Savouring A Slow Start

For about ninety percent of the the school year, Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for Taekwondo. On those nights, I avoid taking storytelling gigs, I don’t teach writing classes, I don’t do social things – I just head to class and kick. The only real exceptions are emergencies and September.

My three uniforms for this month: my dobok, my festival shirt, and my scarf (a.k.a. my Mom uniform)

September is a tricky month for me, not only is it back-to-school for my kids but my arts organization also hosts a week-long festival. So I’ll end up going back to Taekwondo for a few classes, then having to miss a few for curriculum nights and for festival events, and then I jump back into class.

If it were up to me, I would rather just get started and then stick with the routine (I know what what my brain needs). I used to fight the jumbled nature of this month. I would tie myself in knots trying to do part of a class and still make it to the events or to school stuff. I have gotten over that. I realized that I have to accept what September is like and just roll with it. It’s a lot easier on my brain.

So, I started this month by going to a few classes, even though I knew I would then miss three or four in a row. It was fantastic, even though I forgot a few things and the workout was a challenge.

I don’t know if it’s the same for other sports but, for Taekwondo, no matter how much practice you get on your own, getting back to group work is going to be tough. Doing your patterns surrounded by your peers is a lot harder than taking things at your own pace in your living room or yard. Not only do you have to work at a different speed, you have to avoid getting distracted by the person next to you.

My brain loved it though. You know how it feels when you are struggling to remember something and it is just on the edge of your thoughts? Then you get that great feeling of satisfaction when you finally remember? That’s what it felt like to get in the lines for our patterns. It’s not that I didn’t remember the patterns when I was working on my own at home, but there was a delicious feeling of familiarity to getting back into those lines and starting to move as a group.

The same people were to my right and left, the same people were in the row ahead. I was among like-minded friends. The routine was the same, the movements were familiar, they belonged to me. It had that feeling of being the right thing to do at the right time.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Taekwondo is that it is just complex enough that I can’t let my mind wander while I participate. I have to focus tightly or I lose track. The sense that I have to leave the outside world behind and just do the thing in front of me is a sort of relief. I can’t multitask and do well in class – it just doesn’t work. Using that type of attention again after summer break was really enjoyable and sort of relaxing.

So, yes, I’m having a slow start, but it has been a good one. I’m enjoying the benefits of the classes I can attend and letting go of any guilt about the ones I cannot. It feels great to be easing back into that specific routine, and I especially like how I am able to observe my own muscle memory serving me well. This is going to be a great year of kicking and punching.


Kicking It Up A Notch with Christine

Hey there! I’m Christine and I am incredibly grateful to be part of this terrific blogging community.

Yes, I usually smirk in selfies. It’s a thing with me. 🙂

I’ll be posting every 3rd and 4th Saturday. I consider my posts as the beginning of a conversation so I hope we can have a good chat in the comments!

Here are a few facts about me:

I’m a writer/storyteller/creative life coach.

That means I spend a lot of time up to my metaphorical elbows in stories. Either I am telling them aloud, I am writing them down, or I am helping people work through the stories in their heads that keep them from feeling effective in their own lives.

I like making things up and connecting ideas in interesting ways. I always urge people to be kinder to themselves. I want to make everyone feel a little better about their place in the world either with stories to entertain them or with reminders about how terrific they are.

I’m a martial artist.

I have my second degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo and I am working toward my third degree. I train at Downey’s Taekwondo here in NL. I can break boards, I can kick higher than my own head, and I like how much self-discipline TKD requires.

I have ADHD.

It’s the distractible kind, not the hyperactive kind. ADHD seems to manifest in different ways for different people but for me, it’s a challenge for me to stay on task, to make accurate time estimates, to break projects into smaller bits and to keep a lot of details in mind. The upside is that I am an ideas MACHINE and I have all kinds of creative energy.

Otherwise, I’m pretty average, demographics-wise.

I live just outside of St. John’s, NL with my husband and two teen-aged sons. I’ll be 45 in a couple of months. My pronouns are she/her. I like reading and drawing and board games but I sometimes forget to schedule those things into my life. I’m learning how to be a better judge of how much I can take on at any given time.

Okay, lady, but what will you write about?

As you may have already read in my guest posts (links are under this post), I’ll be writing about Taekwondo and my struggles with figuring out how to learn different parts of my martial art. I’ll be using myself as an example to discuss how challenging it can be to: make time for exercise, to make reasonable exercise plans, to deal with setbacks, and to allow myself to be seen. I will also get into more practical things like my efforts to have better balance, to develop more upper body strength, and to sharpen my TKD techniques.

As a coach and, as regular person, I am all about celebrating effort rather than just results, so I will end each of my posts with a KIYA! After all, self-reflection that moves you forward is a victory of effort.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next Saturday!


Coordinated Improvement (Guest Post)

I was in my late 30s before I knew that you could improve your coordination. Up until that point, I thought that you were either coordinated or you weren’t and that I was decidedly not. It wasn’t like I was banging into things or falling down all the time, but I found it incredibly frustrating to do any sort of sport or physical activity – I just couldn’t ‘get it.’

I hated gym class, right up until I could opt out in high school. I couldn’t figure out how to catch the ball/move my feet/jump that high and no one seemed to be able to explain it to me. I struggled in the dance classes I took as a kid – matching the steps to the music was excruciating and it took me forever to learn the routines.

Whether I was trying to play a sport or do a set of dance steps, my brain and my body took a long time to start communicating. I could always see what I needed to do, I could probably even describe it to you, but I just couldn’t make my body do the thing – especially if it involved various steps.

As an adult, I found some work-arounds when things were really important to me. I would bring my sister Denise to dance classes I wanted to take. She picks up movements quickly and she could break the actions into descriptions I could memorize (turn, then heel click, wiggle, shake it out). I would write out descriptions of movements where I could, find ‘early warning’ cues in the music in order to prepare for actual cues, and I would stick to the parts of sports and activities that I could be less-than-totally-awful at.

Those workarounds meant that I could get along well enough to enjoy a dance class or two, or participate enough to get by, but when I started to do Taekwondo, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to ‘get by’ – I wanted to be good at it.

I still used all my work-arounds – describing the movements to myself (step, step, Wonder Woman arms), using cues in the room, getting help from someone who could translate the movements for me (Thanks, Kev!) but I knew it was going to take more than that. So, I started to learn more about how I learn and that led to figuring out that I could improve my coordination, my proprioception (sense of spatial orientation and movement), and my ability to process and understand instruction about movements.

I still don’t pick up new patterns easily and I have to use all my work-arounds (at least in the early stages) but I enjoy the sense that it is *possible* for me to learn these things. I no longer feel stuck and I recognize my stages of learning. I know what progress looks like for me and it feels good to be improving my skills all the time.

However, it really annoys me when I think about all the time that I spent believing that I just wasn’t good at sports. When I think of how many other women believe the same thing, it annoys me even more. If it weren’t for my determination to learn TKD, I would probably have never broken out of that belief.

And, while I know that there are lots of men who have been told that they are uncoordinated or bad at sports, I can’t help but wonder how much I was limited because of my gender. If had been a guy, would I have been encouraged to try more often? Would I have been given more frequent opportunities to practice coordination-building activities? Did gym teachers assume that, because I was a girl, my sports skills mattered less?

I don’t know, of course. Perhaps the idea that coordination is a learned skill might just be new, and it wasn’t taught to anyone when I was a kid.

Either way, I know it now, and I am passing that message on. Any time I help with Taekwondo instruction, I don’t let anyone believe that they are ‘just uncoordinated’. And every warm-up that I lead includes some exercises that improve coordination and proprioception. I’m getting better at those things all the time, and I am bringing everyone I can along with me.


Fighting With Myself (Guest Post)

The hardest fight I have in Taekwondo is the battle with myself. In order to make progress and to improve my skills, I have to fight my concept of time and my sense of ‘good practice.’

An agenda book with a pen

I want to do everything at once and I want to do it at the perfect time. In the fictional world where I can do this, my practice space is tidy, my work is neatly portioned into appropriate slots, and my family is delightfully engaged in their own wholesome pursuits. And, of course, in this world, I know the exact right thing to practice at this point. My perfect practice self has identified a course of progressive work that starts at the ‘true’ baseline and will bring me forward in a logical fashion. This will lead naturally toward my goal of being a super-fit Taekwondo genius with strength beyond measure.

I can hear you laughing at me from here. It’s okay. Go ahead.

I know I am being ridiculous.

I know there is no perfect practice time and there is no perfect practice plan. I know that something is better than nothing. I know that any work will bring me closer to being a 3rd degree black belt.

Yet, I get tangled up in this intellectual exercise of perfect practice at the perfect time. It ensnares me so completely that I have trouble doing anything at all.

This doesn’t just happen to me with exercise, of course. I have the same trouble with all kinds of things. The familiarity of the feeling has indeed bred contempt but it still crops up all the time.

When I make a plan to exercise in the morning, my brain gives me 5 or 6 reasons why it’s really not the best time – it’s better to write first thing, or I should probably focus on getting enough sleep, or, I am not awake enough to have good form, or I might not have time to shower afterward and that will throw off my morning.

When I plan to exercise in the afternoon, the litany goes like this – you don’t want to waste water taking two showers a day so you’ll feel weird all day until you exercise, or you will probably be in the middle of something in the afternoon and you won’t want to stop, or that it will be a hassle to change clothes and put on a sports bra in the middle of the day.

The evening is no better because then my brain says that I am taking away from family time and that if I work too hard, I will have trouble sleeping later.

I would be less annoyed about all of this if I didn’t actually enjoy exercising. No matter what time of day I actually get over myself and start moving, I always like it, but my brain forgets that in the effort of finding the perfect schedule.

After I clear that scheduling hurdle, though, I have to win the battle of the perfect practice. (Yes, I get on my own nerves with this part, too.)

In my post two weeks ago, I identified all of the things that I want to improve as I move toward my next belt test. I want greater strength, I want greater balance, I want to improve my skills, and so on. The trouble is, that I want to do all of those things at once. Any time that I am working on one piece, my brain reminds me that I *should* be working on the others. It refuses to believe that I have to work on one thing at a time.

The problem is not that I want instant results – although, I’ll take them if someone is giving them out. It’s that some part of me refuses to believe that the results will be achieved by doing things one at a time. So, I keep seeking this perfect practice plan that will make it obvious to my brain that I am doing the *right* thing right now and that I am on the road to my goal.

I know better than this, too, of course. I know that I don’t actually need to do everything all at once. I can work on my balance today and my cardio tomorrow and it will all come together in the end, but, yet, I resist getting started. Some part of me fears that I will be ‘wasting time’ on the wrong exercises – and, no, the foolishness of thinking any that exercise could be wasted is not lost on me.

Typing this all out has made me even more aware of how silly all of this is. I am working against my own interests and I need to get over myself and take more action. I have to borrow from the basic tenets of Taekwondo and remind myself to use self-control and perseverance.

So, here’s how I am going to win this battle against myself: I am committing to practicing for at least 30 minutes in the morning for the next seven days. I will design my practice the night before and include a variety of exercises that will help me get stronger and have better balance.

I’m going to give myself the week off from overthinking my exercises and I am just going to enjoy them.

I’ll take this one week at a time for now. I don’t have to solve this all at once.

Here’s to winning this battle!


Not Such A Nice Girl (Guest Post)

I have an unusual way of measuring my progress with sparring in Taekwondo. It’s not counting strikes or kicks, nor is it about my reaction time or about whether I win a round. It’s about how much I apologize.

When I first started in sparring, I would apologize a lot, especially if I was fighting another woman. However, I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years, I have stopped apologizing so frequently. Obviously, if I hurt someone, or if I don’t have good control for a particular strike, I will apologize, but I don’t wince or say ‘sorry’ nearly as often as I did when I first started.

It’s intimidating to fight in a ring. It’s even intimidating to do drills that require hitting someone over and over. I have never been one for consciously buying into the notion that women are supposed to be ‘nice’ but that sort of social training is insidious and it is hard to shake. I saw it in myself, and I still see it in some of the women I spar with now.

Play fighting is something that is accepted in boys. It’s seen as a ‘natural’ sort of behaviour and is almost encouraged, or, at least, not particularly discouraged. Girls, on the other hand, are strongly discouraged from that sort of physical play. That can leave us at a disadvantage should we ever end up in a physical confrontation – our bodies don’t get much practice at dealing with the stress of a fight.

That social correction against women fighting can even happen in Taekwondo class, where we are supposed to be training to fight, I sometimes get called ‘vicious’ for perfectly acceptable strikes that don’t even hurt my opponent. This isn’t a situation where anger gets the better of me in the heat of the moment or anything like that, it’s just regular sparring practice. I’m focused and determined, and looking for an opportunity to score a point, and I get behaviour-checked for not being a ‘nice girl.’ I don’t think they do it on purpose. If you were to ask them, I’m sure they would say that they are just kidding, and that my strikes were perfectly fine. Still, though, some subconscious part of them is saying that I ‘shouldn’t’ do this and that subconscious part has to speak up.

I do my best not to have that sort of ‘nice girl’ expectation of my opponents, though. I even have a prepared response for when one of them apologizes in the ring – ‘I’m at Taekwondo, not cake decorating class. I’m expecting to get hit.’ (No disrespect intended to cake decorators, it’s just not a context where you expect to get into a fist fight.) That usually puts them at ease, at least for the moment, our practice continues and we both keep improving.

Learning to be a good martial artist is tough. There are a lot of skills involved and it takes a long time to put them together effectively. Those skills have to be tested or you won’t be able to apply them to defend yourself in the real world if you need to. Ring sparring is a key part of that testing – even if it is just to get over the unfamiliarity of being in a fight.

It’s unfair that many women have the extra challenge of unearthing and dismissing the social conditioning of being a ‘nice girl’ before they can really improve their fighting skills. It’s worth the effort though, I can feel the difference in my abilities since I have been working to let that social expectation go, and it is a lot easier to be in the ring. I still have a lot of work to do – especially on my reaction time- but now that I have cleared that one obstacle, I can focus on developing my skills instead of getting distracted by trying to be ‘nice.’


Consistency and Confidence (Guest Post)

As I said in last week’s post, my main goal for Taekwondo this year is to be willing to be *seen* in class. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to build the mental and physical confidence to do that.
Obviously, for the mental confidence, there is going to be a certain amount of just ‘go for it’ involved, a willingness to accept the possibility of appearing foolish if I make a mistake. I can’t practice that until I am actually back in class but I am going to do some meditation and other practices to help me with enduring the discomfort I know I will feel.
Luckily, I’m not generally one of those people who needs to feel like they are doing things perfectly, I just need to feel like I have been steadily working. I don’t so much mind making mistakes if I have been putting effort in so I have to commit to practicing consistently.
The need to continue practicing my patterns goes almost without saying. For the record though, I am going to practice each pattern at least twice a week so I am never caught off guard by a request to perform any given one.
Aside from that though, I have realized that I really want to improve my overall fitness and strength so I can have a better sense that my body will do what I ask it to. I don’t mean to give the impression that I don’t have strength or that I lack body confidence right now, I just want more.
I have always had trouble with consistency with my fitness training. Aside from my class time in Taekwondo, I find it challenging to schedule exercise. It seems like everything else has to fit in first and if our lives get busy or someone in my family is sick, my exercise time is the first thing to go.
I don’t want that to happen any more so I have to create a smoother path to a regular exercise habit – having my exercise clothes ready, having a plan for busy days, picking specific exercises and a dedicated time to do them. I know from past success in other areas that choosing my actions in advance means I am much more likely to do them in the moment.
So, my next step must be to make some advance choices about exercises.
I know that I want to have stronger arms and I want my arm muscles to be visible. I am already decently strong but I want to see a muscle when I look in the mirror. That’s going to require a variety of arm exercises.
I want to be able to feel more power in my strikes and my blocks. That means I need greater strength in my core. My back and I flatly refuse to do crunches, so I need a variety of ab exercises. The fact that those exercises will help my back is a bonus.
There’s a certain way my body moves and feels when I am getting enough cardio. There’s a strength in my movement and feeling of cooperation in my muscles. Those are good things and I want to feel like that all the time, so that means there is more cycling, more time on the rowing machine, more walking, and more jump rope in my future.
I want to refine my kicks. I’ve got good accuracy but I’d like to increase the strength and height of my kicking. That’s going to require some leg work and some hip work, so I’ll be doing a lot of lunges and squats and stretching.
Usually, I have trouble seeing how individual pieces make up part of a greater whole but the process of writing about these exercises has given me a strong mental picture of how they all fit together. I suddenly feel really excited about putting this program together for myself and bringing the results of my efforts into my classes in the fall.
One of my reasons for joining Taekwondo in the first place was that I wanted to have a warrior’s body to match my warrior’s mind. I do have a strong, capable body now but I want to inhabit it even more fully. I want to be more charge of what my muscles will do. I want to have even more strength. There is always room for a warrior to become more powerful.

Christine Hennebury is a storyteller, writer, creative life coach, and martial artist who lives in Newfoundland and Labrador. She is the founder and Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and the President of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival. She wishes she could help you be a little kinder to yourself – you are doing just fine.

Training To Be Seen (Guest Post)

I am in training for my third degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo.

I can kick higher than my own head. I can escape from a choke hold. I can break boards with my fists and my feet.

I am still training myself to be seen.

There are a variety of issues that women tend to bring to the martial arts. I’m not saying these things are innate and I’m not saying every female martial artist has them, but I’ve seen them often enough to call them a trend. And, I know that they affect me.

Most of us have been socialized against being loud, against being authoritative, against hitting or being hit. When we spar, we often ‘go easy’ on each other and apologize too quickly – even when no harm has been done. We carry the curse of that social conditioning, the need to be ‘good girls’, into our classes and it doesn’t serve us well. I try to coach other students out of it, and, I try to stop myself from doing it, but it doesn’t always work.

In almost every other context, I am quick to take charge, to step up. I know what my skills are and I am willing to show them. Yet, in Taekwondo, I have found myself reluctant to take charge of the warm-up, and hesitant to be the one to demonstrate the next movement. I have held myself back from a triumphant shout at the end of a pattern. I have made self-deprecating jokes about my skills and I have attributed my successes to luck.

I know better than all of this, of course. I know my TKD patterns. I know the warm-ups. I can demonstrate what to do. I have worked very hard to be where I am and I know what I am doing – even if I can’t always make my body do what my mind understands. I am much, much better at putting myself out there than I was when I started.

Yet, still, I struggle.

I have a second degree black belt and I am still having trouble letting myself be seen in class.

Sure, I have mostly gotten over my reluctance to be loud but, if I am at all uncertain of my pattern, I find myself quiet at the end.

Yes, I have become suitably aggressive when I spar but I hold back more often than I’d like. Especially if I think my partner might perceive me as ‘too rough.’

When I don’t quite understand what to do, I still find myself stepping back from taking up too much of my instructors’ time.

Even though I know where it all comes from, and, that it is hard to undo that kind of social conditioning, I still get annoyed with myself about it.

That’s why I’ve decided that, along with my physical training for my third degree belt test, I am also training myself to be seen. I am going to learn to be okay with being the one who demonstrates the patterns. I am going to find a way to confidently stand in front of my peers and lead the warm-up. I will get over myself.

Earning my third degree black belt will take a lot of physical effort but teaching myself to be willing to be seen is going to take many, many acts of courage. I have already invited my instructors to call on me more often, to ask me to show what I know. Now, I just need enough practice so I feel okay with following through.

I am determined to be a different type of ‘good girl’ this year. I am going to be a good example of how women can show up, go all in, and claim their skills and their knowledge. I am going to be the person that the other girls and women can point to and say ‘If SHE can do it, so can I.’


Christine Hennebury is a storyteller, writer, creative life coach, and, martial artist who lives in Newfoundland and Labrador. She is the founder and Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and the President of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival. She wishes she could help you be a little kinder to yourself – you are doing just fine.