A Pattern of Practice

I’m testing for my 4th degree black belt in two weeks and my brain is a jumble of theory, movements, pattern sequences, and exercises.

Luckily, it is finally starting to coalesce into something that feels doable, something I am building on because it has been several months of inching forward and my brain is not a fan of increments.

In fact, my brain would prefer it if I could spend a whole day learning everything and keep it permanently in my head.

If only that would work, one day of overload but then I’d know everything.

A GIF of a skull with flashing images where the brain should be.?
A GIF of a skull with flashing images where the brain should be.

May 1: Low Key

I want a lot out of this month but I am trying to teach myself to add things slowly instead of trying to do everything all at once.

After all, I know that successful changes, new practices, come from starting small and building up.


I also know that jumping right into a bunch of new practices all at once feels good. I feel engaged and energetic and accomplished…until I run out of steam.

And despite the fact that I run out of steam EVERY SINGLE TIME, my brain still wants to chase that excited feeling of doing ALL OF THE THINGS.

Without the benefits of medication and experience, I would be planning to do more art, more writing, more exercise, more Taekwon-do, more house organizing, more everything all at once, starting right now, maybe half an hour of each, on top of what I already do each day.

It would be fun today but by the end of the week, I would be out of steam.

So, instead, I am layering all of those things into my life during May.

I will ‘touch’ each habit each day but only really focus on one at a time.

Let’s see how it goes.

?a view of a backyard patio with bare trees in the background
My patio and trees are on the same plan that I am – the basics in place but we’ll add new things a little at a time and let them grow. Image description: The view from one corner of my patio. A lawn chair is directly across from me and beyond that there are trees that don’t have any leaves on them next to my red shed.

TKD “Homeschool”

Last night was my final Taekwon-do class for the summer. Even though I’ll miss my TKD friends, I’m looking forward to the break from formal classes.I

But I don’t want a break from TKD itself.

Instead, I want to use my summer to improve my fitness in a few key areas and to work on my foundational movements.

I’m calling this TKD homeschool because rather than a vague plan to ‘practice over the summer’ or even ‘do a pattern a day’, I am putting together a kind of cumulative curriculum for myself.

The point is not just to maintain the skills I have but to make some measurable improvements in a few key areas.

I’m not getting too caught up in reaching specific targets, my goals are about inching forward a little bit at a time.

I want to go back to class in September with firm knowledge that I progressed over the summer – even if that progress is very small.

After all, I know my efforts matter, even if the results are minuscule. And my experience with TKD has shown me that literally any effort at all makes a difference.

Calling my practice ‘TKD Homeschool’ and making a specific plan puts me in charge.

And in charge is where I like to be.

A smiling woman in a white Taekwondo uniform. She is standing in front of a sign advertising her dojang.
This is me, on the day of my last belt test. This time next year, I’m testing for my 4th degree black belt. This summer’s work will help me get there. Image description: A smiling photo of me in my dobok with a green bandana in my hair. I’m standing in front of a sign that says ‘Downey’s Taekwon-do.’

Stumbling Through Choong-Moo

My first degree Black Belt test in Taekwon-Do is on March 16th. That’s 10 days away.

I have been driving myself batty stumbling through my test pattern.

Choong-Moo is my first black belt pattern (obviously) and while I always struggle to get my patterns to ‘click’, I have been having more trouble with this one than usual. I know part of it is that it is for my BLACK BELT and that is so very important to me that I want everything to be perfect. That leads to me focusing on the results instead of the process, which is never good, and that gets me one level of stuck.

Then, to complicate matters, Choong-Moo is the pattern that I have do step by step for my instructors at my test. That means I have to be able to explain the purpose and method of each action and the details of the stances (back foot turned in 15 degrees!). That’s on top of all the other things I need to know, step sparring, theory, board-breaking techniques etc. Overall, I know the purpose and method of each action in each pattern, but I have a few sticking points, and there’s a world of difference between knowing them for yourself and knowing them to recite to your instructor. Maybe if I didn’t care what Master Downey and Mrs. Downey thought then it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I do care and I want to do a good job. So there’s my second level of stuck.

Level 2.5 is the fact that I had to take a week off because of the flu right after we learned the last step of the pattern, so while I could practice at home, I couldn’t practice with the group.

Practicing at home and practicing in class are both important factors in learning your pattern, but for me they are hugely different. Trying to keep up with people for whom the pattern comes easily, trying to match your speed and rhythm to 10-15 other people, having your instructor right in front of you, it’s all a big challenge for me. I’ve been practicing, but I’ve still been stumbling in class and I’m embarrassed and frustrated about it. Not only do I want to know it for myself, but I’d be mortified to think that I had given the impression that I haven’t been practicing.

I have my pattern written out on my study sheets, I have it printed on poster board in my rec room for when I practice. I can recite it step by step.

I’ve been going to extra classes. I’ve gotten help from my instructors and from my mentors in the class (Hi Kevin and Ted!). Yet, last night, I was still stumbling. I was better than before, but still annoyingly off target.

I came home after class and started blasting through my pattern in the living room. I didn’t care about landing the stances exactly right, I didn’t care about power, I didn’t care about the height of my kicks. I ignored every last detail and just practiced moving from step to step as quickly as I could, counting the moves so I would know if I missed any. It started to feel good, it started to click.

That’s when I realized what had been going wrong all along.

I had been ignoring my own learning style.

I’m a global learner, not a sequential one. I can accept information step by step, but it doesn’t click until I have the whole picture. Once I have the whole picture in my head, how all the pieces are connected, then my practice becomes more effective and I start to FEEL the pattern in my body. I start to KNOW how it fits together subconsciously.

Usually, once I have been taught the whole pattern, I come home and blast through it a bunch of times to get the connections cemented in my brain. This time, I had been focusing on the pieces so much that I hadn’t followed my own process to get to the whole pattern.

I blasted through it 25 times last night. Then I practiced it slowly 2-3 times. I don’t have it down yet, but I’m getting there. Another few days of alternating speed practice and slow practice and I’ll have it. Then I can tweak the details.

Then, if I can stay calm during my test, I’ll be just fine.