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.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book review: Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant

Personal MemoirsPersonal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The memoirs of Ulysses S Grant begin with him attending West Point, being a junior officer in the Mexican-American War, then his more well known role in the U.S. Civil War. What I found notable was his willingness to look at his actions and the actions of those around him and admit of what worked and what did not, and a fairly levelheaded and charitable view of those who commanded, served under, or opposed him.

The first part is a view of what the war looked like to a junior officer, prior to and during the Mexican-American War. It was a learning experience for him to lead men, and also look at the quality of the officers above him, who would be the commanding generals of the first part of the Civil War.

The Civil War section was a lot about managing logistics, and how logistics drove the campaigns. The actual battles do not as much discussion as the discussions of overall strategy and goals, and how logistics drove how he ran the various campaigns, and discussions of leading generals on both sides and his opinions on each.

The book is also notable because he discusses the backgrounds of both wars, and it becomes a touchpoint on what the country thought about as the cause of the Civil War in particular during and shortly after that conflict.

Definite must read into what being at war is like at the junior officer and at the general officer levels. And a 19th century feel of the U.S. Civil War.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Parenting month 84: Now we are 7

It has been an eventful couple of months. T started at a new school, new classmates, new schedule, new bus.

Met new friends at the bus stop. The girl who lives three doors down turns out to be one grade ahead of T.  We were glad that it turned out there was someone else in his taekwondo class in the same rank and the same grade. And also one of the relatively calm kids
Double knife hand block
Double knife hand block

Front kick in Choong Jung 1
Jump kick

His new school is much bigger than the one he came from. So we are worried about him getting lost in the mix. There have been good days and bad days. Days where he comes home and goes on and on about what he did and who he played with, and days he played with noone and did not want to talk about it.  But he is getting more good days as he adapts and gets to know people, and there are some kids where apparently he is the playmate of choice (he still seems to attract kids who like quiet).

Looking at the solar eclipse at the Northland library
Looking at the near solar eclipse

We still try to encourage a making attitude.  At the solar eclipse we made our solar eclipse viewers, and at the library viewing party we were the ones teaching everyone else how to use them.  (it helps to know the physics of how pinhole cameras work)  His favorite birthday present was a Foldscope, which is a paper based microscope that we had to assemble.

Made a Foldscope
I made a Foldscope

And we had our now annual Makerfaire visit.  One highlight of the end of summer is we have a visiting colleague with a 5 year old boy, who enjoys having a playmate.  We went to Alcosan together, then the Science Center and their ropes course.

Things inside the body
Visiting the Science Center

And also MakerFaire at the Children's Museum

Playing in the web at the Children's Museum maker space
Playing in the web at the Children's Museum makerspace

Some issues, not as much as attention span as he used to have, although that may be regression to the mean, or it may be that with more kids at school, he is realizing how unusual he was and he does not have desire to do much more than blend in.

The little one is still in day care.  She still talks our ears off, and now she can do that with words. Lots of words.  Funny note: we got our annual evaluation from daycare. It indicates how she is quiet and shy, and encourages us to talk with her more.  We wonder if we are talking about the same kid, as this girl talks to use alot.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Making a Foldscope

We received our Foldscope yesterday, and this evening we made it after dinner.  The Foldscope project is a microscope with a paper base.  The concept was that using heavy paper, it is possible to mount a lens and a slide stage and that allows for fairly high magnification, and a fully adjustable slide stage while being durable for field use. While it may not be to the same specifications as a western research university, it is good enough for identifying cells, and especially cellular organisms that carry disease. (See TED talk)  So it is being sent around to field research groups in areas where the environment would quickly deteriorate conventional instruments, and areas where samples need to be visually inspected cheaply.  And also classrooms where you could cheaply give every student a microscope and not be worried about children damaging delicate equipment. Of course, we do not fall under any of these categories, but it is a cheap microscope that does not take mush space. So we are going to try it.

What we get in the box

The foldscope parts are in a bag. Take them out of the bag, and match them to the instructions.

Foldscope parts

Following the instructions, as well as the YouTube demonstration of its assembly, we started putting together the lens mount and stage.

Lens stage and sample stage assembly

Then put the whole thing together

Assembled Foldscope
And happy new owner

The Foldscope kit we got came with a couple of premade samples.  

dragonfly foot
dragonfly leg

Monday, September 04, 2017

Parenting Month 82: Hosting visitors

The last month of summer was spent being a host for others.  We had an author of a book that we have a signed copy of visit (he is a US Army Col (ret), his wife is an elementary school teacher who enjoyed the company of a rising 2nd grader).  The prior visitors from China. And more recently being host to people coming to Pittsburgh to work for a year.

Phipps Conservatory
Lagoon at Phipps Conservatory
Frog at Phipps Conservatory lagoon.
Frog in the lagoon. We were trying to decide it was real when suddenly it jumped

Part of maturity at the early elementary level is learning to take care of people other than yourself. So it one thing to teach them how to do specific tasks when called upon, or even on a regular basis (and this is hard enough!), but another to do mission type tasking, asking them to act on principles rather
than direct commands.  So the significance of having guests, is that we told T (6yrs old) that he could do whatever he wanted, but he needed to tell his guests what that was. So that is a bit open ended (I get trouble giving those instructions to my much older students) and he sometimes gets fixated on something and forgets about his new friends, or goes off like 6 year old boys do leaving his new friends behind.  But all in all, he does pretty good. (as long as he is fed and rested, but that goes without saying)

Getting harnesses for the ropes course
Getting ready to go on the little ones ropes course
Things inside the body
How long are intestines? What noises does the body make?

Another major event was that this was the month of the total solar eclipse moving across the U.S.  While libraries all advertised that they had hundreds of eclipse glasses available, all outlets (Lowes and Walmart) ran out weeks before the main event.  We modified instructions found on to make an eclipse viewer and tested it the weekend before and made a few modifications.

Solar eclipse viewing boxes ready
Eclipse viewer. Opening on side
We ended up going to our local library for the viewing. They had advertised a viewing party, and they were on top of a nice hill with grassy areas to stand around and look into boxes. We saw a few people with the glasses. A few people with super expensive solar telescopes or industrial equipment. And many people with the pin hole boxes.  We had the advantage of actually knowing how these things worked, so early in the afternoon we taught everyone else how to find the image in their boxes, and we got to get some good views.
Looking at the solar eclipse at the Northland library
Using his solar eclipse box

A (3 years old) is very sociable (at least with us). We get a range of concerts at the drop of the hat. Every morning she wakes up around 6 ~ 6:30 and is very happy to greet us with a good morning. (and she also wakes up at 3AM , but goes back to sleep).  Among her favorite activities are singing, dancing, taekwondo (using big brother's equipment) and taking walks. Oh, and getting big brother in trouble (whenever we yell at T (even if it is only through tone of voice), she feels compelled to provide commentary that T is a bad boy, A is a good girl).


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Parenting Month 81: Travels

The notable thing about the mid-summer months has been trips. Either they have visited others or others visit us. We have: One trip to perform at Carnegie Hall Guests from the Carnegie Hall recital staying with us Visit to Cleveland and Cuyahoga National Park to visit all the uncles and aunties and cousins who met us halfway. Red Crossers visiting Pittsburgh from headquarters.

Cranberry park
Front page of the Post Gazette.  Memorial Day 2017 at the USS Requin
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Guest on the Ropes course
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
On the Carnegie Science Center Ropes Course
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
On the USS Requin
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Looking at the submarine music selection
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Bodyworks at the Carnegie Science Center
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Controlling a robot at the Carnegie Science Center