Taekwondo

Hooray… I am now a Black Belt!!!

On Friday 29th May I achieved my goal of becoming a black belt. It’s a few days later but I can tell you that I was absolutely wired and it took me until the next day to calm down. I really enjoyed the grading because I trained hard for it. When I felt weak on an area I worked with a more experienced black belt and tidied it up. My weak areas were self-defence, being on target with a jumping spinning kick and the Korean terminology. My hard work paid off because our examiner and chief instructor gave me incredible feedback by saying that my techniques were the best on the night. I am so proud of my achievements because, at 46, I was the oldest person there as well as the only woman out of five people. Three of us were going for our black belts.

I made sure that the day was as calm as it could be for me and it was. I did a bit of shopping with my son and we had lunch. When I got home I slept for about 45 minutes and woke up ready for the event of the year. Around 5 o’clock I became more and more excited. I dropped my son off for the evening and parked up, unloaded then walked to the studio with some Chaka Khan funk in my ears. When I approached the door I breathed a very deep breath, went down the stairs then greet two of my colleagues then looked around to see a bunch of chairs that were set out. I thought “Are we expecting that many people?”. We sure we’re. By the time we started other students, black belts, friends and family were all seated and waiting for the proceedings to start.

So here the highlights of what I did to earn my belt:

Self-defence

This involved getting out of a rear choke hold and defending myself from a knife attack and disarming the attacker. I was quite nervous about doing this because I struggled so much with it in the past. The evening before I practiced with the highest black belt in the academy and he just advised me to keep it simple. So I did and it worked. I managed to defend and disarm from 3 knife attacks. Underneath, overhead and with my attacker holding the knife to my neck standing behind me.

One step sparring, including takedowns

So this is when someone attacks you from the front with a punch or a kick and you defend yourself and get them into submission. We had to do 10 altogether. Among the things I did were defending then counter-attacking with a kick to the stomach, knee strike to the stomach and drop sweeps. With the upper body I counter-attacked with elbow strikes to the head and a palm-heel strike to the chin.

Sparring 

I did three 2 minute rounds of sparring and boy was that gruelling. We had a minutes rest in between. The endurance training I did (skipping and running) really paid off because while others fell to the floor between rounds I was determined to remain standing. If I sat down I probably wouldn’t have got back up. 

I then took on two opponents, both over 6 foot, with one being a whole foot taller than me. This round and the next were about survival and I survived. The one thing I would say about this one was that I had one opponent behind me which is not what you want, but it prepared me for the next test. This was a one minute round.

The final sparring session lasted for 30 seconds. It may have well been 30 minutes because I then took on 3 opponents. This time I went all out and used the dojang and capitalised on my scooping blocks which saved me. This was against two 2nd Dans and one of the guys who was going for his black belt. I had my wits about me and went into survival mode. It was as if a spirit entered my body and said “Don’t worry about it Grace, we’ll take it from here”. I scooped and pushed, skipped and turned and made sure that no one was behind me. This one I enjoyed and felt like a warrior!

Jumping Spinning Kick Destruction

I am very proud of what I did with this one because I got into a zone where it was just me and the board. There was some noise but if I have learned anything from meditating it is to be in the moment. The other two went before me and broke the board on two or more attempts. When it was my go I felt like a footballer who was about to take a penalty. The board was my goal and my foot was the ball. I needed to hit it first time. BANG!!! I hit it first time and got a big round of applause.

Koryo

As before I got into a zone and this time faced the audience when I started. There was noise but after a few breaths it felt like it was just me in the room. I was aware that the audience was there but it was as if they were suspended in time. I practiced the form once last week and I am glad I did because if I did any more I would have over done it and would have probably cocked it up. It went as it needed to go and when I finished, I became aware of the audience again. Applause!!!

Chopping Roof Tiles

If there was ever a time to get into a zone it was now. A couple of weeks previously I asked our chief instructor if, instead of the 3 standard tiles for women, I could break 4. He asked if I was sure and I said yes. At the advice of my old training partner, who herself is a 2nd Dan, I practiced the chopping technique. I really felt that I could break more than 3 so I asked. On the day and as he laid the tiles on one another he asked again if I was sure. I said yes then he said, “Alright then”. There, the tiles were set. I walked up to them and stood for a moment. Again I blocked out the background noise and the audience were suspended. I needed to do break every single tile. I wanted to smash them to smithereens. I took a deep breath then with a Khiap (shout) that seemed to come up from my toes, through my body and out through my mouth I chopped them tiles. This was the end of the show!

It has been a wonderful journey

The whole experience was incredibly spiritual for me because mindfulness was seriously at play. I went in feeling relaxed and as ready as I was going to be. I knew it would be tough and, for me, a bit like the anticipation of giving birth. I am now going to be the highest ranked regular attending female and I really want to do my best to encourage the women who come to stay and join me in the black belt club. 

Does it stop here for me? No way. This blog will end but I will begin a new one writing as a black belt. I will continue to practice Taekwondo until my legs stop working. I hope to teach it one day and may be specialise in self-defence. I want to do my best to make the sport more attractive to women by highlighting it’s benefits.

Thank you for travelling with me!

If you would like to go on a similar journey to me and receive top notch training come down to:

Taekwondo Academy, 2F Prince George Road, Stoke Newington, N16 8BY or call 0207 241 3377. You will even get a free trial lesson.

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Taekwondo

Here is why I would love to see more women in martial arts

I have little under 4 weeks until I take my black belt grading exam and I am still excited and scared, and even had a dream about it last night. When I went out for lunch with my old training partner, who is a 2nd degree black belt, we were talking about why we took up martial arts and why we thought more women should do it.  In our dojang we have seen women come and go. I was out for 8 years going through marriage, pregnancies, work and life. I couldn’t get it together to come back but did when I saw Lutalo Muhhamad, one of ours from my dojang, get a bronze in the 2012 Olympics. As I went down to the dojang to congratulate him I got a warm welcome and the urge to go back. I haven’t looked back since. My fellow practitioner is now expecting a baby and I advised her not to take as long as I did to come back. 

Here are the reasons why, after our discussion, I think more women should take up martial arts:

It gives you strength

Not only physical strength but mental strength too. We, as women, have a tremendous amount of power. You just ask those of us who have pushed out babies. We may not have as much testosterone as the male of the species but we do have strength. In our dojan we do the same exercises as the men and we also spar with them too. We learn how to use our strength to take down opponents who are bigger than us. I’ve done it. We learn how to do kicks and punches by using our full power. For my black belt exam I have to chop 3 roof tiles among other things!

 

The mental power is the best strength of all because if you think you can achieve something you will. There is a guy at our dojang who is a whole foot taller than me (he’s 6.4″) and the tallest there. When it came to sparring with him I used to shy away because I was intimidated by his height. I told fellow practitioner about this and he said that instead of thinking about my disadvantages and his advantages, turn those thoughts on their head. So I did and got him with some counter attacking combination shots, having him on the defence. The techniques I have learned also protected me from a drunk guy in a club who tried to grab my face. I parried and moved to the side, he stumbled and was taken away by a friend of his. You can develop your central power ladies because you have bags of it.

It builds confidence and resilience

One of the things I wish more women would display more of is confidence. We have this knack, particularly in Britain, where we want to beat down those people who display a confident confidence. Let me clear up the difference between confidence and arrogance. Arrogance is when someone shows their superiority and basks in their own self importance. Confidence is when someone has belief in themselves and their abilities. Now that has been cleared up let’s carry on.

   
Now let us imagine this. If Jade Jones, Taekwondo gold medalist in the 2012 Olympics, didn’t have confidence or self belief she may not have got anywhere near competing let alone winning. Rhonda Roussey may not have put women’s UFC on the map without confidence, and Sheckema Cunningham wouldn’t have made history by becoming Jamaica’s first Karate champion. Taekwondo, and other martial arts, helps us to have more belief in our abilities, particularly as we move up the ranks. When we pass each grading exam there is an immense pride in what we have achieved. I love the reaction when I tell people what I do. When they say “I could never do that”, I feel super human because I can and I believe that I can do whatever is thrown at me. It may take a while before I get it right but I know that with practice I can do whatever it is.

The resilience comes when you get knocked down and get up again. In martial arts you will have a lot of those times. You never lose, you learn. In the early days I used to get kicked in the head often. I used to get annoyed, not with my opponent but with myself. It taught me to keep my guard up. So if you get a knock learn from it.

It teaches you control

The higher you get in the rankings the more controlled you become because you know what your body can do. You are like a machine and you body is a weapon. You know that by the time you get to a red or brown belt that you can knock someone out with a punch or a kick.  You know how much power you have but you don’t abuse it because at every class you take an oath. One of our is to never misuse our art. When you become a black belt you carry a license with your photo on it to say that you are a black belt. Because you have become resilient, because of the knocks you have taken coming through the ranks and, the confidence you have gained as you have met and overcome challenges, you learn a tremendous amount of control.

So if any of you ladies reading this want to give Taekwondo a try look up my dojang, Taekwondo Academy London, and call up for a trial lesson. I would love to see more ladies there. I’m going to get back to my training now as I have a little over three weeks to go until my black belt grading exam.

See you soon and keep kicking!


 

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Taekwondo

The road to Black Belt training regime

It has been a month since I saw you last and now I am back. Since my last post we have all had a week off from Taekwondo training and have been given a final, yes, final date for my black belt grading. It is now on Friday 29th May and little under 5 weeks from now. I am so excited (scared too) and the champagne is on ice. 

I met up with my old training partner, for lunch, yesterday and it was so good to catch up with her as she is a 2nd Degree black belt, and so good to get a take on the grading from a female perspective. My male supporters at the club, who are black belts of varying degrees, have been ever so encouraging. They have said things to me like “You are an inspiration to other women” and “You are my favourite contender because you are the most consistent”. There are three of us going for that all important big one. 

Those black belts who have gone before me have stressed the importance of preparing for, what could be, a grading that can go for a gruelling 3-4 hours. Here are the ways I am preparing for that very important day at the end of May:

Running 

 

As well as training in the dojang I am running once or twice a week at 30 minutes at a time. This will help, greatly, with endurance because we will spend around an hour to an hour and a half doing the many variations of jumping kicks. Running will also help with the 5 rounds of sparring that I also have to do.

Weight Training

  

I am lifting weights 2-3 times a week and this is helping me to feel strong. I am currently squatting with 107lbs and this has built up the muscles and strength in my legs. My kicks are becoming quite powerful, which is very useful with defending my lower half and counter attacking. I am increasing my upper body strength by doing push ups, which will prepare me for when I have to do 70 push ups toward the end of the grading. 

Skipping

 
Skipping for up to 15 minutes at a time once a week helps me to move around more effectively when sparring. I have found this really useful when sparring with people who are much taller than me.

Kicking 

  
And of course I practice my kicks in and outside of the sessions. I have a boxing tube at home that I practice the kicks I need to strengthen. In the class I do demonstration kicks for the lower grades so that is also another opportunity to practice the techniques.

Other things

I have to break 3 roof tiles so I have been practicing my breaking techniques on a pile of books at home.  Splits have been a stable part of my training because it helps with the flexibility that is necessary to have effective kicks. I can almost do a full split now. I have been eating as well as I can too because I need the fuel to feed my additional workouts. Mental preparation, I have found, has been so important in all of this because there have been things I have thought I couldn’t do but when I changed how I thought about it and my attitude to it, I begin to feel more positive about it. I am enjoying my training and am doing my best to be mentally prepared for this new chapter in my martial arts career. 

Next time I will discuss why I think more women should take up martial arts. I will see you next time and until then keep on kicking.

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Taekwondo

The importance of counter-attacking

This week was a better week than last week. I only did one session last week and it felt hard to do most things. Sparring sucked. My son was ill and all of the exercises I normally do between classes went out of the window so when I trained on Thursday (sparring day) I felt like my energy was lacking and my stamina had severely dropped.  So this week was better because my son is well and I could get on with my training programme. The really good news is that a definite date has been set for me to take my black belt grading. It will be on Friday 8th May.

Last week I mentioned blocking, now I want to discuss counter-attacking and its importance. In Taekwondo sparring counter-attacks are to stop any follow-up attacks from your opponent. As they attack you, defend then find an opening for your counter. You have to pre-empt any hostile movements and think very quickly about what offence they will throw to you. I liken it to a game of chess, where you have to anticipate your opponent’s next moves or two. Watching their shoulders and hips can give a big clue as to what move they will do next. That could then give you a clue on how to block then counter. You can block a kick with a hand or you can block a hand strike with a kick.

One of the techniques I have learned when blocking and counter-attacking is to block with the hand then either block then throw a punch or block then do a spinning kick or hook kick. When sparring with someone taller than you, as I often do, move into to them with a jumping back kick or a jump as a counter after you block. It shocks them and catches them off guard. I have had success with this technique. 

  

This diagram shows a breakdown of attacks and counter-attacks. So as you can see count-attacks are most successful when they are aimed at the breastplate. Those who are more flexible tend to have successful counter-attacks to the head/face. In saying all of this remember to protect your head.

We have just one more week of training until we break for Easter. In my next post I will talk about the training some of us are doing to prepare for our black belt grading. Until then, happy kicking!

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Taekwondo

Lessons in blocks and keeping your guard up!

The last couple of weeks have been testing for me. Firstly, my grading has been put back another month and secondly, I have been getting caught with shots to the head. Last week I felt the grooves of a fellow practitioner’s training shoe on my lips. Just as the bell went I dropped my guard and his foot came down and caught me on the mouth. Ouch! Lesson one: keep your guard up until both of you are in the beginning (Joonbe) position.

Last night I had five rounds including two very challenging rounds with two very different opponents. The first round was meant to be light sparring and no shots to the head. My opponent and I were having a good go then, BAM… I got a light kick to the mouth. Any harder I’m sure I would have been sparked out because this guy was way bigger than me. Lesson two: trust no one.

The third round was especially good because I sparred with the highest belt in the class (2nd Dan) and had a lot of energy. As he came to me I went to him and gave as good as I got. In the beginning, however, I got caught with a kick to my throat. It wasn’t too bad though because I was able to carry on and block better. This round taught me a few things. Lesson three: narrow your stance. Lesson four: keep your guard up at all times. Lesson five: if your opponent has longer legs than you (6″ him v 5.5″ me) and throws a kick, block the kick and move it away if you can, then move in with a body punch.

Blocks

When sparring the blocks that will mostly come into play are the high and low blocks. Blocks or defences are one of the most important things I have worked on during my journey toward becoming to a black belt. Defence, as well as counter attacks, are some of the most important techniques you will need to develop if you are to progress and gain confidence in sparring through the ranks.

High blocks (Eolgul Maggi) are essential for blocking shots to the head and neck. In Taekwondo you are not allowed to punch to the head and a newbie to the class actually did that to a fellow practitioner. Needless to say the round got stopped. Only kicks are permitted to the head and body with punches to the body only. As you do your high block make sure you counter attack. You can either do this with a punch to the body or a crescent kick.

Low blocks (Ahre Maggi) are good for defending the body and legs. A low block can also turn into a sweeping block, as I practiced last night. Again, with the low block make sure you counter attack. When I turned my low block into a sweeping block I swept my opponent’s foot to the right of me then moved in with a right hook to the body. 

So that was my update on blocks and sparring. Next time I will talk about counter attacking. 

Until then keep on kicking!

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Taekwondo

Countdown to Black…

So today is the first day of March and 27 days to go until I do my black belt grading. We were given extra time to prepare because Two weeks was such short notice and there is so much to do. Out of six people who will be taking their grading that day there will be three of us doing our black belt exams and I’ll be the only female. My training has been stepped up so I not only train inside the dojo, I do loads outside too. I have practiced the Koryo Poomse every day (except for the  two days I was away) ever since I was told about the grading. So here is my training for the month of March:

Monday: Stronglifts 5×5 (a weight lifting programme)

Tuesday: Taekwondo in the dojo

Wednesday: Stronglifts 5×5 and 30 mins running

Thursday: Taekwondo

Friday: Skipping 15 mins

Saturday: Stronglifts 5×5

Sunday: Rest

Now all of these days include 8 minutes of stretching and this training regime will increase my strength and endurance. On odd days my training partner will come over and we’ll practice self-defence and disarming techniques. This exam is likely to last between 3-4 hours and will include saying things in Korean. No writing though. There will be a ton of jumping combination kicks and 5 rounds of sparring, including a 3 on 1 (I am the 1). 

I want to give a little explanation on the Koryo form. Koryo symbolises a learned person who is characterised by a strong martial spirit. This form demonstrates the spirit of the ancient Koryo (Korea) men. Each motion is a presentation of strong conviction and will, which was used to hold the Mongolians at bay. It shows a persons attitude in elevating themselves so that they can follow the wisdom and relentless spirit of a man or woman of conviction.

In my next entry I will discuss the self defence techniques we will be demonstrating during the grading.

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Taekwondo

Two weeks to go until I become a Black Belt

Well I just found out (Tuesday) that I will take my black belt grading in two weeks time. I took a sharp intake of breath and said “I didn’t expect it yet”. I only knew 5 moves of Koryo and believe me there are way more than 5. My fellow practitioners were really happy for me and there were high 5s all round. There will be three of us going for our black belts and two going for their reds. Again, I will be the only woman.

So when I got home on Tuesday evening, I put my son to bed, ate my dinner, watched an hour of catch-up TV then started practicing Koryo. Koryo is a form or kata that we have to perform during the 1st Dan black belt grading and is a simulation of attacking and defending in different directions. I was practicing until 12.30 in the am and by then I had clocked 17 moves. I have practiced it for the last two days and now know up to 23 moves.

The key to getting the moves in the Koryo is to do it in stages. What I did is to do the first 5 moves to the left then at the rest that go on the side until I made no mistakes. When that side was clean I did the exact same moves on the other side and that added up to 13 moves. I practiced those moves until I made no mistakes and ended up adding three more moves so by the time I had mastered it I had 16 moves. It is 10.56 on Thursday night and I am going to fit some more moves in before I get to bed. Here’s a clip of Koryo. Night night!
Koryo

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It’s been a while…

I have taken a break from this blog but not from training. There has been a ton of improvements, where I am concerned. Here they are:

✔️ I can do the combination of turn kick, back jump, turning kick in a straight line and with ease.

✔️ I can do a jumping spinning kick to head height.

✔️ I have more energy to spar because I have started skipping.

✔️ I am not the only woman in the village now. It is me and one other. It will be a while before we get anymore but I know they will come.

✔️ I am getting more shots in, when sparring and have become sharper at defending.

I am so pleased with these improvements because this is my black belt year and I striving to be in peak condition. I will have to do 5 rounds and one of the rounds will be me facing 3 people and another facing 2. I have to stress that none of them will be female and all of them are likely to be black belts. The thought of that petrifies me but I have to put my positive thoughts into practice.

The black belts, who I train with, have been ever so supportive and test me at every opportunity, whether it is to attack me when I least expect it or to advise me to tighten up on a technique.

I am really enjoying sparring now because I have so much more energy. As well as skipping, I have started jogging again and am now strength training. I have decided that when I become a black belt I will continue until my legs can’t work anymore. I adore my beloved TKD and would love to teach it when I get to my 2nd Dan.

I am going to get some rest now and will be back next week with more updates from TKD.

Grace

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Breaking and other exciting things

Last night was good because I still have the company of another female and we did breaking techniques. I think this means a grading is coming up but not mine though.

So we broke doing side kicks, axe kicks, turning kicks and back kicks. Us senior belts had to jump with it. I felt that I had a lot of energy and found that I was even able to do a jumping front kick to my own head height. Yay me.

I have been practicing the back step, jump, turning kick and can now do it all the way down the dojo and in a line. Hooray, now more zig zags and almost falling over. I have realised that I just need to push myself.

We also did boxing and chopping techniques, which was challenging yet a marked improvement on my part.

I have started doing the exercises I am expected to do when I do my black belt grading. I am working up to 70 sit ups and push ups and I am now on 50 sit up and 30 push ups. I am going to work on improving my upper body strength which, I hope, will make it easier to do the push ups.

Until next time take it easy and keep on kicking!

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Injuries, the nature of the beast!!!

Today’s session didn’t start out too well this evening. I was fine today but then I started the warm up and then the area around my knee became very sore again. I had this injury last year and was out for around 5 or 6 weeks. I had Physio then it improved.

It got worse as I was practicing kicks with me training partner. I found that I couldn’t kick as high as I could on Tuesday so I took it easy. We started light sparring and after I did a jumping turning kick I landed really heavily on it. It felt like a hot poker was going through my knee. Painfull!!!

I had to sit out of the full sparring session because it I had to sit with an ice pack on it and a good dose of spray. My lady training partner was begging me not to drop out but I thought I’d let her experience how sparring nights have been for me for the last year, being the only woman. I managed to do the throws, just about, and the rolls.

Anyway, I am going to rest up for a week and do the exercises I did for my knee when it was first injured. This is the nature of the beast!

Ta ta for now

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