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

renew

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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Have Growing Partners, Not Growing Pains

heart hands.jpg

This is still too much commitment for me, but I like the idea.

I had this boyfriend who claimed at the very beginning and at the very end of our relationship that one doesn’t grow in isolation. I think he said them both as a means to convince me to (1) get together with him in the beginning and (2) not to walk away at the end…even though he technically broke up with me, but that’s a different story.

I recognized his point but disagree on the absoluteness of it. I’ve done most of my growth, and I’m talking the really hard, gut-wrenching, gritty, life-changing, come-to-Jesus stuff “in isolation,” other than with the guidance and confidentiality of one trusted mentor. It was my only option, or at least that was my thinking at the time. First of all, my destructive behaviors drove people away, so that took care of any crowdsourcing for help, and second of all, I wouldn’t allow anyone to see me at my worst. I had to face some really hard truths about myself, and I had to fight that battle alone.

But…when given the opportunity, having other people guide us, give us feedback, and share their journeys with us can be one of the best ways to grow. At the end of last Saturday’s sparring class my Chief Instructor reminded us that we couldn’t just go in to class with the singular mindset of fighting for ourselves. We had to be good partners, whether that was being mindful of safety, respecting the other person’s age or body capabilities, or knowing how to challenge them in just the right ways. He’s since reminded us in other classes that being a good partner is just as important as practicing our own skills.

I subscribe to that philosophy as well. At the beginning of that particular sparring class I had reminded a teenage green belt, who seemed dismayed at the prospect of having to spar little kids, that part of his job as an older student and one who was moving into higher ranks was not just working on his own practice. He needed to be able to look out for and mentor the younger, smaller students, which is a good challenge in itself. For me being a black belt has partially been figuring out what I don’t know (or one might see it as moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence), and just as importantly, if not more so, living up to the responsibility of sharing what I do know with other students.

I started taekwondo training as a means to heal in a number of ways and give my life some purpose. It was self-centered motivation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Since then, though, I’ve learned (albeit a little slowly) the importance of community and the part I need to play not only for my own fulfillment but for others, in some cases, more for them than for me. My life is much richer and happier because of my taekwondo family. I’d like to think I’ve done some good for them as well. The desire to serve and to, as my Chief Instructor would say, “be a good partner,” is inherent. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

Having a good partner, whether it’s in the dojang, the workplace, or the home, offers us a fresh perspective. They help us see our blind spots and the potential for greatness we haven’t yet recognized. Good partners push us just beyond what we think we can do and encourage us when we want to give up. They help us through the painful times and celebrate the good times. Being a good partner lets us share our wisdom and sometimes hard-learned lessons with others. It allows us to serve others and get outside our own self interests and agendas. It allows us to see our passions through another person’s eyes.

We can grow more quickly and more fully with the help of a good partner.

I don’t always practice what I preach or what my taekwondo instructors preach in my daily life, though. In fact, I veer towards the other end of the spectrum. I hate sharing my struggles (so that last post about my sort-of eating disorder was REALLY hard to write). I hate opening up my life to other people. I hate sharing my precious down time with anybody, even people I like. I think I want human interaction and connection, I’ve finally admitted that I need it to have a more fulfilling life, but damnit, I HATE asking for it.

I even hate sharing the good parts other than the insights I write about on this blog. It’s not a matter of wanting the glory for myself. I simply don’t know how to ask. It doesn’t occur to me. I was a loner as a child and learned to rely on myself for everything. That thought pattern has followed me well into adulthood, sometimes to my advantage because I’m very independent and autonomous but other times to my detriment. It’s easy to get tunnel vision without any feedback or an objective perspective.

I still have a hard time accepting the fact that I do need other people. They enrich my life in ways that I’m not able to do in isolation, try as I might. I’ve gotten better at it at work. During my yearly performance evaluation my boss remarked that I had a knack for building and maintaining relationships. It wasn’t always natural, but as I grew into my “caregiver” roles (first as a librarian and then as a leadership development consultant) I embraced human interaction and connection as my means of doing my work. I’m good at it, and I think I’ve helped a lot of people grow. I’ve been a good training partner.

I don’t do that in my personal life. I don’t seek out relationships. I’m not loyal. I’m not consistent. I don’t stick around. The urge to do my own thing, and more importantly stay off the social grid and viciously guard my free time, almost always wins out over the desire to spend time with other people. I have long-lasting acquaintances but very few long-lasting friendships. Frankly, I’m not a very good friend or partner, and there is a big part of me that couldn’t care less.

What would my personal life be like if I looked to family, friends, and coworkers as my “life training partners” just as I do with my taekwondo instructors and fellow students? What could I learn from them? What could they learn from me? Would it bring me as much fulfillment as taekwondo training does? What would I bring to others’ lives and experiences? Would it help me be less self-centered and keep me from sinking into tunnel vision thinking or depression? Would I really have to keep shouldering my burdens or even my triumphs alone?

Am I ready to share my journey instead of stubbornly growing in isolation? I’m not sure about that one. For now taekwondo is a good start.

Five Things I Lost While Training for My Black Belt (Besides Five Pounds)

good riddance cake

I don’t want to even look at cake right now.

Training for my October black belt test did more than get me in good physical shape and help me hone the skills I needed to demonstrate to earn my new rank. It also helped me rid myself of some particularly damaging (and sticky) habits.

1. I lost my sweet tooth.
Remember how I was going on about craving Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies in the last few posts before my black belt test? I finally bought a box, eagerly ripped open the plastic packaging of the coveted treat, and….meh. They’re a lot smaller than I remember them being, and they don’t have that wonderful greasy mouthfeel they used to. Maybe all the trans fats and yummy stuff were removed. I won’t be buying another box.

Along with the sweet tooth I also seemed to have lost my tolerance for junk food in general. The week following my test I gave myself a pass to indulge and polish off the goodies I had when my family visited for the test: leftover pizza, chips, soda, sliced turkey and Swiss cheese, Halloween candy, and….meh. I had carb face and a processed food headache. I did make it to Whataburger, so thankfully I didn’t have to revoke my Native Texan card. When I finally ate an apple after eating all that crap I felt like I’d bitten into a juicy atomic bomb. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my boring staples of oatmeal, brown rice, roasted vegetables, fruit, and boiled eggs again.

2. I lost my taste for alcohol.
I’m sure a few of my oenophile friends are thinking, “WHYYYY?” I gave it up for seven months primarily due to some health problems I was having at the beginning of the year, and I decided to just keep going until I completed my black belt test. It was much easier to quit than I expected, and I didn’t miss it at all. I enjoyed the champagne and red wine I drank with my family after my test, and I do see a bottle of Single Barrel Jack in my future, but…meh. I don’t dislike alcohol now. I just don’t NEED it anymore, and THAT is a very good thing.

3. I lost my need for validation or approval from other people.
I’m still eager to please and like to put smiles on people’s faces, and of course, duh, I care about what my taekwondo instructors think of me (and yeah, my boss too since he helps me pay for those taekwondo classes), but I don’t care anymore whether people “like” me or not. I enjoy and appreciate compliments, but they’re icing on a cake that I’m not craving that much anymore. (That’s my metaphorical sweet tooth). I still strive to do better, but I don’t worry about how I look, how I sound, or how people perceive me.

I know that I’m a good person, and I accept myself for who I am, both in my personality and my physical looks. I know I can kick ass in a business meeting just as much as I can in the dojang. During my actual black belt test I had no worries or fear. I wasn’t second guessing myself or apologizing, and I nailed it. I was so calm I wondered if part of my brain had melted, but maybe it meant that I’m finally, FINALLY exercising that fabled confidence martial arts is known for bringing out in its practitioners. Less than a week after my black belt test, during a meeting with some tough business clients, I tapped into my newfound strength and wooed our tough clients into going with the plan that my boss and I were proposing. Whether I’m in heels and a suit or a black belt and bare feet I am strong, confident, and capable. I would’t have been able to say that before I began taekwondo.

4. I lost my total and utter feeling of disconnect with other human beings…well, some of the time.
I know I’m not a sociopath because I have a very present and very vocal conscience, but I’m not exactly Mother Theresa either. I can go a whole week not speaking a word to anyone and not caring at all. (Actually it would be nice to have a week like that, where I don’t speak to ANYONE).  One of the reasons why I got back into taekwondo was to get out of my house and more importantly, get out of my churning, depressed, self-loathing head. Taekwondo is a contact sport in many ways—obviously in the physical sense, but very much in the emotional and social sense. We’re a tribe, a family, a community. We rely on each other to learn and improve. I simply can’t get lost in a train of worrisome thoughts if I’m having to chase a nine-year-old across the mat with a kicking pad or help a teenager with tricky parts of their form.

Through my instructor’s encouragement, I have gained a lot of experience teaching and coaching, and that will be an even higher expectation now that I am a black belt. Turns out, I’m good at it, and more importantly, I enjoy it. It’s brought out the loving, giving, attentive parts of my personality that to this point in my life I’ve only been able to share with my family. I’m the doting, compassionate mother that I will forever refuse to be elsewhere, the leader I don’t strive to be professionally, and the funny, outgoing, loyal friend that I am unable to be in other parts of my life.

It still takes an extra effort for me to interact with people, but I’m doing it more frequently. Taekwondo forces me to actively and intensely engage with people six hours out of the week, which is more than I’ve done in the past. One of these days perhaps my “real” persona will bleed out of the dojang and into other parts of my life, but for now it’s nice to know that at least with some people I don’t feel the need to wear a mask.

5. I lost my need to be in a relationship to be “happy.”
This might be the most important loss (or gain?) of all. My partner of two years and I split up in early April, exactly a week after I successfully tested for bo dan, leaving me to travel the path to black belt alone. The relationship was already on thin ice, but we’d both held onto hopes that we could continue, until we simply couldn’t. For my entire adult life I thought that I needed a man’s love, or at the very least his attention, to be happy. I don’t believe in soul mates and hate the “you complete me” crap, but I still wrapped up a lot of my self-worth in what some dude thought of me. That was another reason why I re-entered the world of taekwondo: I had one dating disaster after another, and I was miserable. I needed to get away from myself before I messed up my life even further.

I don’t regret my most recent relationship at all. My partner and I loved each other very much and both agreed that we were able to be our true selves more with each other than either of us had been able to with previous partners. I think we both needed each other as support systems until we were able to function independently on our own. It was nice to have someone who loved me at most of my belt tests, especially the first one when I jumped from white to green, but by the time we split I figured out that I was able to continue the journey by myself.

I was heartbroken when it ended, but I wasn’t at a total loss of what to do, and more importantly, I didn’t blame/hate myself for the break up. I bounced back more quickly after what was my most serious relationship to-date than I had from one- or two-month flings. I didn’t have time to let a breakup crush me; I was training for my black belt! At first I thought the timing was terrible since I would be training for my black belt test “alone,” but in hindsight the timing was perfect. I learned  that I could rely entirely and singularly on myself to succeed.  I doubt I would have had that eerie sense of calm the day of the test if I were still subconsciously searching over and over for the validation that someone loved me, approved of me, and accepted me.

So will I start dating again now that I have my black belt? NOPE. SOOOO not interested, and SOOOO don’t care. One, it’s only been seven months, and I am simply not ready to consider anyone else as boyfriend material; it’s too weird and too soon. Two, and the more important reason, I haven’t been able to enjoy just being myself in…well…ever, so I’m going to bask in that for a while. I’m having way too much fun on my own. The way I feel about dating is the way I feel about sweets and alcohol and relying on other people to boost my self–esteem…nice, but….meh. Besides, whatever joker I finally decide to spend time with might as well start coming to taekwondo class with me or move along, because that’s where my heart really is.