Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Birthday <3

As I stated in my previous post, we were not dismissed right away after our end of class routine. Master Eric stayed talking to us while Sensei disappeared into the office. I was a little suspicious that what he was doing might have something to do with my birthday, but then again everyone had already acknowledged it, and I'd gotten just what I wanted: to spend my birthday somewhere that I felt safe and loved.

Well it turned out my sneaking suspicion was right. Sensei came back carrying a huge cake, with two candles on top denoting my age. The candles were blown out and "Happy Birthday" was sung, much to my happy embarrassment. Master Eric had also been in on the plan, because as soon as the cake business was done he dismissed us. The cake was cut, and as is tradition, I got the first piece.

Most of my classmates stayed for cake and Master Eric, Master Markus, and Miss Linda had some too. Pictures were taken, and we chatted for awhile. Just when I thought there couldn't be any more surprises, Danny reached into his belongings and pulled out some Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Apparently, while Sensei had been in charge of procuring my cake, Danny had been put on present detail. Not only that, but Danny informed me that the owners of the game shop where I play Dungeons and Dragons had contributed toward the cost of the cards so the present was from them as well.

Shortly after that I said my thank yous and took the leftover cake home. All in all a very pleasant birthday.


Formal Training Week Seven Part Two

On Wednesday Aug 31, 2011 I again went to Equa Do. It was my birthday, and since nobody I live with would have been home and I knew there was nothing they had planned for me, I chose to spend it with Sensei, the other instructors and my classmates. I had gotten permission to do so from Master Eric at Gurnee Days

Despite it being a very special day, I opted to participate in class, as my birthday is generally not an occasion that has gone smoothly or pleasantly in the past. Just a side note: Wednesday was no exception. By the time I got to Equa Do I had already fought with both my parents, and had my mother wish me a happy birthday only because my dad insisted she do so. In addition, I received very grave news from my sister's doctors about her prognosis as she battles cancer. They were none too pleased after I processed all of what they were saying, and still told them I was still going to Equa Do. But, so be it. I needed to be around my surrogate family.

Anthony was not there to lead class, and so that meant it was really up to Sensei to do so. The two Combat Hapkido classes are intended to be kept mostly in sync with each other so most of what was covered I had already done the day before. However, there is that saying that practice makes perfect, and as I went through the drills, we actually discovered that I was making several errors.

Part of this has to do with who was teaching me. Much as I care about Brandon, his Aspbergers puts certain limitations on him. One of the main things that disorder affects is processing information, so it is very possible that he didn't clearly understand the technique before he began attempting to teach me. Sensei agrees that this is probably the case. And before anyone reading this goes off on me for being disrespectful toward a higher belt...I mean no disrespect. He just may not be capable of teaching this particular skill coherently yet.

So in any case, most of the night was spent polishing those techniques along with others, learned earlier in my training. This is because I am so close to testing for white belt. All too soon we were told to line up and given our end of class announcements, but dismissal was held...


Formal Training Week Seven

I arrived at the dojang quite early, but at least I wasn't the only one there. Anthony was there, and Master Eric too. We talked about school for a few minutes while I watched Anthony warm up. I also confirmed with him that I have been doing the home regimen he and the others recommended to me. I let him know just how significantly my life has changed since I began training in Combat Hapkido. He was pleased to hear that I have been especially cognizant of my behavior towards others, as the concept of self discipline is essential to the martial arts. I then received a phone call, which I had to resolve before class began, so I barely noticed Sensei's arrival.

As soon as I was off the phone, I made sure to bow in. We once again did not do striking practice, but instead spent our warmup time doing light cardio (I did half-jumping jacks) and lots of stretching. I used a lot of the stretches I used to have to do to warm up for basketball and was able to make my stretching last almost as long as those who needed to stretch their legs. Then Anthony explained what everyone would be doing for the day.

While the others were practicing forward rolls, Anthony went and got a styrofoam ring out of the equipment area. He had me put my hands through the center of the ring so the ring was resting on my wrists. Then he had me rotate my wrists in a circular motion as though rolling a ball between my palms. This circular motion is essential for many Hapkido techniques.  Also, performing certain techniques with the ring on my wrists restricts my movement, and will help reinforce the idea that I should only be working in a small, central area, with arms close to my body. Master Eric had me also incorporate some shoulder rotation, which when combined with the circular motion and my opponent's momentum, will allow me to throw my opponent if necessary. The last thing I was asked to do with the ring was to incorporate a strike with the upper hand during each rotation.

Then we moved on to a technique similar to the arm bar but more abrupt. Once a punch is thrown and you catch the wrist, the hand not holding the wrist delivers a sharp strike to the elbow. Done with enough force this will either shock or break the joint. I was working with Brandon on these techniques and doing quite well. The next technique Anthony had us work on was an extension of the first. Once the wrist is grabbed and the elbow struck, some opponents may instinctively try to pull away. If this happens, an able bodied person would be taught to step into the opponent's body and strike at the head after locking the elbow and arm against their shoulder. In my case I would bring the arm holding my opponent over their arm, pulling them into my body and immobilizing them from the inside of the elbow before striking.

After that was done, Sensei switched places with Brandon and we worked for awhile on striking a moving limb. Once the incoming strike from an opponent is brushed away from the body, it is in many situations prudent to strike at the limb, either to shock or disable it. This can give you a chance to move onto other vulnerable areas if necessary.

The very last thing I did before the end of class was something I asked Anthony to address with me. I take a paratransit company to get around because I cannot drive. By law, they must put a shoulder strap on me to hold me in my chair, as a supplement to the seatbelt that's built into my chair and only goes across my lap. I usually can unbuckle this shoulder strap on my own as soon as the bus comes to a stop. However, many of the drivers don't pay attention and assume that I have not done this, and try to unbuckle the only seatbelt they see, which is the one across my lap. Having them touching my legs, especially so close to my private area, makes me very anxious, especially when they won't stop right away even when I tell them to. While it has never escalated into a sexually charged situation, I wanted to know what I could do if it ever did, whether it was one of my bus drivers or someone else.

Anthony said basically that should an opponent try to unbuckle my seatbelt and or touch me inappropriately I need to begin lashing out, kicking, striking, screaming, etc. He mimicked the behavior to see what I would do and I began striking everywhere I could reach, forcing him to stop attacking and protect his head especially. Eventually I was able to shove him backwards so he hit the ground, and then use my chair to run him over and pin him, preventing him from standing and attacking again. Sensei missed it, and so we repeated the sequence one more time at his request, only to have him fall over laughing. Moments later, we went through our end of class routine and the class was dismissed.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Formal Training Week Six Part 2

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I spent an additional day at the dojang this week. In part, it was to go with Chad to his first private lesson, but the other reason was just that I needed to be somewhere I felt safe for awhile. Sensei was not able to make it tonight, so Chad and I worked with Master Eric instead.

Not all of the techniques we practiced tonight were purely physical. Master Eric used to be a police officer, and is teaching us techniques such as verbal deescalation, where one would assert that they either do not have what the attacker wants, or assert that one does not want things to get physical and turn over what has been demanded. Objects are replaceable. People not so much. He also said he wants us to start paying greater attention to detail, particularly when it comes to people around us. He encouraged us to look for distinguishing characteristics, (scars, tattoos, above or below average build, height, etc) that set people apart. He had us try to describe Miss Linda without looking, and even though she was teaching almost directly next to us, and I had spent some time talking with her before our lesson started, we found there wasn't much we could recall that wasn't fairly generic. Master Eric was much more accurate. This skill is important because if your attacker runs off, the details you are able to give may make all the difference in if the suspect is caught.

Then we moved on to physical work. This section of the lesson focused on recognizing which hand an attacker is grabbing us with from behind, and responding appropriately by grabbing it and pulling them down across our body and into an arm bar, if not throwing. The same was executed when the back of the neck was grabbed, and the hair or head. If the hair is grabbed, don't pull up, push down and slide the attacker's hand off, and into a hold. Most importantly, if you are grabbed, cover the attacker's hand with your own as quickly as possible to gain an advantage.

We worked lastly, on using our chairs as weapons. When I grabbed Master Eric tonight, I used the momentum of my grab to slam my chair back into him and throw him off balance, also wedging his foot against the tippy bars. You can also pop a wheelie and bring either tippy bars or footplate down on the foot. Wedging a knee between frame and wheels is also effective.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to gain an extra lesson this week. I know if I keep working hard, I can achieve my goal of becoming an instructor.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Test Anxiety

Last night I shared with all of you that I had received permission to test for white belt and my dobok when I felt ready. I was confident when answering Anthony's questions yesterday, but when I woke up this morning, my excitement had waned a bit and I realized I was unsure.

Part of it is that no one can make me 100 percent aware of how the test works. What I mean is, Sensei can't (and shouldn't) tell me what I will be tested on and in what order. Am I really ready for anything? The other problem I'm facing is that my training is so  different from that of my classmates. Most of their work is unarmed, while I am being trained to fight with a cane. But then again, they have to learn and properly execute kicks and I don't, so I guess it balances out. I'm assuming that because I train with a weapon at times, I will need to be prepared to demonstrate those skills when I test.

What it really comes down to is that I need to stop doubting myself. I need to stop selling myself short to others as well. Sensei told me last night that the time I was allowed to spend watching Spike was actually a test of sorts, to see if I was ready to attempt the test for my white belt. Part of any student's job at Equa Do is to take those who are less experienced than they are, and help them to learn. By managing to keep control of Spike I showed that I can keep abreast of a situation and correct improper behavior or technique. Also, several of the younger students kept asking me to either give them Spike's leash or allow the leash to drop altogether. I gently refused each time, telling them Master Eric had specifically asked for my assistance.  This showed Master Eric that I can follow instructions, and also that I know my duty. Had I let Spike run, he would have headed straight for the training area to see all the people, and possibly gotten hurt. This is the same reason I did not take Spike outside where he might have been able to pull me into the street. I would need to place similar limits on what inexperienced students can attempt during training, or at least enforce the ones the other instructors set.

When Sensei and I originally talked about when I would test for my white belt, he said that I would probably need to wait until the testing day after this one. However last night, he told me what had changed. Firstly he said that I was one of the faster learners in my class and I pick up new skills quickly. When corrected, I only need to be shown once or twice before the correct technique is routinely implemented. Secondly, I show up for class on time or early, dressed appropriately, and ready to work. Dojang ettiquite is always observed, from my attire, to respect for my training space, to how I address my instructors. I very rarely take breaks during class, preferring to shake off any discomfort and continue to work. Anything I am given to practice at home is always done, sometimes a little overdone. This has shown Sensei, Anthony, Master Eric and Master Markus that I am dedicated, though I manage to enjoy myself as well.

Even more importantly, I can not only learn and perform techniques well, but I am able to articulate them to others when needed. That has been evidenced both by this blog, and the work I have done with Chad, whether at the school or in private. This is the mark of someone who may one day become an instructor, and Sensei said because of our relationship, and the fact that he is my teacher, I will more than likely end up working with him.

I think right now what is making me afraid is that this is something I want so badly. I'm afraid I'll convince myself that I'm ready just to take the chance and fail. And I'm afraid of disappointing so many people that I love and care about at once. What would Master Eric, or Anthony, Miss Linda, Master Markus, or even Sensei think, if I blew it on some small mistake?

The rational side of me says that won't happen. And I know that. But my parents would have seen a failure at something like this as a reason I couldn't continue to participate in the classes. That's what they did to me with wheelchair basketball. I only played in one game and we lost so horribly that my parents said they couldn't see me getting any better and for as far as they had to drive to get to practice it wasn't worth the effort on their part. And given the expensive testing fee I'm afraid to spend the money if there is even a chance I might fail.

Its clear that I have a bit more soul searching to do. I'm going to wait another week, and as long as next week goes well I will submit the form for permission to test to Anthony. I know Anthony and Sensei, not to mention Master Eric, would not be supportive of me testing if it were not the right step to take.



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Formal Training Week Six

This week was my first week of training where I had a full day of college coursework beforehand. Surprisingly, I was not too fatigued to train. I got to the dojang super early again, since the bus company had to give me an earlier ride over there than I usually have. I know I have beaten Master Eric there before, but this time, not only did I beat Master Eric, I beat Master Markus as well. The good news was that Anthony was back! I got to watch him warm up and prep for the beginning Tae Kwon Do class. Before long Master Markus and Master Eric arrived as well.

As has been the trend for the last few weeks, Master Eric brought along his chihuahua, Spike. Spike and I get along quite well and I really enjoy playing with him when I am not training. The only difference is that tonight, when Master Eric brought the last load of things into the dojang from his car, he handed me Spike's leash and asked me to watch him until it was time for class. To me, this was a huge vote of confidence in me, that I would be asked to watch something I know to be very precious to Master Eric and his family. Spike enjoyed running around Equa Do with me following as best I could, stopping to give everyone he saw puppy kisses, including Sensei and Brandon when they arrived.

Soon though, it was time for class. Anthony had me do a different warm up today while the others were working on jumping jacks. He told me to hold my hands in ready position, and picture the position of the twelve numbers on the face of a clock. He asked me to pick six of the twelve positions and strike out towards them in random sequence. This warmup was designed to help me in being ready for punches to come from any direction, not just in front of me. Then we did full body stretches, along with the usual wrist ones. I did shoulder stretches, elbow stretches, wheel reaches, and neck stretches.

While the others worked on a "point grip", Sensei worked with me on the unarmed deflection my warmup from Anthony was designed to teach. He struck at me with padded blockers on various areas of my body. My goal was to deflect all the strikes simply by brushing them away. While this was difficult at first I slowly got the hang of it. We went faster and faster, then switched over to drflrcting punches and I am now able to do so with significant speed. Then I learned the point grip as well. Basically a point grip means if someone points their finger at you in a threatening manner and you have reason to believe the encounter will escalate, you grab the hand and wrench the outstretched finger back while turning it inward.

Then we worked on takedowns. For the first one, assuming the opponent grabs you by the shirt and goes to throw a punch you brush it out of the way and transfer it to the other arm so both of the opponent's arms are locked down, then strike just above the elbow. The other starts out the same but rather than striking once you have evaded the punch you grab at the opponent's clothing and yank down and away, essentially throwing them.

By this time of the night class was almost over, so Sensei and I worked on deflection again.I began to feel pain and vertigo from a possible ear infection, Rather than just brush it off, Sensei used what he knows of traditional Chinese medicine to channel my qi, or energy, which was causing me pain, and remove it. He then performed a nerve strike so my body would relax and continued working with me.

End of class routine went as normal, except that we were reminded about belt testing on September 17th. Earlier in class, I had mentioned to Sensei and Brandon that I didn't think I would ever be able to perform well enough to earn my white belt. Sensei disagreed. Just to prove me wrong, he asked Anthony when he thought I might be ready to test. Anthony asked me whether I knew certain techniques white belts are tested on, and when I was able to demonstrate that I did, I was given permission to test as early as the 17th. This, along with showing Robbie and Master Eric what I learned, was the best part of my night.

Glad it ended on such a high note.

In celebration, I share with you a picture of me and Sensei, taken last week after training.



Sunday, August 21, 2011

Everyday Superhero

When most people think of the term "martial artist", they don't see what I do. They think, because of Hollywood, that either martial arts is all show and no skill, or that those trained in the martial arts are ruthless killing machines. Master Eric has his own definition, which I much prefer. In Master Eric's mind, one of the duties of a martial artist is to be an "everyday superhero". Those who study the martial arts tap into their deepest sources of strength and power. That is tempered with discipline, when we are taught control, and how to act with honor and dignity. One of the ways we can do so is to help those that are clearly in need.

This is a lesson I took particularly to heart, and I have had multiple opportunities in the past few weeks to help those who were struggling. Sensei knows about each incident, and is very proud. Though let me say for the record I was not looking for praise when I spoke to Sensei. Rather, I was anxious about performing these random acts of kindness because in the family I grew up in such actions were seen as interfering in other people's lives.

The first instance occurred a little over a week ago. I found out that a couple friends of mine had gotten their power shut off because they were taken off the payment plan which let them pay their bill on their low income. My immediate response was to insist they stay with us, so they could charge their phones and the power chair Lauren had been needing to use due to an injured knee. While they stayed with us I made sure they had everything they needed and spent little of their own limited money. They have been good friends to me and are always willing to help when I need it and it is possible for them to do so.

The second instance takes a little more explanation. I was down in the college bookstore with my friend Rob while he got his books and it was extremely crowded. Well, all of a sudden I heard what sounded like a toddler's scream of frustration. I located the sound of the noise and as I did, I saw the mother and her two children being escorted from the bookstore, and all because she needed to have her diaper bag with her in order to care for her kids. I thought this was quite ridiculous and quickly stepped outside. As soon as I did I saw the mother and her two boys, and she was struggling to get them under control, considering they were both overwhelmed and overtired.

I pushed my chair over, and immediately, the children were distracted, fascinated by my chair and my light up front wheels. I introduced myself and then allowed the boys to push me a bit. After a few minutes I pulled myself out of my chair so the boys could try it out for themselves. I took this opportunity to learn that the boys' mom was a little younger than me, and the boys were 3 and 20 months. My heart already went out to her, and then she added that she was going through a nasty divorce.

She was so grateful for my assistance in occupying the boys, but what else could I do? Rob was stuck in line in the bookstore anyway, so it wasn't like I had anywhere to be. It came down to the fact that she had a problem and I had the means to help. As a martial artist, I knew my duty and did not shirk it.

And, to be totally honest, it felt really good to help someone I knew needed it. When I told Sensei as much, later that night, he immediately reassured me that I had done the right thing, and that Master Eric would be proud.

This is a trend I know will continue as I continue to act in ways that will bring honor to myself, my teachers, and Equa Do.


Friday, August 19, 2011

An Anniversary of Sorts

Today marks one month since I began formal training at Equa Do, and about three months since I began studying Combat Hapkido under Sensei. Looking back on all I have done, through the archive that is this blog, it seems like so much longer.

I continue to grow stronger physically and mentally each day. My panic attacks have decreased, I am slowly bringing my weight under control, and I am so much more confident and outspoken than I used to be. I have roughly a full year before I will find myself moving away from this area to finish my bachelor's degree. I can only imagine how far I will come in that time.

One of the biggest things I have noticed is a sense of commitment to this art that I have not had to just about anything else. My parents had me in physical therapy from just about the time I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Because strenuous movement is difficult and painful for someone like me, I hated them every step of the way. Any progress I made was through force. Hapkido, however, is something I chose to undertake on my own. I do my daily workout as instructed, and have not missed a day of training with Sensei since.

Not only that but for the first time in my life I am proud of something I am doing. Master Eric, Sensei, Master Markus and the others don't reward me just because I am disabled. They have made it clear that their respect is something I have EARNED. That makes me very proud. I chose to participate in Gurnee Days this past weekend because I am proud of being a student at Equa Do. No one forced me.

And, anyone who knows me should know that I love taking pictures. However, I don't see the point in taking meaningless photos so I don't do it very often. And when I do, the photos are hardly ever shared with anyone. Well, just look at all the photos that have wound up on this blog. Each one was taken because I genuinely want to share everything I can about Hapkido with both friends and strangers alike. The pictures I post here are also posted to my facebook.

I do my best to act each day in a way that brings honor and dignity to Equa Do, meaning that I carefully control my behavior and bearing. I find myself performing more and more random acts of kindness, simply because I know its the right thing to do. I know it would make my teachers, Sensei especially, proud, and it makes me feel good too.

So, what lies in my future? Well, the sky is the limit. My overall goal is to earn at least a second degree black belt, which would also allow me to become certified as a sensei and open my own dojang. I have years of study to complete before I get there but I know it is something I can do. This winter, as far as what I know right now, I will at last be ready to test for my white belt and dobok. Baby steps, one foot in front of the other. As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

More very soon,


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Formal Training Week Five

Chad came with me again this week, for the last time before school begins on Monday. I got there an hour and a half early and sat and talked with Master Markus for awhile. He is someone I have definitely enjoyed getting to know. He expressed to me how proud he was that I was able to break the board at Gurnee Days and asked for a copy of the picture I had taken. It is so strange to have people other than Chad be proud of me for something I have accomplished, but I suppose it is something I will have to get used to. Chad went and talked to Master Eric about a few things while I handled a phone call, and then Sensei arrived.

Sensei arrived just in time too. The phone call I had to take care of broke my focus and concentration on preparing for class, but he was able to re-center me so to speak. Brandon also arrived then, and I was glad to see him as well. As befits someone of a lower belt, I have a more than healthy respect for Brandon, as he is a red belt and that is quite an accomplishment. I also see Brandon as an inspiration, as he is diagnosed with Aspberger's Syndrome and yet is still able to be so successful at hapkido. While my primary disability is physical, the mental curveballs thrown by my anxiety disorder do sometimes become overwhelming and it is such a helpful thing to me to see how Brandon copes with his curveballs from his stuff when it acts up during class. It reminds me that it is possible to overcome such things, and, as Brandon does it is okay to ask those I trust for assistance when things become too much.

Shortly after greeting and chatting with Brandon and Sensei it was time for class to begin. Master Eric made pre-class announcements as usual, and he focused on Gurnee Days, sharing with the class that myself and Chad had done some "awesome" hard work. Then we did warm ups, led by Sensei. It was, once again, an atypical warm up, although we did have close to our normal class attendance. Just jumping jacks (I went through my routine with my cane), and stretches, no strike reps.

Thankfully we did move on from Brush-Trap-Strike. As everyone else was doing a drill that focused on your ability to circle your opponent and deflect blows, Chad and I were allowed to work with our weapons at an upright punching bag. I was asked to focus on the first two strike points of the four strike sequence Sensei began teaching me at Gurnee Days. I know part of the reason I was asked to slow down was because of Chad being inexperienced, which frustrated me a little, but my own technique needed polishing too. I focused on making sure I was moving in a consistent circular motion, as well as exhaling each time I struck and inhaling each time I pulled back. This breathing pattern not only allows me to put more power behind each strike, but also minimizes my fatigue, allowing me to continue fighting longer if necessary. Eventually I worked my way back up to the four point strike sequence.

Then Master Eric came over and showed us some new stuff. We practiced holding the weapon at one end and jabbing the opponent for a quick strike, as well as using our chairs as leverage when deflecting blows with our weapon. The sound my weapon makes when it is brought sharply against the side of my chair was actually loud enough to startle me into jumping the first time I did it, so I can only imagine what an opponent's reaction would be. I was also taught what is almost a modified version of Brush Trap Strike for use with my weapon. The weapon is used to deflect the blow and then a strike is immediately delivered.

After this it was almost the end of class and I asked Sensei for permission to work without my weapon for awhile. He agreed, and we went over Brush Trap Strike, and deflecting unfriendly blows while unarmed. I am proud to say that Sensei was in fact able to bring me up to a realistic speed necessary in an unfriendly encounter. This was a nice milestone to reach. Then, almost before I knew it, class was over.

Before dismissal, Master Eric and Master Markus acknowledged a few of the Tae Kwon Do students, what with belt testing coming up. Master Eric then once again acknowledged Chad and I for breaking our boards. Sensei made sure I knew how proud of me he was, and then it was time to bow out and go home, but not before confirming lesson arrangements for the school year with Master Eric.

Once again, a longer post than I realized.

More soon,


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Its Official/New Weapon

Several times in this blog I have made reference to dojang ettiquite. One of the biggest things that this involves is dress code. The rules at Equa Do state that if you have earned your belt/dobok you should be wearing it during class. If you remove the dobok top, you must be wearing an Equa Do shirt. This is a matter of pride and respect. As of yet, you all know that I have not tested for my first belt and as such do not have a dobok. However, while at Gurnee Days this past weekend I was given an Equa Do shirt as a gift from my instructors for all my hard work. And of course I took the pictures to prove it. I was so proud to wear it last night in class.

The other thing I was given last weekend was a Protek Key. The Protek Key is a keychain weapon that looks like an elongated and slightly too wide plastic key. The base is gripped with the fingers as if clenching it in a fist, but the pointer finger is extended and the thumb is laid along the top of the base. It is used to strike an opponent's pressure points or assist with joint locks. All in all, quite a useful new weapon. Even better it is top notch in terms of portability, obviously. I have just begun learning all the ways it can be incorporated into an encounter but I love it. I would definitely recommend getting one to those who can make sure they receive the proper training. Also, readers should be aware that keychain weapons are not legal everywhere and should check regulations before training with them.

More later,


A Special Milestone

My last post on this blog was about Gurnee Days and the work I did promoting Equa Do. While I normally try and make posts as complete as possible, I did omit something. However I made the omission so that this particular event could have its own post, considering its importance.

During the event, we were challenging passersby to see if they could break a wooden board. Even at $2.00 a board it was a huge sell and people seemed to be having a blast. I wanted to try too, but did not have the money and told Sensei as much. At first he just shrugged in sympathy but when he heard me ask Chad (black belt), one of the Tae Kwon Do instructors, if he thought I would be able to break the board, I think he realized how much I wanted to prove to myself what I was capable of.

Shortly after I had that conversation, Sensei disappeared into the booth for a few minutes where I suspect he was talking to Master Eric and Miss Linda about having me break a board. Because a few minutes after Sensei returned Miss Linda was standing in front of me holding a board. She asked me if I wanted to try, and despite feeling embarrassed and put on the spot, because I knew Sensei had interceded on my behalf, I agreed to try. Miss Linda shook her head, and reminded me of Yoda's admonishment to Luke Skywalker.

"Do or do not, there is no try"

Now, when most people think of breaking wooden boards, they think of what they know from martial arts movies, that breaking a wooden board is "a show of great skill and strength" and very difficult. I ask you this? If such a thing is so great a challenge, then why is this skill a part of the test you must pass to get your white belt in Tae Kwon Do, which is the first belt in the sequence?

The answer is simple. The type of strength necessary to break a wooden board, or even cement bricks, is not purely physical. It is mostly a mental challenge. People who believe breaking a wooden board is beyond their abilities, will find that this is so. Those who are confident in themselves will be able to do so easily, provided their technique is correct. Also, belief in your own ability to be successful is essential to your success in the martial arts. If you don't believe in yourself, you will continually hold yourself back.

So there was Miss Linda, kneeling in front of me holding this board and at first I struggled quite a bit. I was using the correct technique, a palm strike, but was unable to "push past the board" in order to break it.  I struck again and again, but each time, I stopped myself short, still doubting myself. I was so frustrated with myself at this point that I actually looked at Sensei and said

"I can't do this."

He responded with,

"Remember, you are one of my best students and I consider you a daughter. I know you are capable of breaking the board. I love you, cub."

Miss Linda then asked if I knew what a wooden board was made out of. When I said no, she explained that wood was nothing more that complex carbohydrates (sugar and water) that have been tightly packed and compressed. She then reminded me that hard candy, something people break through with their teeth and even occasionally their hands all the time, was made of the same thing. I laughed and relaxed, then shook my head when she asked if I thought I had anything to fear.
I struck again and heard the board crack just slightly. Praise and more encouragement was given, as Miss Linda and Sensei verbalized what I already knew. I was almost there.

Now, I wish I could tell you something poetic here, like,

"I heard the sharp echoing crack of the board breaking, and watched in pride and amazement as the board, now broken cleanly in two flew from her hands."


In reality, I did not see the board break. I felt it break. My awareness and focus had shifted during the last two strikes. I was focused on something beyond the board, something only I could see. I was simply aware of my strike going through the barrier and the sudden absence of said barrier. The next thing I knew, everyone from Equa Do was cheering (I could make out Master Eric's voice in particular) and I felt Sensei grab me in such an enthusiastic hug he nearly tipped my chair over. His praise and pride meant the world to me.

After that, the broken board was brought back to the booth, where it was signed by my instructors. The inscriptions on the board read as follows.

"Master Eric Gurnee Days 8/14/11"

"POWERFUL! :) Linda King"

"Master Markus Russell"

"Blaine Coplon aka Dad. Love you little cub"

The signed board was given to me as a keepsake, a reminder of all that I have accomplished and will accomplish on my journey. I treasure it, and the well wishes and praise from my instructors is a great reminder of their pride and confidence in me.

I know I have a long way to go and much to learn, but I also have a lot to be proud of.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Gurnee Days 2011

Yet another milestone has been reached on my Hapkido path. Yesterday was the first chance I had to do any sort of formal promotion for Equa Do Martial Arts, the dojo where I am a student.

We participated in Gurnee Days, this sort of local carnival/festival held in the town where the dojo is located. The school had a booth where we set up some of our training equipment and were able to demonstrate our skill and invite others to give things a try under the guidance of an instructor.

Chad and I were invited to participate by Master Eric, and at his suggestion we brought our weapons along to be able to work with those as well. The heat was awful, and between that and clouds that threatened a downpour, Chad was uncomfortable coming out in the open for long so he mostly stayed inside our booth with a few exceptions.

One of the best things about yesterday was being able to finally meet the rest of the instructors from Equa Do, who teach on class days other than what I attend. What Sensei said about us being like a family is so true. I feel so blessed to have "Black Belt Chad", Anthony, Will, Miss Linda, Master Eric, Master Markus, and of course Sensei in my life.

It seemed that the sight of students working with instructors or sparring really attracted attention to our booth, so in total I would say I was actively sparring or training for about 2 hours. But of course Sensei and I passed much of the remaining time playing Sticky Hands (See post "Formal Training Week Four") both with and without the benefit of sight.

I learned a new four-point sequence for weapons strikes which Sensei believes will be easier for me to execute than the fanning technique. The cane is held horizontally with one hand palm up, one hand palm down, and maintaining horizontal orientation one strike is performed with the tip and head of the cane. The same is repeated with vertical orientation though the grip does not change. Obviously right now I am working on technique, but once I am more familiar with the sequence and begin to increase my speed...yeah...ouch.

Sensei and I also worked on everything else I have learned in my training so far (Brush-Trap-Strike, arm bars, wrist releases, joint locks etc) including, near the end of the day, choke holds. Unfortunately for me, Sensei had been sparring with me using my weapon and so when he choked me from behind after getting it away from me, the choke was more difficult and painful than I was used to. This resulted in me gagging horribly and Sensei quickly moved me off to the side where I spit up a couple times, though thankfully I managed not to vomit.

Also thankfully this occurred at the very end of the day so once I was calm Chad and I said goodbye to everyone and left. All in all, a pretty good day.

More soon.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Formal Training Week Four

Week four is in the books ladies and gentlemen. Here's the highlights.

We got to the dojo early again and hung out with Master Markus until everyone arrives. We even beat Master Eric. You know you're dedicated when you beat a Master to his own dojo. :)

We watched the Parent/Child Tae Kwon Do Class and were excited to learn that Equa Do will have a booth at Gurnee Days this weekend. When Sensei arrived he helped mentally prepare me for class and also just calm me in general.

When class started we went through warm ups, though it was not what I had come to expect over the last few weeks. We didn't do any strike repetitions, only doing jumping jacks (working on our form with our weapons in the case of Chad and myself) and stretches. Then it was decided we would spend another class working on Brush-Trap-Strike and so we split into pairs.

I did not have to partner with Chad this week, as we had enough people. Instead, he partnered with Master Eric while Sensei worked with me. It felt really good to work one on one with Sensei again. We worked on improving my speed when it comes to Brush-Trap-Strike. While I am getting better, we discovered that I am actually inadvertently grabbing the opponents wrist and forcing it further than necessary. So Sensei worked with me again on remaining loose and fluid. Once I had mastered that, we moved on.

Previously, the Brush Trap Strike technique had culminated with the arm bar but Sensei decided I was ready to learn the various joint locks that can come after an arm bar if necessary. If the opponent attempts to pull against my hold and straighten up, I allow the movement but hold at elbow and hand forcing the hand in toward my opponents body with palm facing my opponent. If they try to pull out I allow the movement again, twisting the arm behind the back and torquing the wrist.

Once I had mastered this, Sensei decided the entire class should work on sticky hands. This isn't what it sounds like so don't worry. Sticky hands is actually a game where the two opponents go wrist over wrist and attempt to keep each other from striking them by moving with their opponent. Most of my classmates struggled like I do with this game and it was actually nice to see that I wasn't the only person who found it hard. I actually truly enjoy playing this game with Sensei, so I have gotten quite good. Imagine my surprise when instead of a normal strike Sensei reached out and took my glasses off my face. We continued to play and I soon understand that I am relying too much on sight to achieve my goal. Playing blind was actually quite fun and I found myself moving faster and easier when there was less anticipation of threats.

The last thing we worked on was how to get out of choke holds, as a result of me telling Sensei about a time my mother choked me as punishment. We covered both the two handed choke from in front and the naked choke from behind where an arm is wrapped around both the victim's shoulders and squeezed against the throat. The two handed choke is defeated by wrapping an arm over and across both hands, finding the thumb of the opponents opposite hand and peeling it away from the throat. Because you are bringing the opponent's arms across the body the body naturally tums and the other hand you did not grab is forced to let go. The naked choke from behind is defeated much the same way however you must remember to turn your head towards the inside of the attacker's elbow as soon as you are grabbed which gives you an airway.

I guess I had more to share with you than just highlights huh? I truly didn't realize just how much we had covered. I guess that's because to me this doesn't feel even remotely like work. I'm starting to understand why Sensei and Master Eric are so proud of me. I know I am proud to be their student.

More soon,


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Side Note...

I have mentioned several times in this blog that I see Sensei as a father. A few friends I know have asked me why exactly I don't just refer to Sensei as Daddy when I blog. There are a couple reasons for that.

Firstly, while this blog is undoubtedly of a personal nature, I have not altered any privacy settings. I want it to be accessible to anyone who might take an interest in reading about my experiences. That means, this blog is truly being written to inform and inspire the public. One of the most important and defining aspects of the martial arts is the discipline required. Technically, to address my teacher by anything other than Sensei is dishonorable and disrespectful. It is through Sensei's wishes and permission that I call him dad but my goal here is to provide an accurate presentation of Hapkido for the public.

Secondly, as I said before this blog is public. That means anyone can find it. Anyone including my abusive parents who have a nasty jealous streak. If they ever did find this and read it I would already never hear the end of it, but the more I refer openly on the Internet to Sensei being like a father figure, the deeper is the hole I dig myself.

Rest assured that Sensei is very much aware of how much I care about him/love him and how much he means to me. Its just I can't post all of that in such a public place in good conscience.




Last night, trust became very important in my relationship with Sensei. We were at Xtreme Games in Lindenhurst and a conversation I had with Chad began to make me panic. He and I had talked about how when the school year started, I wouldn't be able to talk to Sensei as long at night so that I could talk to him. When I said that if that was the case, then on the nights we had to we just wouldn't talk, he became angry at me for supposedly choosing Sensei over him. His frustration at how much I talk to Sensei also caused me to have misgivings over whether Sensei truly wanted me as his daughter.

By the time I got to Xtreme Games I was pretty irrational and began apologizing to Sensei for needing so much from him. I began to say that I thought I should go away and just let him get back to living his life when he cut me off. He told me first of all that he loved me, and also revealed that when talking about me or introducing me to someone he refers to me as "my adopted daughter, Misha". That completely blew me away, and embarrassed me a little, but sure enough when an old friend dropped back into Xtreme Games later that night, Sensei introduced me as his daughter. Secondly, he expressed a wish that he had met me when I was still a teen. He said that had I been his student when I was still a minor, he and Master Eric would have reported my parents and he would have gone through the legal adoption process, something that is impossible now.

I worked with Sensei on Brush-Trap-Strike again last night, and I am proud to say my awareness of events that warrant that maneuver has increased, as has the speed with which I execute the maneuver. I am having much greater success with how quickly I can get my opponent into an arm bar as well.

The noise level at Xtreme Games was getting to me, so Sensei walked me over to 7-11 and bought me some candy to bring up my tanking blood sugar. When we got back it was time to start the game.

I GM'ed for the first time last night and it was going quite well, until all of a sudden my whole body ached like you wouldn't believe. Sensei cradled me and checked my forehead. He said I was warm, and given the pain and dizziness I was having I should just call off the session early. I tried to continue them through another room or two but it got to be way too much and I had to just let Blaine comfort me.

I learned about trust last night. My body was so tired I was literally just laying in Sensei's arms. I was also sensitive to light and sound, so I found myself with my eyes closed, and not responding to inquiries about what was going on. This takes an amazing amount of trust. I was trusting Sensei to hold and comfort me, to watch for danger and become my eyes and ears so I could rest, and to speak for me and be my voice.

With someone as independent as I am, that is really difficult. It takes a lot for me to admit I need that kind of help. As I got older, my parents could never understand my need for this sort of affection and often criticized me for it, so I was afraid to ask Sensei.  But I did and I was comfortable with Sensei giving it to me. <3

More soon,


Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Wish for a Friend

I'd actually been meaning to post this for several weeks but it always sort of slipped my mind. Anyone reading this blog knows about Anthony, the instructor in charge of the Combat Hapkido classes at the dojo. Shortly after my first night of formal training (see post "Family"), Anthony underwent surgery to remove a growth on his back. From what I was told the growth was non cancerous and Anthony is currently recovering well.

However, living with Cerebral Palsy means I have simply had far too many surgeries. Thankfully, none of them have been for anything life-threatening. But I know the support of others is a crucial element to recovery.

Sensei looks at Anthony as a brother, and since I see Sensei as my father, Anthony is very important to me as well. I also know that cyberspace is full of wonderful people who would offer any prayers and support needed.

I am asking that those who read this blog post please say a prayer or think kind and healing thoughts for Anthony. He is greatly missed in class, and I am hopeful that the last few weeks of his recovery will progress smoothly and he will be back with us soon.


Friday, August 5, 2011


Meet Shoki. He is a bear I made at Build-a-Bear Workshop today with the advice of Sensei. As you can see, he is dressed in a dobok, and currently wearing  a white belt. The white belt is the first belt in the belt level sequence for Combat Hapkido.

This bear is significant for me because according to Sensei I will be ready to test for white belt in just a few months. My plan is to have the belt color Shoki wears match my current belt level. He will also be used as a target for my strikes and weapons work when I am working at home in my room.

Now onto his name. Shoki is the name of a Chinese deity who protects against illness and evil influence, taking particular care to watch over children. This is indeed a fitting name for my bear.

The protector from illness connection is not a hard one to make, considering I must be cautious not to over train, particularly with the Cerebral Palsy complicating things. Evil influences...well, my anxiety could be looked at that way. I also have frequent nightmares at night. And while I know that at nearly 22 years old it might be a little farfetched to call me a child, it is Sensei's opinion that the abuse my parents were able to get away with did some serious damage psychologically. Essentially I was forced to grow up before I was ready.

This is why Sensei has been treating me as a child. He has encouraged me to partake of lifes simple pleasures such as teddy bears, playing pretend, tickle fights and lots of hugs. He has given me the chance to experience what I missed out on, without criticizing or judging me. Thus his approval of me buying Shoki.

More soon.


Thursday, August 4, 2011


Anticipation, waiting, bated breath
Is it time yet?
Master Eric, smiling.
Greeting me warmly.
DADDY! (Sensei)
He knows all the ways to make me smile.
Clock, watching, the last few minutes.
Tense, like a coiled spring
Its time to train.
Bow in.
Respect is paramount
Line up, warm up, loosen up.
I am confident.
A new skill.
Another step closer to earning my next belt
Focus, commitment
Without either, I will fail.
And failure is NOT an option.
Epiphany. Understanding.
Fluidity and ease of movement.
Fast...faster still
Growing in power, growing in strength.
Elation. Celebration.
Sensei's eyes are kind, pleased.
I've made him proud.
Hugs, praise.
Then demonstration for Master Eric.
His smile matches Sensei.
Time evaporates.
It seems as if I've only blinked.
But an hour has gone by.
Fatigue, pride.
Stand at attention.
Bow out.
I am grateful for my training space.
Daddy reminds me of the joy in my life.
Still ticklish...hasn't changed.
Hugs. Leaving. See you soon.
Yet I feel as if I'm leaving my home.
Is it time to go back yet?

A poem about training. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Formal Training Week 3

Here we go again. Tuesday August 2 2011 marked my third week of formal training at the dojo. And boy, was it different than what I'm used to.

First off, our class size was much smaller than usual. I think at last count there were 6 of us as opposed to the usual eight or ten. Not to mention all except one were pre white belt. Note that this estimate of class size and makeup does not include Sensei because although he is still technically a student, he led class last night.

Also of note is the fact that last night marked Chad's first day of Hapkido, as well as his first day of formal training. While I have no problem with Chad jumping into formal training right away, it made me realize how lucky I am to have Sensei's private guidance and teaching. The dojo environment is wonderful, or I wouldn't spend so much time there and feel so at home, but it can be overwhelming because of the strict ettiquite we observe, and the high expectations of our instructors.

Chad and I got to the dojo early and were greeted right away by Master Markus and Master Eric who were very excited to finally meet Chad. Sensei arrived shortly after and worked with me on calming and focussing while we waited for the earlier class to finish. I was so in need of relaxation that he performed a nerve strike which left me deeply asleep for a few minutes, and just cradled me so I wouldn't hurt myself.

When class began I was instructed to teach Chad the proper dojo ettiquette. So I taught him how to bow into our training space, hands together (palms touching) at chest level, while bowing from the waist. Then we were told to stand at attention, arms at sides and greeted by Sensei with the traditional greeting/bow which we mirrored and answered.

We went through stretches and strike repetitions, though we didn't do as big a variety of strikes. That would be because usually Sensei is trying to accommodate multiple belt levels. Then we were told that we were going to spend another session working on Brush-Trap-Strike. Also covered were wrist releases, joint locks, and counter grabs.

I really struggled last night. Part of that was because with so few people at class, I was paired with Chad because I have the skill to teach him. This was really hard on my anxiety, because I didn't want to throw a punch at Chad any more than he wanted to throw one at me. However, my job in this situation wasn't to be Chads fiancee. It was to be a martial artist, and a teacher. Later, I was able to talk through my anxiety with Sensei and he said that despite my discomfort with the situation I did well and made him very proud.

At the end of the lesson, I led Chad through the closing ettequite and we exited the training space. Like me, Master Eric presented Chad with a cane so that he could also begin weapon work. I am glad that Chad and I are being trained in the same techniques but again, this also messes my anxiety up.

Hapkido is something that was unique to ME, as a skill. Chad and I share a lot and don't get me wrong that's a great thing, but sometimes its great to have a skill or hobby just your own. It doesn't mean I'm not proud of Chad's progress, of course I am. But Hapkido is something that was special and made me stand out from the crowd. Now once again, I felt anyway, that I wasn't special anymore. The truth is, my mind needs time to accept that this is another thing I now share.

But that will come.