Sunday, April 8, 2018

What one man can do, another can do!

And I’m still at it

Just a few months shy now of the three years mark of practicing Taekwondo, that Black Belt is solidly within reach.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve been through so far.

Looking over the physical hurdles I’ve had to leap- just barely at times- over, I’m not sure if it stands as a testimony to my stubbornness or stupidity that I am still going strong.

Perhaps all men my age have to go through these challenges, we certainly cannot go around them.

There was the prostate cancer scare that dragged on for months, with doctor appointments, tests, and simply waiting. At the same time I had my heart looked at and they found an enlarged aorta that I’ll have to have monitored once a year, forever. But I can’t complain.  I didn’t have cancer and the heart issue could have been much worse. It was just the prolonged “not knowing” that played tricks with my mind for months, but through that, I went to class, I practiced, I advanced.

Then, of course, my famous knee issues that have never really gone away. Hips are doing better but my knees will never be the same. Old motorcycle injury for sure is a factor. Physical therapy was good, and educational.

Then who could forget my on again off again back issues? I missed a few classes these past weeks because of that. But I’m now combating this one with Pilates and weekly visits to my awesome Chiropractor.

Over these three years I’ve had times when I felt like I could go on forever and times when I really wanted to just give up. Nights when I felt encouraged after class and others when I just took a shower popped a few Advil and went to bed thinking “why am I doing this to myself?”

I stick with it through all this because I love it. I see the benefits and they outweigh the challenges.  I picked up something I left behind many years ago and I have no plans of putting it down again.

So why am I sharing all this? The ups, the downs, and the physical challenges? Am I looking for a pat on the back? Should we be cuing some sad music while I look thoughtfully out the window as it rains? Maybe I want the “atta boy” and “you can do it!” accolades social media so easily provides these days?

I really am not looking for any of that.

I share all this now for the same reason I’ve been posting this blog for almost three years.

I want to show it is possible to keep going. If were one of those men who had zero physical problems and could do anything I wanted, that would be the anomaly.

I firmly believe I am not the exception, nor exceptional. 

Like my favorite line from “The Edge” where Anthony Hopkins shouts, “What one man can do, another can do!”

For those of you who are thinking about starting at a, shall we say more advanced age, then believe me when I say:

You can do it. It is possible. If you’ve taken the first steps and begun Martial Arts training, keep going. If you are thinking about it, maybe now is the time to begin.

What one man (or woman) can do, another can do.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Strengthen What Remains

Once when I was about seventeen years old, I was riding my bicycle home from a friend’s house. It was late and dark outside with only streetlights to navigate by. But, I knew the city streets pretty well and had confidence I could easily get home.

I remember rounding a corner and hitting a patch of sand on the road. This caused my front wheel to hit a curb and abruptly turn sideways. I flew over the handlebars of my 10-speed bike, Superman style. Instinctively I tucked and rolled and landed rather impressed with myself.

I got up, walked over to my bike, twisted the handlebars back into place and rode home.

The next day I didn’t even feel the bruises I had earned from my crash. My attitude was more like, “oh, yeah, I must have gotten that last night.”

Oh to be young again.

Deputy Black Belt, 2 out of 5 black tips.
Now it seems it doesn’t take anything to make my body ache. Sit too long at the desk at work, sleep on a different pillow, twist wrong and a new pain introduces itself.

Injuries that I bounced back easily from in my forties simply linger in my fifties. Especially, I have learned, knee injuries.

That’s the way it’s been for me lately. My road to recovery with my knee and my hips has been a long one. It seems that stretching has almost become a necessity for moving well. I start each day on the stationary bike followed by stretching.  Although I’ve graduated from barely making it around my building at work to walking during my lunch again, I never feel normal. Something always tightens or hurts.

When I started this black belt journey a little over two and a half years ago, the thought never occurred to me that I would not be able to do everything. Oh sure, I figured I may not be able to kick as high, or as fast, but I never saw myself as having any physical limitations. I never knew I could get injured so easily or take so long to recover.

Now I’m realizing some of the jumping and spinning kicks may be a part of my past. I have to be very careful and it’s not easy. I’m still in a class full of teenagers. It’s hard to back off when I need to.

It’s not easy getting older. This part of my journey is not easy. Not by a long shot.

But I keep thinking of this one phrase, “Strengthen what remains.” I have always held a life philosophy of not focusing on what I cannot do, but focusing on what I can. I’m not saying this is easy, but it is what I have to work with.

2018 is the year I turn fifty-three, and also the year I will earn my black belt. Currently I have two black tips on my deputy black belt. I need a total of five before I can test.  It is possible I may test as soon as June, however I’d rather have the extra time and test in October.

So now, what’s my goal? What’s my focus?

I will strengthen what remains. I will focus on what I can do.

I am working on the basics. I want a sharp-looking sidekick and round kick. These are kicks that show up in my poomsae. I’ve let them slack, as the twisting required has been almost impossible. But I’m ready to start working on them again. Slow tension kicks at first and then move into more power.

I also want the details of my technique to look sharper. I have noticed in class that when I come prepared already knowing the moves, the teachers give more attention to the details of techniques.

And most of all, when I finally get a chance to wrap that black belt around my waist, I want to feel like I have done my absolute best to earn it.

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