delicate state was less of a truly debilitating physical condition and closer to a similar stunt I pulled when I was a child taekwondo student—Mom was driving us to class one winter night, and mysteriously my brother and I were both suddenly struck with blinding headaches and nausea from the blinking Christmas lights we saw on the houses along the way. Neither of us had any problems like that before. I wasn’t sick; I just didn’t want to go to class and that sounded like a plausible excuse! Funny, now that I have the power to choose whether to attend or not I look forward to taekwondo class all day.

Now that we were down to four my instructor decided that it was the perfect opportunity to line us up with the four kicking bags for individual practice. We instinctively lined up the bags and ourselves by height like a row of martial arts Russian nesting dolls. For the remainder of class we worked on jump side kick and jump turning back side kick. What I really enjoyed was my instructor’s encouragement to pay attention to the picky little details. It’s amazing how a tiny shift of the foot here, a tiny adjustment of distance there, and slowing down when needed can make a huge difference in the execution and effectiveness of the kick.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect. Maybe you’ll be perfect when you’re a black belt,” my instructor said jokingly. Then he raised an eyebrow and smiled at the bo dan and me on the end. “And that won’t be long for you two.” We giggled nervously and returned to our bags.

I still ended up on the couch with the electric blanket and a bowl of popcorn (no wine—just watered down Gatorade), but I felt much lighter and happier than I have in days. Sunny days are around the corner!

Brain Freeze, Spring Thaw

jabba pie

I haven’t written a post in over a week, and I’ve only had two nights of taekwondo in the past two weeks. The taekwondo absences have been due to freak Texas winter storms and a belt test I wasn’t scheduled to attend, but I’m not sure about the writer’s block. I think this dark gloomy weather starts a snowball effect, no pun intended, of lethargy and dulling of my mind. As I said in an earlier post, we may not be covered in feet of snow down here, but our roads get extremely icy and the drivers are even worse. You don’t have much motivation to go out when it’s like this. Even when it warms up and the snow is melted the rainy, gloomy skies and crisp chill in the air aren’t very inviting.

The days off work thanks to the weather have been a welcome treat, but I was a bit concerned to see how I could quickly deteriorate into the depression and loneliness that are always around the corner but usually kept at bay. Cleaning the house and doing home workouts get old after a while. It’s just too tempting to sink into the couch, watch more TV, eat more comfort foods, and drink more alcohol. If I’d had a hookah and a metal-bikini-clad captive I would have given Jabba the Hut a run for his money.

I noticed how my body had slowed due to a week or two off my normal routine when I inadvertently became a victim of “Weekend Warrior” syndrome. I had the best intentions–I wanted to kick my body back into gear to lighten my mood and get me back in shape for the dojang. I ran Friday night, went to yoga class Saturday morning, swam a mile Saturday night, and felt it all during yoga class today. My ankles are sore and tense, and my twice-injured and currently irritated left shoulder forced me out of chaturangas and into more child’s poses. I’m glad I exercised though. As much as I love it if I take a few days off suddenly the slippery slope of sedentary living becomes very steep.

As I listen to the rain outside on a dark night I am comforted with the fact that there’s sunny weather around the corner. I’m telling myself not to feel too down about the winter doldrums. I know the one or two pounds and bloat I’ve put on will melt off as soon as I’m back into my normal eating and exercise routine. Sometimes you just have to go into hibernate mode for a while. Sometimes you just need a break from everything. Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to shut down, if only for a little while. Spring is almost here, and not only is it a time for renewal, it’s a time for action. The cushion of “well, it’s just the beginning of the year, we have plenty of time” for work projects is waning. For those in school, the end of the semester and subsequent tests will be here before you know it. My black belt test isn’t until the fall, but now is the time for preparation, for strengthening my body and mind to endure what I know is coming.

Tomorrow will mark what is hopefully the first full week of taekwondo classes I’ve had in way too long. The ice has melted, the clouds are rolling away, and the seeds of success are beginning to bloom.

How I Get My Sweat On When It’s Below Freezing Outside

funny-Texas-cold-Solo-cup-iceLast night for the first time in over a year, a winter storm rolled into much of Texas. Now, before you start scoffing at us for running inside with our cowboy hats tucked between our legs at the sight of a few snowflakes, let me tell you about winter in Texas. Other than the far northern panhandle areas we don’t get much snow, but we get ICE. Ice, nasty sleet, and freezing rain that happens so fast that the Texas Department of Transportation can barely keep up with sanding the roads behind it. Even if there’s barely a dusting of snow outside the road could be covered in several inches of slick deadly black ice. A week ago it was 70 degrees. As a native Texan and lifetime resident our wacky weather still never ceases to amaze me.

True to Texas winter storms the area outside my home is a skating rink, and the temperatures aren’t rising above freezing for days. I’m not going anywhere for a while. While it’s nice to have an extra long weekend thanks to Jack Frost, not having access to the gym or the dojang can spell trouble for staying fit. It was really tempting to stay huddled up in my nest on the couch with an electric blanket, hot tea, and my laptop, AND I polished off the last of the stuffed shells I made over the weekend. I had to get creative and come up with a home workout.

After a quiet day of working from home and chilling out in my nest I got up and started moving. I did forty-five minutes of yoga, combining some vinyasa that I learned from my teacher with my favorite relaxing and deeper poses such as pigeon for the hips and hamstrings and shoulder stand for my back and upper body. Then I did a half-hour taekwondo work out: I ran through all eight kee-bons (we have seven more in addition to the universal kee-bon one) and eight palgwe forms. I also did a few kicks on each side: stretch kicks, front snap kick, roundhouse, side kick, turning back side kick, sliding kicks. My downstairs neighbors are home, so no jumping or flying kicks unless I want them to bang a broom on the ceiling.

I finished my kicking workout with spin kicks on both sides about seven or eight times. Just since my little home spin kick “workshop” one or two weeks ago it’s improved even more, especially the left side. I’ve discovered a new trick. I imagine I’m winding up my body like it’s a slingshot. I slide my front foot back and take a little step, almost as if I’m replacing the position of my back foot. It feels a little like cheating, but it works for me. Taking that little step helps propel my body into a spin but gives me enough control that I can whip my kicking leg around in a pretty hook. Finally I ran through a few one-steps, which is awkward without a partner, but at least I know what I’m supposed to do in theory.

After my home yoga and taekwondo practice I’d worked up quite a sweat, which felt pretty good on a cold day today. I celebrated with a big bowl of roasted chicken and vegetables, a glass of wine, and a chocolate rice cake to satisfy my sweet tooth (hey, I’m stuck inside the house; I’m desperate). I crawled back into my warm nest, satisfied with my home training and eager to do it again tomorrow since I’ll be stuck here at home for at least another day.