First of all,

I got the yellow belt after all.

Which is nice, because that means that I’ll be allowed to practice more interesting things now.  Out of seven people tested, two of us were leveled up.  I didn’t think it would matter so much to me, but when the Gwangjangnim tied my new belt on me, and then instructed us in Korean to bow (I was surprised that I remembered the word for it) and our peers applauded, it felt really nice.  For all my ‘independence’ from the opinions of others I do like a little recognition every now and then it seems.

When he tied my belt on, he did it on the first try.  I don’t think I should expect less, I mean, he’s been doing this for years.  But me, I’ve done it a dozen times and I still have to fumble my belt when I’m tying it on, like adjusting a tie– I never get it quite perfect on the first tug. 

He looped it around my waist, passed the first cross, then turned it over and did one tug that in one shot, one try, got a perfectly measured knot with the two ends facing the right way.  I don’t know why, but small things like that amaze me.

I was amazed at the irony– I had spent years telling people how belts meant nothing, and here I was, getting one, and it meant a whole lot.

Later on at the end of class, my Gwanjangnim told me that the overseerer of the exams (who was present at my testing) sent his congratulations.  He told me to take my white belt home and put it on display.  He wasn’t joking either.  I was happy.

It still seems rather foreign to me, but from now on, I’ll be refering to my instructor as Gwanjangnim, which means something along the lines of “master”.  I really appreciate that he’s pushing me, because right now, I feel about as fit as I’ve ever been.  More fit, in fact, than when I was training for the Metropolitain Challenge (150km of cycling on a mountain bike) because though when I was doing the MC my cardio was getting better, I didn’t feel like I had the kind of versatility that I used to when I was seriously training in martial arts.  Not that my cardio now is as good as it was when I was doing the MC, but it’s the kind of body configuration that I prefer because it’s not just geared towards cycling– martial arts training tends to make me feel like I’m more suited for the real world, in the sense that I can run after busses, jump over fences, carry groceries, etc, whereas cycling made me feel good at cycling alone.

As it stands, because I am using  a bike for just about everything transportation that’s not coverable by subway, I’m still doing that so it evens out nicely.

The food around here is a lot less fatty than back in North America so I actually find that I’m getting leaner than I was before (if you can believe that).  I don’t have a scale at home so I have no idea how much I weigh, but I think that I’m trimming off a bit of fat and gaining just enough muscle that I probably weigh about the same.

I really apprciate that the Gwanjangnim is pushing us.  My general philosophy about most classes, whether it’s martial arts or anything else, is that the teacher should spend class time reviewing, testing and teaching new things.  It shouldn’t be time spent on practice.  Practice should be done on one’s own time.  I think that that’s mostly what I didn’t like about doing Jeet Kune Do back in the day, because so much of it was drills that I did on my own time.  I can’t really blame the teacher though… even in the classes that I teach, what really are you going to accomplish by introducing new material if the rest of your classmates haven’t done the homework?  People will just keep falling behind as the levels get tougher and tougher, until it’s past a point of no return.

So it depends really on how your classmates do that determines how much time in class is wasted just for the actual practice.  I think the teacher’s job should, really, be to smooth out the rough edges– you’re not paying for time spent just repeating things that you can already do.  But well.

So the nice thing about TKD is that the last class, things have been stepping up a bit.  Actually, things have been getting more complicated in general.  The Gwanjangnim doesn’t seem to be just adapting to the students levels, he’s pushing them.  Last class, by the end of the one hour session, I was on my knees and barely able to breathe because it was so much work– and that says a lot, since I have better endurance than everyone in my class except the teacher and his second.  You can imagine what the others in class felt like.

I like it when it’s like that. 

It’s nice to be back in martial arts because it brings me back to a time when my actions had direct effects on my life.  I don’t mean the lives of others, although that does come with the territory of teaching.  WHat I mean is… well, back in Montreal, what did I do?  I think in large part a lot of my responsabilities had to do with family, education, and my work.  That meant in large part keeping the peace at home when it came to increasingly tense relationships between my grandparents and parents mostly.  In the next sense, it had to do with getting my education done at university even though for a long time, I’d become disinterested in the bureaucracy of it all.  (Also throw in that I took my courses backwards by accident, from hardest to easiest, so by the end of my studies I was bored out of my mind.)  At work, in the hospital, I got to see a lot of firsthand things that really brought me to the brink of tears– I say brink because if, really, I had allowed myself to cry at some of those things, I really wouldn’t have been able to survive.  And I got out of it all stronger.

It’s a matter of perspective though.  I think now that back then I was concerned about making the world around me a better place… and though that is still a priority of mine now, I’ve come to realize one thing, this epiphany.  It is actually a reitteration of a former ideal of mine, so I’m glad that I was right, although when I first came upon the idea, it never would have worked because I’d never seen enough of the world yet.

The ideal was “if you want to help others, you have to help yourself first.”

In the earliest stages, this is a very selfish ideal.  And it was.  I was a very selfish person.  Who knows if I am still selfish now– I just know that back then, I was a lot more selfish than I am now, it’s a relative thing.

Nowadays, it makes a lot more sense.

I don’t think I’ll end up joining bowling with the other teachers after all– frankly, I just don’t have the time.  Between the taekwondo, the guitar lessons and the korean lessons, that barely leaves time to just waste time and hang out.  By the time weekends arrive, usually T and I do a whole lot of nothing, which is just fine by me because my week is already so packed.

Did I mention that I started guitar lessons?  My first one was on tuesday morning.  I thought my instructor (who speaks no English) was going to teach me chords first or something, but instead, I’m learning downright basics– how to hold a pick for example.  And a strumming rhythm. 

It’s funny because I always figured because of my history playing drums that rhythm would be easy for me, but instead, it actually took me a quarter of my lesson before I could learn a simple pattern that I’m now kicking myself in the head for having so much difficulty with just a few days ago.  But it sounds nice.  In an hour long lesson, I’ve become a lot better than what I’d learned in weeks back home.  I leave my guitar at school behind my desk, and my students sometimes ask me about it.  It’s a good conversation piece, and it’s convenient since the music studio that I’m studying at is right next to the school– that way, especially since I don’t have a softshell case, I don’t have to lug that bastard around with me all the time.

Anyway, back to my main idea– making yourself a better person is the best way to change the world.  I think dependence is the real problem. I mean, I could just be biased because I’m a bit of loner (and I usually like it that way) but I think that in most cases, shortcomings are the result of people who lean too much on others.

There are exceptions– some people are so obsessed with being independant that they never let anyone in.

But really, in the grand scheme of things… I guess what I’m getting at is the dependence and independence, they’re just words– when you really get down to it, it’s all the same thing.  It’s like some sort of great tao, an intermingling and simultaneity of it all at once.

It’s about ‘focus, unfocus’…  if I look at any one thing too much, other things go out of perspective.  But when I zoom out and look at it all, it’s really not that bad a picture when I just allow myself to look.  I mean, we work on details– life is really about the details– but every now and then, take a look I suppose.

To be honest– I really find it hard to worry.  I was talking about T with it last night.  It’s really very difficult for me to worry.  It’s not that I know that everything will be all right.  On the contrary, I really beleive that the worst of scenarios is constantly a clear and present danger.  Life isn’t something about just chance– there’s something scientific that needs to be present in our methodology, we have to be disciplined in some measure in order to acheive what we want.

But for those instances where things are out of control, of for those things which I cannot predict… what’s the fuss?  If I can do nothing about it, then and only then do I resign myself to fate.

And knowing this, and not worrying about things which are out of my control (and beleive me, I’ve spent years trying to control things which I cannot control) has been an immense burden off of my shoulders that allows me to live my life the way I want to.   It allows me to breathe, and not only make myself a better person for myself and others, but it allows me enjoy my life.

This is the substance that we ought all seek, I think.  To be concerned with what concerns us– but not to waste time on worry.  That’s time that could be spent living!