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!

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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!

The One Inch Punch

As many of you know I have been forced to take a break from Taekwondo since my auto accident in December.  That does not mean that when asked I cannot suit up to help the judging at the Colour Belt Grading Tests.  I did that this Wednesday, and afterwards some of us were hanging out chatting.  I decided to try something I had never done before… although I have thought about it for years.  I wanted to try the “One Inch Punch” as made famous by the Dragon Bruce Lee (see article).

Of course my left shoulder is still wrecked, but my right side is mostly fine.  I gave it a shot, and although it hurt a bit it worked!  Master David Kim held a very knotty board for me while Instructor Peter Wolchak filmed it for us.  The board was much harder than most boards we use, but I figured I would try anyways.  Here it is!

Thanks to Master David Kim for holding and Instructor Peter Wolchak for filming!

Visiting With The Dragon

BLeeGr25 (800x600)Most of you know by now that I am a martial artist.  I have written enough about Tae Kwon Do over the years that even if you only visit my blog occasionally you are likely to have come across something about TKD.  For all of these years that I have been going to Seattle I never realized that Bruce Lee’s grave was there.  When I found that out a few months ago I vowed to make it a point of visiting it on my next trip… and I did. 

Saturday was a cloudy but dry day, and I met a friend for breakfast.  I told him about my plans for the afternoon, and he was happy to join me.  While not a martial artist himself, he has a great deal of respect for the arts, and like many people of our generation is a fan of Bruce Lee’s movies.  So together we looked it up on the map and figured out where we were headed, and after picking up my uniform at my hotel we headed out to the Lakeview Cemetery, a few miles north of downtown.

As we pulled into the cemetery we realized that it was too big to just look aimlessly, so we asked a couple of people if they knew where it was.  ‘Over that way… just look for the crowd of people – you won’t be the only ones today!’  So we followed the directions, and sure enough there was a crowd there.  We got out of the car, I handed Jared my camera and donned my uniform.  I tied my Black Belt with the solemnity that such an occasion deserves, and straightened my uniform before walking over.

There were several people there milling about, taking pictures, and talking about their favorite Bruce Lee movie, move, or whatever.  Some of the visitors were Caucasian, some Asian, and a few African and Middle-Eastern; it depended on the minute, because most of them came, saw, took a picture, and left.  That was not what I had in mind.

I have been to many solemn places throughout my travels, and I can honestly say that this was among those that touched me the most.  I do not know if it is because of my love of martial arts and Bruce Lee’s contributions to them, or the fact that it was his movies that first got me excited about martial arts (as well as my fascination with nunchuks) when I was hardly ten years old.  I do know that I was moved just being there… and the fact that his son Brandon is buried next to him sent shivers down my spine.

BLeeGr04 (800x600)Visitors came and went, but I was not there for a photo op or ‘to say that I had done it.’ Frankly I was not really sure what I was going to do when I got there… I only knew that it was something that I had to do – a pilgrimage if you like.  I suppose a lot of people go to a lot of places ‘not knowing’ and figure it out when they get there.

The first thing I did when I walked over was exactly what I do when I face my GrandMaster in a class; I got onto my knees, put my hands to my head, and bowed down.  In many Oriental cultures bowing is a show of respect, and the lower you bow the more respect you show.  Bruce Lee deserves as much respect as anyone in the martial arts – dead or alive.  I was the only person in a dobok (Tae Kwon Do uniform) – or any other martial arts uniform for that matter – and the people there seemed to understand that I was not only there as a tourist, but to pay my respects.  They made place for me, and as I got to my knees to bow all of the chatter stopped.  Maybe it was simply that I tuned it all out, but I heard the birds chirping, I heard the leaves on the nearby trees moving with the wind – I heard and felt the world at peace.  This is the state that we try to achieve when we meditate before our classes, and how it should be when experiencing a private moment alone while you are surrounded by people.

BLeeGr19 (800x600)When I said I did not know what I was going to do when I got there I am not kidding, but when I was there I had so many things that I wanted to do… I bowed several times, I tied my belt around his headstone hoping that his wisdom and ability might be mystically transferred to me, and in keeping with my roots I left a stone on both his and Brandon’s graves as a reminder that I was there.  While most people leave flowers, the Jewish custom is to leave a stone, because flowers wilt but the stone never does.  I was surprised later, when I was checking the pictures that Jared had taken, that he took a picture of these stones.  I was glad for that, because I likely would not have remembered.  However I think knowing Bruce Lee’s teachings he would appreciate the stone – he taught us about the different components of rocks and water, and how two rocks might collide, but the flowing water can move and shape mountains, so we should be like water.  I looked around for several minutes until I found the most perfect stone that I could find, and I cleaned it off before leaving it for him.

Empty your mind. Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.

As I said there was a nearly constant flow of people, but I was thrilled that for several minutes I was able to be alone with my thoughts.  I sat on the bench that faces the graves, I put my hands in my lap, and I guess I had a conversation with Bruce Lee.  I thanked him for his contributions to the martial arts – while he was not alone, he was among the first oriental instructors who agreed to teach martial arts to guay-loh (non-Chinese).  Without his push many Westerners who have studied and practiced and fallen in love with the beauty of Chinese and Oriental culture over the past fifty years probably would not have had the opportunity to do so.  As I sat there with my Black Belt I meditated on that thought, and wondered what I would have done in a western world bereft of martial arts.  Even if the credit for that were to go to someone else, I was never inspired by David Carradine.  After Bruce Lee there was Sho Kosugi, and later Jackie Chan… but it was Bruce Lee who started it all for us… it was he who introduced the western world to the beauty of Kung Fu.

BLeeGr15 (800x600) BLeeGr14 (800x600)

BLeeGr16I do not know how long I sat there, but the pictures show that many people came and went as I had my conversation (in my mind) with The Dragon.  I asked him for wisdom, and while that may sound silly, in preparing this piece I stumbled across a page of his quotes, and feel that I am wiser for having read them.  They also reminded me that no matter how great we may get, the ultimate goal must always be humility.  We cannot do what we do for grandeur, only for self-awareness and self-improvement.  “I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine.’  ‘You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being.’ ‘The word “star” is an illusion… it’s something that the public calls you.  You should look upon oneself as an actor.’  All of these and a hundred more remind me that the greatest icon in the history of martial arts movies was the humblest of men, aspiring only to live, to share life’s beauty.  He was a teacher, an innovator, and an incredible influence on untold thousands like myself who likely never would have enrolled in a karate class had it not been for him.

Bruce Lee was taken from us far too soon – he died on July 20th, 1973 – two weeks after my first birthday.  He was a few months shy of his 33rd birthday, and yet look at the impression he left on so many of us… on the world, really.  dozens of good and thousands of bad martial arts movies all stemmed from his movies – they were big in the Orient before him, but he introduced the world to Kung Fu – and the martial arts.  His son Brandon Bruce Lee also died at a very young age – he was twenty-eight when an accident on the set of the movie The Crow took him from us.  It is a sad legacy… but he is still survived by Shannon Lee, his daughter.

Everyone knows the name Bruce Lee, and his face adorns posters and t-shirts all over the world, nearly forty years after his death.  Had he not died of a brain edema in 1973 he would be seventy-two years old today; like many of the greats who died too soon during that period (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, etc…) his contributions to culture would be impossible for most people who lived three times as long… we will remember him forever.

Thank you, Sifu! -M

BLeeGr05

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!)

Calgary Taekwondo Academy

Black belt, 2nd dan

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

I found myself in Calgary this week with a free evening, so in the afternoon I typed a few keywords into my favorite search engine to see what I could find.

Dojang Calgary Taekwondo

I got several hits, but the most promising of these (apart from the proximity to my hotel, I liked what I saw on their website) was the Calgary Taekwondo Academy.  I was glad that their website had their class schedule, and that they had an Open class listed from 6:30 to 7:30, which meant I could be back at my hotel and showered in time for our dinner reservations.  I called but got the voicemail, and decided to take a chance.  I packed up my uniform and got a taxi.

The dojang is in an unassuming strip mall across from a soccer pitch.  It was different from most that I had visited in that the waiting/observation room was walled off from the actual gym area.  Instead of a locker room there were changing booths reminiscent of a clothing store.  The children’s class was still going on (behind a closed door, visible through a window) so I knew I was on time.  I changed into my dobok and waited patiently for the class to be dismissed.

When the door finally opened I met Senior Instructor Kim.  As I always do I bowed, introduced myself, and told her my story.  ‘I have the honour of training under GrandMaster Hyung Chul Kim in Mississauga, Ontario.  I am visiting Calgary for three days and would be honoured if you would allow me to join your class.’

The Instructor was very friendly, and told me that of course I could.  There was one more thing I had to tell her.  In martial arts it is extremely important to be up front and transparent, especially when your belt misrepresents your rank.  I explained to her that I earned my Second Dan Black Belt the previous Saturday, and that the actual belt had not been ready in time.  She thanked me for my honesty, and asked me what poomsaes I had learned for my last test.

The warm up drills are different and the same in every dojang, and because this was an Open class (all levels welcome) they were light to moderate in intensity.  We jogged around the gym for ten minutes, incorporating some kicks then lined up for ten minutes of stretching.

We then ran several minutes of back-and-forth drills, assuming stances, throwing punches and blocks as we walked (in our stance) from one side of the floor to the other.  Finally we lined up for Poomsaes.

While each style of Taekwondo will have a variety of different poomsaes, within the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Federation) Kwans there are several patterns that all students will know (depending on their level).  As we would do in an Open Class at OMAC, the Master started the group off with Tae Guk 1, then Tae Guk 2, 3, and 4.  As we completed each pattern she would excuse the lower belts to practice their own patterns.

Once all of the junior belts were gone, we proceeded to Koryo – a pattern which our system learns to test for the Second Junior Black Belt (Black with a red stripe), and then has to perform again for the First Dan.  While I was solid on the Tae Guks I was surprised that I took a misstep during Koryo, which was once my favorite poomsae.  The Instructor noticed this of course, and helped me with it.  She then asked me to work alone for a few minutes while she helped the junior students.

I noted to Theresa the night before that it had been a long time since I had gone more than a day without running through all of the Second Dan poomsaes that I needed for my test, so after I ran through Koryo again I did just that – I was working on Ship Su when the Instructor came back and asked me about it.

There are literally hundreds of poomsaes in Taekwondo, and not all schools learn the same ones – even within the same system.  I showed her what I was doing, and apologized that my side kicks were not very solid.  She understood my reasons, and asked if I would like to work on kicking drills.  I was delighted, and the rest of the class was spent doing just that.

I got a great workout, but more than that I am happy that I discovered a dojang that shares and teaches the same principles as OMAC, and in a city that I visit several times per year.  I spoke with the Instructor after class and asked if it would be alright for me to come back when I am in town, and she was pleased to welcome me back.  The next time I am in Calgary I know where I will be spending my free evenings!

My Future Goals in Tae Kwon Do and Why I Want to Achieve Them

On Saturday May 26th 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, 5/31/12

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 first Tae Kwon Do class 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.

My reasons for studying Tae Kwon Do are simple: 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 more as a way of life. I wish to follow the same mantra that I have heard from 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 when I train I understand the importance of completing 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 observer 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.

Black belt, 2nd danWhen I joined Grand Master Kim’s OMAC in January of 2009 I did so to support my son, and to have an activity in common with him. While Aaron did not immerse himself in Tae Kwon Do, I fell in love with it, with the help and guidance of a couple of special individuals to whom I owe everything. I have on several occasions reevaluated my reasons for dedicating as much time as I do to Tae Kwon Do, both in and out of the Dojang. So many of my students (in IT, not Tae Kwon Do), friends, colleagues, readers, and people I meet on airplanes have heard about my testing by now that I am sure the lot of them are sick of it. My blog (which was chosen as one of the top IT blogs worldwide recently) currently has eight articles on my training and progress… more I recon than I have written about computers in the last month.

As Tae Kwon Do seems to be a big part of my life, then the better question may be what are the goals I have in life, and how do I plan to achieve them?

  1. I want to continue to lose weight. In preparation for my upcoming test I have lost fifty pounds since January. It has been tough and although I have not hit the goal that I set out for myself, but I did get nearly 80% there… and unlike when I lost a lot of weight in preparation for my first Black Belt, I do not plan to resume my old eating habits after the test. There will be some major celebrating to be sure, but the morning of June 3rd I plan to go out for a jog… and I will not stop doing that as part of my routine.
  2. I am still not nearly as flexible as I would like to be. I visited an OMAC dojang recently in New Westminster, BC where Master Suh told me that one of the pre-requisites to test for a Black Belt in his system is to be able to do the splits. I am not nearly there, and doubt that I will ever be. I am probably past the age where you would start training your body to do that, and coupled with injuries I have sustained over the years I do not believe it is a realistic goal. However better flexibility is not only possible, it is likely a necessity. I know that I can bend a lot better after the weight loss, and expect that when I have lost the rest of it (that might still take a year) I will be more flexible still. By continuing in Tae Kwon Do, attending classes makes me more flexible every time. I will continue on those two paths.
  3. I would like to continue to grow in Tae Kwon Do and continue to make it a part of my life… present, past, and future. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my life is that you never know what you do not know. I do not know what the future holds, but I know that I want to continue to do as much as I can. Knowing myself I will continue to push myself harder and will test again, and if all goes well sooner rather than later. However none of us know what the future holds, so my only current goal is to achieve my Second Dan Black Belt.
  4. In January of 2013 I look forward to bringing my younger son, Gilad, into the Dojang for his first Tiny Tigers class. Gilad was only three weeks old when he watched my 1st Gup (Black/Red Belt) test, and was five months old when he watched my Black Belt test. He hasn’t been to the dojang in a while but every time he comes he watches us kicking, punching, and blocking with such fascination that I cannot help but expect that he will take to Tae Kwon Do like a fish to water, and that he will continue to enjoy it throughout his lifetime. I have spoken with my wife about this and she agrees. One of the many regrets that I have is that my parents did not force me to stick with Karate as a child (No mother, I am not blaming you for anything, and I have little doubt I would have resented you had you forced it. I simply wish I had known then what I know now). Theresa and I agree that Tae Kwon Do will not be considered a sport or an extra-curricular activity; it will simply be part of the routine. When he is old enough to decide for himself and he wants to quit, then let him quit with a Kukkiwon Black Belt certificate… when he is older he will understand the value.

I can go into as many points and details as I like but the reality is that I decided several years ago that I was tired of not achieving my goals. The Black Belt was a goal, and now the Second Dan is a goal. All of these goals are summed up in the words of Grand Master Kim. I want to be a winner!

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…

Sixteen Days Out – a summary

Yesterday was a dichoto-day.  If I made that word up, it is what it sounds like – a day that was a mix of good and bad.  I want to clarify at the outset that this had nothing to do with work, which was fine (I am teaching a class at TekSource Corporate Learning this week, and have a good group of students).  It is strictly with regard to diet and training.

I ate (during the day at work) like crap – too much of bad foods (I blame Audrey, but she didn’t actually force-feed me the muffin or the pizza, she just made them readily available (as well as the only things).  She also put out all sorts of cookies for the afternoon snack, and my willpower faltered – I had three lady fingers.  To compensate – although I did not set out with this goal – I skipped dinner.  I got off the train from Toronto and drove straight to Taekwondo, where everything got back on track.

I had been really disheartened Monday and Tuesday about my prospects for testing for actually being ready for my test on June 2nd, and I decided that yesterday (Wednesday) was the day that I would make my final decision.  While I know all of my patterns (poomsaes) I had not learned the knife-defense ‘one-step-sparring’ that I need as a requirement.  That is, nine separate (and numbered, in order) methods of repelling a knife-wielding attacker.  While that is something I am pretty good at, I would usually revert to Krav Maga, so learning the Taekwondo (actually Hapkido) methods were a challenge.

vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png

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

Miss Kelly (one of the senior instructors, who is testing for her 5th Dan Black Belt the day that I test for my 2nd Dan) and I had arranged to spend time on Wednesday going over the methods, and she agreed to allow me to record our session so that I could study the moves while on the road next week.  She is an excellent teacher whom I have always liked and respected (she was Aaron’s favorite instructor when he was in TKD), and really knows her stuff.

One of the reasons I prefer working one-on-one with instructors, rather than working in a large class, is not simply the individual attention.  I find that in most modern martial arts classes the focus is on teaching moves rather than teaching why we do the moves and analyzing them.  As a Colour Belt suppose I had to cope, because as GrandMaster H.C. Kim once wrote ‘The study of martial arts really begins once you have achieved Black Belt Excellence.’  Until you have a strong knowledge of the basics it is impossible to start analyzing the advanced.  However as a Black Belt I appreciate that when I learn a move in a one-on-one setting I can analyze, discuss, and really understand what it is that I am doing, as well as how likely I might successfully execute a particular move in either sparring or real-life situations.  I find that by breaking down a move in this way it is easier for me to learn and absorb patterns and self-defense.

Working with Miss Kelly last night was such an opportunity, and while I came into the lesson with a slight knowledge of two or three of the moves, by the end of the evening I was much more confident that I knew what I was doing… even if I might not use most of those moves in real-life knife attacks.  While I was able to execute all of the moves by the end of the evening, I am glad that I recorded them so that I can review them today and every day until I will never forget them.  I will be watching them often, breaking them down in my head, and I  predict that on my flight to Victoria next week I will be doing them over and over again in my head.

With regard to the diet, I decided this morning that I would start a two-day cleanse… which essentially means I am fasting, save for vitamin supplements.  My weight has been fluctuating only slightly over the past few weeks, but it is still about 5lbs up from my low-point.  I have lost (since January) 43lbs, and I have really been stuck there since mid-April.  Every time I have done a two-day cleanse I have lost at least 5lbs, so it is entirely possible that I could test fifteen pounds lighter than I am today.  That is a good goal, but I will settle for 10lbs.  I say this knowing that Saturday evening I am taking the family to a Brazilian steakhouse – not a very good place to diet – but that is essentially the last hoorah before my final two-week push.  Despite my travels (which, between now and the test will take me to Buffalo, Victoria, Vancouver, and Montreal) I am going to succeed, and do my absolute best on June 2nd.

More later.