Guest Post: 4 Tips to Becoming a Better Martial Artist in the New Year

Check out my latest guest post from the martial arts travel site BookMartialArts.com:
4 Tips to Becoming a Better Martial Artist in the New Year

I’m not into New Year’s resolutions, but I am all about self-awareness and continuous self improvement, which can happen at any time of the year. Start out 2017 right with a renewed commitment to your practice. Even if you don’t do martial arts these tips can help you set and achieve goals in any area.

2017

 

Looking for a great way to lower your stress levels? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

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Send Off to 2016…Bye Felicia!

david-bowie

Ah 2016, the year where everybody sat back and said, “WHAT THE F_CK IS GOING ON??” Seriously, what was up with this year? A bunch of cool celebrities died, people were blowing each other up and shooting into crowds, scores of refugees were trying to escape their war-torn countries and many died in the process while the world watched, the US presidential campaign was a nightmare that further divided the country, sexual assault is still a thing that goes unpunished, racial inequality still runs rampant, people were walking into traffic trying to catch a damn Pikachu, and that’s just some of the stuff that was happening publicly.

Privately, I had three deaths in the family, lost a very sweet coworker to cancer, saw illness and death strike several friends and their families (and even a few pets), went through a very upsetting time of uncertainty at work, and to top it all off, a neighbor recently moved, taking her very friendly and affectionate cat with her. What the hell, 2016?

I have never been so happy to welcome in a new year. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the overall shittiness of 2016, so perhaps now is the time for me to be grateful for some good things that happened in my life:

  • I paid off my car. Now I can put that money into my mortgage and my vacation fund. Santa Fe, here I come!
  • I got my “Instructor” patch for my taekwondo uniform. Technically I’m an “assistant instructor” if we’re just going by rank, but I guess since I hang around the dojang so much they probably figured they’d better give me something to do.
  • I got more experience coaching at tournaments. This year we took students to five tournaments. I gained a lot of experience preparing students before the tournaments, coaching them during their fights, and giving little pep talks when they were feeling discouraged. I also discovered the joy of tapping into my inner Bianca del Rio and making fun of cheesy demos. Not today, Satan!
  • I FINALLY got to do leadership coaching at work! From April to early December I was running from one location to the next having coaching sessions with managers and directors in my company’s hospitals. I seem to have a knack for it, and it has been the highlight of my career. My clients trust me, value my advice and opinions, and on more than one occasion have referred to our sessions as “therapeutic.” Hmm!
  • I visited my West Texas hometown. I haven’t been back since my parents moved five years ago. In May there was a reunion for the high school theater department, and I had a blast enjoying the wide open landscape, driving around town (cuz “driving around” is a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment in West Texas), running around the old theater with my classmates, meeting the current fresh-faced students and watching their lovely production of “Julius Cesar,” and hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen in twenty years. Plus I got to stay in my old house! (It was purchased by a family friend.) AAAAND, they served really good catered chicken fried steak at the reunion because what else would one eat in a West Texas high school theater?
  • I didn’t lose my job, and I’ll be working a lot closer to home in 2017. That’s all I’ll say on that topic.
  • I stopped hating my body after twenty-five years of unnecessary pain and suffering…for the most part, anyway, and I reconnected with my Italian roots.

Okay, so maybe 2016 wasn’t ENTIRELY awful, but I’m glad to see it go, as I’m sure just about everyone else is.

So long, 2016! As Christoph Woltz’s character Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained said, “Normally I would say ‘Auf wiedersehen,’ but since what ‘Auf wiedersehen’ actually means is ‘’Till I see you again,’ and since I never wish to see you again, to you, sir, I say goodbye!”

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

Spring Has Sprung

flower boxing gloves
April showers bring flowers in yo face!

“Whew, that was a good workout! I needed that,” I said to my chief instructor as I sipped water and leaned against the back of a chair in the dojang waiting room. It was Monday night, the first night back after an “off week” due to an abbreviated workout schedule and a little bit of Spring Break indulgence (okay, more than a little bit). That night’s class had a simpler structure than our usual classes: foundational kicks and a little bit of partner work with blocking and striking. That was it.

Lately it’s been a rare occasion that I’m just in student mode when I’m in class. Very often I’m refereeing a sparring match, holding pads for kicking drills, or overseeing students working on forms or self defense. As much as I love teaching and coaching and accept that responsibility of being a black belt, once in a while I like the times when I can shut down that part of my brain and just work. My body, my space, my mind, my practice. I felt invigorated and refreshed by a simple workout. I was ready to emerge from the quiet cocoon I’ve been in since the new year.

Spring has always been an opportune time for me to take my fitness regimen up a notch, and not because bathing suit season is around the corner. (I know it’s still snowing in some parts of the country. I live in Texas. We go from winter to tornado season to summer in about week.) The weather is nicer, the days are longer, there’s a wider variety of fresh produce available for nutritious snacking, and after Easter there’s no more holiday candy–who wouldn’t be inspired to get healthier?

New Year’s resolutions can get lost in the grey days of winter and the rush of the holidays.On that note, perhaps this spring season of rebirth and awakening is a time to reexamine what I want from my taekwondo practice.
For the most part I want to continue the trajectory I’ve been on since I got my black belt last year:
-becoming a faster, stronger, and more strategic fighter
-learning and quickly applying hand-to-hand combat techniques and weapons defense (our traditional school has some hapkido influence, so we practice joint locks, sweeps, and throws)
-doing a badass spinning hook kick, which I’ve been chipping away at for a long time and am finally seeing improvement. I broke a board with spin kick at my bo dan test, so it would be nice to have that same precision and power consistently.
-bringing power, grace, and finesse to my forms (Jon, I finally got Keumgang!!!!)
-improving my explosive power, speed, and strength
-being a patient, knowledgeable, intuitive, and helpful assistant instructor

…y’know, being a good black belt.

I feel like I’m starting to emerge from hibernation in other areas of my life too. Very soon I’m going to be coaching my head off with several clients at work, and I can’t wait. I’ve already been doing a little bit of coaching here and there with a few people, but within the next few weeks it is going to be my primary focus at work. I have been dying to do leadership coaching for years, and I’m finally getting my chance. I just hope I don’t talk to them the way I talk to the nine-year-olds in taekwondo class.

As for writing, last year I started a huge project. I made a massive amount of progress by the end of the year and took a much needed rest. Once I finish binge-watching another season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” (ha ha) I’ll be ready to pick it up again, and at some point I hope to share more details about this project with my blog readers. I will also be guest writing for the martial arts travel site BookMartialArts.com….so I have stuff going on.

And with sunshine and blooming flowers and birds chirping will I be ready to emerge from my year-long dating hibernation? Will there be a Mr. Little Black Belt in the near future? Mmmm….NAH! It’s still all grape soda to me!

Did I Meet My Taekwondo Goals? A Year-End Review

2016

This past Tuesday was my final taekwondo class before a nearly two week break for the holidays. It was a wonderful way to end the year—a bunch of black belts beating the crap out of each other…in a loving way, of course.

Now it’s time to do an annual review of my taekwondo practice.

At the beginning of this year I set some New Year’s resolutions even though resolutions are normally not my thing. Let’s call them “goals” instead. As much as I resist it, I’m a long-time corporate person, and we love the G word.

Have I accomplished my goals? The short answer—yeah, kinda. Here’s a run down of the goals I set at the beginning of 2015 and my take on how I performed.

1. To stop hopping during 360 roundhouse.
It’s gotten better. I still sort of scoot while I’m pivoting, especially on the left side, but it’s better than a hop.

2. To cleanly and precisely execute a turning back side kick.
What I meant by that was that I should be kicking straight back towards my target. Students often end up doing an ineffective combination of a turning back side kick and spin kick because they let the knee of the kicking leg fall out rather than pulling it in tightly. My kick isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot straighter. I try to use it as much as I can during sparring, and I’ve kicked people in the stomach with it, so yay for me!

3. To be able to run through all color belt forms by memory.  Yup, I can do that.

4. To be able to accurately teach and correct other students (emphasis on accurately because I have sometimes taught them my bad habits!)
Overall I’m comfortable sharing what I know with other students. I’ve made some mistakes, but so far none of my charges have had to put their white belts back on.

5. To improve my left side spin kick to match my right side.
Still really crappy for where it should be. It’s not as strong as my right side, which still isn’t where I want it to be (I am TOTALLY blaming my messed up right hamstring for that; BAD standing leg, BAD!), but I’m finally getting that nice hook at the end. At this point I think my troubles with spin kick are in my head.

6. To really execute a flying side kick the way God and nature and all the taekwondo masters intended.
My right side kick is respectable. My left side will get there once my lazy right leg builds up more strength to push me off the ground.

7. To finally nail a flying turning back side kick instead of getting confused and just doing a half-assed ballet tour jete.
Got it! I managed to keep myself from confusing my left and right feet during my black belt test, which was my biggest fear with this kick. Whew!

8. To pull my partners in closer during takedowns.
Yes (well, most of the time), and my partners’ shoulders thank me for it. I also scared the heck out of a teenage black belt when I threw him down faster than expected, thanks to my newly developed technique of stepping in close and hooking the leg.

9. To memorize all the (red belt) hand-to-hand techniques on both sides. Done.

10. To accurately execute my one-steps during my tests…and bonus if I can re-memorize all the past one-steps.
I did just fine on my bo dan and black belt tests. The earlier ones are a little fuzzy, but I’ve been studying them quite a bit. Monday night I worked with a red belt on the ones at his level, and I did show him the correct series. They’re coming back.

11. To improve my speed, stamina, and strategy during sparring.
Done. Always room for improvement, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far on what has been one of my weakest skills.

12. To break a board with a ridge-hand strike and with my nemesis, the spin kick.
Yes to the spin kick, which I did at my bo dan test. I was discouraged from doing a ridge hand strike due to fears that I could damage my hand, so I settled for breaking two boards with a spinning back fist during my black belt test. That was pretty sweet.

13. Oh yeah, to get my black belt. DONE!!

There’s still so much for me to learn and still so much room for improvement, so I don’t think I’ll have any problems setting some New Year’s Taekwondo Resolutions, or “Goals,” whatever, for 2016. Stay tuned!