Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hyung in a Minor Key

As we are on our path to 10,000 repetitions, we will most likely find some ways to mix them up a little bit. Hyung practice is no different. As adult students, many of us can recall training sessions where we repeated the same hyung over and over again, no rest, no instruction, just doing. This in itself is a great practice, especially if we get our brain to shut off and just perform the hyung.

However, we've probably all mixed in a little variety to keep things interesting from time to time. You may have practiced your hyung at top speed -- or maybe -- in slow motion. I once made the kids in my class do the hyung with animal noise kihaps on every movement. You can even do the forms mirror image, or even from last move to first. All of these are great exercises and key to understanding the hyung beyond the surface.

Another fun exercise is to perform the hyung in a different key, so to speak. Look beyond the labels of the techniques, and try to execute them with a different mindset or intent. Maybe the low block becomes a low strike. Or maybe that hard low block becomes a softer, more circular technique. Think about each move, how it relates to the move before and after. Maybe, instead of stepping to the left for the first technique, you turn left, but step backwards. Make the transitions into formidable attacks and defenses.

Ever been to a class where the senior instructor asks if people can demonstrate an application for a movement? And in that same class, no one raises their hand because they don't want to be wrong? And, you're one of those people, who suddenly becomes very interested in your toenails, hoping to disappear and not be called on? Fear not. Try these drills and methods to unlock new understanding, and be a hit at parties and in the dojang!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Give that Tiny Tiger a Black Belt!!!

File under: Kids Say The Darndest Things, Part 2.

Watching our Tiny Tigers class the other day, the instructor asked the kids "What do we protect when we do Low Block?"

One little girl, no more than 4 years old, raised her hand, did the chambering motion for low block and said "your face!"

In retrospect, I should have taken my belt off right then and there, and tied it around her waist. Smart, creative kid that doesn't get tied up in the labels and has already digested one of the "secrets" of training. I should have her start teaching a class for me. :)

Meihua Follow-up (Or, I actually follow up on a project.)

Last year, I came wrote a short article on Meihua Post training. My dear readers may recall that I toyed with the idea of planting posts in the backyard. In the end, I decided my neighbors already think I'm crazy, and may not need any further evidence. Not to mention the gas and electric companies have used the best parts of my backyard for underground lines, and digging through them is not how I want to ruin a weekend.

So I went to the idea of a portible unit as described by "Yao Sing" on the Kung Fu Magazine forums. His folding post stands seemed like just what I would want. I can set it up outside, or in the garage, and then fold it out of the way when done. I could even elect to wear a shirt when I use it, as I'm not quite to his level of performance. ;)

Last year was a little rough from a personal standpoint, so the project was tossed onto the pile of things that I'd like to eventually get to. Last week, however, I was inspired to dabble in PVC for an unrelated project. After finishing that, I decided to use some leftover PVC and a little free time to put together this project. The only problem: no dimensions are available for the stand, so I had to guess a little. In my head, I saw the total length of the posts to be about the length of my front stance, and the distance from one corner to the other to be about a horse stance.

Last night, I picked up all of the extra pieces from the big box hardware store (sticker shock... those connector pieces add up to around $90) and started cutting, swearing, cutting, swearing until I achieved victory.

These are the posts, in all their glory. The first battle has been won. I connected them using 2 foot long pieces of 2" wide PVC. This, as it turns out, was way too long. A 48" front stance may not sound too bad, and on the ground it isn't. However, what I failed to add to my calculations was that the joining pieces would add another 11" of distance between the posts. For me, that takes it out of Front Stance territory, and more into Front Split territory. That's a whole other project!

Aside from that, standing on the posts in a good horse stance made for a challenge. Different muscles work harder at keeping you stable and balanced. It was a lot of fun, and I can see how one gets very good at weight shifting when moving between posts.

Still thinking that a 48" stance was manageable, I cut off 6" from both pieces, so that the longest distance between posts was 48". Let me tell you something. If you're safely on the ground, reaching into a long front stance is easy. When you're standing on a 4 inch pole 2 feet from the ground and you need to put your other foot on a 4 inch wide pole 4 feet away... Oh, also, there's another pole halfway there, so if you miss, the middle pole catches you in the goodies.

That means, my connecting poles need to be closer to 12" in length. I wanted to cut them down, but by this point, I was "le tired." So this battle will wait another night. The next phase of the project involves PVC cement and making sure the pieces stay nice and tight. Once everything cures, I look forward to getting on the posts and practicing a bit and then torturing my students.

In the meantime, here's a fun link to some more things you can do once you get up on the posts.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You're doing it wrong.

I've often heard the benefits of martial training. Supposedly, it's great for the body. Indeed, if it wasn't for my training, I'd probably look more or less like these guys. I know lots of folks who have injured themselves needlessly over the years, and as a result are no longer able to enjoy training in the same way. Oddly enough, I also know a lot of people who pride themselves on their swollen knuckles, crooked toes, bad shoulders, Costco-sized barrels of Dit Da Jow, etc.

And I'm not talking about this:

That's just funny!

I'm worried about things that are a little more subtle. Shortcuts that are taken to get to a level of power, speed or flexibility beyond one's actual ability. Most of the time, we are unaware of what we're doing. Instead, our brains have come up with a way to replicate what we've seen. I'm always fascinated that even in senior instructor classes, we spend so much time talking about our stances. We always return to this very fundamental lesson. Indeed, stances are the foundation, and we build our techniques atop them. What happens when we build too much upon a poor foundation?

An odd thing occurred with the construction of the tower of Pisa. The flaw in the foundation was actually noticed very early, as it began to sink after the 2nd floor was added. Progress on the construction was actually halted for decades to allow the soil to settle and compensate for the flaw. (Boy, if that's not an obvious metaphor for aspiring black belts, I don't know what is!)

When they resumed construction, an interesting approach was taken: One side of each floor is taller than the other. Now, even if the building was straightened, it would have a curve to it. In modern times, over 800 tonnes of counterweight has been added, cables have been used, and countless cubic feet of soil have been removed from underneath. Hilariously enough, this has been done not only to keep it from falling, but to keep the tower at its distinct angle (as a straight tower of pisa would not be a tourist boon.)

I see this problem in many students. They make rapid progress in a technique and then plateau. Usually, it's because a fundamental flaw in their motion is stopping them. In an attempt to fix the flaw, their technique regresses. Not because I'm necessarily wrong (though I should point out that I'm wrong all the time!) but because their body is so used to doing it wrong that I'm essentially re-teaching the technique.

The student is now at a fork in the road. To stick with the method they have used so far, and be content with their progress (usually thinking that if they practice more, they'll get it.) OR they can go with the "new" way which feels odd and awkward. It's admittedly a rough path, because they student is re-learning and they must go through the painful process of looking silly, messing up, etc. I often joke that I've brought them "back to white belt" with their technique and they must work to understand the change.

Over time, the tower was no longer able to support it's own weight. The bells were taken out at one point to relieve weight. The same thing happens with training. We reach a limitation, and then as it slowly settles in and degrades the joint, we find that we can no longer kick or punch like we used to. Is it because we're too old? Tell Jhoon Rhee that he's too old to throw a high kick... Go ahead, I'll wait here.

Oddly enough, I came to this line of thought when listening to an NPR broadcast on the dangers of Yoga. Yeah, yoga. Similar problems infest both practices, with similar tragic results.

In the pursuit of false goals and ego, we are often motivated to go too hard, to get too low. I've seen people completely break the connection between their rear foot and the ground to get into a seemingly lower front stance for no other reason than to satisfy people who make the false conclusion that "lower is better, therefore lowest is best." I have no problem with people striving for a low stance as there are plenty to attributes to gain from such training, but for your sake do it right.

Think long term. It might not hurt now, or even tomorrow. But our injuries come back to haunt us in later years.

Train smart, and train safe. I personally want to continue the pursuit of this martial art as long as I can. Like him:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

getting to 1000.

"There's nothing wrong with your kicks that ten thousand repetitions won't fix."

Catchy little rhyme, right? I have used the oft-repeated axiom that a technique needs 10,000 repetitions to work towards mastery. I doubt that this nice, round number is the exact number for every person and every technique, but it gives one a sense of scale as to the lifetime pursuit of martial arts mastery.

I joke with my newest students not to worry about whether they are "doing it right" yet. I gently tell them that the first 100 attempts are just roughing out the track in your brain for this movement. Once they get to that 100th - or so -- rep, I see a look of accomplishment on their face, and I watch the disappointment settle in as I tell them that I think it takes at least 1000 repetitions to develop proficiency with the technique.



For most of us, one thousand starts to become difficult to visualize. If you think about it, you might be able to visualize 1000 people in a gymnasium, maybe 1000 pennies or 1000 pieces of paper. For most things, 1000 officially counts as "a lot." Since Tang Soo Do classes often revolve around repetition, it often surprises students to learn that they've done 1000 repetitions faster than they may think. In fact, by green belt, most of us have done 1000 center punches, or 1000 front kicks.

Ok, so if I'm "proficient" by green belt, what's the point of going any further? What will I gain? (Ever notice how green belts seem to know everything? I know I did...)

At this point, we can consider the fine art of ryun ma. Polishing, in other words. 1000 repetitions is a mere 10 percent of the numbers needed for "mastery" of a given technique. Even if we have mastered a single technique, each technique has varations that must also be mastered. Take our front kick example: we may have 10,000 center-level kicks under our belt, but only a few hundred (if that!) low front kicks. If you think those skills transfer over perfectly, I challenge you to try it as I did and feel the humility spill over you.

Working towards 10,000 isn't necessarily a race, nor is it a pursuit where we can check off each repetition like a prisoner marking his wall for each day in his cell. Instead, strive for improvement with each repetition. Each time you practice, focus on one aspect and attempt to improve it. After your practice, reflect on what you have practiced and what you have learned.

Before you know it, even 10,000 will seem a distant memory.