ADHD · fitness · martial arts

Upcoming: Christine’s 4th Degree Black Belt Test

Sunday, June 19th!

That’s the big day.

I’ve been preparing in a low key way for ages but being only 6-7 weeks out puts my test into a time frame that my brain will accept as ‘real.’

And that means that I can prioritize project Earn My 4th Degree Belt and focus more effectively on the things I need to do to prepare for my test.

Here’s what I am working on:

Fitness

Obviously, improving my fitness level is an ongoing project but with a little over six weeks before my test, I have a very clear short term goal to work toward.

Six weeks is a bit of magic time frame. It’s a short enough time that my brain will buy into pushing myself a little harder – after all, six weeks isn’t forever. And it’s a long enough time that I can actually make some small improvements in my fitness level.

A little girl striking a body building pose.
Borrowing some of Michelle Tanner’s determination for my fitness plans. Image description: Michelle Tanner, the youngest sister from the 80s show Full House, is staring intently forward as she curls her arms down in a pretend bodybuilding pose. This is a joke about a teeny person imagining that she is muscle-bound, but she looks fierce.

I’m in good enough shape to pass my test now if I had to but after six weeks of TKD-focused exercise, it will be just a little easier. And since I want to improve anyway, my impending test gives me a bargaining chip to use if my brain starts chiming in with objections.

Theory

Part of my testing involves being able to complete written and verbal exams about different aspects of TKD, ranging from the technical specifications of movements to historical details of the sport.

I always find this tricky even though, in other contexts, I am perfectly ok with written or verbal tests. I think that having to connect the physical movements of TKD with the surrounding theory trips me up a little.

I have done ok with my theory in the past so it has never been a major crisis but it has made me nervous.

I think this time will be different though because the improvements in my medication, combined with some changes in my day-to-day obligations, has increased my capacity to structure my thinking around TKD.

And, having this capacity six weeks out means that I can also structure my study plan more effectively.

 a person unrolls a set of elaborate plans on a wooden desktop
My plans are a little less complex than this but I like the spirit here. Image description: a person unrolls a set of ‘battle plans’ drawn in crayon.

Patterns

Improving my meds and changing my day-to-day obligations also means that the process of learning my new patterns has been more straightforward this time. I seem to be able to grasp the flow of things more easily and I am holding on to details with far less work than I have had to invest in the past.

This may not all be attributable to the changes mentioned above, it may also be related to the fact that I have been training for a long time and some key elements may finally be firmly in place. (Being a martial artist is a commitment to continual learning so I imagine that I will experience this same sort of feeling again, just on different level, as I progress.)

So, I had three new patterns to learn for this test. I am very confident in one, pretty confident in another, and building my confidence in the third. Six weeks is more than enough time to bring all three up to the same level of confidence.

Three people standing side by side with text below reading ‘Way too many patterns for one person.’
Okay, not toooo many patterns but there are A LOT of things for me to learn and remember. Image description: three people standing side by side, there is a string of lights behind them. Text at the bottom reads ‘Way too many patterns for one person.’

Board Breaking

This is where I really want to do some extra work.

Even though board breaking is the most impressive-looking part of a belt test, it is really a tiny aspect of the process. And because there are a variety of elements involved, no one fails a test if they can’t break one of their boards.

BUT

It still bugs me when I can’t do it.

I struggled with my spinning hook kick break for years but I finally managed it on my last test. And I am not too worried about having to repeat the process with that kick and others for this test.

Three people wearing doboks during a martial arts belt test, two are kneeling and holding a board and one is in mid-air for a kick.
I don’t have a photo of my spinning hook kick but this is me during my last test, about to execute a flying side kick. Shoutout to Mr. James and Mr. Dyer for holding the board for me and to Ms. Zurel for the video I clipped this from. Image description: Me, in my dobok, in mid-air at the edge of a gym mat. Mr. Dyer and Mr. James are kneeling on the mat holding up a board for me to kick.

This time my personal marker of my skill will be to finally break a board with a punch.

I have used a variety of other hand techniques to break boards but I have never managed to break a board by punching.

There are a variety of reasons this could be happening. I know that one of them is that I don’t use enough speed but I may also be pulling my punch a little (I don’t think I am afraid of hurting my hand but perhaps I am, subconsciously.) And I may not be coordinating my movements effectively.

Luckily, I have lots of help to work on this and six weeks is enough time to figure out what’s going wrong and how to fix it.

Focus and Perseverance

Test preparation is not the only thing on my agenda for the next few weeks but I have lots of time and (mental) space to dedicate to the project.

I’m not sure how often I will check in about it because it’s hard for me to figure out which milestones will make sense to other people but you can be sure that I am going to be mentioning some details as I go along.

And I will definitely be asking for good wishes on my post right before my test.

I am focused and I will persevere.

KI-YA!

Fear · martial arts

Stepping Up To Lead At TKD. Finally!

I am pleased to report that after a mere thirteen years of Taekwondo training*, I am finally virtually unfazed by being asked to lead the warm-up for my class.

a GIF of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants standing in the Krusty Krab restaurant with his arms raised over his head. The text below reads ‘Victory Screech’
Out of consideration for the other students, I only screech internally. Image description: a GIF of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants standing in the Krusty Krab restaurant with his arms raised over his head. The text below reads ‘Victory Screech’

If you recall, my post for International Women’s Day was about my challenges with stepping up to lead in that specific way and how important it is/was to me to get past those challenges.

So, back in March, I had decided that the way to get over my reluctance was to 1) lead the class for several weeks in a row- so I would be able to get used to the feeling and 2) make a lesson plan in advance to reduce the risk of going blank while I was up in front of everyone.**

And it totally worked!

I didn’t even end up leading the class every week that I was planning to – I was sick one week and my instructor led the entire group together another week. It was still enough time to get used to being up in front of everyone, to find my own groove with instructing, and to prepare enough lesson plans and warm-ups that I can use at any time.

a GIF of Moira Rose from the TV show Schitt​‘s Creek. She is wearing a referee’s uniform and she looks as is she is admonishing someone. Text below reads ‘One must prepare for any event.’
Image description: a GIF of Moira Rose from the TV show Schitt‘s Creek. She is wearing a referee’s uniform and her expression (lips pressed together, eyes looking to one side) looks as if she is admonishing someone. Text below reads ‘One must prepare for any event.’

I have to say, I like knowing that I am prepared and that I won’t feel overwhelmed by being asked to take the class. In fact, two weeks ago, I was asked on the spur of the moment to take the class and as I stepped up onto the small stage at the front I realized that I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

That was exactly what I was hoping for when I made my plan for March.

In June, I am going to be testing for my 4th degree black belt, a rank that means there is a lot lot more teaching in my future. I am grateful to know that the ‘trick’ to making myself more comfortable with that really is to prepare and to practice.

(Yes, this is the same ‘trick’ I apply in every other area but it had never occurred to me to apply it at TKD.)

A GIF from the show Power Rangers Dino Fury that shows an outdoor shot of a woman clapping her hands. She has long brown hair and is wearing jeans and a pink shirt over a darker pink ​tank top. Text below reads ‘Amazing Trick.’
A GIF from the show Power Rangers Dino Fury that shows an outdoor shot of a woman clapping her hands. She has long brown hair and is wearing jeans and a pink shirt over a darker pink tank top. Text below reads ‘Amazing Trick.’

Do you have one area of your life where you can’t quite bring the same oomph that you bring in other areas? Have you found a way around it? Were you able to transfer a skill from somewhere else?

*I’m being funny here, or at least trying to be. My fear of taking charge of the class has only been an issue for the past few years since I wouldn’t have been asked or expected to lead the class for most of the early part of my training. Previous to the past few years, I might have been asked to lead a small group or to lead students who were behind me in my training but my reluctance to step up in front of the whole group – my peers and students with more advanced ranks – was a relatively recent issue.

**Taekwondo is practically the only time I fear going blank on stage. I tell stories, give speeches and presentations, and do workshops regularly and while I might feel a bit nervous, I don’t worry about going blank. I guess that because TKD involves coordinating what I am saying with what I am doing it adds an extra layer of stress for me.

ADHD · fitness · martial arts · motivation · training

Christine is the very model of a middle-aged martial artist

(This post is long. Get comfy and get some tea before you dig in.)

Usually when I have my dobok on, I’m heading to a Taekwondo class but for a few mornings last month, I headed to art class instead.

A photo (from the chest up) of a woman in a white dobok in front of a blue door.
This photo is a few years old but I am wearing my dobok and I am smirking so it is still relevant. Image description: a selfie of me in my dobok with my hair pulled back in a green bandana. My blue front door is behind me and I was on my way to TKD class.

Thanks to my friend, Jennifer, I had the opportunity to be a model for three sessions of the sketching group that she helps organize and it was a delightfully positive experience for me.

I was nervous about it at first. I wanted to be a good model for them, to do something useful and interesting, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold my TKD movements for the right length of time or that I would lose focus and move at the wrong time. 

My concerns made sense – I knew I would have to do two 5 minute poses, two 10 minute poses, and a twenty minute pose and then we’d have a break before I did a long pose – 45 minutes to an hour. Even the shortest of those is a long time to hold a move that is supposed to take a few seconds and I had literally no idea what I was going to do for that long pose.

Luckily, for the first two sessions, Jennifer had me do something different for the 45-60 minute pose. Instead of being still, she wanted me to repeat a series of motions over and over so the artists could practice quickly capturing basic elements and then add in details as the movements were repeated. (Doing the same set of motions over and over for an hour was NOT a problem for someone who knows 16 different TKD patterns and is working on the 17th.)

By the time that we got to the third week, I had figured out that I could use some of our stretches for that long pose so it ended up being almost relaxing. 

Overall, being a model was an interesting experience that gave me some real insights into my TKD practice. It helped me to make some connections that I hadn’t fully thought through and it helped me have a better sense of where I am in some important aspects of my training.

Here are a few of the things I took away from my brief modeling career. 😉

Reasonable Facsimiles

Before going to each session, I spent a lot of time thinking about the poses I was going to do – factoring in how long I could hold them and what would be interesting for the artists to draw. They had requested poses at different heights but I also considered having variety in the poses in other ways – my hands turned differently or my foot at a different angle. Doing this sort of deep thought about my abilities and about how to get my movements just right was a really great way to assess my strengths and to ensure that I really understood how certain movements are supposed to look.

I did end up presenting some ‘reasonable facsimiles’ because there would be no way that I could, for example, stand on one foot for 10 minutes straight. I could, however, stand on one foot and rest my other knee on a support so it was almost like I was in the right position. That did mean that I was using my muscles differently than I would in a pattern but the session was about the artists practicing, it wasn’t about producing perfect drawings for a TKD manual. The key thing for me was that I had a very clear understanding of the difference between how I was modeling a movement and how I would execute it in practice. I really had to understand how it was supposed to be done in order to adapt it to use in the session.

A pencil sketch of a woman in a dobok in a wide-legged stance with her arms held in front of her, one across and one point downward.
One of Jennifer Morgan’s sketches of me. I couldn’t hold sitting stance for 10 full minutes so I did this 9-shaped block while resting on a wooden stool. If I was doing the actual stance, my feet would be more clearly pointing forward. Luckily my goal was ‘look interesting’ instead of ‘do it perfectly.’ Image description: a pencil sketch of me in my dobok doing a reasonable facsimile of sitting stance (legs apart, knees bent) while holding one fist downward at an angle while I hold the other across my chest.

All Kinds Of Information From One Pose

 One of my poses involved me reclining on the platform with my legs extended to one side like they would be in a flying side kick. Admittedly, it didn’t look very much like an actual flying side kick but it did give the artists something interesting to draw and sitting with my legs in the right position did give me a solid sense of which muscles I need to stretch and to strengthen to improve my kick. 

An unexpected side benefit was the fact that my friend Jennifer, who among her many other accomplishments, writes and illustrates historical graphic novels, found this pose very useful.  In her current project, one of the things she has to depict is women my age climbing into a lifeboat. Seeing me with one hand supporting me while my hip and butt rested on a flat surface with my leg out to the side gave her a good sense of how a middle-aged woman’s body would look as she perched on the side of the boat and swung her legs inside. 

Using My Whole Body

One of the operating principles in TKD, and probably all martial arts, is that a punch or kick is not just about using your arm or your leg, you recruit a variety of other muscles to add power and refinement to your movements. I understand this intellectually but unless I deliberately choose to focus on it during class, I’m not always sure that I am doing it consistently. 

After my sessions as a model, I feel much more confident that I must be engaging my other muscles because of how the artists commented on my poses. Receiving friendly advice to make sure to use my abs to help support my extended arm and realizing that I was already doing that was a confidence boost.  And hearing one artist comment to another that I was helping her how all my muscles had to work together to create the movement delighted me – if she could see it, I really must be executing the movement correctly. 

Consistency For The Win

As you know from some of my other posts, I struggle with consistency. And, beyond that, I struggle to know if I am being consistent or not, especially when it comes to any sort of physical practices.* I have trouble knowing if I am doing a movement correctly because my brain won’t always hold on to how it is supposed to feel or look. 

A pencil sketch of a woman in a dobok with her arms overlapped at chest height.
Another one of Jennifer’s sketches from the session where I was moving. She drew each separate movement next to each other starting with a light sketch the first time I did the movement and then returning to the sketch to add details each time I repeated it. Image description: a layered pencil sketch of me in my dobok with my arms overlapping in front of my chest. The edges of two other sketches can be seen on either side.

In TKD, one of the ways you check for accuracy and consistency in your movements is if you finish your pattern on the same spot where you started it. When I was repeating my movements for the artists, I knew I was doing mostly ok because I was returning to the same spot at the end of each series. What really made me feel good, though, was hearing one of the artists say that she had been worried that it would be hard to capture each stage of my movements but my consistency made it pretty straightforward. 

That comment was a delight but I also got something else out of repeating my pattern so many times in a row. Normally, when I practice, I don’t spend a lot of time on my first few patterns. I don’t have endless time to practice and I tend to focus on the patterns that challenge me the most. 

For the artists’ purposes though, I needed to pick something that wasn’t especially complicated and that wouldn’t wear me out when repeating for the better part of an hour so I chose our very first pattern. Doing those fundamental movements over and over let me dig deeply into each one and pay very close attention to what my muscles were doing and how I could tweak and improve in even very small ways.**  

It was almost a luxury to have nothing else to do in those moments but focus deeply on that narrow set of movements. And when I went to class that night, I could feel a slight improvement in all of my patterns so I will definitely be adding that sort of practice to my routine whenever I can.

Showing Off

Speaking of practice, one of the things that I did before each modeling session was to practice holding different poses and positions to ensure that I could do them for the right length of time. As a result of that practice, I discovered that, if I sit on an upended yoga block, I can hold a squat-like position for over 20 minutes.

When I asked the group if that was a good option for the 20 minute session, they were very excited about the idea of having the opportunity to draw that pose but concerned that I was going to hurt myself trying to do it. 

Being able to pull off that 20 minute supported squat with ease felt a little like I was showing off but it felt more like a personal victory. I could do something kind of challenging AND be an interesting subject for drawing at the same time. Go me!

Peace of Mind

Before I went to my first session, my friend Elaine told me that she found her stint as a model to be very relaxing because she could just be still and breathe. 

I didn’t think it would be the same for me because I figured that I would get distracted or that each pose would feel like it was taking forever. I even considered wearing earphones and listening to an audiobook while I posed but then I was afraid that would distract me in a different way.

However, I was surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt most of the time. A few of the poses felt long but overall, I mostly just focused on breathing slowly. Sometimes I counted my breaths in and out and other times I specifically chose something to think about – my latest pattern or something I wanted to write.

I ended up finishing each session with a feeling of satisfaction, the same kind of feeling I get from immersing myself into any project and getting into the flow of it. 

Holding poses for so long was a physical and mental challenge but it was an enjoyable one. Being an artists’ model has shifted some important things for me with regards to my TKD practice and I look forward to being able to do it again sometime.

*For example, being told to repeat something until I can no longer hold good form is lost on me because I will never catch the point when I go from good form to not-so-good-form. I don’t know if this is an ADHD proprioception thing or if it is just a Christine thing but there it is.

**I imagine some of you will be reading this and thinking ‘That’s called practice, Christine. Smarten up.’ and you’re right to a certain extent. Thanks to my ADHD, I’ve really only begun to understand how to practice effectively in the past few years. Left to its own devices, my brain forgets that working on small pieces of a project (i.e. practicing) will lead to finishing the project (i.e. knowing a pattern.) Since I can’t finish learning everything about a pattern in one fell swoop, my brain will trick me into thinking that practicing is pointless. So there’s that. BUT, also, the kind of deep practice that I did in the session is a different sort of approach that I don’t often have time for.

martial arts

Doing my part to #BreakTheBias on International Women’s Day

I’m putting this year’s International Women’s Day theme into action at Taekwondo tonight by leading the warm-up and taking a group of black belts through their patterns.

Years ago, I wrote about how I wanted to step up more often at TKD, how I wanted to train to be seen. I have been working on that slowly and steadily but things have been complicated by injuries and family stuff and a damn pandemic so I haven’t quite built the momentum that I had imagined when I wrote that post.

I have gotten less self-conscious about being called on to demonstrate something – although, after years of being visibly stressed when I was called on, I think my instructors got out of the habit of asking me very often. *

I have definitely been able to push myself a bit harder when sparring or doing drills – I’ve mostly gotten over feeling odd about those things.

But I haven’t really gotten used to the idea of leading the warms-up and patterns practice. I have done it a few times but not often enough for it to be easy or to feel routine. And while I had planned, back in the fall, to alternate classes with some of the other students who lead the warm-ups, it never quite worked out.

So it was one of those things that I was theoretically willing and able to do but I never quite got around to doing very often. Cut to a few weeks ago when Master D asked me if I would lead the class on Women’s Day and suddenly everything clicked.

I realized that in order to feel more comfortable leading the class I needed to not only lead more often but lead several times in a row and I needed to prepare a lesson plan so I wasn’t fighting my ADHD to remember what to do next while I was standing in front a group of my peers.

So, instead of just taking the class on Women’s Day, I offered to take the class every Tuesday in March. That way I would know in advance and I could plan the classes and I could practice 5 weeks in a row and get used the whole thing. Not only would this help me train to be seen but it would help me build some skills for my next belt test (a 4th degree black belt is expected to be able to instruct.)

So, what does all of this have to do with breaking the bias for International Women’s Day?

When I think of bias in the martial arts, I usually think of the external biases that might limit or affect women as they practice. We might encounter varying degrees of sexism. We might be treated differently than our male peers. We may not be in decision-making roles.

And I also think of the social biases that we bring with us – the expectation that we have to be “nice” or “good”, the sense that any sort of aggressive or competitiveness is inappropriate in a woman, the idea what we should step back so the men can take charge. We carry those things subconsciously even when we consciously reject them.

But I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to how my actions or behaviours could be reinforcing some of the biases that might impede women in TKD.

Obviously, I fight some biases already – just my presence in class is pushing back against the idea that martial arts are for men , and I also work hard to encourage the other women in class, particularly the young women, not to disparage their efforts and I remind them to see themselves as fighters and as equals to the other students.

But by stepping back when it was time for someone to lead the class, I am contributing to the idea that most women don’t take charge in these situations. My actions (or lack there of) can add to the bias against women taking on a full role in the martial arts.

If I don’t lead classes, if I don’t do demonstrations, if I don’t develop my skills, if I don’t own my TKD knowledge, I am reinforcing a bias and contributing to negative stereotypes about women in the martial arts. *

And I refuse to do that any longer.

My reluctance to lead classes and to do demonstrations are not actually about me buying into stereotypes, they are a complex mix of internalized socialization, previous negative experiences with physical activity, ADHD-related challenges with learning physical skills, and a stubborn perfectionist streak. But, whatever the additional reasons, the result is the same – by giving into to my reluctance, I am not helping women to be more visible. I am not showing that women can be part of all aspects of martial arts.

I can do better than that.

In the photo below, I am surrounded with signs from this year’s IWD campaign that show the ways that I am committing to breaking the bias. By stepping up in front of the TKD class, I am forging positive visibility of women, I am challenging gender stereotypes, discrimination, & bias, I am helping to forge a gender equal world, and I am working to maintain a gender equal mindset.

And I am starting all of that by pushing back against my own reluctance and accepting the responsibility of being seen.

Ki-YA!

A photo of me in my dobok (a white Taekwondo uniform), my hair is pulled back into a bandana and I am smiling/smirking a little.  My arms are in front of me, crossed at the wrist to make an X.
A photo of me in my dobok (a white Taekwondo uniform), my hair is pulled back into a bandana and I am smiling/smirking a little. My arms are in front of me, crossed at the wrist to make an X. In TKD, this gesture is his gesture is a defensive block but in this case it is the IWD symbol for this year’s theme of ‘Break The Bias’. Behind me, on a green wall are 4 printed signs that all say ‘International Women’s Day’ in the upper right corner and #BreakTheBias in white letters in purple box at the bottom of the page. The signs read ‘I will maintain a gender equal mindset’ ‘I will challenge gender stereotypes, discrimination & bias’ ‘I will help forge a gender equal world’ and ‘ I will forge positive visibility of women’ photo credit – J. Drodge

**I want to be clear here. I do NOT think that it is EVERY female martial artist’s responsibility to do all of these things. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like they always have to be flag bearers for their whole gender. This is about me, what I know I am capable of, and the responsibility that I feel to break biases. You may feel different responsibilities as a martial artist and I am not trying to tell you how to proceed. Many male students don’t feel the need to step to the front of the room and it would be different type of bias for me to suggest that every female needs to take that step. I’m doing what makes sense for me, please do the same for yourself.

* There is a whole point to be made here about the structural/inherent biases that prevent instructors from asking women to be demonstrators, the lifetime of biases that have prevented women from having the experiences/ growing the skills to be at ease with demonstrating, the resulting uncertainty that makes them turn down opportunities to demonstrate, the instructors’ reluctance to make female students uncomfortable by continuing to ask that then perpetuates the issue because the women don’t grow in that specific confidence and skill set. There a biases string through the whole thing but there is more to it than that. Anyway, that could be a whole other post.

ADHD · goals · martial arts · planning

Christine’s TKD Pattern Check-In: That Didn’t Go As Planned (But It Turned Out OK)

So, it turns out that I can’t really learn a new pattern in 5 minute sessions because my brain does NOT like it.

I can do 5 minute practices of a pattern that I already know or I can practice one specific technique for 5 minutes but my brain refuses to believe that 5 minutes of learning a new pattern will add up to me being able to do it. 

I have it a good try for the first 10 days of my plan, though.

I would practice a few moves one day and really feel like I was getting it. But, by the next afternoon, it was like I had wiped my mind clear of the previous movements entirely. It was taking me almost the whole five minutes to remind myself of what I had been doing the day before and it was so awkward and frustrating that I was getting really discouraged.

a GIF of a ​light brown dog slowly shaking its head back and forth. It has a resigned expression on its face and the caption beneath says ‘Really?’
This pup knows my frustration. Image description: a GIF of a light brown dog slowly shaking its head back and forth. Its mouth is curled into a resigned expression and the caption beneath says ‘Really?’

I know, of course, that learning takes time and that I have to be patient with myself and with the process.

BUT, on the other hand, I know what I am like and I know what my brain is like. And, I know that that specific kind of frustration can lead to me unconsciously putting something aside for later – and not a specific time later but that murky ambiguous time that I refer to as the ‘the not-now.’*

Change in Plans

In order to protect my pattern practice from falling into the not-now, I had to course-correct.

I changed my daily practices to focus on patterns I already knew, cycling through them one at a time. 

As for learning Yoo-Sin, here’s what happened:

Luckily, we went back to having classes in person so I had the chance to work with Ms. Reid and Mr. Dyer a couple of times. That really helped. It’s great to have two very different people to work with – they both help me to understand different parts of the movements and understand how to bring the pieces together.

A GIF made by animating the images from a Simplicity brand pant suit sewing pattern so that the figures on the front dance.
This is not the kind of pattern I was working on at all but this GIF makes me laugh every time I see if. Image description: A GIF made from the the sample image on a Simplicity brand sewing pattern. A woman in a black yellow, plaid bell-bottom pant suit dances from side to side in the foreground while a woman in a black bell-bottom pant suit nods her head to the same beat in the background.

And, at home, I dedicated longer periods of time to learning my new pattern so I had time to get into more of the movements in each practice.

I started by writing out the 68 movements in my own words so I could reference them more easily. I’m sure official instructions will never include phrases like  “X punch down, X knives up, then sneaky punch” but I make it work. 

Then I broke the movements into sections that made sense to me – separating sections when I had to change directions or when a set of similar movements were completed and another set was starting.  

I worked on the first section until the movements had a bit of flow to them and then moved to the next section, adding a little bit at a time. This is what I was hoping to do with my 5 minute practices but 5 minutes wasn’t long enough to make things stick.

I could feel that I was starting to grasp my pattern** but I couldn’t always bring my knowledge with me to class. It always takes a while before my home practice shows up at class with me but at least my brain was more willing to focus on the details of the in-class practice because the movements were at least vaguely familiar. That let me retain more information about the details of the pattern because I had a mental ‘container’ to put them in.

Let’s Call It A Success

I’m going to call my February plan a success even though I had to change it part way through. (Hmm, does it count as changing it if part of the plan was that I could change it if I wanted? Ha! )

Trying to work for 5 minutes a day wasn’t a direct path to learning my pattern but it did set me on the right path. Realizing that 5 minutes a day wasn’t going to work led me to find something that would and now I am doing pretty well with my pattern overall.

I’m pretty confident with the first 50 of the 68 movements and I am feeling ok about the last 18. And I’d be feeling more confident about that last 18 if I could magically face the right direction for each movement instead of having to remind myself each time.

A determined-looking cheerleader in a huge hairbow holding pompoms.
Given her determined expression, I can only assume she is personally cheering me on. Image description: a cheerleader in a huge hair bow and a black and red jersey that says ‘Beauties’ is holding a black and white pompom slightly behind her while she holds a red and white pompom toward the camera. She has a determined look on her face and she is standing in a field with a tree and parked cars in the background.

When I started this plan for practice I wasn’t sure if I *could* learn my pattern in a month but apparently, the answer is yes – as long as I was working with my inclinations instead of against them. 

I think I just coached myself into a corner with that last bit, hey? 😉

*Long before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I would tell people that, for me, time only came in two forms ‘now’ and ‘not-now’ and if I put something into the not-now it might never resurface. It took me years to find out that dividing time like that is common among people with ADHD. I don’t know how many people use the definite article though – ‘the not-now’ has a certain gravitas to it that works for me.

** I have a very specific feeling when I know a pattern is starting to come together. It’s not exactly visual but it is the mental equivalent of watching film develop or watching something move toward you through fog – I can ‘see’ it there, recognize its shape, even if I can’t quite identify/describe it yet.

goals · habits · martial arts

Christine H is trying to (TKD) practice what she preaches

If all goes well, I’m hoping to test for my 4th degree black belt in ITF Taekwon-Do sometime later this year but I have a lot of work to do in order to be fully prepared.

All through the fall, my practice was restricted because I was having trouble with my leg and my foot but things are improving and I have been able to resume my regular home practice.

I’m fairly confident about the patterns I have learned for previous black belt tests.* And I feel good about one of the three I need to learn for this test but I haven’t yet fully grasped the second pattern that I need to learn.

So, I am taking my own advice from my Go Team! posts and creating a plan for a small, specific practice to really get this pattern, Yoo Sin, into my brain and into my muscle memory:

I’m going to practice Yoo Sin for at least 5 minutes a day, every day, from now until the end of February, or until I can perform it without hesitation, whichever comes first.

This is what Yoo Sin looks like:

A YouTube video of Patricia Pacero performing the ITF Takekwon-Do pattern Yoo Sin in a practice space with white walls and with blue mats on the floor. She is wearing a white TKD uniform (dobok) and her black belt.

I have been through the whole pattern step-by-step a couple of times with guided instruction but at this point I can only get about 1/3 of the way through the pattern without stopping to check the next move.

I’m not sure if 5 minutes of daily practice will get me where I want to go with the pattern in a month but it will definitely move me in the right direction.

And, as I know from my own Go Team! pep talks, I can reassess and do some course correction at any point in the process.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

For the record, this isn’t the only TKD practice I will do in February, it’s just how I plan to add this pattern to my repertoire.

*If you aren’t familiar with how things work in the martial arts, getting your black belt is not your end point, it’s the point at which you know enough of the basics to start deepening and strengthening your practice. I earned my first degree black belt in 2014. I learned 3 new patterns for my second degree belt in 2016, another 3 new patterns for my third degree belt in 2019, and I have to learn 3 new patterns for my 4th degree test. This is on top of the 9 patterns that I learned for the various belts leading to my first degree black belt.

fitness · injury · martial arts

Christine is trying to focus on what she *can* do.

I was frustrated at myself in Taekwondo class last week.

This problem with my heel/toe/calf is making it extremely hard to properly execute my patters because I can hold my leg in the right position. And because I can’t put my leg in the right spot, my hands for get what to do. And then I end up facing the wrong direction and…so on.

I was feeling especially annoyed because I wanted to be preparing for my next belt test but this injury is really slowing my progress.

I’m the midst of all that annoyance, I had a flash of insight.

My physical practice is pretty limited right now but I could be studying my TKD theory. I could be practicing how to describe my patterns and how to teach them. I could be watching videos and observing technique.

A series of stick person drawings depicting different aspects of Taekwondo training.
Here’s a sketchnote I made when preparing for my last belt test. If made more of these, I could be enjoying creative practice AND preparing for my test. Image description: this is a drawing I made about the 9 training secrets in TKD. I have a series of stick people illustrating different aspect of the training and some text describing each one. The areas between the drawings are coloured yellow.

But, instead of doing all of that work that is freely available to me, I had been focusing on the one thing that wasn’t available to me right now.

Once I had broken that spell, I started to see all the other ways I had been letting my toe/heel/calf pain get in my way.

I’ve been able to walk each day but a lot of other cardio exercises aggravate my heel so I have been largely avoiding them.

When I started thinking in terms of what I *could* do instead of what I couldn’t, I remembered the seated cardio I did after an injury a few years back. I did a quick search on YouTube and have the one below a try – I really enjoyed it.

Link leads to a workout from Puzzle Fit called 20 minute strength and cardio workout for lower body injuries

I haven’t turned into Merry Sunshine. I’m still annoyed about my toe/heel/calf but I feel good about this change in focus. it better for my brain and for my body.

Have you benefitted from a chance in focus like this?

How did it play out for you?

fitness · martial arts

Christine Wants To Up Her Mental Game. Any Recommendations?

I’m about a year or so away from my 4th degree black belt test in ITF TKD.

I feel good about my ability to sharpen my skills to testable levels but I really want to do some serious work on my mental game.

I want to be as confident as a possibly can when I go into that test next year.

Part of that confidence will come naturally as I practice and study in preparation for the test.

But I want to do some specific mental practice, too.

I want to be more comfortable with the intensity of preparation. I want to be less stressed in the days preceding the the test. And I want to improve my ability to visualize my actions during the test itself.

GIF of Actor Kristen Bell saying ‘Own It’
A GIF of actor Kristen Bell moving her fist to her chest and saying ‘Own It’ with an air of confidence.

To that end, I have been watching some videos and reading articles* to figure out what practices and techniques might work for me.

One thing I’ve noticed (of course) is that a lot of the sports psychology videos I’ve found are by male athletes and coaches. Their advice has been interesting and some of it has been valuable but I would like to have a broader perspective on the subject.

Can you recommend any videos or books about sports psychology/mental game/visualization that are more gender-diverse?

*And I am attending a TKD Sports Psychology online seminar in a few weeks.

equipment · fitness · flexibility · fun · gear · martial arts · Rowing

Rowing, Multitasking, and Positive Side Effects.

After years of planning to buy a rowing machine, I finally got one a couple of months back and I am thoroughly enjoying using it. 

I love that I don’t have to put much thought into the how and the what of exercising with the rowing machine.  I can use it at any time without having to put on specific clothes and I can choose to have a harder workout or an easier one without having to make a specific plan. 

It’s a kind of automatic exercise for me which is really good for my ADHD brain – there are few, if any, choices to make in advance and that means there are very few potential obstacles between me and my workout.

Plus, I like the very nature of the movement back and forth, the repetition has a soothing element to it.

A person in an inflatable T-Rex costume is using a rowing machine in a small living room.
This does NOT look soothing. I hope I look a little smoother than this when I row. Image description: a GIF of a person in an inflatable T-Rex costume is using a rowing machine in a small living room with potted plants all around. Because the head of the costume is so far above the person’s head, their movements look very jerky.

And, I like that I can do a very specific type of multi-tasking – watching YouTube videos – while I row.

I enjoy learning by video but I don’t often make time to do so. Combining my exercise with videos is a win-win situation – I am doing two enjoyable things at once and my brain and body are both busy so I don’t get any of my usual feeling that I should probably be doing something else. 

I even pick out my videos the night before so there is little between my pyjama-clad self and my exercise session in the mornings. I can get up, let the dog out (and back in!), grab some water, take my meds,  and then head to the basement to row. It’s all part of my waking up routine and it really feels great. 

Speaking of feeling great, my rowing has brought me an unexpected positive side-effect – my hips have loosened up considerably.

A GIF of a cartoon duck spinning his hips in a circle while standing in the spotlight.
Maybe they aren’t quite *this* loose but they do feel good. Image description: GIF of cartoon character Daffy Duck standing in a spotlight with his wings up behind his head, his hips are moving in a very loose circle.

Because of long-ago sessions at the gym, I knew that my arms, back, and legs were going to benefit from using the machine but I hadn’t really thought about how the set  of movements required to row would help my hips, too.  

I sort of have a ‘trick’ hip. It’s mostly fine but every now and then I’ll do something that will wonk it out and it will take me a few days to get it to calm down again.

Practicing kicks at taekwon-do has often triggered my hip in that way but I only realize it *after* I have done it. I’ve done a variety of things to work on it (with various degrees of consistency – I’m still me after all) but nothing has been especially helpful. Until now.

About three weeks after starting regular rowing sessions, our Thursday night TKD class was all about practicing sidekicks and angle kicks. Normally, with a night full of those kicks, my hip would wonk out at some point during the evening and I’d either have to reduce my movements or do something else entirely.

This time, however, I was tired but my hip was completely fine. I was puzzled at first but as I was pulling my leg up and back into position for one of the kicks, I realized that the motion was familiar. It’s not exactly like the position of my leg as I pull all the way forward on the machine but it’s similar. 

I didn’t have any trouble with my hips that night. And, more importantly, I didn’t wake up stiff or in pain the next morning. In fact, I rowed for a bit longer than I had the day before. 

It turns out that my rowing was setting me up for new success with taekwon-do. 

A person rotates on one foot while holding the other leg in the air before doing a high kick.
Okay, this is just straight-up wishful thinking on my part. Image description: GIF of a person standing on one foot, spinning in a circle and then executing a very high kick. Their hair is in a ponytail, and they are wearing a pink shirt and black leggings.

That’s a pretty good side-effect for an activity I was enjoying already. 

Have you ever had one type of exercise ‘accidentally’ help you in another like that?

Tell me about it in the comments! (Pretty please.)

fitness · habits · martial arts · motivation · new year's resolutions

Go Team! January 15: Put on Your Dobok (or bandana or fancy socks or…)

If you are having trouble getting in the exercise frame of mind, creating an external cue might help.

Let me give you an example:

Last Sunday morning, I participated in an international online superclass for Taekwondo .

When I registered for the class back in December, I hadn’t noticed that it started at 7:30am Newfoundland Time.

I was excited to take the class but 7:30am on a Sunday seemed really hard. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get into the Taekwondo ’zone’ and that I wouldn’t get as much out of the class because I would be sleepy and uncoordinated.

Luckily, I was wrong.

Even though it was early, even though it was a Sunday morning, even though I was online instead of in a class, once I put my dobok (my TKD uniform) on I was in taekwondo mode.

It was a kind of magic. One minute I was sleepy, grumpy, and vaguely regretful about committing to this. The next, I was awake, interested, and ready to get moving.

My dobok gave me an exercise context, it was an external cue.

After all, I only put my dobok on for Taekwondo. I don’t put it on to lounge around the house or to run errands, I put it on because it is time to go to class.

And, it turns out that any time can feel like class time…if I put my dobok on.

Obviously, most people won’t have a dobok but you probably have a piece of clothing or gear that symbolizes exercise for you, an external cue that will put you in a movement frame of mind.

If you don’t have one yet, it might be a good time to start developing one. Find something you can use or wear every time you exercise so, eventually, that item will tell your brain that it is time to get moving.

(A category of item can work just as well as an individual one, i.e. wearing any bandana around your neck could be an exercise cue, it doesn’t have to be that specific red one.)

Do you have a piece of clothing that puts you into exercise mode?

If so, what is it?

If not, what *could* you use to help you slip into that zone?

Keep up the good work, Team, building habits takes conscious effort and, like I said the other day, it’s okay to give yourself what you need to support those efforts.

Here’s your gold star for today!

A  multi-sided gold star ornament hangs on an orange-coloured wall.
Another day, another gold star.
Keep up the good work!