Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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.


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