Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ten Down, One To Go

I knew it was going to be a tough morning when the head instructor looked at Nick and me during warmups and said, "Since you two are testing to become black belt candidates, you probably won't get many breaks today."

Nails done for the test as per my tradition...all but ring finger painted to match the belt for which I am testing.  The blue nail is to remind me to relax and breathe.

There were 14 of us testing yesterday: four adults, one teenager (Nick) and the rest younger kids.  Every test is organized a little differently just to shake things up, but in general, a test starts with the warmup (jumping jacks, sit-ups, pushups, stretches, rolls, breakfalls, etc) and then moves into material in belt-level order.  Everyone starts out doing all the techniques and forms together,  and as the instructor finishes with your belt level you bow and step to the side to watch the higher ranks.  As the high belts testing--by several belts--that meant that Nick and I were front and center by ourselves for some time.  As a 15 year-old boy, Nick absolutely has the physical edge on me, so my goal was to represent well for the adults in the program by demonstrating that skill and technique are not limited to the young whippersnappers.

As soon as we finished there, dripping sweat, we were sent to the back of the room to run through our self-defenses.  Each belt level has its own, and an instructor attacks you for all of them in sequence, both right and left sides, no stopping.  Nick and I are expected to know and properly execute 33 of these at our level.   With that done, we were called back to the front of the room, told to sit on the floor, and three attackers holding target pads came at us so that we had to defend ourselves against three opponents from floor level. That gets to be a lot like exercise after a while, especially in a warm room!

By that point, we were two hours into the test and Nick and I had had exactly one very brief chance to grab a drink.  We'd been told it would run about two hours total, but I'd been looking at the clock and gauging the remaining material that needed to be covered, so I knew there was no way that would happen.  Sure enough, right at the two-hour mark the head instructor told me that if I'd brought my sparring gear, I should go put it on.  The sparring gear is protective padding...most of us wear headgear plus hand, shin and foot coverings.  

Our black belt test includes a sparring component, which is affectionately known as the "Chain of Pain."   The candidate faces 12 to 15 opponents for one minute each.  The opponents cycle in and out, so they are fresh while the candidate gets no breaks.  It's a test of endurance, of the candidate's ability to dig deep while exhausted and find a new source of strength to get them through.  It's also something that never fails to choke me up when I watch one, since everyone in the room (including the current sparring opponent!) is cheering on and supporting the candidate to help them through it.  The energy is amazing and I get chills just thinking about it.  Anyway, as a practice of sorts for our next test, Nick and I had to do an abridged version of the Chain of Pain at that point, 8 opponents for 30 seconds each.  One of mine was the head instructor, and I had enough energy left to jam him up and keep him from doing much, which made him and everyone else watching laugh!  

Three of the four boards I broke.  No idea what happened to the fourth.

Get the sparring gear back off, hastily gulp a little Gatorade, get handed a stack of four wooden boards.  You choose four techniques (two hand, two foot) and instructors hold boards for you roughly at the four compass directions with you in the center.  The goal is to break them all in quick succession.  This was new to me...last time I only had two boards.  Moving on up.  Knife hand strike, elbow strike, skipping side kick, spin axe kick and I went through every damn one of those boards on the first shot!  Crack, crack, crack, crack.  Whew.  Note to self, though...ELBOW strike in future, not WRIST strike.  Ugh.  Caught that board a little too far down my arm in the heat of the moment, looked down afterward and realized I had a lovely swollen purple knot just below my wrist.  Crap.  Could tell nothing was broken at least and got an ice pack on it immediately.  Today it looks much better, thankfully.

Test over.  New belt earned.  A few mistakes, but that's going to happen.  Things to remember and work on for next time.  Walked out with the ice pack still on my wrist but a big smile on my face.

The new belt!

And now I am officially a black belt candidate!!  The black belt test is much harder than this one, so it a good thing that I have 6-12 months to prepare for it.  I was ready for what they threw at me yesterday and still had gas in the tank at the end, even as hot and tired as I was.  Can't even begin to tell you how good that felt.  My goal going into any test is not to embarrass myself or the program and to show that I deserve to be there.  Yesterday, I accomplished that goal.

As soon as I got home, I put the new testing certificate in front of all the others in the frame on my office wall and added my old brown belt to the belt rack that hangs next to it.  My routine upon returning home from a test.  Then I took a long, hot shower.

I need a bigger belt rack!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It's Funny *Now*...

Ah, the perspective that time brings.  Would have been nice to know way back when that my sons were actually both going to survive their toddlerhood relatively unscathed despite their best efforts to take themselves out of the genepool at a very young age.

Exhibit A: the staircase in our front hall.  15 steps, straight up, no landing, hard floor at the bottom.  I had a baby gate at the bottom of those stairs for years.  Petunia, sweet agreeable child that she was, never tried to circumvent that gate to get upstairs.  The boys, on the other hand...have five fingers, as my dad would say.  Both of them viewed the gate as a personal challenge.  "Ha, think that stinkin' gate will stop me from going upstairs??  Think again!!"

This picture is not of my sons, but it might as well be.  Looks like a clone of our staircase, even!  And both of my boys did exactly what these kids are doing when they were two or three...climbed up the outside since they couldn't get over the gate.  Is it any wonder that I have gray hair??

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Just Keep Showing Up

I started studying taekwondo in the fall of 2011.  At the time, I was convinced that I was absolutely the most clueless and uncoordinated student who had ever donned a white belt and that it would be a bloody miracle if I ever figured out what I was doing in the dojo.  In general, 38 is not really the optimal age to be starting with a martial art, but I figured it was as young as I was ever going to be again and starting at 39, 40 or 62 was unlikely to yield a better result.

Fast forward the better part of five years, and things have improved significantly.  I still can't do a jump spin kick worth a damn (work in progress), but I have most of the other material I've learned down reasonably well and I've actually been permitted to help teach lower belts, too.  In our system, the white belt is the first you receive and the black belt your twelfth.  My current belt is brown, level ten, and at class last night I was invited to test for level eleven on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

Now, I'm reasonably athletic but not supremely fit by any means.  At 42, I look much more like the middle aged soccer mom I am than any kind of ninja.  I wear a steel-hinged knee brace to protect my cartilage-deficient right knee and my right shoulder occasionally acts up on me as well.  In short, I'm not really anyone's stereotype of a martial artist.  What I do have going for me is persistence, however.  For the last four-plus years, I've been doggedly going to class two, three, four times a week, whatever fit the schedule, and doing my best, whatever form it took on that day.  And slowly but surely, I've been learning and progressing and improving.  Eleven days from today, I will test for my senior brown belt.  And God willing, twelve days from today I will start learning the material I need to know to earn my black belt in taekwondo, finally and at last.

It's just like the old story about how you eat an elephant, bite at a time.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

This One's For You, Dad

My father is a man who likes to plan ahead and then make sure (to the best of his ability) that things go according to those plans.  This includes double- and triple-checking everything, getting everywhere early, and formulating alternative possibilities where necessary.  Because of this, he affectionately refers to himself as "Ol' Belt And Suspenders."  Not that he actually wears suspenders, just that he's the kind of guy who would consider wearing both just to make darned SURE that those pants stay up.

Well, today at lunch I actually saw a man wearing both a belt and suspenders!!!  He was sitting at the next table chatting with a friend.  Made me think of Dad immediately...the living embodiment of his nickname.  I wanted to ask him if he is also compulsively early for everything like Dad but couldn't quite muster the guts.  :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

One More

Got a call from one of the head guys at West today.  Apparently an offer for Petunia will be forthcoming shortly.  Hallelujah and pass the donuts.  There is now officially a scenario in which all three of my children could once again be playing for the same soccer club next year!  This is a very good thing for logistical reasons, if nothing else, and West is a very strong club.  Petunia has one more tryout with Central, the kids' current club, tomorrow evening.  Once we hear back from them (i.e., which of their two teams at that age level she's made, assuming she makes one), which should be by the weekend, then we can make a decision for her and will *finally* be out of tryout hell.

Yet another soccer update, sorry.  Welcome to my life.  On the bright side, I am neither a hockey mom nor a swimming mom, both of whom have to deal with the most brutal of practice schedule times.  My best girlfriend's daughter is Thing One's age but swims competitively against high-school aged boys (yes, she's that good) and my poor friend has to get up at 4AM two mornings a week to drive her half an hour each way to and from 5AM practice!  Ugh.  One thing I WILL say for far it has not required us to be up and moving in predawn hours, for which I am deeply and profoundly grateful.  I am so NOT a morning person.

In other family sporting news, at is appearing increasingly likely that at least three of us will be appearing together in the next high belt taekwondo test.  The Things are rapidly approaching Red and Senior Blue respectively, and I (god help me) am staring down the barrel at Senior Brown.  I.e. the belt before Black.  I.e. boy, do I need to start working on my running and pushups!!  Petunia, no slouch herself, will probably test for Blue in the next round.  I am trying to convince Himself that our Christmas card this year should feature the four of us in our gis and him in full running regalia pretending to run away from his family of ninjas, but I don't think that is going to fly.  :)


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Another Update

After asking a few clarifying questions of the coach and then having a discussion with Thing Two, we collectively decided that he should accept the offer from West.  (See previous post.)  Two down, one to go.  Hopefully the one will also be resolved by the end of this coming week so that life as we know it can go back to whatever passes for normal around here.

Oh, and Thing One came home from his dance last night with a big smile on his face.

Friday, May 6, 2016

An Update From My Swirling Head

Three kids times tryouts for three different soccer clubs (which madness we decided to go through for a variety of good reasons related to a big rule change US Soccer is implementing this year) makes for a logistical nightmare.  We've been crazy with that since the beginning of April.  To simplify, let's call the three clubs West, Central and East because of their geographic locations relative to us.  Right now, all three of my kids play for the Central club, which is the closest to home. As I mentioned in a past post, Thing One recently committed to playing for West next year, which is absolutely the best thing for his development as a player.  Not a question.  Thing Two and Petunia have already tried out for both West and East, but Central's tryouts don't start until next week.

Himself received two emails this evening that have thrown us for a loop. First, Thing Two received an offer from West.  It remains to be seen how good an offer it is...we have some questions.  We've yet to hear anything at all from West regarding Petunia.  I happened to run into a trainer I know from East last night, and mentioned to him that we hadn't heard anything from his club for either Thing Two or Petunia even though tryouts were several weeks ago, which news surprised him.  Especially since he would be the coach of Petunia's age-level team. Probably not coincidentally, the second email we received tonight was an offer from East for Petunia.  For one age level UP.  (gulp)  Essentially, it said that she would be receiving an offer for her age group (girls born in 2007) as well, but that her tryout was so strong that they want her to consider playing for their *2006* team.  This despite the fact that she is a young 2007 (born in September.)

So, to summarize:
Thing One: going to West
Thing Two: offer from West (under review), nothing from East
Petunia: mind boggling offer from East, nothing from West

With Central's tryouts not *starting* till this coming Monday.

For the purposes of our family's sanity, I would prefer all three to either play for the same club or, failing that, two at one and one at another.  It takes a good 45 minutes to get from the West practice fields to the East ones, not an ideal situation.  Then add in the game locations, which skew way east for East and way west for West.  Plus all over God's green earth for Thing One's new team, which is good enough to play regionally.

Of course, both East and West want a response to their offers soonest.  We have no idea what we're going to do given that the younger two haven't tried out for Central yet (and yes, this scheduling is a clusterfuck and I have NO IDEA why Central's tryouts are so late.)  UGH.


Oh, and on top of all this, there was a middle school dance this evening.  And Thing One asked a girl to it.  And she accepted.  His first date.  (!!!!!!!!)  Luckily he appears to have good taste so far: the young lady in question is lovely and intelligent and I like her parents very much.  However, he is only 12 and I am JUST NOT READY for this.  There is not enough wine in the world.  :(

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dear Advertisers

Things I will not do, for your reference:

A) Watch an ad that plays before something I actually want to watch.  You can make it play on my screen, but on principle, if I cannot fast forward through the ad or skip it, I will deliberately mute the sound and look away until the ad is done playing.  And most likely be prejudiced against the subject of the ad going forward.  Just saying.

B) Page through any list that is displayed one item per screen, surrounded by ads. Just ain't happening.  Whatever your list is, I don't want to see all (or half, or two) of the items on it that badly.

C) Watch any video to find out what happens next after reading half of a story.  Even if I actually want to know what happens next.  If I wanted to watch your ads, I'd watch your ads.  I just wanted to read the damned story, which I can do in much less time than it would take for you to present it all sensationalized and video-style, anyway.

Yeah, I know I sound like a grumpy old biddy.  Guess I am one.  But GEEZ.  This is almost enough to drive me off my iPad and back to a newspaper for news.  Anyone else have any advertising-related pet peeves or is it just me???

Time In A Bottle

Okay, time can slow down now, please. When I was a kid, I remember my mother saying that the days were long but the years were short.  I d...