Be Careful What You Wish For…You Just Might Get It

shooting-star

Make a wish! It could be your dream come true or a big ole bucket of NOPE.

All I wanted was a little time off.

I decided to take the last week of August off from taekwondo because of a few lingering injuries that kept getting irritated and frankly, I was burned out. I had been going to taekwondo five or six days a week, attending my own classes, plus I showed up at the lower ranking classes to help teach and hang out with the instructors. It was all good fun until one day I thought, “I need a break.” I enjoyed my week off and was thoroughly looking forward to starting up classes again plus attending my gym more often and cleaning up my diet.

Instead I got a cold last week. I couldn’t go to sparring, and my balance was so off thanks to sinus pressure that I had a hard time demonstrating takedowns and jumps for students working on test preparations. Last Friday we had a color belt test instead of regular class. I got a few seconds workout sparring with a kid testing for black tip, and I took a ballet barre class on Sunday, but other than that I haven’t been able to have a hard workout in a while. I couldn’t wait to go to class on Monday.

Yesterday, the day I wanted to go back to class, my back decided to give out. No! Not another week off! Ah, the curse of the Odd Years Bulging Disc. I have “thrown my back out” every odd year since 2011. I was due this year and was hoping I could hold out until after my test, but like the rest of me, my back is a high achiever that likes to plan ahead. Hooray!

Thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as my past back blowouts have been, and I was even able to move around enough today to teach a five hour professional development class at work. I can do a turning back side kick with the stiffness, but the disc is still protesting a spin kick with pain…darn it, I was just getting decent at spin kicks. A visit to my trusty physical therapist should sort me out in time for my remaining classes this week.

Okay Universe, I get it. I’m done slacking off, rinsing my sinuses with a Neti pot, and pouting on my heating pad. I’m ready to come back to class (and the gym) now!

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it! I heard that, of all places, in church many years ago. I don’t remember what else the priest said, but his wry warning stuck with me. Making a wish is also making a commitment to change. It’s planting the seed for action, which is sometimes nurtured and other times stays buried underground.

Perhaps the intention behind our wishes helps shape the results. What is behind it–frustration, anger, revenge or hopefulness, accountability, and humility? The major events and changes in my life are result of the intentions I’ve put out into the world. The Law of Attraction is real and evident in how my life’s triumphs and failures have played out. Sometimes the results I wanted were better than I could have imagined, and other times they were like the skewed ironic answers to a wish made on the cursed Monkey’s Paw.

I have wished for change in my professional life and have been answered with both stressful, unnecessary chaos and amazing opportunities. I have wished for change in my personal life and have been answered with both harmful relationships and incredible new ventures and helpful people. Either way there’s always been a pretty good life lesson involved.

Maybe my body rebelling with sickness and pain was not so much the result of an ill-intended wish but rather life’s way of showing me I’m not in control as much as I think I am. And that’s okay. I’m very organized and planful around my work and some of my personal life (i.e., controlling), and once in a while I’m reminded that I have to be ready to adapt when what I get isn’t want I originally thought I wished for. I feel even more grateful for taekwondo now that I’ve been out for two and half weeks. I can’t wait to have a hard workout, laugh with my classmates, and learn from my instructors. I feel so thankful and ready to work even harder towards second dan….I suppose that was the lesson I needed to learn this time.

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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.

Teaching Means You’re Learning for Two

tkd-teaching-baby

You’re never too young to learn a good palm heel strike to the face.

A few weeks ago my Grandmaster presented me with a small patch for my uniform. In bold yellow letters it read, “INSTRUCTOR.” Technically as a first dan black belt I’m an “assistant instructor,” but Grandmaster and the other instructors decided to give me a little promotion since I always helped out in my own classes and classes for lower ranking students. Or maybe they just figured they’d better give me something to do since I hang out at the dojang so much. Either way I was pleased and very humbled.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned a year into my black belt tenure is that learning has intensified in a way I didn’t experience as a color belt. Other than occasionally refereeing sparring matches and yelling at students to turn their hips more during kicking drills I was mostly focused on my own practice as I edged closer to testing for black belt. Things changed after I earned my new rank. While I have learned more advanced techniques as a black belt, just as much if not more of my time has been devoted to helping lower ranking students.

Teaching and practicing with color belt students as a black belt has given me a greater appreciation and deeper understanding of the foundational techniques of taekwondo. It’s like when I took AP English as a senior in high school. As a native English speaker I considered myself fairly adept at the language and a pretty decent writer…but after ten months of analyzing and dissecting poetry and prose and writing essay after essay I realized how much I had grown. I was almost embarrassed to read the first essay I had written when the school year began.

I often find myself reminding color belt students that they can’t just learn something and then forget it after they pass their next belt test. Taekwondo like any other martial art is comprehensive. The same basic techniques we learned as white belts pop up in advanced self-defense, complicated forms, and sparring matches. We’re developing subconscious reactions and muscle memory. We never stop learning. Even my Grandmaster, a ninth degree black belt and very highly respected in the taekwondo community, often reminds us that he never stops learning.

I had a chance to pass along the importance of continuous learning and practice when I was tasked with teaching side kick to two freshly minted orange belts, which at our school is the rank just above white belt. Side kick, at least the way we do it, is surprisingly difficult to master. It requires precision, balance, and force. It has taken me years to improve my side kick, and I still have room to grow. Side kick is incredibly powerful but also so delicate in its mechanical intricacy that it’s easy to mess up.

“How long do we have to keep practicing this?” asked a tiny five-year-old orange belt. He and an older student were perched at the barre along the wall of the training room and had been painstakingly going through the individual pieces of a broken down side kick. I had bribed them to keep going with the promise that some day they would break a board with a side kick, but eventually they were getting bored.

“Well, class is almost over, but remember, you always have to practice side kick. Even black belts have to practice it,” I said, crouching down to his level. His eyes widened and he gaped in surprise.

“BLACK BELTS have to practice?” He shook his head in awe. Mind. Blown.

This past Friday I found myself once again teaching side kick to lower ranking students. This time I had the same ten-year-old girl orange belt, a different little five year old who quickly abandoned us to use the bathroom (you have to let them go at that age or you’ll be sorry), and a teenage yellow belt. I had been instructed to practice a low side kick so they’d get the hang of chambering their feet and shooting them out, heel pointed downward, into a strong kick.

“But I’ve been doing side kick at mid-level,” protested the teenager.

“I know, but now you’re the example. You have to help lower ranking students too. That’s why I put you in the middle so they can watch you,” I explained. “Now do it again, by my count.” I barked out a command and then glanced over at the girl and glared.

“Is this how we break a board with side kick?” I asked, raising my eyebrows and pointing my toes like a dancer. She smiled shyly, shook her head, and flexed her foot. I turned back to the teenager to continue my lecture.

“Low side kick can be just as powerful as a higher kick. If you break someone’s knee they’re done. That’s what I want you to work on–power and locking out the kick. Besides, when you’re a black belt you have to do a form that has double side kicks, and that’s not easy.” I demonstrated a low side kick immediately followed by a higher kick. He perked up at the prospect of becoming a black belt, nodded his head in understanding, and crouched into a back stance, ready to try the next low kick.

I learn something new in taekwondo class every day, whether it’s something I can improve in my own practice, or reminding myself I need to practice what I preach and do what I tell the students to do. I file away in my brain the tips I give for later use. There’s more pressure as an instructor now. The students’ eyes are on me, as well as those of my instructors and the students’ parents. I have to earn the trust of all of them. It’s not a bad pressure, though; it’s more of a healthy challenge. And what a wonderful opportunity this is–I get to share what I love doing with other people, and I get back what I give tenfold.

You Can Rest on Your Laurels, But Don’t Stay There Too long

apollo

“I’m just resting my eyes for two seconds!”

“I believe in my own skills. I just always try to look forward to what they can be rather than to always look back on what they used to be.”

This was my brother’s response to a friend complimenting him on his musical talent. My brother is a musician (primarily piano and keyboards), and has been able to support himself with his talent since graduating college. He’s proud of that fact, as is the rest of his family. His passion isn’t just his hobby; it also happens to be his paycheck. If only we could all be so lucky.

My brother’s no slouch, though. He works harder than most people I know, spending countless hours composing, rehearsing, teaching, and marketing. What he also hasn’t slacked off on is good old fashioned practice–building his skills and continuously improving them. As he said to his friend, he knows he’s good, and he also knows he can be better.

Good old fashioned practice is probably one of the things I enjoy most about being a somewhat freshly minted taekwondo black belt. Sure, I’ve learned new forms and self-defense techniques and will need to master them to test for my next black belt degree, but what I’ve spent the most time on since last fall has been refinement.

You don’t get a black belt and then just stop practicing…or you’re not supposed to anyway. Being a black belt is an ever-evolving process. Since I haven’t the pressure of a test hanging over my shoulder I’ve been able to relax and take a much deeper dive into taekwondo technique than I ever had time for as a color belt. I can always make little tweaks and adjustments. My front stance can always be sturdier, and my kicks can always be more precise and powerful. I can go back and add black belt level attention to detail to color belt forms and one-step sparring. I can try a wider variety of offensive and defensive moves in a sparring match. I can use my knowledge of color belt techniques to help other students improve their own skills.

The opportunities for growth are endless. And that’s a wonderful thing. It’s not a matter of being dissatisfied with one’s current situation–quite the opposite. It’s a matter of being infinitely curious and passionate.

If you’ve earned your college degree, married your childhood sweetheart, started a new job, or gotten your black belt in taekwondo, then celebrate! Be proud of your accomplishments. Relax and enjoy the moment. Go ahead and rest on your laurels…but don’t stay there too long. Don’t stagnate in what was. Look forward to what can be.

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!

Guest Post: What to Do When Your Martial Arts Practice Feels Stagnant

 

Boxer-working-with-coach

Check out this guest post I wrote for BookMartialArts.com: “What to Do When Your Martial Arts Practice Feels Stagnant”

BookMartialArts.com is the world’s leading martial arts travel company. It is a unique travel site that appeals to martial artists, yoga enthusiasts, fitness buffs, and anyone who wants to challenge their minds and bodies while visiting another part of the world. Search the site to find destinations near or far that will help you make your martial arts dreams a reality.

Learning Theory and Hook Kicks…or…Sweat and the 70/20/10 Principle

adult-learning-presentation-tips

Training is useless without application…and it looks like Hannibal Lecter found this guy before we did.

As I was leaving taekwondo practice Monday night I mentioned to my instructor that I liked the sparring drills he added at the end of class. Monday is typically cardio and conditioning night, but lately we’ve been doing some no contact sparring (i.e., we’re not wearing protective gear so we try not to kill each other), reaction drills, and fighting techniques during the latter half of the class. That night we had done a simple drill during which one partner attacked with a roundhouse kick, which is a very typical (and predictable) attack during free sparring, and the defending partner would counter with a low block and a hook kick to the chest. Fun, simple, but surprisingly difficult for some students to do intuitively.

My instructor’s concern was that students, myself included, hadn’t developed the habit of countering. We strike…hop around…wait for the other person to strike…then we strike again…hop around…and the cycle continues. Ideally a sparring match would be a continuous flow of attacks and counter-attacks from both partners. Sparring skill is a combination of training, technique, strategy, and intuition, and unless a student is naturally gifted, it requires a great deal of practice to master. It’s not like we weren’t practicing; maybe our problem was that we weren’t practicing “smart.”

As I walked out to my car I thought, “Wait a minute! This is theory and application! This is the same thing we’re trying to get our employees to do in the workplace!” I thought about that night’s drill. Hook kick is my favorite kick. It looks cool, it’s fun to do, but all I’ve ever really used it for in sparring is a stalling tactic: swiping a hook kick at someone’s face distracts them and keeps them at a distance, but I’ve never made contact. I wasn’t using it in any context. I do a hook kick just because I want to do a hook kick, but that doesn’t mean I was using it effectively. Incidentally, two days later in sparring class, I got a few good shots to my opponents’ chest with hook kicks because I was using it as a counter technique, not a “just because I want to” technique. Point!

My classmates and I have spent a lot of time practicing kicks and prescribed, memorized self-defense techniques, but we haven’t given as much effort to putting what we learn into practice other than a weekly free sparring class, which even then is restricted by the polite rules of engagement. It makes perfect sense in theory…but when it’s put into practice it’s evident that we need to spend a lot more time experimenting and applying what we’ve learned. We’re not making the connection between what we learn in theory and what we can put into practice when the opportunity presents itself.

In our weekend bo dan/black belt class we’ve been playing around with more freestyle fighting against weapons or each other’s hands. Last week one of my fellow new black belts and I found ourselves blinking dumbly at each other as we tried to wrap our little minds around some new twists on the hand-to-hand self-defense techniques we had learned as red belts. Some black belts we were! It made sense in theory…but was useless without practice and application. Mimicking our instructor is not enough. We taekwondo practitioners have to be able to think quickly and be able to use anything from our arsenal at any time.

Training of any kind, whether it’s taekwondo or those pesky grown-up professional skills such as having a difficult conversation or running an effective meeting, runs the risk of being futile if it does not include a method of application. The problem is that we often put so much weight and expectation onto the training itself to magically solve whatever issue we’re having without any effort or change on our part. In my professional life as an organizational development (OD) consultant I’ve heard many times from clients the complaint that they took a class on building an accountable culture or having a critical conversation or whatever the problem might be, but “it didn’t do anything.” Amazingly enough they were demanding that same class, as if somehow this time it would be different. “Training” always seems to be the first solution to a problem that is often times not even thoroughly defined.

The issue isn’t the training. It’s how it’s applied. The 70/20/10 model of learning, which has been attributed to the Center for Creative Leadership for pioneering, dictates that for learning to be effective it should follow this ration:
-10% of learning is from traditional education: reading, listening to a lecture, more “passive” learning.
-20% is from coaching and feedback, collaborative learning, mentoring.
-70% is from on-the-job (or in our case, in-the-dojang) application.

We often reverse this ratio and wonder why nothing changes. It’s not surprising since our first experience with learning as a child was being expected to sit quietly while we listened to a lecture from a teacher and would somehow magically absorb and regurgitate the information. For some people that works, but for most learners, especially as they get older, it doesn’t. My best and most memorable teachers in high school in college were the ones that encouraged experimenting, asking questions, working with partners, trial and error, and discovery. The ones who did straight lecture were ineffective and forgettable, although I’m grateful that my grad school finance teacher was so boring because I used his worthless class time to find my current condo on a home finder app. What, I was still practicing finance, it was just personal finance!!

Learners, most notably adult learners, benefit most from instruction that is centered on solving a problem (e.g., What do I do when someone punches at my head?), provides application and experience of what is being learned, allows the adult learner to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction, and is immediately relevant to the adult learner’s life….meaning, if I’m simply told what to do if someone punches at my head, it won’t sink in. I need to see it, kinesthetically experience it, receive feedback on my performance, ask questions, relate it to my current experience and situation, and repeatedly try it over and over.

The beauty of this principle is that it holds the learner accountable even though there is initial responsibility on the person training/coaching/mentoring/supervising the learner to provide information, feedback, and opportunity to practice. I can’t expect my taekwondo instructor to do my work for me any more than we can expect a corporate trainer in a workshop on having difficult conversations to do the work for the person attending the class. They are major influencers and help set the learner up for success, but ultimately the learner is responsible for their own performance. Whatever we’re learning, whether we’re kids in elementary school or adults in a university or a hospital or a corporation, we have to practice, seek feedback, take the initiative to make changes, and continuously evaluate and improve our performance.

My instructor is on to something. He’s been adding more reactionary (i.e., defending against an unpredicted punch or kick) and countering drills (i.e., fighting back when attacked rather than just blocking and waiting for the next thing to happen) to all our classes so we would be better prepared to defend ourselves against any situation in sparring class or in the worst case scenario, a real life attack.

Wednesday night during the advanced class I thought about the 70/20/10 principle as we practiced some more reaction and countering drills. In pairs, we were given simple instructions to attack with a punch and counter with a punch. That was the 10%. Pretty soon my partner and I were adding on more defenses and attacks, asking each other what we thought would work, trying different approaches, and getting feedback from our instructor on whether it was effective or not. That was the 20% (collaborative learning, coaching, and feedback) and a bit of the 70% (practical application). Had we had time to get into more “freestyle” fighting that would force us to think quickly and respond on-the-spot that would have been the 70%. It was the perfect opportunity to be introduced to a concept and experiment with it so we could become more effective taekwondo practitioners.

The moral of the story? Learning is not just listening, which is still the pervasive assumption in many aspects of training for both children and adults. Learning is practicing, experimenting, application, seeking feedback, and making incremental changes. That type of learning leads to mastery.