Martial Arts Humor – Friends?

A friend of mine. . .er, a training partner. . .recently posted this.  Humor to be found indeed!

Most of us see each other on the mat, in the Dojo, and sporting a gi.  Period.  

There are those rare occasions on which we are spotted in civilian clothing but generally speaking, “hanging out” translates to “sparring.”  Again, period.

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Even our Facebook message threads. . . it’s all about an impromptu class here, a “did you see that fight?!” there… Our social hour includes rolling, choking, striking…you know, the fun stuff.  But I guess at the end of the day it all works out because we are on the same page…er, mat…right?

Don’t judge.  We all have our thing!

Thankful In The 2nd Degree

I recently had the good fortune to complete my 2nd Dan promotion in Taekwondo, Hapkido and Kumdo – Our curriculum includes all three Arts, though we focus primarily on the Taekwondo, and Hapkido (both of which I adore!)  I hadn’t actually stepped foot in a dojang until my early 30’s – but despite zero background in Martial Arts as a whole, I maintained the belief that anything was achievable.   

My personal athletic history includes classical training in ballet for a decade, competitive figure skating for about sixteen years, and competitive ballroom dancing for about seven.  I supplemented my training with weightlifting and some cardio from the age of 13 on, and certainly gave other sports a try over the years (many of which, I confess, were under duress.  Still, it was to my benefit, as I learned what did…and didn’t...work for me!) 

The school I attend is run by the phenomenally accomplished Grandmaster Ik Jo Kang of Korea – not only an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, but also a 9th Degree in Hapkido, as well as highly skilled in knife throwing, short stick, long stick, and nunchucks (among other things.)  He’s most definitely a force to be reckoned with, and someone I looked up to from day 1.  

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Kwan Jang Nim (the appropriate term for Grandmaster) welcomed me warmly, encouraging me in spite of my very dancelike habits and lack of experience.  He generously took me under his wing, and I spent countless private lessons trying to learn as much as I possibly could retain.  Most Grandmasters at his level are no longer teaching, not to mention teaching lower belts – we, his students, are very blessed.

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During one of my more intense lessons, in which we practiced nearly and hour of jump kicks and combinations (yung seuk chagi), my foot rolled into a divot in the mat, changing my athletic career in less than a second.  As I took off for a spinning, jumping back kick, my knee jolted left to right, severing my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), tearing the meniscus, tearing the hamstring (at the gastrocnemius tie-in), and severely contusing the bones.  

I literally saw stars (I describe it as the Cinderella, Fairy-Godmother-effect from my skating days – spin super fast, and that is precisely what when down!)

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Kwan Jang Nim, seeing that I couldn’t move, helped me put pressure to assist with the pain (the hamstring tear was likely the most intense part – popped ACLs cause swelling, but not the dramatic wave of pain I was experiencing.  In a fit of cold sweats I tried not to be sick, and to get myself to my feet.  I was able to do so within a minute or two but there was something clearly amiss – athletes (of whatever kind!) get used to the bumps, bruises, and muscular pain – this was something different.

Sad to say…I was diagnosed with a torn hamstring only.  The trauma within the patellar region was severe enough that the swelling prevented the Lachman’s test from divulging what was really going on (typically, it’s a failsafe – the knee pops forward and it’s pretty darn clear that the ACL is damaged, or no longer intact!)  We didn’t think the MRI was required – though it was painful, stiff, and swollen, I could still bear my weight.  I could still LIFT weights at the gym.  I could do everything pretty much as normal except that I “felt” like something wasn’t right.  There was a hair of instability that I didn’t believe I’d had prior and, four months later, without signs of abating, an MRI confirmed I wasn’t crazy.  (Bottom line: YOU KNOW YOUR BODY!  If it doesn’t feel right, check it out immediately!)

I read the MRI report and burst into tears…  Two months prior I had won two titles at the World Championships in ballroom – I was right at a peak age, and ready to revamp my routines and push myself as far as I could go… But in the fell swoop of one, poorly-supported moment…my competitive dreams were taken away.

I was in surgery days after receiving the news. The recovery itself was the most painful physical situation I’ve been in, not to mention one of the more trying (though not the worst) on an emotional level as well.  My parents are saints for having put up with me – the prospect of not dancing was already devastating, and to know that physical activity was off limits for months did NOT sit well.  I lost three inches around my thigh – my quad was actually concave when the swelling subsided – and about eight pounds on that side.  Let’s just say it was eye-opening.  

Perspective…

I remember meeting my friend Roger for the first time.  Roger was a Sergeant, SWAT Team member, pilot and badass Harley-rider who had been diagnosed with ALS some years earlier – he has since passed, but will ever be remembered as a hero…and an inspiration.  When we were introduced, my best friend mentioned that I was a dancer.  Roger’s face lit up like a sun and he smiled larger than the room (I have goosebumps recalling it.)  He typed (with his eyes) into his computer, “do you watch Dancing With the Stars?” “My old teacher is on the show!” I replied.  The warmth, excitement, and genuine care Roger’s face expressed nearly moved me to tears – in that moment I remembered my first day at physical therapy after my knee reconstruction…

I remember that I was asked to “fire my quad” and I couldn’t do it.  Confused, I looked at my thigh, sending the message to it to contract.  Nothing.  It was like a dead limb…and it was terrifying.  When I spoke to Roger I thought “my God…he wakes up every day knowing it won’t get better…  He wakes up and something else doesn’t work, and it won’t come back.”  There I was acting like a big baby…and my leg WAS going to heal.

That moment stayed with me, and it’s something I think about when I’m feeling down – I am SO blessed.  He would smile and tell me to be careful, despite his own circumstance – I will never forget the bravery, nor his ever-present selflessness.  He affected me so much that I agreed to do the Tri-State Trek in his honor – we knew his time was limited and I wanted to repay him for the gift of sight and perspective he gave me while he was still with us.

I didn’t have my first Black Belt at the time, but Roger and I, and one of my best friends Rick, would always share smiles and laughs about my Martial Arts training – I was determined to become a badass one day!  I would say the training (road bike) ride was exhausting and I was going to kick Rick’s butt for it…adding a “KIYAH!” along with my kicking motions.  Roger would always giggle and say that Rick would have to “watch out! She’s dangerous.”

The knee recovery derailed my competitive ballroom dancing…but I was as set on getting my black belt no matter how hard it would be, or how long it took to get there.  When I was able to finally get up one stair – ten months after surgery – my Grandmaster allowed me to come back to the school to start training again.  He was incredibly patient, and always mindful of my injury.  I took baby steps and modified where necessary – while I couldn’t do everything, I still could do SOMEthing.  I wasn’t giving up…

The only aspect of the Black Belt promotion I had some trouble with was snapping a side kick and breaking boards – the emotional paralysis you can sustain from traumatic injury can really stick with you, and it was quite prevalent at that moment!  Fortunately, I was permitted to do breaks with my hands.  PHEW!  The new rank meant the WORLD to me…because it represented my persistence, my perseverance, my dedication…  It represented that I could achieve anything I set my heart to – just like the 300 mile bike ride for Roger.  

I continued my training with Kwan Jang Nim, eager to perfect what I knew…and to learn even more – in Martial Arts, the learning NEVER stops!  I managed to tear my right knee along the way – again with a kick – but I refused to reconstruct it and kept forging ahead (despite the chagrin of my orthopedic surgeon!)  

After maintaining the rank a while, students were getting excited for the next big promotion.  But, while they usually occur at quarterly intervals (maybe more), the schedule shifted dramatically.  Kwan Jang Nim was given an opportunity to finally shoot his Screenplay– a long-time dream of his.  While we were sad we couldn’t do our promotion, we were incredibly excited for him that his dream was coming to fruition.

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Within that time, though, I met the Love of my Life…who had apparently lived just yards away from my Dojang all that time… He was moving away from our town two weeks after we met and…fast forward six months, I was following him out of state too. The promotion loomed over me – I was ready to test, but I was no longer at the school to participate in classes, to practice, to learn, to perfect… 

I stayed in touch with Kwan Jang Nim, eager to hear about any set dates for the testing.  I practiced on my own, as I always did back home…but it was so much more important without others to work with me.  My hunnie kindly “stole my wallet” many nights as he grilled dinner so I could practice my Hapkido defenses.  And I never gave up the hope of getting back home to take my 2nd Degree test.

In January I got a call that the promotion was set for early February – I wasn’t sure I could get back for the actual date, so Kwan Jang Nim…very generously…agreed to meet me privately and do my test earlier.  FINALLY, the day came, and I was overjoyed.

Seeing Kwan Jang Nim again was amazing – I realized how much I missed my classes, and the Dojang, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to “do my thing.”  The test went amazingly – I feel like I’m still glowing from the experience.  I feel so blessed, and so thankful to officially be a Kyo Sa Nim. ❤ 

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It’s funny because sometimes people assume that getting a belt is something that you just “pay for.”  There is a business aspect to many schools that allows for that to occur…but there are a lot of us who work HARD to get where we are.  We get their early, do chores we aren’t asked to do, practice on our own.  We go to class, ask for feedback, and repeat until we can’t move.  

Some of us – MOST of us – have had debilitating injuries over the years, and we push through them with determination to reach our goals.  It is EARNED, NOT GIVEN for many of us, and there is a lot of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears along the way.  

My friends have achieved incredible things – feats I look up to with deep reverence.  Overcoming personal setbacks, in particular, is something I have profound respect for – whether emotional, physical or spiritual.  For me, this was one of those things… I refused to give up my Arts because I destroyed on knee – it had already taken so much away.  I refused to give them up when I tore the second one – my passion never diminished.  

I have modified, and persisted, and kept my eye on my goal – those two stripes will forever remind me that I have what it takes, no matter what.  Having the heart is more than half the battle – never give up on you, or what brings you joy.  

Leg Day Splits

I try to split up my leg workouts these days, not because I can’t finish a workout focusing on quads and hams together…but more so because I am FAR too sore when I do both in the same day!  The ramifications of that are not only discomfort on a higher scale, but the inability to train as well in the Dojo / Dojang / on the mats.

Glute recruitment happens either way, but some of the heftiest quadricep dominant and hamstring dominant are relegated to two separate days...meaning I split up the squats and leg press from the deadlifts and single leg deadlifts.

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Now obviously, I’m using those muscles in all of the lower body exercises, but I have found that doing all of them in one day can be too much of a good thing, and I get better results when I am not totally decimated…

LEG DAY 1

  1. Deadlifts – 4 to 5 sets of 10 to 16 (depends on weight)
  2. Single Led Deadlifts – 3 sets of 12 with 45 lb dumbbell
  3. Hip Thrusts – 3 sets of 16 with 80 or 90 lbs (varied foot placement)
  4. Leg Curl – 3 to 5 sets (weight depends on machine)
  5. Straight Leg Cable Kickbacks – 3 drop sets using heavier weight, 3 sets lighter weight
  6. Abs

LEG DAY 2

  1. Smith Machine Squats – 5 sets (varied weight and foot placement. I don’t go heavy here.)
  2. Walking Lunges or Step-Back Lunges – 6 sets, or equal to about 120 lunges, including both sides
  3. Leg Press – MAJOR Drop sets (3 sets with 10 45 plates, 3 sets with 8 45s, 3 sets with 6 45s, 3 sets with 4 45s, 3 sets of single leg presses with 2 45s.)  Nasty.  *LOL*
  4. Sumo Squats – 3 sets of 12 with 65 lb dumbbell
  5. Bent Knee Cable Kickbacks – 3 sets only if I’m not too sore!
  6. Leg Extension – 3 sets at 90 lbs, not too heavy
  7. Abs

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Basically at the end of the week it’s hard to walk! 😉  I LOVE lifting heavy, but I’ve also learned that sometimes I have to go easier, especially these days – because I do Martial Arts, flexibility is MASSIVELY important.  

I need to be mindful and stretch, as well as foam roll (I need to be better about that) – heavy lifting WILL impede your flexibility, like it or not.  Can you have both?  Absolutely!  But the reality is that you will be more limber when you don’t destroy your legs, so either going a little easier…or really making that time to stretch out…will make a difference – your goals will determine what works best!

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Martial Arts “Dork” Debacle

Actually, I’m not sure if I’m a dork, a nerd...or something else?  I vaguely recall a contemplative conversation I had with my uncle discussing the nuances of geekery and nerddom, etc.  (We felt he was solidly in “geek” territory himself, though my designation wasn’t wholly clear.)

I’ve discovered that there’s an alarming number of charts, graphs, even venn diagrams to explain the key differences – in combination with countless online quizzes, it sounds like my uncle and I were onto a still ambiguously-answered topic.

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I’m mulling over the below, as one example, wondering whether there is a happy ground anywhere…or at least one less, er, pejorative and vehement than “psychopath”?  Maybe I’m in Martial Arts Geekland?

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ORANGE…

  • Obsessed is a possibility… I have an ardent passion for Martial Arts – one which, I daresay, teeters on the verge of “obsession.”  Not partial.  Full-fledged.
  • I’m also a “workaholic” and “fanatic”…when it comes to sports, career, school…I work incredibly hard, and care about results. Strike-true, chart!  As I always say, however, there is a fine line between dedication and stupidity!  Sometimes those of us with this level of zeal – nigh insatiable at times – push a little too hard.  So while it’s off-putting to see some negatively-leaning attributes in that orangey-pink sphere, they might be fair to say.  
  • Anxiety I struggle with sometimes, but not so much with my Martial Arts – my practice is very much my sanity, and a place where I am very happy to be.  Because anxiety runs in my family, calming and centering activities are a must.
  • Mad Scientist gives me visions of Dr. Finklestien.  Science fascinates me.  I love the intellectual humor.  I was elated over a microscope that I got for Christmas when I was a kid… But I don’t tend to do any experiments these days.  No bunsen burners, no haphazardly put-together, resurrected beasts.  Just kicks, punches, sparring, chokes… I’m straightforward.
  • Nerd.  Therein lies my question… Am I?  Am I NOT?!
  • Dork.  Maybe yes, maybe no.

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BLUE

  • Emotionally unstable? Not in the certifiable way! Emotional?  Absolutely.  Many Martial Artists I know are able to handle stressful situations, but we are human at the end of the day, so emotions are underlying all we do – they are the reason we have the drive to do what we do at all.  We have fire in our souls, eagerness in our bodies, and love in our hearts.  I’ve seen anger too, no question, but rarely. Though I am an ESP (Extra Sensitive Person / Empath) I have gotten more grounded though my practices – I am still very sensitive, but I don’t agressively fly off the handle like I once used to.  I do shut down sometimes (not proud of that) but I’m working on it! Always room to grow and improve!
  • Crazy?  Well…I love vampires, sparkles, and kicking things, so I think I qualify somewhere in there, all the way out in the blue zone!
  • Irrational doesn’t really apply for me.  My old boss once said “you are so responsible, I feel bad for you.”  I know, I had the same “I’m sorry, what?” reaction.  I can be a wild card, but I’m not careless or unsound by any stretch.  Opponents often are, but we can’t afford to be.
  • Psychopath.  No, can’t say that I am.  (Not to say a person bearing said diagnosis is going to totally admit it, but I can safely say I’m not in the psychopathic sector!  Been with too many NPD-afflicted individuals (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and sociopaths so…let’s just say I’ve done my research!)

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YELLOW

  • Socially Inept.  MAJOR nope.  I’m a Gemini – most of the planet thinks I’m a social butterfly.  I can talk to anyone, and am often approached by people who spill a ton of personal information, but as an Empath, I’m more like the elusive butterfly.  I adapt easily so social situations are a breeze. Most Martial Artists I know are warm and very socially capable.  We also know when to shut our traps at the Dojang / Dojo / Academy.
  • Clueless?!  I LOVE to learn, and I believe awareness physically, emotionally, and spiritually is vital.  So this is a big no.  Martial Artists must be aware of his or her surroundings – it’s part of our training, and it is engrained.  I don’t know a single one who is clueless.
  • Sociopath, see Psychopath above!
  • I looked up Dweeb and found “a boring, studious, or socially inept person.”  Ouch.  Well, I’m not at all boring, but I get bored in two seconds.  I’m studious with my sports, but as above, not inept.  1 of 3?

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GREEN

  • Intelligent.  I like to think so! 😀
  • Inventor.  In some ways (in figure skating, in dance, and in Fashion…)  But in the traditional, more mechanical sense?  Not so much. 

Now…There are six designations in each of these circles, so if I was being mathematical about all this:

  • Orange – At least 3 of 6
  • Blue – 1, possibly 2 of 6
  • Yellow – 1, possibly 2 (Nerd / Dork conundrum) of 6
  • Green – 2, possibly 3 of 6

This didn’t solve my problem.

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I looked up Dork and Nerd to see which made more sense…but the definitions feel kind of boorish.  Given that Dork falls in the orange, and that’s where I mostly am… I think I’m more Dork than Nerd, which falls (evidently) under the larger umbrella of the almighty “GEEK.”  

So for the sake of ending this novel*… I’m a Geeork.  It sounds kind of Star Wars, doesn’t it!? 😉 

*Nerd is a close contender.  Close to a tie.  So if you call me a Neek, I won’t be offended. 🙂

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Tap Out!

This is something I believe in adamantly...

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I hate to say I’ve seen this, but it happens all the time. Sometimes during training you will catch people waiting to tap – on occasion it isn’t “almost too late,” it’s already too far. 

I am the first person to appreciate drive, and the desire to compete (particularly with oneself – many of us who devote ourselves to Martial Arts are goal setters, and personal achievements are important.)  That said, there is absolutely ZERO room for bravado.  I see it plenty, and we all have a right to behave the way we want to – but it is an attitude and approach I simply can’t get behind.

When we are training, we MUST be mindful.  If we are a higher belt, mindful awareness should go without saying.  And if we are a lower belt, someone who has rank should be making the point that it is not only OKAY to tap, but that students are encouraged to.  There is no shame, you are not admitting some horrifying defeat by doing it, nor is it a sign of weakness.  You are training intelligently.  Period.

Tapping is intended to keep you – and your body parts – safe!  You want to train as long as possible, right!?  When you feel pressure, you should tap.  If it hurts, you waited to long!  

Fortunately at my Taekwondo and Hapkido dojang, as well as at the Ninjutsu dojo, and Jiu-Jitsu school, tapping is highly encouraged so that we are in the game as long as possible.

And it isn’t totally about avoiding injury either.  Tapping is important feedback for your training partner – when you tap you indicate that they have “gotten” the technique.  If you wait to long, they will apply more pressure or torque in order to execute the technique…all the while NOT knowing they’ve already done it properly, injuring you in the process.  

I know that movies out there like to push the “tough guy” image, but class is not the place to be acting like you are impervious.  You aren’t.  Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali weren’t either.  We are flesh and blood – bones break, tendons snap, accidents happen.  

So if you feel discomfort because of a technique, that pressure is telling you that you are about to go into dangerous territory – as in, beyond normal mobility and range of motion.  So do yourself – AND your partner – a favor.  

TAP!

Tap, tap, and tap often.  

The safer you train, the longer you can keep at it!

Buckles and Badassery at the Dojang

Well…it’s more like buckles, badassery, and ballets at the dojang.  My Grandmaster LOVES that I am a dancer (I regularly tell him he is one inherently, though he protests – his love of movement transcends his own Arts)…but in this case I mean that I was in ballet flats today.  

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I actually don’t love ballet flats…but I can’t stand flip flops, and can’t very well be barefoot all the time!  We all need something for warmer weather that’s easy to slip on.  I found these Nine West ballets and the upper was…I thought…kind of badass.  

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The multi-buckle, oval ring, and several-strapped style has kind of a punky flair…and that works for me.  I’m not exactly girlie girl, so I don’t do well with the traditional bow-adorned, or cutsie-rounded styles (and the like.)  Mind you, I WAS classically trained in ballet, I am a dancer, and I love glitter…but all in all, I’m more tough around the edges and can’t – believably – pull off something too demure and sweet.

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So…I snagged these, and I love them.  I can slip them on and off, which is a great thing when I get to the dojang and want to get started!  I can’t say it is the best look on the planet, but they’re black (my favorite! 🙂 ) so they…er…blend…with my dobok pants.  

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At least I think so…and since I’m the one wearing them, I guess that’s all that matters!

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Opening the Dojang

I started Martial Arts much later than most but, at 34, I felt undaunted – I always wanted to learn and I’d never have known unless I tried.  A woman in my class started her training at 45 and was working on her second degree when we met – that alone helped to reassure me that my “hell with it, I’m going to start!” was still a good idea.  I always encourage others who express interest to absolutely do so – regardless of age!  You can always modify movements, or find a class that will work for you – but it is truly never too late to start.

My Grandmaster entrusted me with a key early on, recognizing my habit of getting in before class to stretch, warm up, and clean the Dojang.  The latter part was something I always felt was important – Martial Artist or not, the Grandmaster certainly shouldn’t be doing it, and it was my way of quietly contributing to the community.  

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That hour or so before class is kind of like my bit of peace for the day – it allows me to get into a zone, and specifically devote time to getting limber – over the years I have done that less, and it IS a use-it-or-lose-it deal with flexibility.  Skating six to seven times a week, in addition to dancing at least twice, as well as school sports, meant very little time to tighten up.  Fast forward many moons…HAVE to make it a habit or it isn’t going to happen!

I enjoy the time alone and feel incredibly blessed to be able to be in the Dojang when it is also at rest.  There isn’t any noise to distract, save for the nearly silent buzzing of the lights, or the cars going by outside… 

Whatever your little sanctuary is…or wherever you can catch a few moments of peace in your day…embrace it.  

Embrace that time.  

Feel the physical sensations of your body when you are relaxed.  

Life is so hectic these days – remember those moments of inner rest, because just by tapping into the memory, you can evoke a sense of much needed calm.  Kind of like you have your own little Donjang to pop into for a few minutes…even in a crowded street.

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