Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My home gym circa May 2018: martial arts and free weights

One of the first things we did when we moved to a house with a semi-finished basement was to declare that the basement would be a workout room.  And our primary exercise that time was taekwondo along with bodyweight exercises for DS5 (then) and I.  In addition, I had some lightly used exercise equipment (dumbbells, a weight bench, and a Total Gym exercise machine) and this became the start of the workout room.

First, we got 1" thick tatami foam puzzle type mats from IncStores that we laid on the floor.  The thickness was for normal martial arts (i.e. some impact, but we are not wrestlers or judoki.)  This was used to cover the larger portion of the basement floor in a checkerboard pattern (gray and black squares)  These mats were not difficult to cut with box cutters, so we cut them to fit the basement and the way the walls were laid out.  This was a good way of covering a concrete floor.  The way the basement is laid out, it is big enough for me to cover half a Songham (ATA style taekwondo) square for forms.  So as long as I start in an appropriate place, I can do a form with full extensions. (which I could not do at the old house).  So this floor gets used for TKD practice, forms, and drills, along with bodyweight exercises.

TKD gear in the workout room
Taekwondo training gear
For Taekwondo we have a assembled a fairly extensive list of practice gear.  For my son and I, we both have our gear bags with uniforms, bag gloves, sparring gloves, foot pads, chest pads, and head gear.  We also have sang jae baang (nunchucks), ba maang ee (escrima sticks), and jaang baang (bo stick).  (we have declared that jaang baang is not for indoor use because of the ceiling).  But we also have a junior standing bag (Wavemaster weighted with 80 lb of sand in the base), a double kick pad (claps when struck correctly, now we have 2), a small target, large kick pad, and a pair of focus mitts.  The matted area is good enough for pretty much any standard or sparring drill.

For bodyweight exercises, we are used to this from taekwondo, but our real use is based on a fitness cards based on Stack 52 Strength decks. (review)  So (now) DS 7 and I will draw 7-10 cards (he uses both beginner and intermediate cards) and we will do them.  DD 4 also joins in and does her analogue of the exercises as well.

Workout room freeweight corner
Weights and Total Gym
For weights, from my pre-grad school days I had a cheap dumbbell set (the standard 4x5lb weights, 4x3lb weights, 2 handles with spin locks for a total of 40lb of dumbbells).  I had added the bench when I moved to my apartment when first started working after grad school.  Again, back then running was my primary workout, then the Total Gym for cardio.  I was not trying too hard with the dumbbells, but I knew a few exercises from when I did a few sessions with a trainer back in grad school.  And while I was not so concerned about strength, I pretty much maxed these out on the stronger exercises (e.g. bench press) soon after getting these.  Combined with not having a good place for this in my old house, I did not use this much.

After moving to the new house, I added a pair of medicine balls (6 lb and 10 lb) to the mix.  These were good complements to the bodyweight exercise, as they could be used with pretty much any bodyweight exercise to add more of a challenge. In fall, I decided that I would use the winter to add strength to my conditioning and I purchased 4x10lb weights and additional handles, which more than doubled the weight I had and allowed for switching between heavy, medium, and low weight exercises much easier.  More recently, I got the weight tree for the plates (which used to live on the mat underneath the weight bench) and a lot more weight plates (taking advantage of coupons and a sale from Dick's sporting goods), improving both the maximum weight and the range of different exercises I could be set up for in a workout.  Another use of the weight plates is for conditioning.  I have a military grade Camelbak HAWK backpack that I will load with 20 lbs of plates for rucking when going on walks with my family (so what is good exercise for the kids is also good exercise for me).  One big thing, weight training has gotten much more interesting and enjoyable once I got enough weights for it to be a challenge.  Working with the 40lb dumbbell set was essentially a messed up conditioning workout.  I could not go fast enough for a proper conditioning workout, but there was not enough resistance to actually get stronger.

For exercise equipment, I had a Total Gym from many years ago.  It was an incline based equipment that I have had from my apartment days.  It was always lightly used, generally it got the most use during winter when I ran outside less than before.  And after kids it got a little problematic because the track that the pad rolls on is an obvious pinch hazard.  And I probably had it on its steepest (hardest) setting from basically the time I bought it, so it really only was good for making my muscles move, not really for building strength or endurance.  To give me conditioning equipment to go along with the strength equipment, I got a suspension trainer (no longer available when the dominant company, which will remain nameless, used to court system to push them out of the market).  Since we have a semi-finished basement, the beams in the ceiling were exposed and I used one of these to mount the suspension trainer.  Similarly to the bodyweight exercises, I have a set of suspension exercise cards from Stack 52 to provide variety in my routine. This takes over from the Total Gym as it is easier to set up the exercise to be more difficult even as I am getting cardio in from lots of reps (at the end of the day, these are slightly harder versions of bodyweight exercises, but not as hard as using my dumbbells, so I use this for cardio as I am doing a large number of reps.  With the Stack 52 cards I have a range of exercises for upper body, core, and lower body.  And I can generate a fairly long circuit for conditioning.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Rep Fitness Sandbag with 15lb and 35lbs in filler bags
To the TKD, bodyweight, and cardio equipment, I recently added a sand kettlebell (20 lb) and sandbags (currently set at 15 and 35 lbs).  These are in the category of freeweights and along with dumbbells, were the featured equipment in the book Push, Pull, Swing by Myatt Murphy published by Mens' Health. The goal of the book was to explain that strength came from three types of motions (push, pull, swing), across three planes of motion. And if you did this, you would have all muscles in the body engaged (the contrast would be isolation training focusing on specific muscles, which is the principle behind the exercise machines you see at fitness clubs and home gym equipment).  The comparison between this and the dumbbells is that they are more unstable, so in addition to lifting the weight, you have to deal with the instability of the sand.  A second advantage is that they are made of sand, so I don't worry as much as the kids hitting or tripping over them since they have some give compared to iron plates in my dumbbells.  More recently, I've been building up my strength training so that in addition to the obvious presses and lifts, I learned more complex moves such as cleans, presses, and swings so that I can use strength training (dumbbells, kettlebell, sandbags) in exercises that hit a wide range of muscles and types of motion simultaneously.  Again, I also have Stack 52 decks for dumbbells and kettlebells. While I don't think the randomness is useful here, I have used the cards, the Push, Pull, Swing book, and YouTube to learn how to do even technically difficult exercise that require stability of the cores along with strength.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Assembled 50 lb Rep Fitness sandbag
So, the current state of the home gym.  I know have 132 lbs of plates, and I am up to 86 lbs on bench presses and squats (the hightest weight exercise I do)  The dumbbells, kettlebell, and sandbag also  makes conditioning workouts more time efficient than the running or Total Gym used to be for me, with the suspension trainer and a range of kettlebell swings filling in for cardio.

I can see adding another sand kettlebell to round out my medicine ball and kettlebell weights, and I have room to add more weight to my sandbags.  My son has started using freeweights too.  I have him doing bodyweight exercises with the medicine ball (and I join in using the kettlebell) so this adds resistance. There are a few exercises designed for the kettlebell that medicine balls also work with so this will add to strength while maintaining stability and balanced development of many muscle groups at a time.  To add to the bodyweight exercises, I recently purchased an agility ladder, which both of the kids enjoy immensely.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Product setup: CAP Barbell Standard Plate and Bar storage rack

The basement workout room had a problem.  I had a 40 lb dumbbell set and an adjustable bench for many years (I think I had it pre-grad school).  Last fall I finally got additional weight plates since it was getting too easy. But now there were too many plates on the floor, and we were worried about the 3 yr old kicking the weights (she liked to play acting like the bench was a sales stall).  Solution: get a weight tree.

We got the rack unassembled.  Included were:

  • Main support.  
  • Two legs.  
  • Four standard plate holders.  
  • Two long 90mm bolts, 
  • six 50mm bolts.  
  • 6 nylon ocktight nuts. 
  • 17 washers (one spare).  
  • One 6 mm allen wrench.  
  • Instructions and "please call for help before declaring that this product does not work because you could not put it together properly notice"

CAP Barbell Standard Plate and Bar Storage Rack unboxed
Plate and bar storage rack parts
CAP says you do not need additional tools, but I don't see anyway that I could have generated the required torque on the locking nuts with the included allen wrench. So I supplied a 6mm allen wrench and a wrench to work the nuts and bolts.

Locktight nuts and bolts
Tightening locking nuts
The order of assembly is to start with the legs on the main support.  Next are the four plate holders.  This is where it really helps to have additional hands, as the bolts want to fall out before you start putting on nuts.

Adding on the standard plate holders
Adding on standard (1") plate holders

Assembled, the legs splay out 33".  The back of the main support to the line drawn between the ends of the legs is 21".  The height of the rack itself is 31".  Of particular importance is 33" for the legs. This gives it a wide base of support, wider than other plate trees so it feels very stable.

Completed weight tree and bar holder
Assembled CAP Barbell Standard plate and bar storage rack.

In addition to the four plate holders, there is room for two standard dumbbell bars on top, and a post that is meant for a standard barbell bar.

CAP barbell standard plate and bar storage rack
With dumbbell bars and weight plates
As it is, it holds a pair of dumbbell handles and I have a second pair laying across the legs (i.e. off the ground).  It feels very stable, and well able to manage the weights I have, as well as my next planned purchase of weights.  Each bar looks like they can hold 8 plates if I am careful, and 7 plates each easily.  I like the fact that it has room for the dumbbell handles and gets them off the floor and organized as well. And the fact that the base is wide discourages the kids from getting too close (and I'm not worried about the whole thing tipping over.

Overall, easy to assemble. Feels solid after tightening everything up. Feels stable.  I like the dumbbell handle holders (not a part of alternative racks).  Certainly good for dumbbell use.  I can see that if someone lifts a standard barbell, four plate holders may not be enough and you could run out of space quickly.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Product unboxing and setup: Rep Fitness Medium Sandbag

Rep Fitness is currently offering a sale on sandbags, and I was looking at the fact that I was on pace to maxing out my strength equipment so I was beginning to plan what I was going to do next.  I currently have dumbbells, medicine balls, a sand kettlebell, and suspension trainers.  I was not interested in barbells because of their size and I think with a pre-schooler in the house I thought it would be a hazard.  So sandbags seemed like a good addition as it is two handed, but not as dangerous in the house as a barbell.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Rep Fitness Medium Sandbag with 50 lbs sand

The Rep Fitness bag is essentially a reinforced duffle bag with two filler bags to hold the sand.  They are supposed to be 25 lb and 50 lb, but I filled them to 15 and 35 (i.e. I used one 50 lb bag of construction sand to fill them with).  Like all sand based weights, the Rep Fitness is shipped without sand, so I needed to fill it.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
The box with the sandbag, along with the sand, Homer (Home Depot) bucket, and a scale for filling the filler bags

First step is opening the box.  The bag comes with two filler bags that are intended to span the length of the bag. Note that this is different than some of the cheaper ones, which would have more square filler bags.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Shipping contents.

The next step was to pour sand into the bags.  I poured the construction sand into a bucket, and poured from the bucket into the filler bag.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Loading sand into the filler bags.
To start out filling the bag, I would hold the bag standing with the opening open, and folding the top over the outside to keep the bag open while I was pouring in.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Bag with 15 lbs of sand

After filling in the bag, I closed it folded it to remove as much air as possible, then folded it down (there is velcro on the inside of the bag, and velcro to fold the top down one.)

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Folding down the top after putting in sand.

After closing off the bag, I shaked it so the sand that was in the bag could shift naturall from side-to-side.  Next I filled up the other bag, then laid the bags down and spread the sand out on both filler bags.  I then used duct tape to further seal the end and keep the end folded down.

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
50 lbs of filled sandbag

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Filled filler bags with sand spread across the length

Rep fitness medium sandbag filling
Filled sandbag

The bag has seven handles.  One pair on the ends, one pair vertical, one pair oriented horizontally, and one centerline handle.  The first time I tried to do a clean with the bag I smacked my nose, which I gather from videos is not uncommon.  

When I only have 35 lbs, the bag is harder to manage than I expect comparing it to using dumbbells.  And when the bag is only partially full, there is a lot of flopping around, so cleans and swings tend to fly around more than expected, making workouts harder.

I have used it for a few workouts.  I especially use it when I want something heavy (compared to my 20 lb sand kettlebell) but my kids are around, because sand is not as rough as metal.  I use it for clean, deadlifts, bicep curls, shouldering, and rotations.  The big difference compared to dumbbell weights is the fact that weight is not concentrated on the handle, so all dynamic movements have a big inertia component that I have to fight to stop a dynamic move. 

All in all, a good addition to the home gym. It provides a different type of load, and I don't mind having it on the floor where the kids might kick it as the sand is not an issue.

With this, and the sand kettlebell, and the dumbbells, I have the full set of equipment that Myatt Murphy describes in his book Push, Pull, Swing: The Fat-burning, Muscle-building Dumbbell, Kettle-bell, & Sandbag Program.  So I will be reviewing that book soon.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Product review: Stack 52 strength (bodyweight), dumbbell, and suspension trainer workout cards

Currently, my main exercise has been taekwondo.  And on the side I also run.  As part of taekwondo training, we use a number of bodyweight exercises as part of warmup.  I've wanted to start doing workouts at home, but I was not terribly interested in joining a gym, as strength workouts for me were a secondary workout.  But I really did not have much variety and lacked a trainer (other than the workouts we do in taekwondo class).  The Stack 52 workout cards proved to be a great way to both try new exercises, see how they are done, and generate workouts so they don't get old.

The Stack 52 cards have a series of 52 exercises per deck.  Some of the exercises are familiar, but then there are variations on a theme.  The thing is (and the weightlifting types already know this) that small variations in form will change which muscles are the most challenged.  So the 52 exercises, if done correctly, will challenge different muscles so they are in fact different.  There are three levels of difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and the primary muscle groups are identified.  However, these are not isolation exercises, so you will not get diagrams that identify specific muscles.

The Strength cards work as promised.  I use them to create random sets for warmup workouts.  And they are fun.  My kids (3 and 7) like to use them with me (when I'm with my kids I only use the beginner and intermediate cards).

With the suspension trainer deck I was in a similar position of not knowing many exercises.  One thing that is different about the suspension trainers is that the exercises have different positions: facing the mount, facing away, on your back facing up, on your front facing down.  So it is not convenient to constantly switch.  When I use the deck I would pull up cards, then I would reorder them in groups so that I would only do minor changes in between exercises, and major position changes as few times as possible.  But I still see a lot of value as I learned how to use my suspension trainer in new ways.  Here especially, the videos that are linked on the cards via QR code were very useful.

The dumbbell cards were probably the least useful set.  I quickly learned that there really needed to be an indication of how much weight should be used, low, medium, high (where low medium and high could be defined by the number of reps you can do a specific exercise)

Great for quick workouts. The many cards add to the variety in my warmups and for conditioning. I find that I can do the basic and intermediate cards, but the advanced workouts stretch me, and having them mingled keeps things interesting. My 7 yr old son loves them to. When we have workouts together, we use the beginner cards, and he flips over 7 and he leads us in the exercise. My 3 yr old daughter also likes to join in. She looks at her cards and does her own thing while I do the workout for real. I also enjoy taking these on travel. I usually take the extension deck and use these for morning and evening workouts in my hotel room or in their exercise room.

I already had the Strength Stack 52 cards and got these to add more variety to my workouts with dumbbells and suspension trainers (I have not broken open the resistance band or kettlebells decks yet, because at this point those are supplements for me). Note: I primarily run and do martial arts, so these decks for for strength and conditioning, but these are not my main workouts.

PROS: variety and instruction. For me, whose primary workout is not strength training, I don't have good access to trainers who could give me a workout and instruction, so these cards are good for giving me ideas on what exercises to do and basic instruction on how to do them. I had a set of dumbbells before getting this deck, but I really did not do much with them or my suspension trainer. These decks made both of them interesting.

1. Unlike the bodyweight exercises of the Strength decks, the dumbbell and suspension exercises can actually require setup between exercises. So while I would use the bodyweight exercises in whatever random order they came up in, with the dubmbell and suspension decks, after I flipped the cards, I would reorder the cards to be in a natural order to reduce the setup (body position, position in the suspension handles, weights on dumbbells).
2. the dumbbell exercises probably require a range of weights (i.e. a low, medium, and heavy set) as these exercises are not meant to be at the same weight (e.g. you would not do circles with extended arms at the same weight that you would do presses or other high weight exercises) Given that part of the appeal of these decks is for those who do not have a large repertoire of exercises, it would have been useful to classify the dumbbell exercises by the type of dumbbell needed (I use light, medium, and heavy as these are specific to the person, and you can help people define them appropriately)

Overall, for general fitness and conditioning, I recommend the bodyweight cards without reservation.  I think that the suspension strap cards also work out pretty well.  I don't think the dumbbell cards would be helpful if your goal is strength or building mass, but could be useful as part of a general conditioning routine if you have a few pairs of hex dumbbell's available to you.

My kids, also give the bodyweight cards an unqualified endorsement.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Parenting Month 89: competition in youth

These past two month was dominated by competitions.  T went to a regional Taekwondo tournament, participated in a piano competition, and earned his black belt in Taekwondo. Along the way, we saw a lot of the culture around kids competitions.

Regional ATA TKD Tournament
Receiving instructions prior to sparring.

T went to a regional tournament last month. This was his second competitive tournament (meaning they award places) and much larger and more prestigious than the other one we went to in fall. But we are not competitive, so we signed up for the novice division. (as opposed to competitive). He did well, we were not expecting everything when we realized that most of the boys in his ring were in the ATA leadership program, but he got a 3rd place medal in sparring (which goes along with this 1st place medals in forms and weapons from his last tournament.)  He especially liked the fact that he met the American Taekwondo Association  Grand Master (only one of them!) and got his medals and belt signed.

Regional ATA TKD Tournament
Medals signed by Grand Master In Ho Lee
One of the things we noticed was that even though this was the novice division (as opposed to competitive, where points count over the year), most of the boys clearly had tournament experience.  The parents were very sophisticated, with several of them keeping track of judges points.  The boys were also reasonably sophisticated with outcomes. The boys were all aware that a "Spirit" award implied that they did not get any of the place awards in any category. Some of the boys were not interested at all in collecting their Spirit medals.

We also noticed that many of the "novice" boys were clearly serious about competing.  We saw a former state champion (meaning they had the most tournament points when competing in the "competitive" category in tournaments last year).  Several of the boys clearly had trained above their belt level (this was a red belt ring, and above belt level means they used moves and forms that were part of the black belt curriculum.  And our thought is why would they sign up for a novice division when they clearly usually were competitive. And if it was they were worried about being in a high prestige tournament so going novice would make the competition easier, the fact that so many others did the same thing made that fail.

Piano competitionthey
Piano Competition hosted by Chatham College

The reason we have T (and someday A) enter competitions is not because he will win. But we want him to get a sense of how good people other than the ones they saw every day could be. And that means that we do this so he can connect with the best people in real life.  And if he is going to compete with any seriousness, that means we would enter the competitive rings. He may not win, but at this point we are pretty sure that he will win his share of things as he grows up. But he will be tested in the best way possible, where he can see and be in contact with others and get an idea of how much work it takes to be very good at something. And hopefully realize that being very good at something is both possible and enjoyable.  Whether or not medals and prizes are involved.

Regional ATA TKD Tournament
Medals and belt signed by the ATA Grandmaster In Ho Lee

Friday, March 09, 2018

My black belt journey

There is a cliche that the path to a black belt is about the journey, not the destination.  And that is true for anything that takes multiple years to complete, because anything that takes years is no longer an impulse decision.

Self defense testing at the ATA Taekwondo
Elbow strike drills

My fitness journey started when I was young. I was always one of the small kids in the class, which is a problem in the organized sports that phys ed was centered around in those days.  But, even then, my phys ed teachers made the comment that while I never was strong or skilled, there were many points where I made up for it by shear effort.  College was marked by suddenly realizing I was getting winded, and I started running then.  After college when working in DC, I continued running longer distances, with 1/2 hour and hour long runs being weekly events. (my roommate also did this, of course, we were completely overshadowed by his then girlfriend).  I continued running and hiking in grad school, and started 5K and 10K races.  Once when backpacking, I realized that if I was spending days going up and down ridgelines, I could certainly pull of the five hours of running needed for a marathon.  So I ran 1/2 marathon, then my first marathon (which was just under 5 hours).  I continued this after grad school while working.  And by now I have six marathons (Chicago; Ottawa, Canada; Philadelphia; and Bagram, Afghanistan) along with numerous half marathons and three Rachel Carson Challenges (34 miles hike in rugged terrain in daylight)

But reality, especially when kids entered the equation, was that my running had diminished.  I was no longer the neighborhood crazy who was running in all weather conditions. My weekly long runs were not much longer than my daily runs from when I was training seriously. And we were concerned about my four year old son (who gets to tell his own story).

After my son started taekwondo, we did the first month, then six more.  As we were thinking that this was something he could stick with, I decided to start as well.

Self defense testing at the ATA Taekwondo
Self defense technique testing, with the school head instructor as designated attacker.  For this particular rank, all the self defense techniques learned since the beginning were practiced in sequence, which made for a very entertaining testing session.
At the beginning, I did not join my son. And my reasoning is that there should be something in his life that was apart from us (parents).  But a few thoughts led to changing that idea.

1. I was confronting the reality that I was not a regular runner like I was. And the days when a 10K was easy were past, and 5K were now the long run, and I did not even make that every week.  While I was never structured in the past, having a bit of structure in my physical fitness was probably a good idea.

2. I always liked the idea of having some area in my life that I was active in that I was not very good.  I like learning, and this could be a new thing for me.

3. Because we were thinking of committing our son to years of future in taekwondo (and with my son being very enthusiastic about this prospect), I wanted to know what kind of kids my son would be learning from and looking up to.  Because one thing about the structure of martial arts, in any reasonable school, the senior students end up being teachers and role models for the younger students. And since in this school teens and adults were together, that means I got to see the kids who were growing into the future instructors of the school as they grew, and I would get a look at what my son was going to become (this was a young school, so I was watching the first group of students reach the point where they could start teaching)

Did this work?  

1. In addition to 2-3 classes a week (sometimes including classes my son and I attend together), I regularly train on my own (sometimes with my son), and we also do other fitness workouts outside the school (bodyweight exercises in addition to drills and practice). 

2.  It is not just learning something new, but it is also having someone pushing me on to be better, in the standard sense that the role of the teacher is to help you be better than you are today. And the art part of martial arts has certain appeal.  The head instructor at the school calls me a technician, because of the way I work on forms/poomsae.  (kata for the Japanese types)

3.  And I do get a very close up view of the kids who are on the instructor track now as we train together in class, and I get to watch them help instruct the classes that my son is in.  And confirm that they hold him to the highest standard that he can reach!

There are other fun moments.  When we started, my son was higher rank, so I reminded him that the job of high rank was to ensure that the lower ranks were training properly.  (later, we crossed over as at my school the younger kids take twice as long to advance in rank than not quite as young students.)  At the family classes, my son and I would find ourselves in races doing fitness warmups (pushups, situps) with the pre-teens and teens. (implication is that I was faster (more fit) than most of the kids, so they could only catch up when during my son's turn).  And I like to joke that the adults in the class have to remind the teenagers that we can still keep up.

Testing for black belt in ATA TKD
Sparring during belt testing

Black belt testing was a show, as it should be.  Board breaks with smoothness and power, and a poomsae that was crisp with satisfying pops of the uniform sleeves and legs on punches, blocks, and kicks. As it should be.

What next?  I like the discipline of regular feedback, and martial arts (especially forms) has the mindset that there is a perfect form, that we strive for but never reach, that I find appealing from an artistic point of view.  So I plan on continuing for the indefinite future.  Would I go on?  The standard pathways (as I tell people who are thinking of how this goes on college applications) are competitions, teaching, and judging.  And the reality is that I have multiple avenues that my time could be applied in setting where I am in a role of leadership (formal or informal), so going down those avenues in martial arts is probably not the best use of my time. (other than it is a point of reference with my son for the foreseeable future)

In my fitness area of things to learn (since Black Belt means I no longer count as a beginner), I am starting to branch out into other areas of fitness.  Many more forms of bodyweight training (which my kids are very happy partners), but also using resistance equipment such as dumbbells, suspension trainers, and resistance bands for strength training.  Which means someday I will have to do more sessions with a trainer to get the most use out of this.

The numeric designation of a Black Belt is 1st degree. The karate term shodan also carries the connotation that attaining the black belt is merely the end of the beginning of the journey. And I look forward to the years to come.

Testing for black belt in ATA TKD
Square block in Choong Jung 2 form

Parenting month 87: Down for the count

The dominant theme for last month was the flu. Everyone in the family except for the 7 yr old boy went down. He got to use the wedding china and silverware as we had a dedicated version of everything for him to use in a bid to keep him healthy.

Making a Sparkfun Micro:bot (Micro:bit based robot)
How to make a robot
Making a Sparkfun Micro:bot (Micro:bit based robot)
Completed micro:bit based robot

The past winter break was punctuated by projects.  T was working with his BBC Micro:bit. Projects included a pedometer (apparently that is a big thing at school) and a robot.  A does not do projects (3 yr old).  However, she somehow got the idea that Disney movies are real life, and that all interesting activities need to be accompanied by an appropriate song.  So she breaks out into song every now and then and makes one up as we go.

School is rougher for T.  He has good weeks and bad weeks.  Good weeks include moving up in his math level (they have individualizes progress. Bad weeks have assessments (tests) with silly mistakes that clearly involve not paying attention to what he has been doing.

A has started ballet class. However, she has a normal 3 yr old attention span, which is considerably shorter than a class.  So that leads to somewhat less than completely desirable results

Making an arch at the science center

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Parenting Month 85: Competition

A fun milestone was a recent taekwondo tournament.  This was T's first competitive tournament (i.e. where they actually award places)  He recently moved up a group in the ATA system of classes (the lowest age group was 4-6) so now they award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the 7-8 year old category.  And he won first place in forms and first place weapons. (his ring was 9 boys, red belts (the level below black), non-leadership (leadership students are the ones who compete for points over the year))

So, his strengths are keeping focus (he had the option of doing only half the form, and most kids his age do, but he did the whole thing) and his punches, kicks, and blocks actually have some strength to them (often kids will have the right starting and right ending point, while the middle is a bit flabby).

Jaang baang form (staff)
One thing I noticed was that parents are actually getting competitive at this point.  One parent was telling me how her son was really into the tournaments for several years now. (son got 2nd in forms and weapons).  Another had traveled from Ohio and this was also her son's first competitive tournament (same reason as T). Some of the boys did not react well to loosing in the sparring (T did not get all of the medals).  We did note that T does not take the sparring very competitively.  He was doing sparring like his school does testing (where part of the goal is for both participants to show off) as opposed to point sparring where you really do need to hit each other.  I found that quite amusing once I figured out what was going on.

two first place medals

The more competitive environment is definitely showing up in school.  We can tell that in his more diverse school (compared to last year), there are definitely families that are much more academically focused than we are.  We are hearing stories of T's peers doing the after school tutoring programs, the multiple after school enrichment activities, and drilling in school work. I think we are keenly aware that there are tests and evaluations that will have significance in his school experience and opportunities that will occur this year. We won't completely ignore it (we do drill him on the homework he gets), but we want to limit the organized activities if there are enough interests that keep him engaged (so he is stretching, even if it is not directly pointed at school work type things)

A is still quite verbal. And as proper for a 3-year old, without a filter. Sometimes it is very cute and amusing, if semi-horrifying (last night she spoke out during a poor music student's tuba recital, saying quite clearly at one point "what is that noise)).  One minor milestone: she is now willing to sleep with daddy vs. with mommy, so giving mommy a break. (T was always flexible on who was with him.)

Challenges on the horizon: T is more aware now of how other kids compare, and there are more examples of those not as talented than more talented. So he is not as inclined to persist and stay focused on things as he used to be. Similarly, he is more aware of material things and short term rewards; and the carrot of being able to do things and have experiences that other do not do are not as attractive as they used to be.