An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Doing it right is more important than doing it fast

Words echo in my head as I listen to our tae kwon do instructor, Master Hubbard, impressing on the class to make their best effort on every move. It was a zen lesson I’d read many years ago, the actual story lost over the years, but the meaning stuck

How you do anything is how you do everything.

What does this mean? To me, it conveys an idea that your art is defined by your weakest link. That your real character is revealed by your lowest point, not your highest.

That probably sounds rather harsh. But read it again – how you do anything is how you do everything.

It doesn’t say you have to do everything perfectly. It doesn’t say you’re expected to hit the center of the target with every attempt. It does say, though, that you should approach every attempt with the intention of doing so.

When it comes to an art, applying yourself to the form is the goal. I’m reminded of a show I watched many years ago that was featuring the Japanese art of equestrian archery – yabusame. The targets for this art are quite small. But the part that struck me was when the narrator emphasized that the goal was not whether the archer hit the center of the target, but rather how the shot was made.

In weight lifting, form is everything. It’s what protects the lifter from (sometimes very serious) injury. Especially to a beginning lifter, form is WAY more important that how much weight is lifted. Develop the form with low resistance, make it as natural as blinking your eyes, and the weight will come.

In swimming, most speed issues are really form issues. One can grind out endless slow laps, but all that does is ingrain bad swim form and make the bad habits harder to break. I’ve been there. I spent several years in triathlon doing fairly well but playing a lot of catch-up once I got out of the water. I was “okay” at swimming, but not really good. I’d never been a competitive swimmer outside of triathlon. No one every took me aside to point out what I was doing wrong. I made an epiphany one day about my swim form, and my speed increased immediately. I was faster with less effort.

But the meaning spreads into life outside of any athletic endeavor. How do you approach your job? How do you interact with people? How do you drive?

In the more recent rendition of the movie The Karate Kid, Jackie Chan has an excellent line when finally revealing why he’s been having Jaden Smith pick up his jacket, hang it up, and then throw it back on the ground continuously for several days: Kung fu is in everything you do, and everything you do is kung fu.

The lesson in the tae kwon do class was this: Doing it correctly is more important than doing it quickly. Quickness will come.

There is no easy way, so stop bargaining with the effort of getting there. Especially when the prize is what you become along the way.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Looking back...

It’s been a tough couple months. Almost three months now, actually.

As I last posted, I had started a tae kwon do class with my young daughter in August. And I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m getting close to my first belt test for the “advanced white belt” – yeah, that means I’ll be an absolute oxymoron (some would say “minus the oxy”), an advanced beginner. But it’s been with some struggle, along with some time on the sidelines.

You see, I got injured.

My wife warned me. She cautioned me about not pushing myself. She said I need to really take it easy because these are all moves I am not accustomed to… And she’s completely right. But it wasn’t actually the tae kwon do that injured me.

It happened not long after my last post. As in just the day after I posted. My second class.

I knew that these first classes would have a lot of unconventional things in them, being that it was the week leading into the belt test for the students that were already in the class, so it included a lot of “fun” kind of things to unwind a bit. After just a few warm-ups, we went into some line sprints. On the second sprint I noticed that my left foot was dragging on the stride recovery. And on the third sprint I felt something “go” in my low back. My left hamstring locked up, and I hobbled in. I finished the class, with squats and roundhouse kicks and all, but was pushing down pain the whole time. It wasn’t debilitating, but certainly wasn’t comfy either.

And this started me down my current path of chiropractic treatment (ineffective), an MRI which revealed the issue, physical therapy (also ineffective), and to where I am now which is waiting out the insurance approvals for a “guided injection” that should happen in about 5 weeks.

But this really goes back MUCH further. February of 2019 was a cold month, and my driveway got pretty icy. On one of those icy days I was climbing out of my truck, just getting home from work, and my left foot slipped. I didn’t fall, but it was a comical contortion of catching myself on the door and nerf bar. My hamstring really felt it, and for a couple months after I suffered from a lot of hamstring cramps. I just figured I’d pulled the muscle, and it was being slow to heal. You know, being an old guy and all, recovery needs more time.

The stiffness in the left hamstring kept increasing, but it didn’t affect my riding, so I delayed having it checked out. I wanted to get through my events before looking at potential time off.

Looking back, though, it’s clear that these were the early symptoms of the issue that became suddenly much worse in that second tae kwon do class – a lumbar disc “extrusion” between the 5th lumbar vertebra and the 1st sacral vertebra (aka. L5-S1). This is compressing the sciatic nerve, and causing pain, loss of strength, and sometimes tingling and numbness down the gluteal muscle, between the ilio-tibial band and hamstring, and down into the calf, as well as weakness in dorsiflexion of the left foot (pulling the foot up).

The MRI revealed several degenerative issues in the lumbar spine, the official diagnosis being that my low back is "messed up". But most of those things are somewhat common in my age group, and aren't causing symptoms currently. The real concern is that L5-S1 disc extrusion.

I ended up taking over a month out of the tae kwon do classes, but I’ve been back in and doing everything my pain levels and mobility will allow. I’ll have enough classes to take the belt test in December, and I’ll only be a month behind my young daughter.

And that is about when the injection should happen. And while it won’t solve the underlying structural cause, I’m hoping that it solves the pain and flexibility issue.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Following my daughter's example

I had posted a little while ago regarding my younger daughter’s Tae Kwon Do class, and the emphasis on discipline. I respect the instructors and dojang (literal translation from Korean: “house of discipline”), how they have treated the children and drawn out the behaviors from them with a gentle hand.

So it was inevitable, I guess, that I would join my daughter when she moved up to the “6 and over” white belt class. And I was pretty excited about it.

Last night was that first class.

I wasn’t really nervous. I had been told that the class would be in a review mode leading up to this weekend’s belt upgrade testing, so I’d be a little lost. Kind of like trying to take a sip from a fire hose. But it turned out to not be all that bad. Having watched Abbie’s classes and done some practice with her at home, I wasn’t completely clueless (only partly clueless).

Standing out in a class of
short people.
Sitting cross-legged on the edge of the mat before class, lined up with all the other students, was almost comical. Most heads were at my shoulder level. I was definitely the only one there with grey hair. When we lined up for the beginning of class, I had to move a couple of the kids forward as they outranked me (they ALL did, since I had no rank starting out).

Within a few minutes of the start, into the warm-ups, I was sweating. And it appeared I was the only one sweating. Yeah. Thanks to being conditioned to cool myself, along with a 20mph wind to help the process (absent in the building), I was blotting my head often, trying to prevent a pool from forming on the mat. Stretching? Yep, 55 year-old man does not do ANYTHING close to splits. Something to work on.

I made it through the kicking drills fine. Then we did some practice on blocking – a center sweeping block I hadn’t seen done in Abbie’s previous class. There’s a reason my chosen sports involve a lot of repetition in anything that needs a modicum of coordination. Going slow I could get it. Once the pace quickened, my coordination failed me. But persistence pays off. Or eventually it will.

Anyway, from there we did a short game. The kid I was paired with had treated the kicking drills like he was trying to send the paddles flying out of the instructor’s hands. I knew that this guy would kick my behind… Turned out it was a few rounds of rock-paper-scissors, with the loser doing 3 push-ups each round. Whew!

The class ended with the new students breaking a board to earn their white belt. I saw the three boards with the belts sitting on the mat in front of the class, and noticed that one of them was significantly thicker than the others… I was second of the three to show my anger to the wood, and sure enough, that thicker board was mine. The “18+ board”, I was told.

I think Abbie was more excited
about me breaking a board
than I was.

I took my stance, and unleashed my kick. The board still broke easily. Thank the in-grain pine!

I was wrapped with my white belt (and double wrapped – that belt was WAY long), received my broken board, and thanked my instructor (kahm sah hamnida). The last new student broke her board (with some encouragement from the rest of the class), we paid our respects to the flags, the instructor (sah bum nim), and senior students (sun bae nim), and then were dismissed.

Going to sleep was a bit of a challenge – I was a bit keyed up still.

Now being “the morning after”, I find that I’m not really sore, but I am tired. And I’m looking forward to the next class on Thursday.