I wanted to add a little extra to my daily routine in October so I’ve taken up two challenges for the month – the Action for Happiness Optimism challenge and the Darebee Daily Kicks challenge.
I like following short term challenges because 1) they set out a plan in advance so my brain doesn’t get stuck buffering about decisions 2) they aren’t making me commit to something in a future that is too far ahead for my ADHD brain to grasp.
These specific challenges should be straightforward additions to my day because any day’s actions are big enough to matter to me but small enough to fit into nooks and crannies in my still-developing schedule.
And it helps that I am naturally inclined to optimism (this may be a good feature of my ADHD – I’m usually convinced that things are about to get better) and that kicks are not only good exercise but practicing them will have added benefits for Taekwon-do.
Will I get to both of these every day? I’m planning on it and I hope those plans work out.
But even my optimistic self knows that sometimes things go awry so I have a backup plan as well:
If I miss a day, I can do two the next day…if that feels doable. If doing two items feels like too much, or if I have missed several days, I’ll skip to the item for the current day.
The key here is to follow the practices for as many days as possible this month – aiming for more days on than off.
The only thing I *don’t* want is to follow the challenge for a few days, miss a couple, and then scrap the whole thing because I didn’t do it perfectly.
As long as the end of October still finds me working away at these, in any form or fashion, I’ll be successful.
During her Move program in January, Adriene (of Yoga with Adriene) emphasized how important it can be to think about how you move.
She invited us to consider the actual movements we made when relocating our hands to move between poses, the way we moved our legs into downward dog, the process of how we unrolled our spines to stand up.
This wasn’t about making us self-conscious, it was about grounding us in our bodies, about considering the movement habits that serve us and those that hinder us. It was about figuring out where we find ease and what parts of our bodies need more attention. It was about figuring out how to work with or work around the unique abilities of our individual bodies.
Even though this process made for a tricky line to walk between being mindful and overthinking, it really set me up well for practicing for my recent TKD belt test.
In the course of learning and practicing my patterns and other movements, I had to think about how I was moving. After all, it’s not just that my foot has to end up in a specific spot but I have to move it in a certain way to maximize my power, to increase my balance, to ensure that I can reach the target that I need to reach.
Even though my TKD skills are a work in progress (and always will be), concentrating a bit more on the specifics of my movements did help me a lot. Recognizing that in one of my patterns, I always place my foot down at the wrong angle gave me the opportunity to correct it and execute my pattern more accurately.
(Sidenote: I actually learned DURING MY TEST that I was getting another movement wrong and the correction from my instruction made a huge, immediate difference in the effectiveness of that technique. Another victory for the ‘how’ of movement.)
My latest stop for this train of thought is a video I did on Sunday. I felt like doing some yoga but I also wanted to do something a bit different so I had my metaphorical cake and ate it too by doing this video from Liv in Leggings.
I really enjoyed it. She’s an engaging instructor and I found her ‘how’ explanations very clear even when I couldn’t quite execute the movements yet.
Considering the question of how – her explanations and my personal experience – helped me to be curious about even the most challenging movements.
That curiosity meant that I was intrigued rather than frustrated by the difference between the strength of my right arm and the strength in my left arm during a wheelish/bridge-ish pose where we had to support ourselves first on one arm and then on the other.
(I mean, I know that my right arm is stronger than my left and I know that I can be more precise with my right. But the difference was especially apparent on that one movement – and I could feel that I was moving differently as I was getting into the pose and I couldn’t hold myself steady in the same way while I was in it. I could support myself on my right arm for quite some time but my left arm started shaking almost right away.)
And it let me pay attention to my movements when doing twists so I could tell exactly which ones made the tight spot on the left side of my back protest. And I could see how small adjustments could bring some ease.
And, of course, overall focusing on the ‘how’ helped me to be more mindful and present while I was trying this new approach. That just seems like a good thing doesn’t it?
How much time do you spend thinking about the how of your movements?
Do you find it helpful? Does it make you more mindful?
PS- While all that shaking was going on I was really grateful for the various online yoga videos I’ve done from Adriene and Joelle Because they always refer to those kinds of shaking movements in a positive light. In their framework, it’s not about weakness in the shaking body part. It’s about energy flowing and about knowing that you’re alive and about putting the effort in. I think that’s a really encouraging way to look at it.
Remember a few months ago when I wrote about being the very model of a middle aged martial artist?
I’m at it again.
Last week, I had the honour of taking part in a photoshoot with my photographer friend, Amy Cleary.
I really enjoy the process of helping people with their creative projects, whether I am coaching, brainstorming, or participating in some way. So, I was having a great time observing Amy practice her craft while I was trying to create visually interesting movements.
That would have been plenty of fun for one afternoon but my enjoyment was enhanced by how excited Amy was about my TKD techniques and about the ideas she wanted to express with her photos.
While it would be possible to have a photoshoot and keep your subject as a passive participant, Amy doesn’t want to capture passivity, she wants to express the power of the person she is highlighting in her photos.
I enjoyed my afternoon with Amy and I appreciated her goal of focusing on the individual’s power but I didn’t give much thought to the end result. I basically considered myself kind of a prop for her creative expression.
I knew she would take artistic, interesting photos and I wasn’t worried about whether I would like how I looked in them. Whether I looked ‘good’ or not didn’t feel relevant to the project at hand.
And then she posted a photo from our shoot.
It was a revelation.
I still didn’t consider whether I looked ‘good’ or not. What I saw was that I looked POWERFUL and that felt GREAT.
It also felt like a surprise.
Because of my ADHD, unless I work to think otherwise, my brain divides time into ‘now’ or ‘not-now.’ Either I can accomplish the thing I want to do immediately or it gets put off to a time in the indeterminate future.
I find it very difficult to do a small thing now that won’t pay off until the distant future and, unless I consciously work at it, I have trouble believing that a series of small actions will add up to a great whole. I’m sure you can see that this perspective creates a lot of challenges around fitness and exercise.
After all, a single session of any type of exercise isn’t going to produce many tangible results so it’s hard to convince my brain to let me expend the energy now for something that can’t be ‘finished’ right away and that may not produce tangible results for a while.
So, when I try to think about my body looking powerful, it is always something that will happen in the future, in the ‘not-now.’
It’s not that I think of myself as weak – I know the ways that I am strong and I often FEEL powerful – but I have this idea of what powerful *looks* like and I didn’t think I was there yet.
So, that’s why the photo was a surprise.
I’m not heavily-muscled, I’m not at peak physical fitness, I’m rounded in places where many athletes are sleek, but my body is powerful just as it is and Amy’s photos showed me that.
I don’t have to wait until the not-now.
I am powerful NOW.
And since I am already powerful, that changes my perspective on my current efforts. I am not starting from scratch, I am enhancing what already exists.
For me, being bold wasn’t about pretending I wasn’t nervous, it was about forging ahead anyway, about showing up with everything I had.
I had a few little spots of worry on Saturday when I just couldn’t make small sections of a few patterns work but I reached out to my TKD friends for reassurance and recruited my husband and my eldest son to help me.
My husband watched a YouTube video of one pattern while I was practicing it in the living room and let me know when my movements didn’t match. My son sat with my pattern instruction book in hand and read me the descriptions of certain sections so I could be sure I was moving correctly.
Overall though, I was far less nervous than I usually am. Deciding to be bold was one factor in that and the changes in my ADHD meds since my last test is definitely another but I also think that I am finally reaching the point in my training where things are coming together for me. I am more easily able to explain the purpose of my movements and I can more clearly see the connections between the theory and the practice in TKD.
That’s not to say that I am doing everything perfectly nor that I am applying my theory to every movement. Everyone in TKD is still a student, just some have more practice than others. As a 4th degree black belt (!) I am more advanced than many but I still have lots to learn.
Usually the morning before one of my tests would be a complete blur of nervousness and practice and stress. This time, though, I decided that my only practice would be to read the movement descriptions for my last three patterns. Instead of practicing and then hyperfocusing on small mistakes, I did yoga and meditated and drew a magic symbol on my wrist.
When I was testing for lower ranks, I used to do things like dyeing a strip of my hair and/or paint my nails the colour of my upcoming belt. For my last few tests, I have painted just my thumbnails black (to remind me to focus), but this time I drew a B for bold on my wrist and then put a star and a spiral next to it.
A black belt test has a lot to it. I had 18 patterns to do (luckily two students were testing for 5th degree so I didn’t have to do any of the patterns alone at that point), then we did step-sparring (a coordinated attack/defense demonstration), self-defense, endurance drills, and a solo step-by-step demonstration of a pattern identifying the purpose of each movement. After all of that, we try to break some boards.
I did not do my patterns perfectly. Throughout the pandemic, we stopped doing the loud, rhythmic breathing that helps us execute our movements effectively, as well as keeping us all on track. I haven’t even been practicing with it much at home because I was afraid that I would unconsciously use it during class when I wasn’t supposed to. We have only recently gone back to including the breath sounds and we’re a little out of practice with it. And, it turns out, I have been practicing my movements just a little too slowly. The combination trying to speed up a little, adding my own breathing and being able to hear everyone threw me off a little in a few early patterns and then REALLY threw me off for my newest ones.
Since I was concentrating on remembering the movements and remembering to breathe loudly, I didn’t have enough mental space to ALSO choose to ignore everyone else’s breathing and movements. ADHD, after all, is not actually a deficit of attention, it is (among other things) an inability to decide where your attention should be focused. Between nervousness, the challenge of performing newish patterns with an audience while being graded on them, and the addition of the breath factor, I didn’t have the capacity to tune other people out.
But thanks to my instructors’ patience, and a healthy dose of perseverance for all concerned, we got through (and, for the record, I wasn’t the only one making mistakes, which was a comfort.) And even though I was a little slow in my movements, I did my final pattern effectively and I was VERY proud as I shouted the pattern name (Choi Yong) after the last move.
I felt sharp and purposeful for the step-sparring and self-defense and drills, and I was happy with my step-by-step pattern but I was THRILLED with my board breaking.
I did a speed-break hook kick, a 360 back kick, a flying side kick (with a slight modification to minimize jumping), a middle twist kick, and then…and then…
I BROKE A BOARD WITH A PUNCH!
At my very first board-breaking test (about 8 years ago), I tried a punch for my hand-technique but I didn’t coordinate all the elements of the movement properly and I really hurt my knuckles. Since then, I have broken boards with my elbow and my knife-hand (the side of your flattened hand) and my sidefist (aka – the side of your fist) but I couldn’t convince myself that I had the power to punch through a board.
I tried for my last test. In fact, I was supposed to jump up and punch two boards in succession but while I hoped to fluke into it, I didn’t really expect that it would happen.
This time though, I wanted to do it. And because my brain is getting better at applying my theory to my movements, I could think clearly about what I had done wrong before and make a good choice about how to make it work this time.
I used a reverse punch – which means that I had my left leg forward but I was punching with my right hand – so I could generate speed and power without having to move my feet (sometimes the choreography of footwork gets me tangled up.)
I lined myself up, measured my distance, and punched clear through the board as if I do it every day.
It felt like the biggest victory of a marvelously victorious day.
Getting ready for this test was hard work. I’ve been learning and practicing all through the pandemic – sometimes in person, sometimes on Zoom. During that time, I have been dealing with a variety of challenges in all areas of my life but throughout it all, TKD has been a great way to take care of myself – giving me an external focus that had all kinds of personal benefits. I’m really grateful to have that outlet and I am grateful for the support of my instructors and my fellow students as I train.
Thank you to Master Scott Downey and Master Cathy Downey for the instruction and support, to Ms. Reid and Mr. Dyer for the instruction, trouble-shooting, and encouragement, to Ms. Vere-Holloway for the extra practice, to Mr. James for the encouragement, to Mr. Lake, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Hooper, Mr. Power, and Mr. Codner for holding all of those boards, and to Ms. Gathercole for the empathy. Special thanks to Steve and Alex for helping me with my last few practice sessions, to Lori Savory for choreography help, and to Team Codner for the on-site encouragement.
Congratulations to Ms. Vere-Holloway, Mr. Power, Ms. Gathercole, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Lake, Mr. Codner, and Mr. Hooper for your hard work and for your success yesterday!
I was so young and foolish then. That was back before a series of migraines (or was it just one long migraine?) and the associated pre & post symptoms kept me groggy and out of sorts for over two weeks in the first part of May.
And that was before the perfectly reasonable amount of work tasks I had scheduled for those two weeks had to be jammed into the week before I had to travel to the other side of the country for a conference. And it was before I was travelling, and at a conference, and then off to a writing retreat, and then off to teach a workshop, and then teaching another workshop. And it was before my knee decided to get cranky for a few days and before my back got jealous and did the same.
So, let’s just say that my slow and steady plan was not at all feasible.
Instead, I had to follow a nooks and crannies plan – jamming patterns and practice and exercise and theory into any little space that I could pry open in my schedule.
I had to use persistence (which, when I can activate it, is one of my superpowers) to just keep plugging away at everything and trust that it would work out.
I did my written theory test last week and I did quite well. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to work out some of the correct answers by applying my knowledge, even when I didn’t *know* the answer for sure.
All the physical testing will be on Sunday and even though I haven’t been able to do things the way I meant to, I still feel good about it.
I wasn’t able to physically practice as much or as often as I had planned to, but I did extra mental/visualization practice whenever I had a chance.
During my physical practice, I alternated between focused practice on my most recent patterns and directing my energy towards sharpening some fundamental movements that will improve my technique overall.
And now I am down to just a few days of practice and I want to spend them wisely.
As I was planning my week, I was tempted to try to create an epic schedule of practice and exercise, but, luckily, a more sensible part of my brain prevailed.
Instead, I plan to do daily yoga, daily practice for my patterns and for other specific movements, and to do some specific stretches and rehab exercises for any persnickety body parts. I’m going to work smart, and work as hard as I need to, but I am not going to run the risk of exhausting myself before my test.
Normally, I go into belt tests reminding myself that ‘chance favours the prepared’ but right now that aphorism is drawing my attending to the gap between my intended preparations and my actual preparations. Focusing on that gap will NOT help so, instead, I have been reminding myself of another saying, ‘fortune favours the bold.’
On Sunday, I am going to show up bold.
In fact, I am determined to boldly go where I have never gone before – into the mental and physical space of being a 4th degree black belt.
So, if you were thinking of wishing me luck for Sunday, please wish me boldness instead.
After all, that’s the best way to get fortune to favour me.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
(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.
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. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
**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.
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.
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.
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.
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.