Monday, December 11, 2006

Brown Belt!

This was a scary test. I missed three of the last five weeks of classes trying to let a foot injury I sustained just before the last test finally heal. It's not easy getting me to stop doing something for so long :D Again, I was allowed to double-test and I was really concerned that I wasn't ready. Brown belt is the the first rank of the advanced echelon and was another cumulative test. That is, I had to do all my forms again, including the one I learned this last cycle: Toi-Gye. I haven't perfected it yet and it's still not ingrained to where I can just do it.

In addition to demonstrating proficiency in basic techniques, I had to do sparring, prepare a ho sin sool (self-defense demonstration) and write a paper about what Tae Kwon Do means to me (see below). Brandon was also testing for brown belt which was a bit awkward because he's always been ahead of me in belt ranking. Master Thomas decided to let him double-test, though, and he was told he could earn his senior brown belt if he could do a flying sidekick over four people and break the blue board. I was one of the people he jumped over so I didn't see the kick, but I heard it! His mom got a picture of it which I'll post if I can get a copy.

It's amazing to think that I'm 4th gup. I even have a title of sorts now: Dan Bo; it means "black belt candidate" and now the kids can call me Dan Bo Rachele instead of just Miss Rachele. When we bow in and out of class, I was recognized by the phrase sun bae nim gae which means "face the senior color belt" but now it's dan bo nim gae. Can you tell I'm totally stoked by all of this? It really does help to attend eight classes a week (four adult, four advanced) and teach another twelve (six tots classes and six kids classes).

What Tae Kwon Do Means to Me

I began training in Tae Kwon Do about two years ago as part of an adult continuing education program run by the local school district near my home in San Antonio. It started out as two classes a week for eight week and I was hooked from class one! Mostly I was excited to have found such an activity on my own, to be the only one in my group of friends in martial arts, to have something that I could work to be good at that was just mine—a personal journey even. What keeps me coming into the dojang four days a week is simple: I find immense relaxation and enjoyment in the practice; I get to teach others and I know I’m doing something to better myself.

I thought initially when I started practicing Tae Kwon Do that it would be a good physical outlet for stress, all the kicking and punching, pounding on bags and pads, sometimes people. But as it turns out, I’ve found it to be less about aggression and more about relaxation. I’m able to forget the stresses in my life for awhile and focus on my training and have fun. I’m actually more energized and alive after a good workout rather than exhausted. Any anger or sadness I might have been feeling usually melt away as I immerse my thoughts into self-improvement. I can go home feeling happy and refreshed, ready to take on the next day’s activities.

Another part of the pleasure I get from Tae Kwon Do is helping others improve, especially the kids. It’s extremely rewarding to see them try so hard and to be able to assist them in their own journeys, knowing that what they learn now at such early ages will give them an edge in the world. I really appreciate the opportunity to be an assistant instructor—not only do I get the chance to teach some of the material and sometimes even run parts of the classes but it keeps the curriculum fresher in my mind which in turn improves my own practice. It’s my hope that I help to make the classes somewhere the kids want to come back to each week.

Overall, though, I love practicing Tae Kwon Do because I know I’m doing something that is bettering my whole person. There are the obvious physical benefits: it gets me out from in front of the computer, gives me a chance to exercise, has resulted in my losing weight and now keeps me in pretty good shape. Additionally, it has helped my mental and spiritual well-being as it requires determination, dedication and a will to improve. It would be easier to just come to class twice a week but I want to be great at this—I’ve found something I want to pursue as far as I can. I now have a focus and clarity on life that had been lacking for a long time. I am confident that the skills I learn and hone in Tae Kwon Do will beneficially affect all aspects of my life.

Today, hundreds of classes later, I have gained a deep respect for this art and those who practice it. I truly strive to live by the tenants of Tae Kwon Do, to be centered and to use my practice as a ground in my life, something I can turn to and enjoy even on my worst days. It gives my life structure and goals to work towards. I am unbelievably fortunate to have found something I love doing and have done well. Tae Kwon Do is a way of life of which I am proud to be a part.