T is for Taekwon-Do (a love letter)


(This is long, you may want to grab a cup of tea or a beer first. Maybe a snack too.)

I hardly know where to start to talk about Taekwon-Do. Yesterday, I wrote about how illuminating it was to discover that stories were the common thread in my entire career, today I’m thinking about how learning Taekwon-Do has been instrumental in understanding so much about how I learn, about how I think and in figuring out how the stories I (used to) tell myself limited the things I thought I was capable of doing.


One of the many, many photos we took the night I received my black belt. Yes, I do have just my thumbnail painted black – it was a focus reminder for when I was doing my test. 🙂

I have wanted to know a martial art for as long as I can remember.* Every time I saw someone in a movie execute a perfect kick or punch, I wanted to be able to do the same. I didn’t even try though, I never researched it, never took a class, nothing of the sort. I was afraid I would try and fail and then never be able to learn it. This is of course, hindsight, if you had asked me years ago, I would have told you that I just hadn’t done it YET, I wouldn’t have realized what was holding me back.

I’m actually lucky that I didn’t get to it earlier. Unlike some of the other adults in my class who wish they had started earlier, I think I started at exactly the right time. If I had started even 3 years earlier, I would have quit in frustration because I was so uncoordinated, so thick when it came to my patterns. I would have crumbled under the pressure of learning so many new things.

I started TKD with my oldest son**and I was so concerned about setting a good example for him that I was able to persevere. And by then, I had read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and learned how much my fixed mindset was limiting me – making me think that what I could do at that point was the sum total of what I would ever be able to do. So, TKD came along at the perfect time for me – not only did I have a new way of thinking about how I learn, but I had an excellent excuse for pretending to be patient with myself (I had to be that good example).

I’m not pretending it was easy. If, like me, you are a global learner (things come to me more in a flash than step by step) and if you haven’t got a strong body-spatial sense (telling me to put my feet a shoulder-width apart means virtually nothing to me)and if you struggle with perfectionism and over-thinking, then no physical skill is going to come easily to you.

It was important to me though, I wanted this badly. And, for the first time in my life, I swore that I was going to trust in the process and take things step by step. I decided that I was going to try to say thank-you when I was critiqued***, and that I wasn’t going to worry about what the black belts could do, I was only going to focus on the next step in the process, the next belt level.

I wanted the black belt though, even though I wasn’t sure I would be able to get there, I wanted it so very badly. I wanted to have that knowledge and that skill. I wanted to make my instructors proud and I wanted to make myself proud. I wanted to work hard and know that my belt was well-earned.

I was surprised to learn, though, as I got closer to the black belt level, that the black belts still had so much to learn. When you start in TKD, it seems like the black belts have everything under control, they know everything there is to know. In reality, though, getting your black belt is when things really start happening for you.

I passed my black belt test in on March 16, 2014 after a lot of hard work, and by then I had learned that my real work in TKD was just starting. As I said in blog post last year, it’s like I spent 5 years learning the alphabet and now I am finally starting to write words and sentences. I don’t always get those words and sentences right, but I am on my way.

Learning TKD has given me more physical power than I have ever had in my life, but the mental power it has given me goes far beyond anything that I have every experienced. They say when you start a new goal, you should review the things you have done successfully in the past and use those experiences to shape your plan for the new goal. I always use TKD as a structure now, encouraging myself with my past success: ‘Christine, remember when you had so much trouble doing the other half of Chon-ji? You worked through it slowly and you gradually learned it. You can do the same thing here.’

My successes with Taekwon-Do have spread through every other aspect of my life. I can apply the lessons from TKD to my writing, to my life-coaching, to the teaching that I do. I feel like it has changed something fundamental about who I am and how I approach my life and I feel incredibly grateful for that.

I truly love learning Taekwon-Do and I picked exactly the right school and the right instructors for me. Master Downey and Mrs. Downey are endlessly patient with me and they inspire me to work hard and learn more and keep on track. I like how they have complementary teaching styles and they both focus on different things while building on the same basic skills.

They are both terrific, but I am especially grateful to Mrs. Downey because while martial arts are often seen as a male domain, she is having NONE of that nonsense. Having a powerful woman as an example is incredibly inspiring and keeps me working harder to hone my skills. Seeing what she has done (and can do) makes it seem possible for me.****

Finally, the fact that both of my sons and my husband also do TKD with me makes it even more enjoyable. By the middle of 2016, we’ll have four black belts living in our house. Isn’t that cool?

Apparently, once I get started talking about my love for Taekwon-Do, it’s hard for me to stop. 🙂 Taekwon-Do has pushed me mentally and physically to become a better person, both in how I approach my own life and in how I interact with the world, and I can’t imagine where I would be without it.

Thank you for reading and congratulations if you’ve made it this far in my post. 😉


PS – I want to take an extra second and give a shout-out to my friend Kevin here. Even though my learning process makes NO sense to him and he ‘gets’ TKD on a different level than I do, he has a remarkable store of patience for me and helps me figure things out, encouraging me as I go. Thanks, Kev. You rock!

PPS – Bonus shout-outs to Mr. Williams, Mr. Power, Mr. Burke, Mr. Snow, Ms. Collins and Ms. Vere-Holloway, all of whom have helped me figure things out as I went along. Outlining their specific help would make this post even longer, so I’ll leave it at that.

*Note, I didn’t say that I wanted to LEARN one. I wanted to already know it. I was massively jealous when Neo downloaded all those martial arts skills in the Matrix.

**He had done a kids’ TKD program. Our plan was that either my husband or myself would start with one kid and the other would start with our youngest. I was apprehensive and tried to convince my husband to start first but when he couldn’t do it, I stepped up. I’m glad it worked out that way, because he has a natural talent for it and I think it would have been an hard act to follow.

*** My success with this is varied, but I do put the effort in!

****This is a great example of why we need representation of all genders and races and abilities in all kinds of activities. The female black belts in my class are clear examples that things like this can be done by someone like me. Sure, they are way ahead but that’s inspiring, not discouraging.

S is for Stories

(Warning: run-on sentence ahead)I have been writing in bits and pieces for most of my life (for a long time it was only when I had an outside reason to write – a deadline or an event), and I have been the person who remembered the details of life, the universe and everything for my family and friends, and I have always loved a good analogy (especially in the sense of connecting things that aren’t obviously connected*, and I have always loved books but I have only been doing literal storytelling for about 7 years.

I got started because a friend of mine asked me to host a storytelling circle when he couldn’t make it and I so thoroughly enjoyed the experience that I went back for more. Now, I see stories and storytelling is the common thread that runs through all of my career interests.“Fairy tales do not tell children the

  • When I did archaeology, I wasn’t so much interested in the details of the artifacts as in the meaning that they had – I wanted to know the story of the people who used them. I especially wanted to know the story of the women of the past but that was a whole other challenge to face.
  • My writing has never been particularly technical, instead I have always been able to find the human part of it, the part that connects and brings you closer to the person I’m talking about. And I can write a story about just about anything, bringing ideas from a variety of situations into a common narrative.
  • I’ve been doing monologues for years, telling people about a situation from one person’s (very skewed) perspective.
  • My coaching has always been about helping people recognize how the things (’the story’) that they are telling themselves about situations may not be accurate and maybe it’s time to ease up on themselves a little. And I often call on stories from mythology or everyday fiction to make my point or to give people an image to work with.

    The funny thing is that, for years, I saw all of my work as separate pieces. I coached, I wrote, I acted, and so on, but they were all separate things. It was only when I changed my focus, scoped back a bit, and looked for the connections, that I realized that it was story that connected everything.

    It’s painfully obvious really, and story is the thread that connects a lot of things – we are all trying to create meaning, figure out context and see what the hell is going on – but it was a great relief to say it aloud to myself about my career.

Of course, saying that I’m a storyteller doesn’t even begin to explain all of the stuff I do with stories, but it gives me a place to start.
What kinds of ideas connect the pieces of your career? Are you all about stories, too?

*Seriously, give me any two things and I will find a way that they have a connection or that they can be compared. It’s a very strange skill set of mine.

R is for Resistance

I find myself in a bit of a conflict when I consider resistance. I’m not talking about writer’s block* where you feel drawn to write but you just can’t. I’m talking about that sort of situation where you do almost anything to avoid writing and you keep putting it so far down your to do list that you never get to it (or you do a bunch of other things ‘to get them out of the way’ and then (surprise!) you never get to the writing.

My boys drew this for me a few years ago when I was reading Pressfield's 'Do the Work' and asked them for a drawing of me slaying a resistance dragon.

My boys drew this for me a few years ago when I was reading Pressfield’s ‘Do the Work’ and asked them for a drawing of me slaying a resistance dragon. I’m pretty sure that cloud is          helping me by sending a lightning bolt. Clearly the universe is on my side. 🙂

One of the first things I ever read about resistance was Steven Pressfield’s War of Art –  about how to get beyond resistance and just do your writing (He has several other books on the same topic). I found it very helpful in letting go of that idea that being a writer was so precious and special that you needed specific conditions in which to write. I felt energized by his words and his approach but the feeling in that book is that you need to fight resistance, you have a battle on your hands, you have to ignore those feelings and forge ahead.

Another perspective, from a lot of life coaches and personal development books,  is that the resistance you are feeling is telling you something, that there is valuable information for you in that feeling. This school of thought is more about identifying what is really going on for you and being kind to yourself about the problem while you work around it/work past it/sometimes give in to it.

Pressfield’s approach has a kind of a violent undertone to it – the language is about toughening up and fighting – which has the motivational impact of a battlecry but doesn’t match my usual experience with creativity. The other has a touchy-feely kind of undertone which I like for its softness and kindness but it puts me at risk of wallowing around in the feelings instead of trying more practical approaches. And while there is a certain amount of ‘different things work for different people’ that needs to be considered here, there is also the fact that I need both of these approaches because I can’t fully buy into either.

Sometimes, I need to just get my butt in the chair and start typing and see what comes out. Other times, I need to explore what’s behind the feeling that I’m having. The challenge is in figuring out which one I need at the moment.

This is where I drag information from another area of my life to apply to this one. As usual, when the problem is figuring out a brain habit, I need to look at the duration and the frequency of the issue. If I’m just annoyed with my writing today, then maybe I need to sit down and see if typing any old crap will help. If I keep having a problem, then maybe I need to have a look at whatever keeps coming up for me.

But, whichever solution I choose, I try not to be mean to myself about it. I try to avoid ‘stories’ about what it means that I’m struggling at the moment, I try to just accept that I am struggling and do what I can to get past it. I have varying success with this of course.**

How do you deal with resistance? Do you power through or do you get all touchy-feely?

*This is not exactly the same as writer’s block. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before but I don’t really believe in writer’s block, or more so, I don’t exactly believe in calling the problem in question writer’s block. Giving it a big, writerly name gives it a greater weight and it makes it into a THING all its own. I think that takes us further from a solution instead of closer to one.
To be clear, I’m not denying the pain or the challenge that people face when they can’t write at that moment but I hate labeling it writer’s block because of all the connotations. If you say to yourself ‘I have writer’s block’ then it feels like an almost insurmountable problem. If you say ‘I am worried about how people will take this thing I want to write and it is keeping me from starting’ or ‘I am not sure I have done enough research to get this right’ or ‘This is so important to me that I am having trouble getting the words out’ – then those are things that can be worked on, they aren’t a mysterious force that is between you and your creativity.
**‘Just accepting’ doesn’t come natural to me, at all but when I can do it, it’s really helpful.

Q is for Quest

Even though I am not particularly drawn to adventure, I love the idea of a quest. In fact, I often refer to the most ordinary of errands as a quest (it livens things up to say it that way) The Quest for Bread is much more interesting than ‘running to the supermarket.’

(I suppose this is the part where, despite my love of quests, I confess that I haven’t seen Lord of the Rings. I never heard of the book as a child so I never read it, and I don’t feel particularly drawn to that particular type of fantasy. Even though I read about vampires and the like all the time, I am not so much into wizards and elves type of fantasy. Anyway, I know that that is the quest book of all quest books, but I haven’t gotten there yet.)

I guess the storyteller in me is drawn to the nature of the hero’s journey, the familiar storyline, the knowledge that things are going to be difficult but that there will be growth, there will be a sort of okay at the end. Wouldn’t it be great if we could know that in real life, that no matter what happens things will kind of even out?
Actually, in a way, we can actually be sure of that. Things do have a kind of way of evening out over all, just not for individual people. And, as individual people, we, understandably, resent that. We want it to turn out okay for us, not just for humankind overall. Averaging out won’t help us personally.

That, in turn, kind of makes me think about the panic about the planet and its health. While I wholeheartedly agree that we should be doing more to connect ourselves with nature, and that we need to take better care of the planet as a whole, the issue is not really the planet, it is us. We are making the planet uninhabitable for ourselves. The planet will be fine. If we kill ourselves off with the things we do, everything will grow over, the earth will find a new equilibrium and it will carry on. I wonder how much further we would get with the campaigns if we phrased them that way? I guess climate change deniers would be all ‘I can still breathe fine, there’s nothing wrong here!’
Wow, that’s really getting to the heart of the problem hey? The difference between people who hear of someone else’s issue and respond with compassion and the people who hear of someone else’s issue and run to tell them that they are wrong. I really want to be the first type of person.

Becoming more compassionate is kind of my whole quest in life, really. I don’t mean that I want to let people away with bad things or that I want to become weak, I mean that I want to find a way to have ease when I think of other people.

I can often do that now, but I would like to be even better at it.

How about you? What would you say is your quest in life?

P is for Performance

When I was a kid, I hated public speaking with a passion. The idea of getting up to do a speech was absolutely terrifying. Then I took an acting class and discovered that I LOVE performing. It took me a few years to realize that I could use that love of acting to make public speaking easier, but I got there. I don’t remember my process but I eventually got to the point where I could convince myself that I was playing the role of someone who knew about topic X and that my character didn’t mind talking about it at all. Now, I do storytelling and acting and public speaking and I am generally unfazed because I can draw on that sense of creating a character.

My performance from yesterday, a suspect in a mystery game. I was Ava, the administrator for an international arts organization. The guy beside me was ZAP, an artist who worked primarily in olfactory paintings.

My performance from yesterday, a suspect in a mystery game.
I was Ava, the administrator for an international arts organization. The guy beside me was ZAP, an artist who worked primarily in olfactory paintings.

I originally thought that was all there was to it, just drawing on an imagined personality to get me past any worry about how I was coming across* but then I got into doing personality tests and discovered that I was an introvert**. I had always thought of myself as an extrovert because I am pretty outgoing and not at all shy, but when I started to dig into what being an introvert means, I realized that I do get easily burnt out in social situations and need time alone (or almost alone) to recharge. And I am super aware of the emotional temperature of every room that I’m in – that’s a whole separate blog post though!
Anyway, as an introvert, I really like for all the roles in any given situation to be very, very clear***and I especially like to know what roles I am playing. Soooo, when I perform, either as a speaker, storyteller or actor, it is very clear. And, if I am the person in charge of the room (as the performer) then that’s even clearer and I have no problem stepping into that role.
I’ve been trying to use this knowledge of my comfort with being a performer to ease my nervousness in other situations, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it is definitely one of my ‘go-to’ solutions for creating ease for myself whenever possible.
*The really funny thing for me is that if I think too much about my stories or my monologues or anything beforehand I start to freak out a little because I don’t remember the details. HOWEVER, my ‘character’ apparently does because I get up in front of the crowd and slip into that role and the stories and details come pouring out. It doesn’t happen immediately upon hearing a story or writing a monologue – I have to do a certain amount of practice and then something kind of clicks and I’ve got it. I’ve had to learn to trust that click and know that the stories will be there when I need them.
** An INFJ actually. I’m not all cute about being an introvert, I don’t request special care and feeding. I use the information from personality tests to figure out how to operate more effectively in my own life – I don’t expect other people to adapt to me. I will set up some pretty strong boundaries to protect my down time or to ensure that personality differences are respected, though. There is more than one ‘right’ way of being in this world and I won’t let anyone say any different.
*** I seriously think that this is one of the reasons I love so many urban fantasy books about werewolves – everyone automatically knows how to interact with each other and where everyone stands. I wouldn’t want to be a werewolf, of course, but I like the idea of having clear systems for that kind of thing.