A little more than a week ago, I earned my red belt in Tae Kwon Do. For someone who started this demanding martial art late in life, getting this far — only three more levels until the test for black belt — the switch from blue to red feels like an incredible accomplishment.
When you’re 48 and trying to do a flying side kick and only getting a few inches off the floor — and the young bucks have one-minute hang times — it can be discouraging. Still, I persevere.
I was going to use this post to compare the trials and tribulations of being an author with doing Tae Kwon Do — but the comparisons were too predictable, too pat.
Instead, I thought I’d let you into my Tae Kwon Do world this bright Monday in August.
WARNING: These pictures are unflattering (not the photog’s fault, btw). Don’t hold that against me when we meet. I’ve been told for at least a year that I have a very intense, fierce face when I do TKD. Well, I didn’t believe it until I saw these . . .
Before we do anything, we stretch. I’m the only person with her legs straight in front of her. My expression is already beginning to change.
Behind me, on the wall are photos of past championships won by members of our Do Jang. If you look closely, you can see a man standing in the very back on the left — he’s Master Kim, our teacher.
Every testing is different. This time, we broke out into male/female groups and did the first six of our forms (in karate, they’d be called "kata")together. I’m in the back, to the left near the mounted staffs (bo).
You never know with testings . . . I expected to do several forms by myself. However, I only had the opportunity to do one — and it was with the other lady testing for a red belt. This form is called Toi Gye (pronounced "ta-gay"). The following two pix are also this form — and I’m looking mighty fierce.
Many people hate Toi Gye because it has six stomps. These make you look like you did in second grade when you pretended to be a tree. To make the stomp, you have to twist your body and land hard. I still am not very good at it — but you can see I bring real energy to the motion. The woman behind me is more than 10 years younger than I am and quite an accomplished athlete. I want to hate her . . . .
I’ve just leapt and landed in that position. It’s a very satisfying move.
The next few photos are of kicks — we do them to keep limber at testing and, later, in preparation for our board-breaking. I’m including several so that you can see the focus in preparing for the kick and then the execution. The woman who is in front of me in line is 55 — and every time I start feeling sorry for myself, I just look at her and stop it.
I think I’ve just landed a kick here and am yelling that loud Kee Yah! that can wake up the dead. Believe me, my kee yah is frightening. I should use it on publishers and misbehaving children . . .
I’m preparing to do two roundhouse kicks here.
I had no idea I got my leg that high. Not bad for someone looking at 50.
Here is a challenging balancing exercise. You kick that little red pad front to back — with power — as many times as you can without setting your foot down. I managed to get at least seven sets — the most in the line that time through — and it was such a good feeling to do something really well.
Again, the men and women were separated for — what I think of as — running the gauntlet. We have four large pads, spaced moderately evenly and we have to run and kick with opposite legs as fast and hard as we can.
Usually when I spar, I wear a helmet, mouthpiece, sparring gloves, kicking pads (and sometimes even shin guards) — but at testing we have no equipment. Still, I love sparring — though I get socked, punched and kicked a lot. I’m in the middle of the picture here, leaning back — my hands are raised to protect and attack. I’m also laughing.
I’m still center screen here, my butt to the camera (with the blue belt). I’m trying to land a kick on my opponent — but he has the same idea. This happens often in sparring and can hurt like the dickens when knees or shins meet. Why am I still enjoying it so much? Insanity, I tell you.
This is one of my many attempts to break a 1-inch board with a shuffle front kick. Here, I have to skip, launch myself up and forward and break the board with the ball of my front foot.
Of the many breaks we can do, this one has always scared me because I have horrid and very painful bunions that hurt all the time. Merely getting my foot in position to do the kick hurts like hell. But, I DID IT.
Though I’ve broken more boards with other kicks and hits, my fear of this break was very important to overcome.
I wish I had a photo of me smiling and showing you my new red belt . . . but none of them turned out very well, alas. . .
Thanks for letting me relive my glory day.
And, thanks to Master Brian Kast for taking these photos.
What challenge, besides writing (if you’re a writer), have you pursued in spite of frustration — so that now, it brings you more pleasure than not? Please share it with the rest of us in the comments.
Congratulations! I and my two sons got promoted this weekend as well, from 3rd degree brown to 2nd degree brown in Sanchin Ryu karate–very different from Tae Kwon Do. Still, I was surprised. We all were, I think. I expected my oldest son was up for promotion, but I didn’t think I was or my youngest was. In Sanchin Ryu we go from 3rd brown to 2nd brown to 1st brown to first degree black.
Hi Mark,Congratulations to you, too! Wow.
Our belt levels are: solid — then the next color as a tip — then the next solid.
So, now, I’ve got a red belt. Then I’ll test for a brown tip, then brown belt. After that comes black tip and then black belt.
How long have you been studying Karate? Also, do you have formal testings — or some other system?
If anyone has read UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE, there’s a line that goes: “Let it be a challenge to you.” So I guess that was my biggest challenge – teaching high school.
I was a great teacher 🙂
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I left teaching, worked on newspapers, waited tables and wrote novels.
Just about every other challenge in my life (if you don’t count losing weight) has been writing-related. I once wrote a “goal list.”
1] Get published2] See a pyramid of my books in a bookstore window3] Make the bestseller lists4] Sell my book(s) to the movies5] See my books [for sale] in airports6] Sing with Stephen King’s rock band
and the quintessential dream goal…
7] Get paid for not writing. IOW, get paid for a weekly TV series I don’t have to write [CBS nibbled, but didn’t bite re my Ellie/Peter diet club mysteries].
I’ve fulfilled every goal except 5, 6 and 7. God willin and the crick don’t rise, I’ll make them all. In my head, the words beat like a kettledrum: Let it be a challenge to you, Deni!
Yesterday I really wanted a Krispy Kreme donut. It was on the kitchen counter and I was all the way over in the family room, sitting in my favorite chair, watching NASCAR.
I was – finally – able to force myself up out of the chair, and push myself to never-before-seen heights of agony as I managed to walk all the way to the kitchen, get the donut, and return to my chair…
ALL BEFORE THE COMMERCIALS WERE OVER.
I’m in bed today.
Deni,I love your list. If you don’t mind, I’ll just use it myself . . .
At least the first three goals have been met. Only four to go. That’s doable.
Paul, I’m so glad you were able to reach your goal; it’s astounding how fulfilling it can be to achieve great things.
No wonder you’re so exhausted today.
re: Krispy Kreme — the two stores in Albuquerque closed last week. It’s astounded most people here because when KK came to town, there were lines around the buildings. Some police got in trouble for using the PD helicopter to get a couple of dozen, too. Ah, those were the days. Now you can get KK donuts at the Pump ‘n’ Save.
You are awesome! I love that intense look on your face; it reveals another side of your personality. And dang, 48 and looking good. I challenge any of those Desperate Housewife actresses to break a board with a shuffle front kick.
I, on the other hand, am a jack of all trades, master of none. Tried and have given up: piano, cello, guitar, basketball (once every three years at Bouchercon now), running 5 and 10Ks, bird-watching, bowling, golf, quilting, learning Mandarin Chinese (but hope to resume soon), black and white photography (all this digital stuff has ruined the experience for me), book and card making, and letterpress typesetting.
About the only thing I’ve kept up is aerobics (or jumping around, as my husband calls it), Japanese-language studies (although it’s faltered quite a bit), and cooking, because it also involves eating. Speaking of which, I also recently craved a Krispy Kreme donut, but I lied down until the feeling went away.
Naomi,Your list of pursuits is fascinating — and reveals what I’ve known about you for a long time: you’re a wonderfully engaged and interesting person.
What kind of cooking? Will I ever get a sample?
Given my political leanings, I think this may be the only time I can heartedly congratulate someone on moving from Blue to Red.
And you made it look graceful.
Pari,Sanchin Ryu is an American Okinowan system. I studied the American Karate System for about a year in college (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) and it was similar to Tae Kwon Do in many ways and had at one time been called American Tang Tsu Do, I guess.
Belts are: white, orange, green, purple, 3rd brown, 2nd brown, 1st brown, 1st black (yodan). I’ve been studying about 2 years, my kids 3 to 3-1/2 years.
It’s non-competitive, so we don’t do official sparring until black belt level and it’s more as a kind of training, rather than like a competition. Chief Grand Master Dearman, who developed the style, apparently doesn’t like weapons, although there are weapons katas at the higher levels of black belt. No board breaking, either. Up until the transition from purple to brown, your sensei (teacher) can test and promote you. The tests tend to be pretty informal and sometimes you’re not even aware it’s happening. When they present the certificate or the belt (depending on the timeframe) they may ask you to do something. It may be complicated or not.
All belt levels higher require you to attend a black belt class, which is by invitation. The Chief Instructor, in my case, was there teaching it (he’s a 7th degree black belt) and and he observes what you’re doing and may or may not ask you to do specific things, depending on what the senseis have told him. For instance, one woman who apparently lacked some confidence in her real-world abilities, was given two scenarios. One was, here’s an innocent guy and here are two attackers going after him. Get between them and keep them from getting to him. Frankly, I was floored and I think she was freaked out, but after some initial confusion you could actually SEE her training kick in and I was impressed that she made it. The second scenario was she was attacked by three black belts and her goal was to get away from them to a safe spot, which she managed to do.
Otherwise sometimes people are asked to do various forms or whatever.
There’s so many different types and styles of martial arts it’s pretty amazing.
Aiee! I’m worn out just looking at your photos, Pari! Somehow my back hurts too.
Krispy Kreme? Uh, we don’t talk about them in our home. No one here in town sells them and it’s too hurtful.
Just working out. Some days, a real pain, esp with my bad back, but I know that I’ll feel so much better if I do something, as opposed to nothing.
Although my body often protests…
Louise,Graceful? Are you sure you looked at these pix?
Mark,Thanks so much for the further explanation. We start testing right at the beginning from yellow tip to yellow. At the higher black belt levels, Master Kim simply invites folks to test and it’s a wonderful show. But, we do all of it (except weapons) — sparring, take downs, grappling etc etc.
Actually, Elaine,My back is fine; it’s my knees and feet that hurt after training. Thanks for the congrats. This particular testing meant a lot to me.
Sandra,Good for you. I’m sorry to hear about your bad back — but am glad you know how much better exercise can make it. Still, pain is difficult to stare down. Kudos for doing it.
Yeah, we do the grappling, too, and we’ve messed around with some throws, and at least two of the forms have a “dump” in them.
The move I can’t get is the “sweep” — you know, where you use the back of your foot to knock your opponent’s leg out from under him or her.
Oh, there’s so much to learn.
Pari,Those aren’t unflattering at all. Nothing more attractive than a woman who can KICK ASS. Maybe you can teach me some of those cool kicks at Bouchercon. 🙂
This is amazing to me. I mean , martial arts actually involve coordination. I used to run 5K and 10K races, which takes no atheltic skill, but which was a great change from writing. I only finished in the middle but, in a way, that felt like more of an accomplishment to me than my writing because it was unexpected. I still orienteer, although I’m not even middling at that. Still, it amuses me to be able to find my way through the woods — sort of — since I’ve spent most of my life immersed in books rather than outdoors.
Ah, the sweep. One of Sanchin Ryu’s forms (Neihashi) has multiple foot sweeps in it. One of the senseis I used to work with commented that she spent a full weekend retreat with a bunch of black belts all trying to make these sweeps work. They all had very bruised ankles, but nobody got knocked down.
My interpretation of the move in this particular form hasn’t exactly gotten the seal of approval from others, but it works for me. You’ve got multiple attackers and I tend to use the foot sweeps to keep the middle person from moving in too much while I “deal” with the outer opponents. In other words, stay back or I’m gonna kick you in the knee, dammit.
Julia,I wish I were going to Bouchercon. It’d be fun to see everyone and to meet you. This year, I just can’t swing it.
Eric, I admire anyone who can run since my knees are so iffy. And, orienteering? That sounds like so much fun.
Mark,I end up hitting the knee rather than the calf — all the time and people don’t go down, they just get bruises on the backs of their knees and I feel a bit like a dope. It’s consoling to read about that weekend retreat . . .thank you.
Congratulations on the red, Pari. TKD’s a very demanding style, what with the high kicks and all.
Hey, JD,Thanks for stopping by today. And, I’ll take that congrats. I’m still pleased and it’s been a week.
Yay, Pari! I’m so glad you finally got to take your test, and major kudos for your new belt!!!My challenge outside of writing is golf. I’ve been playing for the better part of 30 years (my Dad started me out when I was 5, and I still struggle on the course. But I’ll have one or two brilliant shots a round that keep me coming back. The way I see it, a bad day playing golf is better than a good day working.Great conversation today!
BTW, I was perusing this week’s issue of Publishers Weekly, and your book was listed in Llewelyn’s ad. (The issue spotlights fall books.) Man, over 400 pages–your book is a long sucker, isn’t it?
Today we had ground turkey stuffed green peppers and cold roasted Japanese eggplants. The thing is the peppers and eggplants came from my parents’ garden, so how’s that for fresh?
J.T.,Golf has always intrigued me; my stepdad adored it. I’ve got a line in the new Sasha book about men whacking their little white balls . . . it pleased me — and Sasha.
Naomi,Oh, for the day when I can cook more elegant dinners. Tonight’s fare was “mighty meatloaf.” I make it with ground buffalo and ground turkey and cram as many veggies, wheat germ, brewers yeast, oatmeal –and whatever else I can sneak in without my kids detecting it. They love this dish and it’s one of the few that I can feel good about giving them. I even make my own tomato sauce for it . . .
Ah, the exciting life of a mom.
Pari, I used to take Chitu Ryu.
I miss it… Not that I was ever very good.
Way to go, Pari! Now I know why I felt so safe when we all walked back from dinner that night in D.C. 🙂
I forgot to mention that husband Wes took Jeet Koon Do, a combination of all the different martial arts. I always referred to it as BLT, Bruce Lee Thing. Man, did he get criticized for mixing the various art forms.
Long live BL!
(I, on the other hand, took two sessions of aikido in college and promptly quit.)
congratulations Pari!Maureen and I are on holiday in Prince Edward County so I am just periodically going on the web. Since I am a fitness trainer at age 55, I am always delighted to see people over 40 finding a magnificent obsession with some aspect of fitness. Martial arts are so good for the mind and the body. And also, you develop a healthy respect for understanding the art of combat. Keep it going! Al the best,IdenGreat photos btw
BTW, I was perusing this week’s issue of Publishers Weekly, and your book was listed in Llewelyn’s ad. (The issue spotlights fall books.) Man, over 400 pages–your book is a long sucker, isn’t it?
Hey, glad there’s an ad. Coincides w/our Shelf Awareness thing. Hope the orders come in.
Nah, not really all that long. I think it was 90,000 words. It’s a trade paperback and I was a little surprised by the layout, giving the book a little more heft.
You just never know, do you? My novel Dirty Deeds was probably 77,000 to 80,000 words and the publisher did the layout in a way to keep costs down and it ran 198 pages, which I thought was too short.
Wow, I go to sleep and come back bright-eyed to a slew of new comments.
Sandra, what’s Chitu Ryu? It sounds Japanese.
Ah, Troy, y’a know I’d beat up a thug for you . . . a short thug who doesn’t weight too much.
Jeet Koon Do? Naomi, that sounds like another Korean concoction. Did he stick with it for awhile? And, yes! Long live Bruce Lee!! I used to go to Kung Fu movies in Washington, DC every weekend. I didn’t understand most of the language, but who cared?
Iden, thank you for including this discussion in your vacation. A fitness trainer and photog? It just gets better and better. Oh, and the photographs were taken by a guy who has had plenty of practice at the testings. He did these marvelous stop action photos of people breaking boards — they just weren’t of me . . .I almost included them anyway; they were so marvelous.
Mark, it’s astounding what layout does. I write really short chapters and the publisher lays everything out in a continual way — and it makes my books quite short. I suppose I could write more words, but they just aren’t necessary for this particular series.
Jeet Kune Do.
“Way of the Intercepting Fist”
Chinese, not Korean.
Mostly an advanced hybrid of Kung Fu, judo, Filipino stick fighting, and a couple of others.
Lee’s focus was to find the most succinct, economical, and optimal form of fighting.
“Use no way as way. Have no limitation as limitation.”
Gee, maybe I’m an expert at Jeet Kune Do–I’m an expert at intercepting fists… and feet and elbows and knees…
Paul,Your entry left me speechless (typeless?). Thanks for telling me what Jeet Kune Do is. I assumed it was Korean because of the “Do” which I assumed was the equivalent of “Tao” in Chinese. See, I studied that language just enough to get me into trouble.
Mark, I must be practicing it as well — but I rarely intercept feet, hands, fists, knees and elbows with intent — I just get slammed.
Last night, we spent 30 minutes doing ten-second turns on the bags — I thought I’d die.
hi there i just was looking at page and thinks its brilliant i am an ex tae kwon do participant and got to me black belt i then gave up but to this day i wish i didnt best of luck with further gradings… norma