Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Retrospective of my Taekwondo Training so far

 Bodan Essay by Bryce Parkinson  October, 2015                                                            
   I’ve heard it said that life is not made of up of weeks, or months or even years, but of moments. In looking back on my time as a color belt at Chosun, I know this in my heart to be true, for it is most definitely made up of many special and memorable moments.
   Recently, during a Tuesday evening all belts class, not long after the belt test while on line for ill Suk Si I took a minute and looked around the dojang. As a bodan , I already knew what my belt level requirements were while the rest of my classmates were just learning
Pond at the entrance to Bulguksa Temple
theirs. The room was busy with activity. Students of all ages and ranks were with instructors learning new forms and one step sparring. The energy in the room was electric with the collective desire to learn Taekwondo and the eagerness of students with new techniques to work on. In that moment, the dojang was alive with the spirit of Taekwondo, strong  and vibrant , and I was a part of it. I know that that energy will stay with me forever, inspiring me to always meet new challenges with enthusiasm  .
   Throughout   my training in the past two and a half years, there have been so many of those memorable moments. And with each one Taekwondo has revealed to me new things about myself that sometimes I didn’t even know I had within me. At my first test for yellow belt, I was so sick I should not have been on the floor. I couldn’t even do my stepping basics right. It took me a long time after the test to trust that even with my mistakes, I had earned that yellow belt, and I needed to take credit for my achievement. Recognizing my achievements is a lesson I’m always learning and has remained one of the hardest issues for me throughout my training.
At my test for orange belt I was awarded the honor of student of the month and had to read my essay in front of the whole school. That day I learned that I am not afraid to speak in front of large groups. As an orange belt, it took me weeks to learn how to do a double knife hand block. I was increasingly confused and frustrated with every class. It seemed I would never learn it, no matter how hard I tried. Then one day, after weeks of practice, it  clicked. I was finally able to do it. The sense of accomplishment I felt was incredible and I learned that I indeed had perseverance.
   I was a green belt for six months, due to health issues. It taught me that patience is a vital part of my training. It was almost torture watching my family leave to train while I had to stay home and recover. Stepping back on the dojang floor was an incredibly rewarding experience. I felt like I had come home to where I needed to be. I remember actually crying when Master Ehrenreich handed me my blue belt. I absolutely loved being a blue belt. My training truly seemed to be taking shape, the sense of constant confusion I had was dissipating and I could see progress within my techniques. It was during that time that my family and I decided to join the Chosun training tour to South Korea.
   My husband Brian and I tested for our purple belts in May 2014.   In July 2014 along with our two sons who were  bodans at the time, and around thirty other students of all ranks and ages, we boarded a plane at JFK to South Korea. Now those “other students” are affectionately known as “Korea Family”. I had never been out of the country before. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to go to South Korea. From the moment we committed to going,  it became one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was challenged and rewarded in ways I could never have predicted. Recently I was telling a friend about one such challenge. I was walking  at the bottom of the mountain trail at Seokguram Grotto and all of a sudden I began to feel extremely ill. I was dizzy and felt incredibly sick. Later on I would come to find out I had Vertigo.  I had to send my son Dylan  to get my husband who had walked on ahead of us. At that point my friend interrupted me, asking me if I had my husband take me back to the hotel or at least back to sit on the bus. I was puzzled, and told them that no, with my husband and a friend’s help, I went up the mountain and saw the Buddha and came back down with the group. I might have been last going up and coming down, but I did it. I realized that it never occurred to me to not go up the mountain. Korea showed me without a doubt that I have indomitable spirit. And that was only one part of one afternoon there.

A month or so after returning home, I became a red belt. It was then that a member of my “Korea Family” asked me a very important question. One that has stayed with me almost every day since he asked it. How had my time in Korea changed me ? Every time I ask myself that question , I come up with a new answer. From a better cultural and historical understanding of the land that Taekwondo originates from, to a better understanding of myself, and why I train, the answer is continually unfolding to me, even a year later.

By brown belt I had been volunteering on the Leadership Team for a few months, and found that I truly loved working with the children. I knew then that I wanted to become an assistant instructor, and that I wanted to specifically work with our youth population. That is another new thing Taekwondo has taught me about myself. I love working with children. Soon my belt went from brown to high brown and that first appearance of black in a belt came in. I became even more focused on training, knowing that soon I would become a black belt candidate.

   When I finally became a bodan, everything about the belt was different than my previous belt ranks. While my classmates were learning new techniques, I was perfecting ones that I had learned over the past two and a half years. I also had more time to reflect on those special moments that made up my training   so far. Like learning to fall with the Garretts or working with Master Ehrenreich for twenty minutes to get the first step of Plagwe Oh jang right. Or meeting Grandmaster Chun for the first time.
  As my time as a color belt comes to a close, I realize how much I am going to miss this important time of my training. I have been blessed with extremely knowledgeable and compassionate instructors, and a very supportive group of peers. While I know that these things will not  change once I become a black belt, I also know everything will change. That this is a first milestone along a lifelong journey. A journey full of revelations of all kinds.  Training in traditional Taekwondo at Chosun has changed my life forever. It has taken me places, physically, spiritually mentally and even literally ( Korea !) that I never dreamed possible.

As Master Cook frequently says: “Upwards and onwards!” 

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