Bryan's Martial Arts Journal -- 1999

This journal for 1999 begins with my joining Allen's Taekwondo, an American Taekwondo Association (ATA) school, in July. I've detailed each night of my four week introductory period, and then went with the format I've continued with since -- periodic entries.

Journal Entries

Week 1 -- Day 1
Week 1 -- Day 2
Week 2 -- Day 3
Week 2 -- Day 4
Week 3 -- Day 5
Week 3 -- Day 6
Week 4 -- Day 7
Week 4 -- Day 8

Path to Orange Belt
18 Aug 1999
22 Aug 1999
24 Aug 1999
26 Aug 1999
Path to Yellow Belt
30 Aug 1999
07 Oct 1999

15 Oct 1999
19 Oct 1999
22 Oct 1999
29 Oct 1999
Path to Camo Belt
01 Nov 1999
02 Nov 1999
05 Nov 1999

03 Dec 1999
09 Dec 1999
17 Dec 1999
Path to Green Belt
20 Dec 1999
21 Dec 1999

My Introductory TKD Period -- Month One

July 1999

Allen's TKD has an introductory session available to students. For $50 I get two classes per week for 4 weeks, with no commitment. After that I have to sign a one year commitment, with the idea that if I drop out I still have to pay for the remaining months.

I can understand why martial arts schools do this -- as most of them do. It helps keep the students' commitment up -- if you have to pay for it, you might as well go. It also guarantees some income -- the profit margins for schools tend to be very low or non-existent.

At the same time, I don't like it. But there are a lot of things in life I'm less than pleased with, so this is just one more. Besides, I don't have to like it, I just have to deal with it. :-)

Week One -- Day One

DAY ONE was Monday, 19 July 1999. A day that will live in my memory for a long time!

Following the warm-up and stretching my first night, I felt pretty sure I was going to barf. WOW! I was wayyyy out of anything resembling good physical condition. And I was about as flexible as an old chunk of concrete.

I had my new dobak on, but per usual the legs were far too long and I had to pin them up. We started doing line drills, which weren't too bad when we were doing hand techniques. Once we started kicks it got bad again. In addition to trying to keep up and not barf, I had to worry about the pinned up legs falling down, and it was a bit of effort to avoid tripping. Needless to say, this wasn't fun. But I did provide comic relief when I realized I lost half the pins, and everyone near me was paranoid about stepping on one.

By the time class ended I was moving like I was 90 years old, and wasn't sure I had the energy to drive home. I got home and took a shower, and decided I didn't feel too bad. I stretched out again, as should always be done following a work out, and I found that I stretched a lot farther than I had at the beginning of class. Immediate progress -- so I didn't feel too bad about myself.

Then it got worse. Then when I woke up the next morning I was pretty sure someone had beaten me all over with a stick. Everything ached and I had huge muscle knots near the lower outside edge of each scapula. My stomach was so tight I felt like I needed to walk hunched over. Needless to say, that morning was a bad one.

Judicious applications of hot packs and a TENS unit helped with the muscle knots. It's isn't easy to stretch stomach muscles, but I managed to alleviate some of the discomfort.

Week One -- Day Two

Wednesday night was the next class. I wasn't sure I was up to another session, but then I chided myself for being a wimp and not following through on what I started. It's hard to avoid a nag when that nag is yourself. I suppose this is a good thing.

Following the warm ups it took about 10 minutes for me to stop panting, but at least I didn't feel like barfing. This night was easier than the first one. Instead of doing line drills the white belts (all two of us) worked on basics and learning our first form. It proved to be a good workout, and I was definitely sweating when we were done (actually I was sweating by the time we finished the warm up), but I didn't feel half dead.

The next morning was actually a good one. Hey! Maybe I'm actually going to live through this!

Week Two -- Day Three

After warm-ups and stretching on the first night of my second week, I was panting like a dog in 110 degree heat, but I wasn't all that tired. No feelings of needing to barf. Man, was I disappointed! Maybe this class wasn't going to be as tough as I had hoped!

Then we paired up for kicking drills. We stood opposite our partner, of similar rank and size, and took turns executing #2 Front Kicks, our target the knot of our partner's belt. The idea is to lightly touch the belt -- sending your partner into the wall is considered impolite. So I'd execute the kick and touch his belt, put my foot back down in a front stance, and then he'd do the same.

My partner immediately informed me he's not wearing a cup, and jokes that if he can't have kids after this it's my fault. My response is that the first rule of Taekwondo is to ALWAYS wear a cup! :-)

[For anyone who doesn't know, a "cup" is a padded plastic cup-shaped device that fits into a pouch hung from an elastic belt that is worn around the waist. It's purpose is to cover the male genitals and protect them from damage. Years ago during sparring practice I threw a side kick while my partner was throwing a round house kick. My kick was just a little bit higher, so his kick used the underside of my leg as a guide and slammed full speed and power into my genitals. I went down as if pole axed. That was WITH a cup. Although it hurt and was quite a shock, no real damage was done. But if I hadn't been wearing protection, let's just say that today I wouldn't be the father of two, and my voice would permanently be 6 or 7 octaves higher.]

So out-of-shape and inflexible me needs to consistently get my kicks up to belt height on a guy who is probably 4 inches taller than I am. This is actually a good thing, as all kicks should be above the belt, except in live self-defense situations. My partner was an orange belt, which means he probably has only 2-3 months more conditioning that I do. This meant that his stretch wasn't much higher than mine. I was so glad I had a cup on and that he was taller!!! My chances of making it through the exercise in undamaged condition were much higher!

Actually it wasn't all that hard to do. I simply chambered the kick as high as I could, meaning I pulled the knee of my kicking leg up as high as I could, and then slid my foot out and touched the belt. Pretty easy!

Well, the first 2 minutes were easy. That third minute was a killer.

Then we switched legs and did it again for 3 minutes or so. At the end we were dripping with sweat. Six minutes of kicking is a LONG time!

Next we did the same thing with #2 Side Kicks. This is a bit different, as instead of stretching the leg forward and up, we're stretching sideways and up. Again, that first minute or so wasn't too awful hard. But the last minute and a half were seriously painful. Then we switched legs and did it again. This was with the left leg, which isn't my best, so it was a lot tougher.

Maybe this class wasn't quite as disappointing as I first thought! :-)

Next he had us do combination kicks, #2 Front and #2 Side. This was absolutely brutal. For this exercise the partner stood sideways, so we had to touch the belt on the side with a Front Kick, and without putting the foot down, shift and touch the belt again with a Side Kick. Instead of alternating our kicks between us, one person kicked while the other stood still and provided a target. Three minutes of this was pure hell. Then we switched off and I played target, and then I did the left leg, and again I played target for my partner's other leg.

While we're practicing the instructors walk around, correcting techniques and providing advice. Mr. Wegmann also told us about the instructor's camp he is going to next weekend at Arkansas. He was wondering if they would work on technique, or spend the weekend in classes and discussions.

I am quite convinced that part of the instructor's classes is something titled "Advanced Sadism -- How to Make Students Truly Suffer"!

Next the class broke up by rank and I learned the rest of my first form. Doing forms can be quite tiring. In fact it should be. But if you're already tired it can be pretty tough.

By the end of class I was excited -- I earned my first stripe! White belts get stripes on their belt for mastering basic techniques. I'm sure the primary goal of this is to keep the student motivated and to provide a sense of accomplishment. Although to someone with previous training it doesn't seem like much, but beginners have to learn a LOT of stuff that is quite foreign to them.

For my first stripe I had to know:

  1. Blocks -- High, Low, and Inner Forearm
  2. Strikes -- Front Punch, Reverse Punch, Knifehand Strike
  3. Stances -- Ready, Front, Middle (called Horse stance in other TKD styles)
  4. Kicks -- Front Kicks #1-4, Side Kicks #1-4
  5. ATA Creed -- Songahm Spirit of TKD

So after three classes in I had proven quite a bit -- mostly to myself -- which is, after all, the one person I need to impress. :-)

Week Two -- Day Four

Wednesday night was another surprise. Again our warm up wasn't as strenuous. Either I was adapting quicker than I would have believed possible, or the warm up just wasn't that tough. The only crimp in the process, as far as I am concerned, is that during stretching I twice got a cramp in my lower abdomen muscles. Never had one there before -- wow! They hurt. But I worked them out and kept going.

Then we started kicking drills.

After Monday night I suppose I should have known better than to think class would be easy. Or anything even remotely resembling easy.

At first it wasn't all that tough. Front kick, side kick, inside crescent, outside crescent. The count was pretty fast, but I was able to keep up, if just barely. Then things got tough. We started doing combination kicks: Front kick-side kick, outside crescent kick-side kick, front kick-inside crescent. Then it got nasty: front kick to the front, side kick to the side. And finally front kick to the front, side kick to the side, and back kick to the back.

My dobak was soaking wet, enough that I didn't think the material would hold that much water, and I didn't think I had that much liquid in my entire body.

Then class broke up and I started practicing my form while I waited for a black belt to be assigned to work with us white belts. Turned out that I had made the right choice -- that was what I worked on for the remainder of the class. Things are a bit less regimented here than at other schools I have belonged to. In other schools the white belts would have spent that last 1/3 of the class doing forms to an instructor's count. I basically practiced at my own pace, and the instructor who was working with us tonight (Miss Racz) alternated between me and the other white belt, Carlton.

I wasn't sure how much attention she was paying to me, but after the first few times she would provide correction and guidance just about every time I finished a form. Her eye is critical, but her guidance gentle. No barking, "That's WRONG!", as previous instructors have done.

Actually, that seems to be the MO for all the instructors. Mr. Singleton and Mr. Hess have both worked with me several times, and neither shows any of the arrogance I've associated with black belts in the past. A couple of other instructors, whose names I didn't catch, have also provided guidance, and they show similar qualities. I think this quality in the instructors is what impresses me most about this school.

I've had instructors who felt the need to yell everything at the top of their lungs, and to generally make sure all colored belts realized that the instructor was a god 'cause his/her belt was black. Students lived in fear of being singled out, or of making a mistake, or of not learning fast enough.

A friend who is currently 3rd dan TKD has stated that the black belt "merely" signifies that the student is truly serious. This philosophy seems to be at the core of Allen's school. After four classes I am in a situation where I am not in any fear of the instructors; rather I want to please them and to excel. By the time I reach black belt, I will be a MUCH better black belt because of this.

At the end of class we had a testing. Carlton was tested for his orange belt, and he passed. I had just met him at the beginning of that class, and I still found that I was as excited for him as I would have been if it was for me.

Week Three -- Day Five

Again, the warm up wasn't as strenuous as the that of my first night. But I'm also in better shape now -- the results are clear. Unfortunately, last class and this class I had some nasty muscle cramps. Last class the cramps were in my lower abdomen, toward my sides. This time it the was quadriceps muscles of the thigh. I'm guessing I need to stretch more consistently and do it every day.

After we got through warm ups, we did one steps. I learned my first two, and we practiced as a group with imaginary opponents, and then with partners. I think I've got the first two down.

I like the format of the classes -- there isn't one. We do warm ups and stretching, and then we work on whatever topic(s) Mr. Wegmann has chosen for that class. We never know what to expect, and this avoids complacency. At a couple of the schools I attended, we followed pretty much the same plan every class. Basically we worked on everything at least a bit every class, but we didn't devote that much time to any topic.

At Allen's we work hard on everything, concentrating on something like one-steps for half a class. Last night Mr. Hess was teaching the white belts (four of us) the techniques, working through practices, and provide good feedback and corrections. I'm confident that I can continue practicing them on my own, honing my technique and memory, without having to worry about reinforcing bad habits and incorrect technique due to lack of instruction time.

I've developed the opinion that Allen's method of teaching is better. We concentrate on topics for a lengthy period of time. Each instructor has a chance to watch each student do the techniques multiple times, and can see patterns of action and provide constructive criticism. I believe this is better than working on each technique every class, but not devoting much time to anything. The problem with the second style of teaching is that I may go weeks without the instructor critiquing my execution of the technique, time during which I'm practicing outside of class and ingraining incorrect technique and bad behaviors, simply because I don't know any better.

After having Mr. Hess critique me numerous times during last night's class, I'm confident I'm executing my techniques correctly. Or maybe I should say I'm not doing them incorrectly. There's always room for improvement!

Week Three -- Day Six

It's the end of the third week of classes and I'm already running out of interesting things to say about class. Well, it's all interesting to ME, but I'm writing this for others as well, so it colors my thinking.

Another warm up that didn't seem too brutal, although I was able to do 30 situps quickly and without barfing. Definitely an improvement in my physical condition -- although still a long way to go.

We did some stationery line drills, mostly kicks, and then broke up by belt. Tonight there were only 2 white belts, myself and Craig, with whom I had worked with on one-steps in Monday's class. He hadn't learned our first form yet as it was only his second class, so we spent 20 minutes working on that.

Our instructor (Mr. Racz) taught it to Craig in pieces, as it was taught to me. Once Craig had a certain amount memorized, we'd do more. In some respects this was boring for me, as I knew the form quite well. But then I did an attitude adjustment on myself and used the opportunity to hone my technique. By the time I was done I believe my side kicks were much better. I put the effort into getting my chamber as high as I could, and performing the kicks as correctly as possible. They still aren't all that high, but I could consistently hit an opponent my size just below the solar plexus. After 20 minutes of this I was dripping.

Then we did one-steps. Craig and I spent the remaining class time honing the two we learned on Monday. Never had a chance to learn the third one. Part way through our working on the form one of the brown belts, who I think transferred in from another school that was not ATA, was sent to work with us on the white belt form. Mr. Racz needed to put more of his direct time into teaching him the form. So Craig and I practiced our one-steps with occasional guidance from Mr. Racz.

One thing I like about this school is that we are NEVER allowed to forget our earlier forms and one-steps. If I understand correctly, in addition to the material necessary to pass to the next ranking, we can be asked at testing to perform any material from previous belts. At my last school this was apparently not true, so we had upper belts unable to assist lower belts with improving their techniques, simply because they couldn't remember them. Another indication I made a good choice of schools.

Week Four -- Day Seven

This is the last week of my introductory session. Next week I'll need to decide whether I want to sign up with Allen's for a full year.

The decision isn't too awful hard -- I've already decided to do it. I was relatively sure after the first week, and nothing I've experienced so far has given me any reason to change my mind.

After the warm-up we did self-defense. This proved interesting. The basic technique we learned was, "break the attacker's grasp, hit 'em hard and fast, then jump back and yell". Again, speed is a priority. Don't give the attacker the time to react. Instead of just yelling or kaiuping, we were taught to yell, "Get back!". The idea is to make noise that might attract help, provide enough volume to surprise the attacker, and to actually give the attacker an order. Apparently that the third reason some times works.

Then we broke up by belt (which is pretty much the norm for the second half of class), and worked on our form. Joining Craig & I tonight was a young white belt (about 10 years old), and a young woman. Due to space restrictions (this class was the largest I had seen so far) Mr. Singleton started three of us off doing our form, one at a time with the other two critiquing, while he worked with the young lady (it was her first night).

Mr. Wegmann stopped by from time to time, and he worked with us on various parts of the form. The young white belt didn't know the form very well, so we did it in parts again. Again, this proved to be a useful session, with Mr. Wegmann providing us with good feedback and example, and giving us a chance to practice the form. I feel I knew it cold right now. Hopefully I'll get my next stripe on Wednesday.

Week Four -- Day Eight

My last class of the introductory session was a good one. Actually, it was pretty brutal, and I was dripping with sweat and dead tired by the time it ended.

I got my second stripe at the end of class. The qualification for this was knowing my form. Since we did the form for the entire last 2/3 of the class, I had better know it well! :-)

Mr. Racz worked us three white belts through the form -- again, and again, and again, and ... Some people don't think forms are all that tough to do. And I agree -- if we're talking about doing it once. It's the 40th time that makes you feel the burn. I have no idea how many times we did all or part of the form last night -- but it was a LOT!

Near the end of class Mr. Wegmann had us demonstrate our forms for him. My first time through was extremely good -- I got complimented on the chamber for my side kicks. The second time through I lost it 2/3 of the way through. I got my techniques mixed up. So I took a moment, reoriented myself, and completed it from the point I messed it up. I felt good that I could do that.

Path to Orange Belt

This page is a journal of my adventures leading up to earning my first colored belt -- Orange. I'm not planning on writing a night-by-night detail of events, as I did for the introductory period. Even *I* would find that boring. Instead I'm writing my insights and listing events of notice that occur. One reason for doing this is so that when I'm a Black belt I can re-read this and remember what it was like to be a beginner. Assuming that I'm instructing at that time, the remembrance should help me be a better instructor.

18 August 1999

Last week ended my introductory period at Allen's TKD, and this week I sign my one year agreement. I missed Monday night's class as I was feeling very run-down from my trip to DC over the weekend. But I'm looking forward to tonight's class.

During the introductory month I earned two stripes on my White belt. The first was for displaying that I had learned by basic techniques (Front Kicks #1-#4, Side Kicks #1-#4, High Block, Low Block, Inside Block, Middle Punch, and the ATA creed). The second stripe I earned for displaying that I learned my first form, Songahm 1.

I have already learned one-steps #1 and #2, and self-defense technique #1. Once I learn one-step #3 and self-defense technique #2, I'll get my third stripe. I'm guessing that should occur in the next week or so. Some time after that I should test for my Orange belt -- but I have no real idea when that will be.

The remaining techniques to learn should actually be quite easy -- for me. But I've had nearly 3 years training in TKD, even if it was broken up over a seventeen year period. The fact that Allen's is my fifth school makes things even easier. I've had the benefit (?) of working in different styles of TKD, and have learned that there is more than one way to do things. As a result I pay more attention to details than the average student.

Now I just need to keep an eye on myself -- to avoid getting cocky. I need to remember that regardless of how much I know (far more than a normal White belt, or even Orange or Yellow), there's still a lot I don't know. I don't care for people who are so enamored by their own knowledge that they fail to open their ears when someone more knowledgeable is trying to teach them -- hopefully a good reason for me to avoid falling into that same trap.

22 August 1999

One article I read in a magazine talked about the narrow margin of profit for martial arts schools. I can definitely understand that. I pay $73+ per month, and (assuming 4 weeks per month) for 3 classes per week that comes out to $6.10 per class (either 45 or 60 minutes, depending upon the class). Even if I only make 2 classes per week (which will often be true), the price only rises to $9.13 per class.

Computer training classes cost a minimum of $300 per day, which comes out to $37.50 per hour (for an 8 hour day). When you consider that my TKD instructor has probably put a LOT more hours into learning to teach than the computer instructor, it doesn't seem quite fair. Not that life and fairness have much to do with each other.

Then I thought of it from a different POV. If a school has 100 students, the total gross for a month comes out to $7,300 (not exactly, as there are different plans -- but for purposes of this example it is close enough). Out of that has to come rent (in Cary, that cannot be cheap!), utilities, insurance, etc. Then the chief instructor has to pay his black belts that instruct. When all is said and done, it doesn't leave much to pay the chief instructor, who may not have a day job.

What led into this entire line of thought was speculation regarding all the paraphernalia that Allen's sells. Uniforms, sparring gear, books, video tapes, etc. The ATA has it's own brand, including dobaks. My first thought was, "Sheesh! It's pretty damned commercial!". But that is exactly the point -- it IS commercial. Allen's TKD is a business, and like any business it exists to make a profit. If it doesn't, it closes, and I lose something valuable in my life.

Back when I lived in Rome, NY and was half owner of The Winery (wine & beer making supply shop), I learned a lot of valuable lessons about business. When Chris (my partner) and I decided to close down (due to lack of sufficient profit to make it worth our time) we put out a final mailing to our customer base, notifying them that we were closing. We had people show up that Chris hadn't seen in *5* years. Each and every person asked the same question, "Why are you closing?". If they had stopped in at least once per year and spent a few dollars, maybe we would have made enough money to stay open. If you want a convenient, local business to stay open, you need to spend money there supporting it. If not, it will close and you'll have to do mail order, or travel farther, or whatever. Basically, you lose out in some significant way.

So although I might be able to save a few dollars by ordering any equipment I need from other sources, I'm planning on purchasing what I need through Allen's. It's in my own best interest to do what I can to make sure that Michael Wegmann is able to keep his school open.

24 August 1999

Got my third stripe last night. I learned one-step #3 and self-defense technique #2, and immediately got my stripe. I had to -- I test on Saturday. I was pleased to have Mr. Wegmann tell me I had permission to test.

Saturday is going to be crowded for me. We have an appointment to have the boys pictures taken at 10:00 AM at JC Penneys, I have to register for the test at 12:30 PM, and Stephen & Laurie are coming into town some time during the afternoon, so we're probably going to Jay & Alison's at dinner time. Definitely going to be a crowded day. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Last week when I signed my life away, I also bought the ATA video tape for Orange belt. It cost $14+, so I figured I'd try it and see if it was worth anything. That Thursday morning I was home from work on babysitting duty so Lorraine could take Eric for his first dentist appointment, so I had time to watch the tape. I think it is going to prove valuable. Patrick thought so, too -- he laughed whenever anyone ki-uped!

The tape explains all the techniques and forms I will learn as Orange belt, with good demonstrations. It also provides some of the thought that goes behind this "stuff". *I* find that valuable, as I've learned to appreciate and use the psychology behind just about anything. The more I understand about the "why", the better able I am to use it.

I've actually given some thought to buying the White belt tape. At the beginning of the Orange belt tape there was a review of previous material, and I found that valuable. Or I may see if anyone else has it and borrow it.

26 August 1999

Barring a REAL screw-up on my part, this will be my last entry in the Path to Orange Belt. I'm looking forward to earning a colored belt.

When I was with Bailey's, we wore black dobaks. My guess is that this was to be impressive at tournaments. Given the aura that surrounds black belts, the sight of a solid black dobak, regardless of the color belt, might be intimidating. It always helps to intimidate an opponent or competitor.

But I think I like the contrast of a colored belt against a white dobak. Makes a bigger splash.

Path to Yellow Belt

30 August 1999

I passed my test on Saturday, with a score high enough that I was awarded Orange belt Decided. I think I've described this elsewhere, but I'll do it again. When testing for lower belts, there are two promotion options: Recommended and Decided. My understanding is that if a candidate fulfills the requirements for promotion, the promotion is "Recommended". However, if the student shows exceptional knowledge, the promotion is "Decided". So I'm happy.

But I wasn't to thrilled with my performance. First thing we did was our form. I've practiced this literally hundreds of times. I got to the half way point and my mind went blank. Absolutely no clue what to do next. So I returned to ready position while Craig & Kyle finished. Mr. Wegmann told me to ask for permission to restart, which I did. He decided all three of us could to it over, so we all restarted. I made it through this time with no problems.

But this time Craig blew it. So Craig asked for permission to restart. Although Mr. Wegmann commented that Craig already had a passing score, so there really was no need, we did it again. But I did the form correctly again. To be honest, after blowing it the first time, I was happy to be able to do the form twice more, to demonstrate that I did know the form.

Then we did one-steps, and I nearly blew the second one. Again I drew a complete blank. Craig gave me a slight prompting and I plowed through it with no problems. I even did the third one correctly. This calls for a #1 front kick, and it's in a place where I would use a #2. So I worked hard on using the correct kick and it paid off -- I did it right! Then I blew through the self-defense techniques.

After my test, as I sat watching other higher belts test, I felt like a real chump for freezing during the form. Then I watched a couple of higher belts who had problems with their form. From watching them I would almost believe they didn't know the form. But given that we don't test until we have already proved to the instructors that we know the material, they obviously must have known their forms. After watching them I didn't feel too bad about myself. But I did feel sorry for them, being up in front of everyone and blowing the form.

07 October 1999

Back after a month off. During the first two weeks of September I was out of town on vacation, and then hurricane Floyd showed up, costing me another day of training. For a variety of reasons, I made only one class per week the last two weeks of the September. This week was my first full week since the end of August. Not good.

The next testing will be on 30 October. That means I've got exactly three weeks to hone my material for yellow belt. To be honest, I'm not sure I'm going to make it, and if Mr. Wegmann doesn't give me permission to test I can't blame him. I'd much rather wait to test, instead of either failing the test or just barely passing. If I had my druthers I'd attend four classes per week for the next three weeks, but that isn't an option. Got too much yard work that has to be done, and other things conflict as well. <sigh> But I'm a homeowner, husband, and parent due to my own choice. Can't put these things temporarily aside just 'cause they're inconvenient! ;-O

Last night was an excellent workout. For warm ups, we alternated punches and pushups. My shoulders feel abused this morning. First a bunch of single punches, and then 5 pushups. No big deal. Even after a few repetitions of this, no big deal. Then it moved to triple punches and pushups. Then quadruple punches. Mr. Wegmann wrapped this up by having us rapidly do 5, 6, 7, . . . 14 punches -- each set separated by 5 pushups. YOW!

Then we did punching and kicking drills. (And I thought the punches/pushups were brutal?). First it was jab-punch, with a ki-hap on the punch. Then it was jab-punch-front kick, with a ki-hap on the kick. Then jab-punch-outer crescent kick. About this time we were hurting. Finally we did inner crescent kick-outer crescent kick (no punches). Ki-haps were pretty weak at that point! I think this series of exercises lasted 15 minutes. Seemed like an hour!

We wrapped up class with self-defense, forms, and one-steps. I was dripping long before we were done.

15 October 1999

I made three classes this week. I've wanted to do more than two, but there just hasn't been time. However, now I'm motivated because I am afraid I won't have enough classes in for the testing in two weeks.

But it looks like I'm OK for that. Monday I got my stripe for one-steps, and last night I got my stripe for my form. Mr. Hess told me my techniques were good and that he was going to recommend that I test. Granted, whether or not I test is Mr. Wegmann's decision, but I think my techniques are good enough that he'll let me test. Just as importantly, I'm confident enough that I'll pass.

What has helped is that I'm getting more practice time in at home. Time is still a premium, but I'm fitting in short practices in odd places. These "practice sessions" are NOT aerobic workouts. They are slow, low power repetitions of the techniques, with an emphasis on doing the techniques correctly. My double outer forearm blocks have been very sloppy, and this has helped a lot.

Mr. Hess gave me a good tip last night. He recommended that to "wow" the judges at testing, I should put a lot more snap and power into the techniques, whether I'm doing a form or one-steps. Then he gave me a brief demonstration. Sad thing is I thought I *was* putting good snap in. Oh, well. There will always be room for improvement! :-)

19 October 1999

I'm psyched -- last night Mr. Wegmann told all Orange belts that we would test this month! My fear of not testing due to insufficient classes attended is no longer an issue. Now my goal is to make sure my techniques are good enough to merit Yellow Belt Decided!

Last night one of the brown belts instructed us. I've seen him instructing lower belts before, and assume he's in line for the instructor program. If so, he should do fine.

The four orange belts in my class all have our basics, forms, and one-steps down. Now it's just a matter of honing the techniques. Last night was good for that. After we went through the form once, our instructor started dissecting our individual performances, to help us improve our technique. He didn't single anyone out, which was good. But when he noticed a defect we all received a brief dissertation regarding the defect and how to correct it. Can't speak for anyone else, but I found the instruction to be very useful.

One of the younger orange belts is probably 11 or 12. He has been of the belief that faster is better, and whips through the form in half the time anyone else does. Craig and I have mentioned that faster isn't better, but it fell on deaf ears. However, last night the instructor stated point blank that faster is NOT better. Better is better -- perform each technique correctly, regardless of how long it takes. At our level correct technique is far more important than speed. (Apparently at upper belts this isn't necessarily true, but I can understand that)

22 October 1999

I'm definitely psyched to test! I'm still fuzzy on one of the one-steps, but I've got everything else down cold. I know Songahm 2 far better than I knew Songahm 1. Hopefully I won't freeze during testing this time! ;-) Craig & I joked about it during class Wednesday night.

Mr. Wegmann mentioned that if all goes well, he will open the new school in the Fuquay-Varina area in about 4 months. That will work out perfect with when I'd like to start Eric in the Tiny Tigers. Eric loves watching me practice, and I was able to teach him how to punch. Now I just have to make sure he doesn't practice on Patrick!

29 October 1999

Unless I REALLY screw up, this will be my last entry in the Path to Yellow Belt. I am sure that I am ready for the test.

I've got Songahm 2 down cold. I think this has proved easier than with Songahm 1, due to the changes in direction. Songahm 1 is performed in a straight line -- up and back. The different segments have little to distinguish them. OTOH, Songahm 2 is a box, so with one exception, all segments include a change in direction. At least for me, this makes it easier to keep track of segment changes.

I definitely need to spend more time practicing my white belt material. Before class on Wednesday, one of the instructors mentioned that changes are being made to the purple and blue belt material. Right now there are two grades of brown and red belts, and starting at brown belt testing, candidates have to do Songahm 1 in addition to their current form. I guess the idea is to start this earlier, so people spend less time relearning earlier material. I think it's a good idea. It may add some length to my road to black belt, but it should make me a better black belt once I do make it.

Path to Camo Belt

01 November 1999

I passed my test on Saturday, with a score high enough that I was awarded Yellow belt Decided. I couldn't see what Kyle & Brian did, but Craig and I kicked butt on Songahm 2. We also did well on the one-steps and self-defense. No mistakes -- at least on the execution of the one-steps. I goofed on the attach for one-step 3 and threw a front kick instead of a round kick. For our purposes it didn't matter as Craig defended it just as easily.

Mr. Hess actually complimented us on our self-defense. Mr. Wegmann said he wanted violence, and he got it! Craig and I both weigh in around 220 and neither of us is fragile, so we toss each other around a bit. We actually have to use some restraint when working with others, all of whom are smaller and lighter than we are.

That may sound bad, but it's not. THE important thing in self defense is an immediate response that overwhelms the attacker. Hit 'em hard and hit 'em fast! So we need to practice in that mode, but with enough control that we don't actually kill each other.

"Sparring" is useful in general, but it can build the wrong reflexes. Sparring is unpredictable, but it's less violent and it includes rules that don't exist in street fighting. The self-defense techniques we're taught are selected for real-life usefulness, and we practice each one for months until it's instinctive. In a real situation it's important to react, not think.

02 November 1999

Last night's class was brutal. Not all of it -- just one exercise. We paired up, with one person behind the other. The person in back put his hands on the other person's shoulders, and chambered for a side kick. Then we did 5 repetitions of s*l*o*w*l*y extending the kick and rechambering it.

Five repetitions doesn't sound like much, but this was tough -- very tough. Surprisingly enough, the issue was NOT the kicking leg, it was the supporting knee. I discovered I did not have enough strength in that knee to keep the kicking leg up.

To make it worse, we were then instructed to rotate the kicking leg counter-clockwise, and then clockwise. Then do what Mr. Wegmann called "digital" -- pull the foot in slightly and push it back out, quickly. Then up and down. MAN -- this was brutal. Then we switched partners, and switched again to do the other leg.

I was paired up with Kyle, who is probably 11 or 12, and weighs in about 1/3 of what I do. I spent more time making sure I didn't crush him. Too bad Craig wasn't there -- the exercise would have been more effective for me with a partner I wasn't worried about killing! :-)

But it was a good exercise. I expect Mr. Wegmann will do it again in the future.

05 November 1999

Wednesday's class was more brutal than any other I've had. We repeated Monday's side kick work with some twists. First we did slow motion side kick practice -- which was painful. Than it got worse. We did a front kick to the front, followed by a side kick to the side. Then we did the same, holding the side kick out, followed by a reserve side kick (?) to the other side. This was absolutely brutal. I have decided that Mr. Wegmann is truly a sick, twisted, sadistic individual. I'm really glad I joined his school! ;-)

Next we broke up by rank and went over our new hand basics. This proved easy -- knife hand down block, high block, and double outer forearm block, plus spear hand.

Then Ms. Racz taught us outer crescent kicks. These weren't too bad. We have been doing #2 outer crescent kicks as part of our warm up from the beginning. Learning #'s 1, 3, and 4 proved interesting, but not overly challenging.

Then she taught us Jump Front Kick. Whoever dreamed this one up is clearly far more sadistic than Mr. Wegmann ever dreamed of being. By the time we were done with this, everything on my body hurt, especially my hips. Fortunately, only #3 is required in our form (Songahm 3) and it proved to be the easiest! But I have never been as tired at the end of a class as I was after this one! Whoa!

03 December 1999

I've been a bit lax on writing in my journal. Comes from having my enthusiasm for this project rise and fall. So I actually expect some large gaps here and there.

Unfortunately, I missed class all last week -- the week of Thanksgiving. I took the entire week off and expected to attend three classes, but it just didn't work out. Both boys got sick, especially Patrick. I just couldn't leave Lorraine home with him going into screaming fits. He'll scream at the top of his lungs for 15 or 20 minutes for her. I let him scream for a minute or so and then tell him to knock it off, and he does.

Some people may think that's a bad thing to do to a two year old, but they don't know Patrick. Since he was an infant he seems to have enjoyed hearing himself scream. I can remember 40 minute screaming fits for no reason I could determine. I was frantically checking everything I could, trying to fix whatever problem he had. Finally I realized his screaming fed off itself, so the more he screamed, the more he screamed. In any case, I couldn't leave Lorraine with him. Class isn't *that* important and she is.

But this week I've attended 3 classes and expect to attend tomorrow's (Saturday) class. It's been a bit brutal the past few weeks. Our warm-ups have been pretty intensive, leaving me sore and out of breath. Good stuff.

This week we're working on "Economy of Motion". That's making the least wasteful motions, and accelerating the speed of our techniques. In English, each technique should be faster than the one preceding it. I'd call it "Technique Acceleration" instead, but no one consulted me prior to naming it. :-)

But regardless of what you call it, my shoulders and hips hurt from repetitive kick/punch combos. Again, all good stuff.

Right now the question as to whether I'll test this month is open. Mr. Wegmann wanted us to get 21 classes in this session, or 3 classes per week. No way I can do that. I just don't have the time to spend that much time away from the family in the evening, at least on a consistent basis. Lorraine has been really cool this week, so I'm getting 4 classes in, which will make up for last week. I'm going to try to get 3 classes per week in during the next two weeks.

But if I don't test, I don't test. There's always next time ...

09 December 1999

Got my glasses broken in class last night. We were doing self defense and I was working Corey. As a purple belt his version of the technique involved putting me on the ground. During our *last* try he swept my glasses off and they went bouncing across the floor. As I went to pick them up, one of the orange belts, who didn't realize the glasses were on the floor, stepped on them.

He did a pretty good job of messing them up. *I* couldn't fix them. So Miss Beddow took me to Lens Crafters and they put 'em back together again, good as new.

I was going to wear my sports glasses only for sparring -- looks like I'll wear them for the entire class!

17 December 1999

Barring any stupidity on my part, this will be my last entry here. I test tomorrow for my Camo belt.

Wasn't sure I was going to be allowed to test. This testing period is a short one, due to the holidays, so I wasn't sure I was going to get enough classes in. Apparently I did, as Wednesday night Mr. Wegmann told me I could test.

Right now I'm kind of in a slump. I go through periods of extreme optimism and enthusiasm, and later other periods of sloth and apathy. This is normal, as enthusiasm for any subject waxes and wanes. After testing I'll be all psyched up again, especially since the holidays will be over. Not that I hate the holidays themselves -- it's the rushing around and overwhelming feeling that I've forgotten to do something.

What this really means is that I have to push myself a little harder.

Wednesday Kyle did his test, as he's going to be gone this weekend. So Craig & I tested with him -- practice, not for real. We were both VERY tense for the form, although we did the one-steps and self-defense well. So tomorrow morning I'm going to practice everything, especially my form. I really want to do it as well as I did at my last testing.

Path to Green Belt

20 December 1999

I passed my test on Saturday, with a score high enough that I was awarded Camo belt Decided. I arrived at the testing an hour early, and the children's testing actually finished early. So I had 30 minutes to practice before the test. This proved absolutely valuable.

I've known all my material for weeks, but kept screwing up the low knife-hand block/high knife-hand block (LKHB/HKHB) combination which is executed with the same hand for both blocks. This is done twice in Songahm 3, once with each side. In previous styles the transition from block to block would involve making an X in front of my body. In Songahm TKD, the process is: execute LKHB, prep for HKHB by putting non-blocking hand up as for a completed high block including putting the non-blocking hand back in the chamber, and then execute HKHB. This proved hard for me to do, so I kept screwing it up.

Last week Mr. Racz gave me a tip -- treat it as THREE blocks instead of two: Execute LKHB, then execute a standard high block with the other hand, and then execute the HKHB. The tip helped at lot, meaning that I could understand how it should be done, but I still kept screwing it up.

So during practice before the test I executed the techniques as slowly as necessary to make it work correctly. AND IT WORKED!!!! I felt so good afterwards it wasn't funny. Actually, I felt I did quite well in everything. Of my three tests so far, I was the most pleased with this one.

After my part, we watched upper belts doing lower belt forms. Starting with Purple belt, we will need to execute lower belt forms at testing. It's kind of a bummer to watch upper belts doing MY form, and doing it so much better than I could! But at the same time, I realize if they couldn't, they don't deserve the belts they wear.

I'll get there some day. Just not today.

21 December 1999

The low I felt last week is completely gone. I'm thrilled that I passed my test, and I'm really into the new techniques we learned last night.

I'm thrilled enough that I got off my dead butt and updated my ATA Kicks page, which I hadn't really touched since Orange belt. It is now up to date for all belts up to Camo. I also updated my belt requirements listing for Path to Camo Belt and Path to Green Belt. The Path to Camo Belt has been only half completed since late October.

I'm half of the mind that the short ATA testing cycle is designed partly to combat these periodic low points. With only two months to learn our new material, it keeps us pumped up, and getting a new belt every two months keeps the interest up. When you're testing only every 4 to 6 months, it's easy to get into a slump and not come out of it until it's too late. Been there and done that.

At the same time, I recognize the financial benefits for the ATA to hold frequent testings. Let's see -- the cost for testing for Orange, Yellow, Camo, and Green belts is $40, or a total of $160. Then Purple and Blue are another $80, or maybe $160 if Mr. Wegmann decides that we need two testing cycles to learn each belts' material. Then two more for Brown Belt and two more for Red belt. I think someone mentioned that the price for Red belt testing was $60.

So for 20 lower ranking students, that's an extra $800 coming in every 2 months, or a total of about $5,000 a year. Granted, probably half of this goes to the ATA and to pay for the belts. Sounds like a good chunk of change, but given the low margins I don't think it really is. Just another way to stay in the black.

Then I thought about it from MY point of view. In my first two years, which is the optimum time to reach Black belt, it costs me an extra $240 the first year and $280 the second year for tests. This is on top of the nearly $1,000 per year my lessons cost, for a rough total of $2,500 to earn a black belt. Sounds like a lot of money.

But to get Microsoft Solutions Developer certification, it would cost me at least $1,000 per class for four classes. And I would be taught by people with far less training than even my least black belt instructors, and they put a LOT more time into my training than any computer instructor. So my cost to earn a black belt is certainly reasonable, maybe even cheap. As I've said before, I don't begrudge the schools trying to earn a profit, especially since if they don't they'll close.

Copyright 1999-2008 Bryan Fazekas