Monday, July 16, 2012

Die, Candle, Die!

 Today... I snuffed out a candle by punching at it!
Me in my taekwondo dobok. Photo by Ammy.


Taekwondo, baby.

During this six-week orientation, we ETAs are given the opportunity to take some extracurricular "cultural" classes on things like Korean calligraphy, archery, and 태권도 (taekwondo). TKD is the increasingly popular Korean martial art that uses just the body and powerful, focused movement. Its name roughly translates into "the way of punching and kicking".

When I was younger, I really wanted to get into martial arts. In junior high and high school, a lot of my friends were doing karate, Shaolin kung fu, wushu, and taekwondo. The latter two of these were especially popular and also made for great performances during school assemblies. I was really jealous of people who could do flips and kicks and look so cool and graceful while doing it.

My parents, however, bought into the whole "in America, do as the Americans do" sort of thing and made me do Boy Scouts. Ironically (on several levels), the Boy Scouts' unofficial stance on martial arts is a general discouragement of them, due to their inherent violence. Uh-huh. And I learned how to shoot a rifle at weekend camp-outs.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad that I did Boy Scouts and am proud of my ranks and badges. But I've been wanting to take martial arts lessons since forever ago, so when the chance arose, I jumped at it. It's about $100 for a month-long course (four days a week), which includes our very own 도복 (dobok, TKD uniform)!

After three classes, we have all learned the basics of stance, punching, and kicking. It's not easy stuff, especially for people who aren't as flexible as Gumby. In fact, our daily warm-up exercises and stretches make me sweat more than the kicking practice!

So, the candle story. Last Thursday, our instructor had us practice our punching style by placing candles in front of us for us to punch at. Then, he demonstrated. Get ready, punch! And the candle goes out. He didn't touch it, he didn't blow, or anything. Just the fist. It was mighty impressive... and I couldn't do it. I tried so many times, and lots of other people in the class also managed it, but I grew increasingly frustrated because no matter how hard I punched, the candle would hardly flicker. I was very angry at the candle. (Hence, this post's title.)
A nice shot of Stephanie and me in perfect coordination. Also, it took both of us forever to get the candle to go out. So I appreciate this photo. (taken by Julia)
I was told later that it wasn't about force or tenseness, it was all about focus and mentality. "Look past the candle, not at it," they said. "Punch straight, as if there's no candle there at all." "Don't think too hard about it." "Tell yourself you can do it, and you will!" were the various bits of advice I got from my more successful peers.

Today (Monday), at the end of class, we had the opportunity to keep practicing it. After nearly one hundred failed punches (with more flickering this time!)... I finally did it! I'm not sure what was different. It was probably an accident, actually. But after the first time, I got loads more confidence, and did it two more times in the next few minutes.
Watch out... future black belts right here. I'm on the very right, and our sabomnim (master) is on the very left. He is quiet and very nice, but also kind of scary because he's a 5th-degree black belt and when he does a high kick, his knee reaches his face. (Taken by Rachel, our RA!)

As Principal Figgins would say... "Achieve-ment!"

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