My OMAC Profile

omacWCLogoA little over a year ago I was going to take over management of the website for the Oriental Martial Arts College (Master Kim’s OMAC).  Several issues, including my long-term relocation to Japan, aborted that.  However I am thrilled to be back with OMAC now, as a Senior Instructor and not as a webmaster.  This week I was honoured when the webmaster, Mr. Al Poulis, added my profile to the new site, which has now been renamed OMAC World Class Martial Arts.  MY profile can be seen here.

I want to commend Mr. Poulis, who has done a much better job of redesigning the website than I ever could have!

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…

Seventeen Days Out: The final decision to test or not will be made today.

Black belt, 2nd dan

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

My journey to the Second Dan Black Belt test in Taekwondo continues.  Today is going to be a key day in my journey to my Second Dan Black Belt.  Of all of the requirements for the test I am solid on most of my patterns (the last one just requires more practice), I know what I have to practice and prepare to get ready to smash the concrete blocks, and I know that if I am going to spar I am reasonably ready for that too.I have to continue to work on my focus – I might be testing alongside other candidates who may do the patterns slightly differently than I do – either slight variations on the moves, but more likely at a different pace.  I cannot be thrown off my game by them – whether they are better or worse than me doesn’t matter, any variation can be a distraction.

To combat this, and to make sure I really know the moves, I am planning on running through all of the patterns blindfolded later in the week.  I will record them and make sure I am doing them to my satisfaction.  Working blindfolded forces me to concentrate on my moves, and not my surroundings.  I actually once did the patterns for my test with my eyes closed, but the GrandMaster called attention to it so I won’t do that again.

This evening I am working with one of the 4th Dan Instructors at the club.  She is one of the experts on the knife defense techniques that I have to memorize, and I am looking forward to that.  I know how to disarm armed attackers, but for the test I have to learn and memorize nine specific methods, and I am only confident that I know four of them.  However they are all still basic Hapkido/Grav Maga, so once I work with Miss Kelly for an hour I will have the rest down pat.  I state this after having already worked with the GrandMaster for 30 minutes the other night, so I am about halfway ready.  Nine complex moves are a lot to learn and memorize in a single night though… I am sure I could do each of them now… but not in order.

I also have to record everything tonight, so I have charged the battery in my video camera so that I can have it all.  I will be spending a lot of nights in hotels and on the road over the next seventeen days, and having them on video to watch will be helpful.

The diet is not going as well as I would like – I am essentially stalled, and that is because I have sort of lost my focus this month.  On Saturday I am taking my family for a very special dinner, and that will be my last ‘cheat’ until the test.  I will then have thirteen days of focused weight loss – I would love to lose another 13lbs between now and the test, and with the right focus and discipline I am not sure that is unreasonable.

I have decided to cut the planned last city before the test out of my travels.  I was supposed to be in Montreal on the 30th and then Ottawa the evening of May 31st, to drive home Friday.  Instead I will drive home from Montreal so that I can spend June 1st in the gym, practicing, meditating, and focusing.  I will not take any meetings that day (I was supposed to be on the road so none are currently scheduled), it will be a day for a long jog, a lot of practice and reflection, and the last opportunity to tweak anything that needs to be tweaked for the next day.

It is getting real… After tonight’s workout I am going to give my Master my final decision that I am testing… or that I am not.  I expect that I am 90% certain that I will though, so as long as nothing interferes I am ready to enter the home stretch.

I hope you are with me!