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Day Five: Friday, April 24

Music
none

Mistakes

  • Choong Moo (mind blanked after the back kick because I was thinking about Dr. Tito, our 97 year old neighbor, being wheeled out of his apartment while I was on the way downstairs to train)1
  • Sipjin (mind blanked on second half of horizontal portion of the + shape for no apparent reason)
  • Pal Gwe O Jang (had to pause to remember elbow strike after second side kick)

Conclusions

I don’t want to get obsessed with the idea of doing all of the forms without a single major or minor mistake. To that end, I decided to drop the music again today, and instead of doing one form immediately after the next, I’d pause for 1-2 breaths and visualize any trouble spots I’d remember from doing that form earlier in the week. In addition, I would go at full power but about 98% speed, i.e. just taking off enough the pace so I’d never feel my mind scrambling to catch up on a given technique. I was hoping these three changes would be enough to get through a clean set.

Nope. I actually made one more error than yesterday, although I’d say that slowing down the pace even a tiny amount made each form feel much more authoritative. All three mistakes were in spots that I routinely execute without hesitation, confirming my sense that loss of mental focus is my main problem, not lack of knowledge. The good thing about this insight: 2-3 months of concentrated training has been enough to take my non JDK curriculum forms from “forms I know” to “forms where I have competence.” Several are still far from brilliant, but this seems like a pretty short time to cover a significant amount of learning.

The dark side is that I’ve known about these gaps in focus as a problem for my entire life, and it’s nothing that can easily be solved by martial arts practice (even after 30+ years of training). Some people aren’t flexible, aren’t strong, aren’t confident, don’t have good memory, are inclined to quick temper or being hypercritical, or any number of other obvious failings that consistently make their martial practice less than ideal. This is my lifelong flaw, just from the way my brain is wired, and although the Way can help me understand and deal with it, it will require constant vigilance for all my days.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed after logging errors for five days: in my mind I’m weakest at the Yudanja forms I’ve learned at Chosun TKD Academy (i.e. those with roots in Okinawa > Japan > Moo Duk Kwan. This makes sense because they have more complexity than most and are the ones I learned most recently. After those, the higher level Chang Han forms might be a distant second. Surprise: the data shows that although I may not feel as “automatic” or it’s harder to maintain a state of No Mind with those forms, I’m actually just as likely to botch any random form, familiar or not. I froze on Pal Gwe O Jang this morning, and I’ve been working on that poomsae steadily since 1990. This is more evidence (as if any were required) that mental focus is my most important skill to work on. Although they’re part of my bones at this point, it’s easier to lose attention on the familiar forms I take for granted and usually don’t need to think about. It’s sort of like seeing the word “weird” and thinking “Wait, does the ‘e’ really come before the ‘i’ in this word? Whoa!” because when you think about something you usually don’t think about, it can seem strange and unfamiliar.

Although there’s lots of evidence that Buddhism, specifically Zen, wasn’t really as much of a part of traditional martial arts practice until the 20th century, it’s easy to see why the connection is so strong in many people’s minds. The mental strength that comes from meditation, and the focus on mindfulness at every single instant of consciousness, is critically important in this exact context, and it’s why martial arts practice is often thought of as a “moving meditation.”

Two minor breakthroughs in today’s session:

  1. During this pandemic, I’ve been working out in a former shipping/receiving area in a gigantic mill building. The commercial and residential floors are in decent shape, but this basement level is filthy and in a fair degree of disrepair. Consequently, I wear shoes while training, which I’ve probably done about 10-15 times before in my entire life in the martial arts. Most of the time this isn’t much of a big deal, but the difficult slowly-extended side kick moment in Kushanku is where I really notice the difference in balance while wearing shoes. So today’s big breakthrough was: this was the first time I was able to do this moment with really solid control and beauty while training in shoes.
  2. Not to jinx anything, but this makes four consecutive days of Osipsabo without a mistake.

Notes

1 Dr. Tito is a universally beloved resident in our 50+ unit residential floor of an old mill. He was an MD in his native Argentina, but he has spent the past few decades living in the US and working as a visual artist. When you pass him in the hallway, he often doesn’t recognize you, but he’s always pleasant and has something funny or interesting to share, and his opinions are highly regarded by many of the artists who live and/or have studios in the building. World travels fast in our hallway, and I’ve since learned that he’s having some tests done, so things could be better, but they’re at least not the worst, given the terrible risks these days for someone of that age.

Post Series: Solo Poomsae
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