Sunday, October 29, 2017

50 Shades of Physical Therapy: Still working toward my Black Belt Goal.

These days I find myself tied up with rubber bands, lunging onto equipment that has been made purposely to be unstable and working my muscles until they ache and beg me to stop. My ice bag has become my newest friend. Working through pain has been come a regular part of my life.

These past months have been the most physically challenging of my life.  My knee injury and the lack of activity following it had a profound negative effect on my whole leg as well. To sum up what my Physical Therapist told me, the work I did to build my larger muscles put stress on the smaller supporting ones. The result was muscle fatigue and tightness. The injury was basically my legs screaming, “enough!”

The cure has been a concentrated effort of PT on flexibility in my hips and target strengthening of my knees and hip flexors.

Currently I still walk with a slight limp. I’m not free to do any twisting kicks or to kick any solid targets.

I’ve been back in class, where I modify the workout to my new requirements. On the nights I’m not in class, I do my PT exercises. I also do PT every morning. I ice my knee often.

This has been a huge exercise in patience! It is hard to stick with all this when only seeing the smallest hints of progress. There are days I wonder how much I will be able to recover. Sometimes at night, after class or a PT session I have to claw my way up the stairwell, hanging onto the railing and wall like some monster rising from a pit.

Did I leave my book downstairs? Crap, now I have to go down and come back up… again?

Progress has been slow, very slow. Only this week have I finally been able to lock my right knee out again so my leg is completely straight.  So my legs are getting stronger, but slowly.

However, as the saying goes, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” There has been some good coming out of the last few months!

Recently I have joined forces with another man my age and this has added an awesome new dimension to my practice.

I have always respected Rick, a 3rd Dan Black belt from my school. His great attitude and indomitable spirit stands out to me in a sea of young people where I often find myself lost.  Rick had come to symbolize to me that I can do it, I can make it and that I’m actually not crazy for trying.

Or maybe Rick is just as crazy as I am, but either way I enjoy his friendship.

Recently Rick has come to join me on Saturday mornings at my home Do Jang. This allows us to work on many of the aspects of Taekwondo that our school does not focus on.

And we work at a pace we can’t always get in a class designed primarily for the young.

First there is extra stretching that people our age need. Rick introduced me to a form of stretching that combines isometric tension and stretching. The result is remarkable. We have both seen some progress with this in only a few short weeks.

We are also able to work on one step fighting. Basically one person throws a punch while the other works on countering with a predetermined set of movements.  The benefit of these exercises cannot be stressed enough. Through these time-honored practices, we are able to work on timing for defenses, control of movements and targeting an actual human body with our punches and kicks.

Rick and I also combined our warm-up routine with working with the bo staff. It is amazing how much of a workout you can get, going back and forth practicing attacks and counter attacks with a bo.  We are a far cry from the speed of Master Po and Cain in the opening sequence of the “Kung Fu” TV Series, (although I often have this in mind as we work back and forth...) but we are working slowly and deliberately. Speed will come.

I truly am thankful to be able to practice with Rick. For whatever reason, our school does not offer an adults only class, so being able to practice with someone my own age, who sees Martial Arts training the same way I do, has been a huge blessing to me.

So each day I work to get better, and I push forward to my Black Belt Goal.

Check out my Youtube Channel "Keep Kicking"

Keeping in mind the words of Sang Kyu Shim, “If the martial arts practitioner concentrates on (or “invests in”) one basic technique a day, striving for complete perfection, he will, after even one year, have accumulated a wealth of techniques that no money can buy and no thief can steal. The individual does not have these qualities so much as he is them.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

He tasks me...He tasks me...

Wow, our bodies actually are changing as we get older…  Huh…who’d have thought?

Healing is coming at a slow pace.

I cannot think of a time I have ever taken this long to recover from something!  I won’t accept limitations, I will continue to push my body to see what I am still capable of; but I will be realistic on how much work I need to do to keep my body in top shape.

I want to avoid injuries like this in the future.  I wasn’t careful, and my body was not strong enough or flexible enough to keep up with the teenagers around me.  And it's so hard not to strive to “show them this old man has what it takes!”

Pride, it's a terrible thing.

The good news is, I do feel that my knee is getting stronger every day.

But man, I really want to kick that heavy bag!  I feel like Khan in Star Trek 2, “He tasks me…” Of course Khan is quoting Ahab in Moby Dick, so do I feel like Khan, or Ahab?  Sometimes I put way too much thought into these things.

Point is, I want to kick something solid!

Time, in time...

One very good thing that has come out of this injury is getting some great one-on-one training time with Master Won.

As I have said in earlier blogs, the evening class I attend is small, maybe about a dozen students at most.  Almost all of them are black belts or deputy black belts.

Because my knee is still recovering, I’m not able to do the same drills that everyone else is doing.  So while they are all sparring or kicking bags, I get to work with Master Won.

So far we have been working on refining my blocks.  I really enjoy these sessions, as they are a chance to really improve my technique.

The amazing and very patient Master Won.
We do everything from proper hand position, (both in the starting position of the blocks and in the end) to how you get from point A to point B.  It takes a lot of concentration to make sure that I do this correctly.  

Also the blocks have to be executed in such a way that you stay relaxed for about 70 percent of the movement until you twist the wrist and snap that last 30 percent for power.  I still struggle with tension in my upper body.  Master Won is constantly putting her hands on my shoulders and pushing them down, telling me to relax.

Relaxing my body has proved to be very challenging. In martial arts, it’s important to conserve your energy as much as possible.  Tension in the body simply depletes that energy quicker.

And I know the only way to make these moves become second nature is to practice them, exactly as they should be, over and over.

I’ve learned something about my attention span while doing this.  I am easily distracted, a something that has developed from working in front of a computer all day.  So the simple task of doing one thing and staying on that task with my mind and my body is rather challenging.

This makes me think about how I approach life.

How much energy do I deplete with tensions caused by worry or fear?  How often does my mind wander far away from the present moment?

How often do I allow distractions to enter my mind?

Martial Arts are about so much more than just honing our bodies.  If you pay close attention, you can really learn a lot about not only who you are, but also who you want to be.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Return to the Do Jang" Deputy Black Belt Part 3

I’m sitting on the bench waiting for the Level 4 (Black Belt and Deputy Black Belt) class to complete and I’m having doubts.

Am I ready to be back?  What can I actually do?  Will I be allowed to test tonight for my Deputy Black Belt?

It was hard not to stare up at that red and black belt on the wall.

I stretched some, rubbed my knee, and waited.

Master Lee saw me and smiled, “Welcome back!” she said giving me a hug.  I asked her if I could test tonight and she said that Master Ko would evaluate me and see if I were ready.

I’ve been waiting almost two full months to come back.  In that time, I’ve done a lot of reading. Reading about Bruce Lee’s life, Wu Wei, and the many philosophies behind Martial Arts.  I took two supplements, Omega 3 and Glucosamine, and I've slowly been exercising my knee back to health.
Waiting and reading...

I’ve done a few lighter workouts focusing on poomsae and nunchakus.  I even repaired a pair I have where the nylon cords had frayed.

And I waited on my body to recover.

It’s been a rough road back; all the limping caused my back to have issues as well.

I’ve been hobbling around the office at work.  I’m a bit over people asking me what’s wrong with my leg.  Some days I limp more than others, depending on how my back is feeling.

Even a Walmart greeter smiled and said, “Did you hurt yourself?”

Ugh, am I ever going to heal from this?  I know that in our fifties, we recover much slower, but wow, I never thought this would go on as long as it has.

Old man David, sigh.

This past Saturday, I spent an hour working out, going through my poomsae and stretching.  I’m not completely healed; my knee is often tight and in need of more stretching.  But there is no pain and it is slowly getting better each day.  It seems to feel better with exercise, that to me was a sign that I can go back to class.

Class started and I was greeted with a smile and double high five from Master Ko and Master Won.  They both seemed genuinely happy to see me back.  I told them my knee was still recovering, and they encouraged me to take it very slowly.

Deputy Black Belt -Level 4
For the opening stretches I did ok, not nearly like I normally could.  Then when everyone else was jogging around the Dojang, I walked.

Don’t run over Old Man David…

First I thankfully worked one-on-one with Master Won, just stretching.  That was a welcome relief.  She was very patient and careful with me.

Next I worked with her to do my poomsae.  She asked me if I remembered and I told her I did.  Master Won seemed genuinely surprised and pleased as I did the poomsae without forgetting a step.  Kicking technique also went well.

She finished working with me and I was told to practice my kicking and poomsae by myself.  I was careful not to push my knee.

When class finally ended I breathed a sigh of relief as Master Ko told me he would test me tonight.  I remembered my poomsae and kicking technique effortlessly.  Because my knee was still recovering, he waived the breaking and sparring requirements.

Me at 16 years old.
I earned my Deputy Black Belt!

As Master Ko helped me put the belt on, and Master Won congratulated me, I felt elated.

Although I still have a long way to go in recovery, I am still on the road to get my black belt.

Now a level four, I have made it past the two-year point.  My body doesn’t always feel the strongest, but in my heart I’m still that 16-year-old, full of spirit and kicking high.

The journey continues!

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Lessons While Waiting" Deputy Black Belt PART 2 of 3

“Whether I like it or not, circumstances are thrust upon me, and being a fighter at heart, I sort of fight it in the beginning. But soon realize that what I need is not inner resistance and needless conflict, rather by joining forces to readjust, I need to make the best of it.” - Bruce Lee

It looks like this will be a three-part blog.

As I write this, my knee is still in an Ace bandage, and I have not yet tested for my deputy black belt.

Right up until the Friday of the exam, I had planned to push myself and test, no matter what.  The sharp pain in my knee was gone and I felt I could at least limp through the test and get my belt.

But driving home from work that day, I experienced some sharp pain in my knee that I knew was my body’s way of telling me I was crazy to even try.  I stopped by the Do Jang and told Master Lee that I would not be able to test.  She reassured me that I could test privately after my next class.

So I waited and I began to heal.

But as I slowly healed, I grew more impatient and restless.  I wanted to get back to the Do Jang, I wanted to get my full workout in.

Finally I had a day where I could quickly ascend the stairs in my home without issue and I decided to go back to life as normal.  Even though I still had a little tightness, I decided to ignore it.

Once again I twisted my knee, just a little, and the swelling returned.

Lesson one came through loud and clear.  The body needs time to heal.  You can aid it, but you cannot rush it.  I had to fight a lot of discouragement at this time, but finally I began to try to exercise my mind some and at least do some reading.

My next lesson came in two parts.

I have been reading about Wu Wei.  Wu Wei is the cultivation of a mental state in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life.  I have always been baffled by something Bruce Lee said that he got from this system of thought.

He said, “I mean here is natural instinct and here is control.  You are to combine the two in harmony.  Not... if you have one to the extreme, you'll be very unscientific.  If you have another to the extreme, you become, all of a sudden, a mechanical man... no longer a human being.  So it is a successful combination of both, so therefore, it's not pure naturalness, or unnaturalness.  The ideal is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness.” (Emphasis mine.)

I thought about this statement and I kept coming back to the same questions in my mind, “How? Do I do this in any other area of my life?  And if I do, how did I get there?”

Then it dawned on me, this is exactly what I do when I play guitar.  At first when I was learning, it was very mechanical.  Strumming and changing chords take work, effort and a lot of concentration.

But then, after time and much practice it is effortless.  Now I don’t think, I play.  I have repeated the unnatural movements of playing until it somehow linked to my being in such a way as to transcend effort.  It is unnatural naturalness.  Playing guitar is pure instinct.

Explaining this to Rika, she said it sounded just like shifting gears on a motorcycle. We don’t think about it, we do it.

And that lead me into realizing that I need to approach Taekwondo with this concept firmly fixed in my mind.  I must repeat the movements over and over again, with a concentrated effort, until I achieve what I have in both riding a motorcycle and playing guitar.  Until the unnatural movements become a natural part of my being.

Another part of this was realizing I could have used this time with my knee being out to practice my blocks and punches.  I could have even sat on a stool and simply repeated them over and over to get the movements down.  While one part of the body was recovering, I could have paid special attention to another.

I acted as if my whole body was incapable of Taekwondo simply because my knee is on the mend.  Instead of feeling like I was losing time, I could have kept my forward momentum.

I feel with these lessons in mind, I will emerge from this time a better martial artist.

I know from experience that this approach to Taekwondo will flood into the rest of my life.  There will be a part three to this blog when I return to class and finally test for my deputy black belt.

“If you truly love life, don’t waste time because time is what life is made of.” – Bruce Lee

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Two years in, reaching for my Deputy Black Belt PART 1

There are few things more discouraging than looking at an injury that has the potential of keeping you from your goal.

You work and you strive, often pushing past the pain.  You discipline yourself to achieve your goal.  And then, when it is within reach, something unexpected happens and sets you back.

I’m feeling that right now.

About a week ago I was in Taekwondo class and I injured my knee.  I knew that night when I came home, that I had overdone things.  I could barely walk after my shower.

 Then to make matters worse, 36 hours after the injury, I was on a plane to Toronto for work.  There was no time to treat it properly and let it heal. I did the best I could, but a day of traveling, (alternating between walking between gates and sitting uncomfortably on the planes) then teaching half a day standing up, only to wake the next morning and travel back, did a number on my knee.  By the time I got home on Saturday, it was throbbing.

Ice, wrap with Ace bandage, repeat.  That was my Sunday and Monday.  Now it’s Tuesday night and it is feeling somewhat better. But, it gave out a few times today like those “trick knees” you hear about on TV.  Just walking, I’d get taken off guard by a sharp pain.

I can’t trust it right now, and that sucks.

Old man David, he has that trick knee, it gave out on him… he fell down and broke a hip.  Need to chip in and get him an emergency alarm….


For months, in addition to my weekly classes, during the week, I’ve been waking up at five am to work out and work on poomsae.  I know my form, I know my kicks, I’m ready for my test, scheduled for this week.  This is a major step for me.  I just passed my two-year mark and I will be testing for my Deputy Black Belt.  That will make me a Level 4, and two-thirds the way to my Black Belt goal.

And right when it is in my grasp, I’m sitting here rubbing Tiger Balm on my knee and re-wrapping it with my trusted Ace Bandage.  Hoping it will heal enough for me to test Friday night.

I went through a short bout of self-pity, my mind really wanted to go down that familiar path.  But then I thought, what can I learn from this?

First, I can use this time as a reminder to work my body even more when it is feeling strong and uninjured.  Stop being lazy at night and skipping my nightly stretches. Push a little more on the weekends to make my legs stronger.

I can also learn to listen to my body more.  I knew, in class, that I was pushing beyond what my body could handle.  I knew something was wrong.  But I kept going anyway, I let pride get in the way of common sense.

This is part one of what will hopefully be a two-part blog. Let’s see what happens Friday night at my test.

"When life gives you obstacles, you must summon the courage and WALK ON." - Bruce Lee

Sunday, April 9, 2017

This is Taekwondo!

Saturday, testing day for my high red belt.

There were only two other adults testing and they were matched up with each other for the sparring time.  So when my name was called, I ran up to the mark and looked at the young man who I’d be sparring against.

Very young, I’d put him at maybe eleven years old.

He’s a deputy black belt, and therefore not someone from my class (my class consists of teenagers and adults.  When the command came to begin, I had already made my mind up to go easy on him.

That was my first mistake.

Sang Kyu Shim author of "The making of a martial artist"
This young man came out kicking!  He moved faster and kicked harder than his size first indicated.  I found myself backing away, using an X-block over and over again to stop him from scoring.

When he did make contact, it was intense.  Just goes to show, size really means nothing when it comes to Taekwondo.

For the first round, I struggled between wanting to do well against him, and hesitating to go all out because of his age and size.

Finally, I decided to give him back a little.  After all, we were wearing protective gear; I could afford to get a few shots in.  But I knew I had to engage soon, his youthful attack was wearing me out!

At one point he turned at me, leaving his chest fully exposed; instinctively I kicked.

And he was knocked to the ground and I felt terrible.

I offered him a hand up that he gladly took, smiling the whole time.  Then we continued.  Soon I forgot his age.  His skill level and higher rank made up for that.

I’d like to say he held his own against me, but truthfully it was the other way around. Had they been keeping score, he would have been the victor.

I thought about Yoda, “Judge me by my size do you?”

At the end of the match we shook hands and he gave me a quick hug saying, “good job!”

As we went to sit down, I knew I had witnessed a young man who truly had an indomitable spirit.  Later, as I was leaving the school, his father called over to me and said, “See you next time.  I saw you today, you are very good!” I pointed to his son and said, “Thank you, so is he!”

The rest of my high red belt test went well.  In fact, it went much better than any test before it.  I attribute this to my weekend workouts.  I was much more prepared.

Rather than just worrying about remembering my poomsae, I was focused on doing it well.  Kicking techniques went off without a hitch.

For breaking, I had to break two boards with a tornado kick.  Again, my weekend workouts assisted me, as I had been hitting the heavy bag with this kick.  The seventeen-year-old black belt who held my boards, smiled widely and congratulated me when I executed the kick.  The affirmation felt great.  This kick was my greatest challenge until now. Being able to execute it correctly, with enough power to break two boards, was a big accomplishment for me.

I left the school with my high red belt.

Sunday came and I went out to my personal dojang to work out.  I warmed up as normal with nunchakus, then did some stretching and moved right into poomsae.

It was around the seventh or eighth time going through Taegeuk Oh Jang that I came to a realization.

This is Taekwondo. 

What I mean by that is, the pressure was off.  I had tested with this poomsae and passed the test.

Yet here I was practicing it, over and over, for the simple pleasure of doing it.  The two poomsae I have worked in to memory, Oh jang and Yuk Jang, are becoming a part of me.  To neglect them would be to neglect my own body.  I could not just kick back this Sunday; happy I had earned a new belt.  I needed to spend time doing Teakwondo

It was a moment of clarity for me and I thought about it further as I was covered in sweat, stretching.  I have crossed over a barrier; something inside me has changed, or perhaps grown stronger.

I began this journey as a white belt who had lost pretty much all he had learned over thirty years ago, but now, almost two years later, my body is stronger and more flexible. I stretch daily and I work out four times a week.

Looking at my high red belt with its white stripe, I realized that the familiar white in the belt signifies a new beginning for me.

Perhaps I truly am on my way to becoming a martial artist.

“If the martial arts practitioner concentrates on one basic technique a day, striving for complete perfection, he will, after even one year, have accumulated a wealth of techniques that no money can buy and no thief can steal. The individual does not have these qualities so much as he is them.” – Sang Kyu Shim, “The making of a martial artist”

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

"There's a lion on the road! Yes, I'm sure there's a lion out there!"

My body is covered in sweat as I sit down on the floor in my personal do jang.  Slowly I bend into a stretch, feeling my hamstring beginning to protest.  I ignore its cries for mercy and lean a little more into the stretch.

I slowly count to ten and then relax my leg.  Now I give the other leg its fair share of abuse.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… ten.

Next I grab the ball of my foot, I slowly extend my leg upwards and accomplish something I have not been able to do since I began taekwondo over a year and a half ago.

My leg extends, completely, as my knees locks in place.  I sit there astonished.

Did I actually just do that?

What may seem small is a major breakthrough for me.  I have proven to myself that I can get my flexibility back.  My daily stretching is paying off.

And to think I almost skipped this monumental workout because it was cold and rainy outside.

It all started with my wife's morning walk.

Even though it was raining and cold, she was determined to get out there.  As she was out walking, I was inside the house, mourning the foul weather.  My do jang has no heat; it would be cold and damp in there.  My body is too old to risk tensing up working out in the cold.  I had about a half a dozen other excuses running through my mind, as I was about to skip my Saturday workout.

When Rika came back in from her walk, I commented on how I admire the fact that she went out in the rain.  Then she said something that echoed in my mind for the next hour or so.  She told me, “I’m determined to walk every day, if I start making excuses as to why I can’t, soon I’ll be out of the habit.”

So here is my wife, out walking in the rain, and me practically whining that my do jang will be cold and feel damp.  Although she didn’t purposely set out to challenge me, I couldn’t ignore the obvious.

I needed to man up!

Seriously, a grown man not wanting to work out because it’s a little cold and damp?

I suddenly had an image of Cain in Kung Fu, grasping the hot cauldron.  As it burns a tiger and dragon into his forearms, he looks up at me and says, “Really? And you want to call yourself a martial artist?”

I went out the do jang, wearing a flannel shirt over my tank top.  Within minutes, I had to strip that off.  The more I moved, the warmer I felt.  I worked the bag then I practiced my tornado kick. I worked my left leg roundhouse kick (a weak point,) and stopped to stretch throughout the whole hour.   I worked on my poomsae.

A few weeks ago, Master Hong pointed out that my front stance was too deep, so to break that habit I came up with tying a rope around my ankles, forcing my stance to be only two shoulder widths wide as it should be.

As I finished my workout with stretching and reached that milestone, I thought about excuses and Proverbs 26:13 came to mind.  This ancient book is over four thousand years old, yet it accurately described my attitude;

“The lazy person claims, "There's a lion on the road! Yes, I'm sure there's a lion out there!"

How many times to we stay inside and not embrace what we can do because we are simply too lazy?  How many other milestones are out there, left unreached, because we allow ourselves to be our own worst enemy?