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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Normally, TKD seminars and courses (which are a required part of our training) take place in person and we get to learn new things from Grand Masters and Masters who have a specialized expertise in one aspect of TKD or another.
Before we started, I was very apprehensive about how well it could work online.
How were the instructors going to demonstrate and explain movements over a screen?
How could a group of 1000 people be anything but overwhelming, even online?
How well would I be able to focus in long Zoom sessions? Would I be able to take in the information in that format?
It turns out that seminars work pretty well online.
Sure, there were a few technical issues and there were struggles with internet speed (my extremely slow internet actually jammed up completely during the patterns I most wanted to hear about) but overall, it was a very smooth event and I got a lot out of it.
It was great to see so many other TKD students from all over the world checking in for the seminar. I really enjoyed experiencing so many different teaching styles from the various Grand Masters. And it was really valuable to see how the people demonstrating the patterns were working so hard to get things right, and even if they made mistakes they either corrected themselves or accepted correction with grace.
It was really exciting to be part of such a huge group participating in the same sport and I was inspired by the skill of the Grand Masters, as well as the Masters and other black belts who were demonstrating the patterns.
It wasn’t the same as being there in person, of course, you just can’t generate the same energy through a screen. I missed being able to chat with my TKD friends between sessions and or being able to get some hands-on assistance from someone nearby if I didn’t process an instruction properly.
However, this online version was a good substitute overall.
I liked being able to see and hear specific details so clearly and I liked how much easier it was to take notes during an online seminar. (In person, you are going back and forth between listening to instructions and trying new things and you can’t keep running back to your bag with your notebook. You have to wait to take your notes between sessions and I always forget!)
It was great to have relative privacy to make mistakes without feeling self-conscious. No one could tell if I messed something up completely so I wasn’t distracted by feeling foolish. (Yes, I know it is okay to make mistakes, I know that’s how you learn. However, I’m still self-conscious about it. I’m working on it!)
I enjoyed knowing that the instructors and the people demonstrating the patterns were all over the world – it really added to the experience. I don’t know if we would have had such a variety of instructors/demonstrators for an in-person seminar, that would take a lot of logistical work.
I love how much more accessible online seminars can be for the average person – minimal expense, no travel costs/challenges, no need to take a lot of time off of work.
I really hope that online instruction is regularly offered even after the immediate threat of Covid-19 has passed. I would still like to attend in-person seminars but I would definitely round them out with online courses.
Meanwhile, I will be taking as many of these types of courses/classes/seminars as I can in the next few months. Next up is a class offered by the ITF Women’s Committee in January.
Facebook reminded me that just over year ago, in April 2019, I had been at a taekwondo tournament with the kids I coach. I love my kids. I’ve known some of these athletes for about 4 years now, which, I sometimes forget, is quite a lot of their lives. We kick at each other, I make them do pushups, fill their water bottles and tie their chest guards. I get plenty of hugs. They sidle up to me regularly to either check if they’ve outgrown me yet, or tease me about the fact that they outgrew me a year ago. Or at least they did until mid-March.
For a little over a month, I’ve been teaching all my taekwondo classes online. The whole studio moved to online classes for our members over Instagram Live and Zoom. It’s definitely not optimal to teach fitness remotely in general, but teaching a contact sport when you’re not allowed within 6 feet of anyone else is a whole other challenge altogether.
We’ve been focusing a lot on footwork drills, and shadow sparring (basically the kicking equivalent of shadow boxing). There’s a lot of standard kicking combinations, and it never hurts to review the basics. Some of the kids even have parents or siblings who can hold targets for them. But even though I’ve been trying to find creative ways to do partner-style drills over Zoom, using its Spotlight feature, nothing virtual really quite replicates the feeling of someone else’s foot about to hit you. Not to mention the bodily sense of what you have to do to avoid it and counter.
Still, what makes it worthwhile for me at least, isn’t so much that my athletes are maintaining some of their abilities (though I’m happy they are). It’s that I still get to work with them as a team, and that we’re all still engaged in trying to get through a tough time together.
I’m interested to hear from other people who are teaching fitness (especially martial arts!) remotely right now. What kinds of creative things are you doing to help everyone with their training? Or even just to feel like you’re still connected as a community?
Today is 50 days until my second degree black belt test. I know this because after the previous test in June, I decided to see how long I had to get ready. On the day I happened to count, the total came out to the pleasantly even 130 days.
For a long time, I’d been saying to myself that the trick of fitness in general, and of my martial arts practice in particular, would be to do one thing every day to improve. It probably didn’t even matter too much what that one thing was, since there were so many things–cardio, strength, flexibility, core, balance, etc–that contribute to improving martial arts performance, SO MANY of which I needed to improve. I knew what I needed to do, but I was having trouble doing it.
Although I was always dedicated about attending classes, I was sporadic about doing things outside of class to support that work. I’d go through streaks of regularly stretching while my youngest daughter took her bath, and then I’d get sidetracked one night and would drop it for weeks. I’d run consistently for two weeks, then have to skip a run or two because of meetings and would drop it. I had been on a very good schedule of weight lifting, but a shoulder injury sidelined that. Like everyone else, in other words, life kept getting in the way.
But I knew that, life or not, in 130 days I’d be expected to perform at the top of my game. And more than that, I wanted to perform at the top of my game. I needed to find a simple way to stay consistent.
A friend of mine in college always used to say that you could solve any problem with office supplies, heavy artillery, or a large enough plastic bag.
So I bought a planner.
I got a really small one–it’s about 4×6–with a page spread for each month and a small box for each day. It didn’t have any dates in it, so I could start right where I was. (I hate starting planners in the middle. So much wasted paper flapping around. And I hate starting mid month because of that depressing white void at the top of the page..)
I labelled it with months and dates. Then I put a countdown every 10 days of how many days were left until the test. On the front of it I wrote “130 Days” and a somewhat belligerent and accusatory “What did you do today?”
And then I started to fill it in.
I used it to track anything I did, any day, that would further my goal of performing well at the second dan test. I recorded class attendance, time spent assisting in instruction, stretching sessions (no matter how brief), runs, physical therapy, and so on. When I travelled and did lots of walking, I recorded that. When I spent hours doing yard work, I recorded that too.
And when my body told me that I need to take a day doing nothing, I wrote down “rest” as well. (That was a big deal for me, acknowledging that sometimes even I need to take a break. Maybe that’s another blog post for another day.)
I’ve learned quite a bit from having a planner dedicated to a single goal. A few blank stretches remind me that I get knocked out of my routines easily, so it’s better for me to find time to fit things in than to say “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.” Travel throws me for a loop, so I need to have a plan before I go about how I can keep working toward my goal even when I’m not at home. It’s best when I don’t use this planner to schedule ahead (though sometimes I do). This is meant to be a record of what I have done–not of what I intended to do. I’ve learned that writing down what I’m doing helps me feel like I’m making progress, even when I’m feeling stuck on a plateau, or frustrated about not being able to make it to class one day, or just generally feeling old and creaky. I can look at my planner and see how much I’m doing and how hard I’ve been working. I’ve learned that I’m sufficiently nutty to be motivated to add new things to my routine just to be able to write them in my planner.
I know that the trend now is for bullet journals, where you track everything all in one book–daily calendar, shopping lists, work out schedule, movies to watch, favorite quotes, and so on. And I’m as seduced as anyone by the elegantly laid out bullet journals I see on Instagram and on my friends’ Facebook pages. But I don’t want to make earning my second degree black belt just another part of the daily run of stuff I do. It’s more important to me than remembering to stop by FedEx, or pick up more tea on the way home from work. I wanted to set it apart.
Having a dedicated space where I record my work towards this goal reminds me that it’s more important, and reminds me to treat it that way. Work and family and kids and illness and everything else still go one, and still call on my time, energy, and attention. But now there’s a little book in my bag or on my desk belligerently asking me, every day, “What did you do today?” and reminding me that it matters.
Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at AdamSmithWorks.com. Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture.
However, I know from experience that the first day of feeling better is a trap!
You think you feel like yourself but it’s only in comparison to how bad you felt before. With that false sense of security, you jump right back into the swing of things and find yourself feeling awful again.
So I did not want to fall for that ruse again.
On the other hand, all of this sitting and lying around has left me with a very stiff back and hips. I also knew from experience that movement is the only thing that will help.
So, I figured out a plan that would let me move, do a few kicks and still take things very slowly.
I looked at the exercises for today and realized that they wouldn’t be very intense if I did them separately.
With that in mind, I decided to do a small warm up (mostly to warm up my muscles rather than to get my heart rate up), then do one stretch and one drill. Then, I would wait 30 minutes (you know I used my timer, of course) and try another warm up, another stretch and another drill.
I also decided to make the following rules for myself:
1) If I felt bad at all, I would stop immediately
2) I wouldn’t do the exact exercise that caused the crunch
3) I would modify anything that seemed very hard or required me to move fast
And it worked out fine!
I did four ‘sets’ of the warm up/stretch/drill combination over the course of two hours and it felt great.
I had no pain, no dizziness, no weird feelings.
My back and hip stiffness is gone.
I feel really great about it. I had to adjust a few of the planned exercises but I could feel a real difference in my hip mobility during every exercise that I did.
I’m not sure my kicks are much higher yet but they are BETTER and they feel more effective. I feel like I am executing them with more skill.
And, now that my hip mobility is improving, I can clearly see how I need to increase my leg strength to add a different type of improvement.
Bonus: My wall splits* have definitely improved since Sunday! Not a huge amount but enough for me to see and feel a difference.
I’m calling Day 4.5 a victory!
*The exercise I’m referring to is lying on the floor with your legs up a wall and then doing a sort of split by letting your legs fall open to either side while they are still touching the wall.
I can feel that this kicking program is helping. I’m not testing my kicks every day so I can’t report back on that per se but I can feel a definite difference in my hips.
I even feel a bit more mobile when I’m walking or crouching down to get something.
Today’s exercises introduced the frog stretch. Now I’ve done this before in yoga but I hadn’t really thought of it in relation to helping me with my kicking.
My challenges with the frog stretch, and with some of the other stretches over the past few days, are making me wonder if overly-tight adductor muscles are a bigger factor in both my kick height and my overall tight hips than I realized.
I’m going to do some extra stretching for those muscles over the next while and see if it helps.
Today’s workout ended up being a bit strange because something weird happened.
I woke up with a stiff neck this morning and I thought that I had managed to move and stretch the stiffness out. However, when I started to do one drill that involved holding onto the wall with one hand and practising my kicks while my foot was looped into a strap, my neck muscles spasmed and I got very dizzy.*
I took a break to recover and then, since it didn’t seem to be related to exertion,I went back to the exercises. I took it easy, and lay on the floor to do the remaining work in case the dizziness came back.
So I called it quits for today.
I have to say that while I expected to have some hip issues or at least some tight muscles in that area, I did not expect a problem with my neck to interfere with me completing a set of these exercises!
I’m still calling today a success though. After all, I returned to my practice for the third day in a row, I can feel progress, and I can identify specific things to work on. That’s all good.
*To be clear, I am not ignoring a serious injury or a major health event. I don’t have any symptoms of anything else and I have a history of feeling dizzy when this specific muscle gets tight. I will check in with my doctor if things don’t improve.
I did some stretching and some lacrosse ball muscle massage last night but I still expected to be very uncomfortable today.
I was happy to discover that, while my hip muscles are tight today, I don’t hurt. I’m calling that a victory!
The Day 2 routine consisted of leg swings and lifts, some split stretches (She does splits but me? Not so much) and some standing leg raises of various sorts.
They were challenging but not quite as difficult as some of yesterday’s movements.
The real challenge today was what she calls ground kicks – leaning on the floor on one side, executing a kick and holding it.
Doing them with my right leg made me acutely aware of the tightest muscle in my body – right at the crease of the front of my hip. It hurt to do them but not in the ‘you should stop’ way. It was more of a ‘this is where you have to do the work’ way.
My left leg didn’t give me the same trouble.
Overall, it’s really becoming clear that weakness/tightness in different muscles on each leg is affecting my kicks on both sides…just in different ways.
I’m enjoying this kick-specific focus and the short duration of each workout. This approach lets me work on one challenge at a time which, it turns out, is much better than trying to do all of the things at once.
Who knew? 😉
PS – Yes, I do realize that this is news only to me. 🙂 Ha Ha!
Why am I doing this? Really, the answer is that I am looking for different sorts of movement in my life these days. I have been feeling the need for more strength and agility and flow. Also I want to feel solid and stable– I want to feel my feet under me, my legs solid, my back strong, and my core engaged. This way I can use my upper body to lift and grab onto things, swing me or hold me in place, help me balance, and other things. Like leaping, for instance:
I happened upon the Qigong workshop, through Artemis, my local studio. Jules, one of my favorite instructors, was teaching it. I knew basically nothing about it. So here’s an intro blurb in case you’re in the same boat:
Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. There are likely thousands of qigong styles, schools, traditions, forms, and lineages, each with practical applications and different theories about Qi (“subtle breath” or “vital energy”) and Gong (“skill cultivated through steady practice”)
Qigong is credited with all sorts of beneficial and even therapeutic powers. Here’s what one website has to say about it:
Physically, slow gentle qigong movements warm tendons, ligaments, and muscles; tonify vital organs and connective tissue; and promote circulation of body fluids (blood, synovial, lymph). Thousands of studies have shown qigong effective in helping to heal life challenges ranging from high blood pressure and chronic illness to emotional frustration, mental stress, and spiritual crisis.
Hmmm… Thousands of studies? I took a look at the PubMed database and found loads of studies, including this one, suggesting benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi for some of the following:
bone density, cardiopulmonary effects, physical function, falls and related risk factors, quality of life, self-efficacy, patient-reported outcomes, psychological symptoms, and immune function.
Okay, so there’s evidence that Qigong is good for what ails ya. That’s nice. But what is it like? I found it to be different from yoga in that we were mainly standing in place, doing body and arm movements, syncing with the breath. They were done slowly and repeatedly. Even though the movements were (mostly) slow ones, we did generate some heat. You can definitely work up a sweat doing Qigong. But it’s also meditative, focusing on the breath and body movements. The names of the movements are poetic and descriptive. We did movements called:
King draws his sword
Cat gazes at the moon
Gather the sun and press the earth
Double hands hold up the heavens
Some of the things I liked about these movement patterns were the ways they used my whole body. For some of them I was raising up, lifting my heels, arms in the air, balancing and holding myself up. We did lots of arm movements, which were slow, but involved control, focus, and attention to detail (some of the movements required thought). They also provided opportunities for grace. I loved one movement where we crossed our wrists in front of our navels, began a sequence, and then replaced the wrists to their original position, fluidly and elegantly.
Elegance– that’s really what I took away from Qigong. It’s meditative, it’s physical, and it’s elegant in its simplicity and efficiency of movement.
It also seems to make people happy. Here are some people doing qigong:
There are Qigong classes at yoga studios near me. I will be checking them out. Will this new form of movement become a regular part of my rotation? It’s too soon to say. But I’m intrigued on multiple fronts.
Have you or do you do Qigong (or Tai Chi)? What do you think? What does it do for you, and for your other forms of physical activity? I’d love to hear from you, dear readers.