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Respect the Belt… Respect the Art.

Kyokushinkai

Kyokushinkai (Photo credit: kamorphus)

I mentioned in conversation a couple of days ago that I was going to be starting to learn Kyokushin Karate in Japan and that I was very excited.  One of the people involved in the discussion mentioned that the first few months of any martial art is going to be less interesting, but if I stuck with it I would probably start to enjoy it.  I told him that I was not new to martial arts, only to Karate, and that I was a Second Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo.  He then went off on a tangent telling me how Taekwondo is not a serious martial art, and it’s only about kicking, and how real martial artists (like the ones in the UFC) study Muay Thai, BJJ, and other serious arts.

Now here’s the thing… he was very clear that he is not a martial artist, but he is a big fan, and he continued insulting Taekwondo as being inferior and useless as compared to other martial arts.  He talked about the Monk Tournament, UFC, and seemed to know a lot of the plusses and minuses of many different martial arts.

The problem was he had never learned about respect, one of the key tenets of every martial art.  He did not realize and would not listen when told by me and by others that he was being offensive, insulting, and disrespectful.  He kept trying to prove that his book knowledge made him an authority.  I told him that I would gladly invite him to my dojang in Mississauga to learn Taekwondo, and see if he might learn a new respect for it.  One way or another, until he earned a Black Belt I was not willing to listen to him insult me, my Master, my GrandMaster, and my art.

Here’s the thing.  I know that different martial arts have their strengths and their weaknesses, and frankly I am quite cognizant of these.  However if someone is going to tell me how much they dislike my primary martial art, they had better have a Black Belt of their own, otherwise they cannot have any credibility.  The Black Belt can be in any art, from Karate to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to whatever, but to come at me with pure theory and telling me that my art isn’t very good is a very strong insult from someone with absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

The person continued talking about ‘pure martial artists’… people who strictly learn a single art.  In my experience, there is no one perfect martial art, and any practitioner who is serious will have a base in one art but a lot of knowledge of others – for example, my Taekwondo school (Oriental Martial Arts College) does teach Taekwondo, but we also integrate a lot of Hapkido into the curriculum from the very early belts.  The Hapkido complements Taekwondo and closes some of the potential shortcomings.  As my Master once told me, there is no pure martial art because all martial arts borrow from each other and evolve.  The fans of UFC may prefer watching certain forms, but even the UFC fighters use different styles… hence the name Mixed Martial Arts.

I  had visited the Kyokushin dojo once before to watch a class before returning to join.  I had not told the Sensei anything about my previous martial arts experience… I wanted to (out of respect for both him and for GrandMaster Kim), and had even arranged to bring a friend to translate for me.  It fell through, so I had to do my best… I told him I wanted to learn from him, he told me what the rates were, and that was essentially the end of the conversation.  clip12.288115402_stdWhen I returned Monday evening he told me to change at the back of the room.  As I pulled my workout kit out (I don’t have a gi yet, but it is on order) the Sensei saw my Black Belt pop out.  He immediately had his entire class turn and bow to me.  They may practice a different art from me, but a Black Belt is a Black Belt.

When my gi does come in, for the first time in several years, I will be wearing a White Belt.  I will not ask the Sensei for any special considerations for me based on my pre-existing Black Belt – I am a Black Belt already, and that does not change by donning a white one for a new art.  Even in Taekwondo one of our words of wisdom that we repeat after class is Cho Shim… Beginner’s Mind.  I am looking forward to starting from the beginning again though… it is really exciting!  More on that later.

Wish me luck… it’s the morning after, and my body is aching just like I hoped.  I kept up just fine, but am really looking forward to sparring… Sensei won’t let me spar until I have the protective equipment.  Look forward to a bunch of articles about my new martial art in the next few weeks!

Taekwondo: Care to comment?

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t get it.  I have been in Taekwondo for four and a half years, and have in that time achieved my 2nd Dan Black Belt… but even before I started I am reasonably sure that I would not have gotten it.

A commentator on Australian TV watched the competition at the recent Olympic Games and said that it didn’t look like a very hard sport, and the competitors just seemed to be dancing around and waving their legs at one another.  This obviously upset a few people… it doesn’t necessarily offend me per se, but it leaves me wondering how someone can have so little respect for a sport, a martial art, and athletes, and to say it in a public forum is just stupid.

I did not hear the original rant, but I can imagine it contained comments about how much protective gear the competitors wear… and it is true, we do.  I own one of those chest protectors, and have sparred with a lot of people who were wearing them.  I know for a fact that getting hit on the protector can hurt like hell… I have unfortunately broken an opponent’s ribs through one.

Now, if someone says on TV that they think a sport – baseball, basketball, soccer, or whatever – is stupid and not really a sport, there isn’t a whole lot of repercussions that can be meted out.  It can be debated of course, but that’s about it.  Martial arts, on the other hand, is based on an activity that we all start doing very early on… so when The Footy Show invited him on to spar with the Australian Taekwondo competitors, he had the opportunity to put his money where is mouth was.  Here is the video of what happened:

In this video we see that the commentator (whose name is not mentioned) has a big mouth, and makes a big show of dancing around (and to any experience martial artist looking stupid)… until Safwan Khalil (who lost his Bronze Medal match in the 58kg division) lands his first naduban kick, which is essentially a spinning roundhouse kick, and one of my favourites.  The commentator goes down in a shock… but does get up for more of a beating.  As he gets up he is swearing and clearly in shock as to how hard the kick (which was clean) really was, and how far it sent him reeling.  When he is back up a double roundhouse kick combination doesn’t actually knock him down… he backs away quickly, and then drops to the ground holding his stomach (through the padding).  He spends a few seconds on the matt before getting up.

The host at this point feels that Mr. Khalil needs a bit of a rest, and brings his fiancé, Carmen Marton, in to take his place.  Ms. Marton also represented Australia in London, and her first spinning jump-back kick knocks the commentator flat on his back.

True to the tenets of Taekwondo that we are all taught, each time they knock the competitor down, they help him to get back up.  Their sportsmanship is apparent throughout, even to this <word removed by censors> who was so disrespectful toward them.

At this point the host put an end to the bout, and asked the commentator if he had anything to say to the athletes.  Unable to stand, he apologizes.  I am sure he now has a much better respect for the ‘sport’ than he did before.

For the record, I have never been faced by anyone (outside of the ring) who knew that I was a Black Belt and still wanted to fight me.  To the credit of most, the Black Belt is a very widely respected symbol, and while it means so much more to those of us who wear (or aspire to) it, to much of the world it is the international ‘don’t mess with me’ symbol.

I want to express my respect for Mr. Khalil and Ms. Marton for their achievements, as well as for the commentator, who did have the nerve to get into the ring… and after being hit a couple of times, still got up again.  He has courage, and I would love to invite him into the sport… I know that any dojang in the world would love to invite him in to help guide him on the path to Black Belt excellence!

(For the record: I consider myself to be a better fighter than a lot of the higher belts that I train with… that does not mean I wouldn’t get my @ss handed to me in a proper sparring match… I have never been much for sparring because my previous fighting styles go against the tenets of TKD… and I would never want to hurt anyone in a sparring match!)

Mitch Breaking Bricks!

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of my requirements for my Second Dan Black Belt test, I was required to break two 1.5″ slabs of concrete. Damn does it feel good… now that it’s behind me!

I spent so much time talking about it, here is the video! -M

Mitch Breaking Bricks!

T-5: Part One

This past Saturday I pre-tested for my Second Dan Black Belt test.  The actual test is this coming Saturday, June 2.  The Second Dan candidates were given a writing assignment to complete: “My Future Goals in Tae Kwon Do and Why I Want to Achieve Them.”  I spent most of Sunday thinking about this, and writing.  On the advice of Master Beis what began as a twenty-five hundred word essay has now been edited down into two more manageable articles.  Only the second of these, which I will publish later in the week, will be submitted to my Grand Master this afternoon.  I look forward to hearing your opinions about this first piece. –Mitch Garvis, 5/28/12

When I was seven years old I attended my first organized martial arts classes. Sensei Yaki Mendel taught us to count in Japanese, and taught us stances and punches. I was not a very athletic child, and had enough trouble getting my gi on properly. My friend Mark Nadler and I lasted ten classes, then called it quits.

Over the course of the next three decades I took up and eventually dropped several martial arts. That is not to say that when I walked into GrandMaster Kim’s OMAC in January, 2009 I was not a good fighter – the Krav Maga I picked up in the army has won more than a few fights over the years – but I was never really a martial artist.

If the truth is to be told, from that day it would take another seventeen months for me to call myself a real martial artist, although I had probably used the term anyways. It was then – on June 12, 2010 – that I earned my Black Belt.

English: vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png

English: vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In five days I, along with a handful of other students at our school will be testing for our next belt. Valerie, Teresa, Corwin, Alex, and I will be the five who are vying for promotion from First Dan to Second Dan. I speak for nobody but myself, but can only assume that the others have worked as hard as I have to get to this point. I know that at the pre-test on Saturday we were all working well together, and that although we are a small group, I think we are one that will make a big bang at the actual test.

In the past few weeks I have written a lot about Tae Kwon Do, my thoughts, and inspirations. But when I was asked to write about my future goals in Tae Kwon Do (and why I want to achieve them) I had to pause to think about that for a day before sitting down to write.

I am of three minds: The Young Mitch, the Wise and Pragmatic Mitch, and the testing in Five Days Mitch.

As I look at the calendar and realize that, young as I may feel inside, I am turning forty years old in less than six weeks. An optometrist actually prescribed me bifocals last week, so it is getting hard to deny that I am no longer young. Nevertheless I still feel young in many ways, so Young Mitch says that I aspire to be a Master – a Grand Master even. I want to open my own schools and franchise my own brand of Tae Kwon Do. I want to make a loud bang that is heard around the world.

Wise and Pragmatic Mitch lives in the real world, and knows several truths. The first of these is that I am turning forty and have a pretty good career in IT, and that aside from being a pretty lousy entrepreneur and however good I may ever be at martial arts I will likely always be better at IT, training, and mentoring than I ever could be running my own schools. I have also learned that the best way to achieve any lofty goal is to start by setting shorter term goals. As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ Every long-term plan I ever made got interrupted by what would eventually happen, better or worse. I also know that as hard as the first and second Black Belts were to achieve the next ones will just get harder, and I do not know (based on my career and family needs) how much time I will be able to dedicate to Tae Kwon Do. I know that I can continue to advance, but at what rate? I do not know. I would love to become a Master one day but…

…Testing in Five Days Mitch is singularly focused on my Second Dan Black Belt test that is coming up this coming Saturday. I am so focused that I cannot see beyond that. I am eating, sleeping, breathing, and living the requirements for my test. I have to be out of town this week but have asked the Grand Master’s permission to visit a Dojang in Montreal to train, and I will be there a couple of nights this week in addition to intense jogging on Mount Royal. I plan to be back on Friday for the lunch class, and hope to spend that entire day in training, practice, and meditation. I will do everything that I can to be ready for Saturday… but if you want to know what is going to happen Sunday then I have no idea of anything beyond that. From a logistical perspective I know that I am getting onto a plane Monday morning, but my immediate focus is Saturday; Sunday will take care of Sunday, and once I am past this goal I will be able to refocus my attention on other things.

Whatever angle you look at it from my goals in martial arts have certainly evolved over the years. I remember wanting to be a ninja… then when I decided I wanted to be a soldier I wanted to learn the secrets of the best martial artists – how to repel attackers, armed or otherwise – with my bare hands, and how to disarm, disable, and kill them. When I had hatred in my heart I wanted my hands to be weapons.

Today my goal is much less violent. My goal in Tae Kwon Do is to find an inner peace that I have not known in my life. I practice to be a better me, and to escape who I used to be. That does not mean that I wish to learn Tae Kwon Do as a sport, but I as a way of life. I wish to follow the same mantra that I have heard from only a few wise martial artists in the past: we train to fight so that we will never need to fight. That is why I prefer Poomsae (pattern) training over sparring.

Unfortunately the pragmatic side to me knows that the real world is not as peaceful as I would wish for it to be, and there are places that I travel that are not as safe as Oakville. In the past year I have had to fight – not for honour, not for glory, but to save my life in situations where there was no alternative. That is why I train as a killer and not as an athlete. When I train I complete every punch and kick and block as if there was an invisible enemy facing me. People have commented that there is a look of anger in my eyes when I perform my patterns, but they are misinterpreting the look; it is the look of pure focus in my eyes that an opponent might misinterpret as anger… but if in a real-life situation it convinces that opponent that fighting me would not be a good idea then they can call it what they like… it has done the job.

One Week…

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was the title of my favourite Barenaked Ladies song, but in this context it is a lot scarier.  I have been working toward my Second Degree Black Belt… well, really since I started Taekwondo in January of 2009, and then since I earned my Black Belt in June of 2010 but in reality I have been ‘it training’ for it since this past January when I sat with Master Dimitrios Beis and we decided that it was possible for me to test for the belt at the mid-year testing.

I have been blogging about my planning and progress since February, and have been counting down since April.  The testing is now one week from today… and more importantly the pre-testing is today.  Today I find out if I will be a Second Dan Black Belt in one week’s time.  Let me explain:

The Black Belt Ceremony is an amazing afternoon… you see Black Belts testing for their next level and Black Belt Candidates testing for their first.  However if you go to the testing you will never see anyone who is not passed.  That is because in the weeks prior to the testing ceremony the Grand Master pre-tests all of the candidates, and decides if they are ready to test.  In other words, if they do not look like they will be ready, they will not be allowed to test.  So while next week is the hype and ceremony and excitement, today is the real test… at least in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong… if I pass today that does not make me a Second Dan Black Belt.  That has to wait until GrandMaster Kim wraps the belt with my name around his waist and then transfers it to me.  THAT makes me a Second Dan.  There are also things that we do during the testing that we do not pre-test for… one of which is the most worrisome part to me right now… the concrete.

Yes, the last thing I will have to do to get my belt is smash two slabs of concrete with a hammer fist.  They do not pre-test you for that, and it is a good thing too… last time, you may recall, I broke my hand doing it.  I know several candidates who have, which would prevent me from being able to test next week.  So that is not pre-tested.

I had a little scare the other day thanks to my friend and training partner Chris Burgess, who is testing for his Third Dan Black Belt next week.  When I got off the plane from Vancouver on Thursday I got an e-mail from him that said that they had found out the previous evening that testing was this Saturday.  I wrote back and asked him that surely he meant NEXT Saturday.  He replied no, it was indeed this week.  I started to panic as I walked aimlessly through the terminal at Pearson International Airport (it was the first time I recall getting lost getting off a plane).  I called Master Beis, who assured me that if that was the case (he did not think so) then I was ready, and I would test on Saturday.

When I finally reached Chris by phone he told me that his auto-correct must have changed PRE-TEST to TEST, and that it was actually the -pre-test that was this Saturday, and the actual testing is still June 2nd.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I don’t know if I really NEED the extra week… but it sure was comforting to know that I have it.

In other news my diet had been going terribly – I have not been disciplined with it for a few weeks, and I am lucky that when I got onto the scale yesterday morning I had only gained back five pounds and not twenty-five.  I fasted yesterday (not fun when you jog 5km, do a 90 minute Taekwondo class at noon in the 85F heat and then another 90 minute class at night in similar heat) and am now back to the weight I was at… I still haven’t lost 50lbs, but I am within a couple of pounds of it, and hope to be there for testing next week.

Chris and I arranged to meet at our home dojang for an hour to train before heading over to the Burlington school for the pre-test, and I am confident that by the pre-test I will be ready.  More importantly, Master Beis feels that I am ready, and when I spoke with the Grand Master last night he did not tell me I might not be ready… which is high praise indeed! Today he will confirm yes or no… and then I have one more week to train and run and lift and perform… and pray that I don’t shatter my hand again! (Think Bill Cosby)

See you after the pre-test…

19 Days Out: Where my Black Belt prep stands!

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is difficult to imagine, but I am now inside the three week mark.  In nineteen days – June 2nd, 2012 – I will be testing for my Second Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo.  I have not been blogging as much as I should, so I am going to take this opportunity to review the goals I set down in an article in this space on February 16 (Planning for Success: A fat man’s plan to test for his Second Dan Black Belt).

  1. Weight Loss. At the time I had lost a few pounds, but as of this morning I have lost 45lbs.  It is not quite my goal of 65lbs, but I realized something important (which I knew but did not take into account when I set that goal): Muscle weighs more than fat.  In the past three weeks I have not lost a pound… but my clothes are fitting differently now than they did then.  Also people who saw me then are telling me that I look like I have lost more weight, even though I haven’t.  I suppose all of the other work that I have been doing really has been paying off!  That does not mean I can afford to stop dieting – certainly not now, but not in three weeks either.  I have had the occasional cheat day (I had one cheat week too) but that is the exception, and I want to lose all the weight before I am through.
  2. Strength Training. I have not done as much of this as I would have like to, but I have done some.  I will make no excuses though; when I test one of two things will happen: I will break through the concrete slabs… or I will (again!) break my hand trying.  There is no alternative for me, I WILL break them.
  3. Pattern Training: I never thought I would do it, but I have learned all five new patterns that are requirements to test for my Second Degree Black Belt.  Last night my Master came over and I expressed some doubt about the level of proficiency that I have achieved, he had me perform the patterns… in a chair, without moving.  I had to describe to him every step, every move.  It took me an hour to do the hardest of them (the other four I have long since ‘mastered’) but I got through it… Pal Ban Moo 1-2-3.  Tonight I will do them through and through in the Dojang, and I hope to be as confident as he is.
  4. Endurance Training.  I told myself (and my wife) that when I reached a certain weight I would start jogging again.  I have not hit that weight yet, but I broke my word and started jogging last month.  I simply made a statement to Theresa that I was going to go for a five mile jog that afternoon, and she told me that I should set realistic goals so as to not disappoint myself.  That afternoon I only jogged about 4 miles… but I have done it most days since, and yesterday (Sunday) I jogged 10.5 miles.  It took me 2.75 hours so I am not breaking any land-speed records, but I am doing much better than I thought… I even considered running a half marathon earlier in the month, but Theresa (rightly) talked me out of it.  That IS still a goal… but after my test.
  5. Weapons Training: I was planning on performing Nunchuk patterns for the test, but have been told that weapons are not a requirement until the next test, and I have only enough cycles to do what I can.  I have not stopped working with them, but I am not planning on including them in my test.
  6. Sparring: I am not looking forward to sparring, and have not worked on it at all this time around.  I do know however that I was pretty good at sparring two years ago, and I know that in my much slimmer condition I am moving a LOT better than I was.  If I am asked to spar, I will, and I will win.
  7. Self-Defense Training: This is the one area that is a requirement that I have not focused on.  I know what I need to know, I just haven’t learned the actual moves yet.  They are all permutations of things I have known and used for years, and have an appointment with one of the senior instructors to spend an evening learning them this week.  I am not worried about that.
  8. Stretch Training: While I have not done as much of this as I would have liked, I am pleased with my progress, which again is more a result of the weight loss and endurance training than anything else.  My kicks are better and higher than they have been in years, and while I will never be doing high side- or roundhouse kicks, I have no problem with high axe- and front- kicks… and my back kick is still lethal!
  9. Choreography: While I am not saying it cannot happen, I doubt that this will get done, simply because of the three of us who planned to do this together, one is NOT testing, and the other (and I) are going to spend what time is left preparing our actual requirements… when we are in town, because we are both road warriors and will both be on the road for much of the next 2.5 weeks.
  10. Meditation, Mindset, and Balance: My Master looked at me last night and told me I was ready.  He was not simply referring to my patterns.  He knows what I have put into this test, both mentally and physically.  I am balanced and focused, and ready… in all aspects.  I am ready to shut out the distractions, clear the mechanism, and do my best.  I can’t do anything more… but I can make sure my best is REALLY my best.

Conclusion:

It’s been a long road and it’s not over… but I am confident that while I have slipped along the way I have for the most part stayed the course.  When I saw my family physician last week he did a double-take when he looked at my weight loss, and insisted I get back on the scale to confirm.  My BP is back to what it was in the army, and I am focused and ready… and on June 2nd when I wreck those two slabs of concrete I will know that it was all worth it!

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