N is for Nerves

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An ink drawing on white paper of two stick figures in martial arts uniforms standing in front of 5 stick figure judges who are sitting in chairs. The competitors appear to be shaking from nervousness (they have motion lines around the top of their bodies.)

During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

I can remember the weeks leading up to my first TKD belt test and the weeks leading up to my first competition. Two of the most nerve wracking occasions of my life.

I’ve done job interviews before and I defended my MA thesis, those were intimidating but they were brain work. Both of those occasions require me to think on my feet and to integrate information (that I have been working with for a long time) to address new questions – that’s an easily accessible skill set for me.

Standing up in front of experts and demonstrating patterns & sparring is a whole different story. Not only did I have to KNOW the things, I had to be able to SHOW the things – I had to make my body do the things that my brain understood.

I’m sure that sort of thing is routine for people who have been involved in sports their whole lives.* I’m not saying it is easier for them but it is more of a regular part of their lives so they have ways of dealing with it. I had no mechanisms in place. I practiced at home and in class but I was overwhelmed at the thought of actually doing it.

However, TKD was important enough to me to make it worth it to put myself through the experiences of competition and belt-testing. If I wanted to stay in TKD – yes, please!- then I had to endure these things.


An ink drawing on white paper of two stick figures in martial arts uniforms standing in front of 5 stick figure judges who are sitting in chairs. The competitors appear to be shaking from nervousness (they have motion lines around the top of their bodies.)

Here are the lessons I have brought from those experiences into the rest of my life:

1) Nerves are not inherently a bad thing.

I was nominated for a community award a few years ago and I was a bit nervous about it. A friend of mine said ‘Nervous is good that means that it is important to you.’ I’ve been carrying that gem around for a while but lately Master Downey has been saying something that adds even more value to that statement.

Master Downey also a psychologist so he regularly brings those skills to his teaching.

He says that nerves are just nerves. They are a natural part of certain experiences and that it is not the nerves themselves that cause us trouble. It’s our thoughts about those nerves that derail us. If we think that feeling nervous means that we are unprepared, then we start feeling bad about our abilities and we throw ourselves off. If we think that our nervousness means that we shouldn’t do this, we won’t be able to concentrate.

However, if we accept that nerves just happen sometime we can reduce the effect they have on our performance.

Also, I can’t remember if he said this or if I just pulled it out of my memory because it fits so well with that train of thought but we can also benefit from thinking of our nervousness as excitement. We think of excitement as a positive thing, nervousness as negative, but in our bodies, they feel pretty similar. I have had some success in reframing a feeling of nervousness into excitement, saying ‘I’m excited about my belt test tomorrow.’ Instead of saying ‘I am so nervous about my test tomorrow.’ – it doesn’t always reduce the feeling but it works often enough to make it worth it. You can read more about that nervous/excitement thing here https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/03/can-three-words-turn-anxiety-into-success/474909/ and watch a video here. https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/485297/turn-anxiety-into-excitement/

2) You get used to those challenging situations.

The more often you do something the less intimidating it is. It seems that situations like competitions and belt tests are much harder to think about than to do – and I have found the same thing applies with meetings, presentations, and annoying phone calls.

After many, many belt tests and a fair number of competitions, I am much less freaked out by them than I was. I will worry about specific aspects of an upcoming belt test (left handed double punch board break – I’m looking at you!) or a few moves in my competition pattern but the experience as whole is less overwhelming.

So, in a way, it is probably better to do these things as often as you can (Yes, I get how impossible that seems.) so each instance becomes less of a big deal. When you build on the success of having gotten through the challenge over and over, you can approach the next situation with less fear.

3) Failure is not actually that bad.

Okay, so I know that some of you will want to rush in to tell me that the situation below does not constitute a failure because I got up and participated and so on. However, I did not do what I intended to do AND this is an example of the sorts of thing most TKD students are thinking of when they worry about competition, so we’re going to call it failure. I don’t think *I* am a failure but I did fail to do what I set out to do and I think it’s a useful thing for people to read about. I know you may want to rush in to reframe this situation so I will feel better but I don’t feel bad about it, and I don’t feel bad calling it failure. It’s a valuable framework for me.

A few years ago at my first competition as a black belt, I did three moves of my pattern (Gae Baek, if you are wondering) and realized I had skipped the actual third (and fourth) move and I was doing the fifth instead. Skipping a move means you get zero on your pattern.

The sensible and honourable thing to do is to continue the rest of your pattern and see what happens.

I did not do that.

Instead, I froze. Then I returned to my ready posture and hung my head while my cheeks burned with embarrassment.

My brain was hopping with harsh, but not at all realistic, thoughts that went like this: I knew this pattern and I couldn’t believe that I messed it up in that specific way. My instructors had worked so hard to help me and I was letting them down. I looked like an idiot. My husband and sons had come ringside to watch me and now I had made a fool of myself. I outranked the person next to me and I was not being a good example for her.

It went on and on, you know what brains can be like.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t die of humiliation. The ground didn’t open and swallow me. No one criticized me. (they only reminded me that next time I should keep going)

In fact, my failure to do my pattern in that competition didn’t actually mean anything about me as a person.

It sucked and it felt terrible but the feeling passed pretty quickly and I went on to the next thing.

When I think about myself standing there with my head drooping down, I don’t feel angry or sad.

Instead, I feel compassion for myself.

I was doing something that I found hard but I did it anyway. And when I consider the situation as a whole, I realize that there were some factors before I went up to compete that I will need to accommodate for any other time I am competing.

So, my failure served me well, really.

Now I know that messing up isn’t the worst thing that can happen. I know that I can recover from it. And I know how to deal with outside factors that affect my performance.

So, the lesson of N is for Nerves is that being nervous is not fun but it doesn’t mean anything about you as a person – it’s no different than having an itch when you are wearing a wool sweater. Be kind to yourself while you get used to that idea.

*Sidenote: I really admire the way that sporty people can throw their all into a game or a series and then deal with losing. There is a certain resilience that people gain from those experiences that I really envy. I try not to be a sore loser overall but I have not built up the emotional muscle to invest deeply in a game or event and then let go. I am more likely not to invest as deeply so it is easier to let go of it. I have gotten used to things like competitions and belt tests but I still don’t have that specific type of resilience – hopefully it will come.

M is for Master, Ma’am, Ms. and Mr.

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I was sick for a few days and got off track with posting but I’ll be posting 2-3 letters per day between now and April 30 so I can catch up. Sorry for the service interruption. 🙂

During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

At Taekwondo class, I call my instructors Master Downey and Master D. I call the other students Ms /Mr or Sir/Ma’am – Sure, sometimes with little kids or with a close friend, I’ll slip up and say their first name (Sorry, Kevin!) but mostly I remember.

Just like bowing in to the Dojang, I like the kind of atmosphere that the formality creates. We are not here to hang out, we are here to learn and to practice. The honorific titles (Ms/Mr/Sir/Ma’am) and the earned titles (Master/Grand Master) reinforce that.

Those titles give a shape to our interactions and the fact that among students we are all ‘Ms/Mr’ reminds us that we can all learn from each other. Using those titles or Sir/Ma’am can help us focus on our joint purpose, and it creates a useful atmosphere for instruction.*

Two people in white martial arts uniforms bowing to each other, the person on the right is saying 'sir' the person the left is saying 'ma'am'

The fact that we call our instructors by a different, earned, title shows that they have worked long and practiced hard to get where they are. Frankly, if you had told me before I started martial arts that I would be willing to use the word ‘Master’ when addressing someone, I would have sprained my eyeball when rolling it.

However, in TKD, it feels appropriate to consistently recognize someone’s mastery of our sport. It’s no different than addressing someone with a PhD as Doctor. The fact that these titles are earned is a useful thing to consider – it puts that skill set within reach of those of us who are determined and dedicated.

Where’s the lesson for the rest of my life?

Well, putting this formality into practice in class has made me think a bit more about how I interact with people outside of class and I have found that valuable.

I’m not suggesting that as a society we should go back to calling everyone by titles all the time but I do think that we should consider what level of formality we want to have in given situations. It can be useful to realize that we can recognize someone’s valuable/lived experience by using a title, or by choosing our language carefully. That doesn’t mean that we need to automatically surrender our own authority, nor does it mean that we should let others dictate how formal a situation should be.

Instead, I recommend thinking about what we are trying to achieve, the atmosphere we are trying to create, and about what the other person is expecting from your interaction.

Once you have considered all of that, you can decide how to proceed.

You don’t have to speak deferentially to someone who is expecting it but it will change the nature of your interaction – you have to decide whether that makes sense for right now.

If you want a formal work meeting, then you can set the tone in your introductions or in your opening statements.

If someone else ‘pulls rank’ on you – for example, calling you by your first name in an email and then signing it ‘Principal Smith’ then you can recognize what they are trying to do and decide how you want to react to that.

It’s wise to make yourself aware of the level of formality expected or implied in your interactions and then consciously choose whether to continue or to disrupt it. Obviously, though, you will have to deal with the consequences of your choice but that’s better than being swept along solely by tradition or by someone else’s expectations.

Recognizing that things like titles and word choice can be someone’s attempt to assert authority over you or to control your interaction/input in a given situation can be very valuable. It can help you understand why you end up feeling like you are ‘on the defensive’ with some people, or why you end up swept along in their plans instead of making your own. Once you understand that, then you have more power in the situation.

And, as far as I am concerned, understanding your own power – whether or not you choose to assert it – is a key part of feeling like you are in charge of your own life.**
*Of course, when you get used to calling someone by their title, it makes for very odd social occasions, especially when people who are not part of TKD join us. It’s kind of funny to be out with a group of people who are calling each other Ma’am and Sir but it’s hard to break the habit after so much time in class together.
Also, I recognize that the gender binary of these titles is problematic but, frankly, I haven’t figured out how to handle that yet.
**No, I am not suggesting that everyone has power over every interaction in their lives. And with factors like racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism at work you may not have access to the structures to support your choices in any given situation. However, I still think it is valuable to recognize how people use language for good and for bad, and acknowledge that the problem is not you.

L is for L-stance

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

L-stance looks a lot like you imagine it would.

Say it was a left l-stance. Your feet, are facing two slightly different directions and they are 1.5 shoulder widths apart (measuring from the outside of your left foot to your right big toe.) Your left toes would be pointing almost toward 12 o’clock,your right toes would be facing almost toward 3 o’clock. Most of your weight is on your left leg and your left hip is pushed outward. (my taekwondoodle will follow later)

The details are slightly complex but the value of the stance is clear. L-stance not only keeps you a bit further from your opponent than other stances, it also lets you easily kick with one leg. You keep most of your weight on your back leg so your front leg is in position to deliver a kick.*

a person in a white martial arts uniform, their body is facing the viewer, their right arm is extended across their body in a punch, their left arm is at their side. Their right foot is pointing toward the viewer, their left is pointing to the left.

It turns out that an L-stance is really challenging for me to draw. 🙂

It’s an extremely useful stance because it sets you up to do what you need to do. It gets you right where you need to be to make the next move effective.

You can see where I am going here, right?

If you know what you need to do, it is very useful to set yourself up to do it easily.

Chefs often cut and measure their ingredients into little bowls before they cook.

Artists set up their supplies before they begin.

Mechanics bring a cart of tools near the car they are working on.

No matter what you are working on, it is helpful to be ready for the next step.

And it is useful to practice getting into that position.

I practice l-stance regularly so I can be ready when I have to use it. Even though it is the step BEFORE the action I want to take, there is value in ensuring that that step goes smoothly, that I can rely on it to work well when I need it.

How do you think you could apply that idea in your life?

What do you need to have ready before your work begins? What preparation to do you need to do to ensure that your work is effective? Are you respecting the effort that goes into that preparation?**

No matter what your work is, it will be easier if you take the time to ‘set yourself up’ in advance.

That includes things like giving yourself enough time before a meeting to get your notes in order – for me, it involves having enough time before a meeting to ‘get my brain there’ (switching tasks can be challenging for people with ADHD, I need to build in that switch time). It includes things like having a container for your post-it notes on your desk.

Whatever the physical or mental tools of your trade, if you can plan just one step back from the action you must take, it will serve you well.

So, if you can get yourself into a metaphorical L-stance before you get ready to kick at the next item on your to do list, you will be better positioned for success.



*These aren’t the only reasons or circumstances for L-stance but recounting every circumstance would get dull.

**I took a great course from Cairene MacDonald that made a huge difference in how I approach my work life. One of the key things I took from her course was the idea that ‘preparing to work is work’. Previous to that, I would get annoyed at having to sort papers or dig out documents or make phone calls before I could write/plan/whatever.  After her course, I began to respect that just like you warm up before you get into the strenuous part of your workout, you have to do your preparation before you can work. You can see that this post is that same lesson dressed in different clothes, so thanks to Cairene for helping me get here. 🙂

K is for Kick

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

(I am probably going to revise this post later, I have the devil’s own cold today so I am taking it easy and writing quickly)

You knew, of course, that I wasn’t going to write an alphabet of posts about Taekwondo and not mention kicking.

K is indeed for kick. Kicking, and kicking well, is a fundamental component of TKD. In fact, the words Tae Kwon Do mean the art of kicking and punching so we make a big deal out of getting it right.

If your kick isn’t landing properly in TKD, your instructor will not just look at your foot. They will look at your leg, your hip, how far you have leaned back, what you are doing with your supporting leg, and how you have turned your supporting foot. They will ask you to execute the kick over and over to see how you are setting yourself up for the kick.

A blue ink drawing on dot-graph paper of a person with shoulder length hair who is wearing a martial arts uniform. They are doing a sidekick - their left foot is on the ground, toes pointing the left, their right leg is extended and their foot is in the air, toes pointing downward. Their right arm is extended, hand in a fist. Their left arm is bent in towards their body.

Even tiny feet like these can create devastating kicks when you use them correctly.

TKD instructors know that a lot of different movements contribute to the success of a kick and they can help you tweak each one.*

Sure, as the recipient of the list of tweaks, things can get a little baffling, but it is an impressive array of knowledge that you just have to put into practice, one thing at a time until you get it.

That same thing is true of tweaks in your regular life as well.

The issue you are trying to resolve is not just made up of the result you see. It involves all kinds of other ‘moving’ parts that may need to be tweaked.

A side kick that doesn’t land properly may have started with the person not turning their other foot away from the kicking direction.

A missed appointment might start with you not having a regular time to fill up your car with gas.

The two pieces don’t really seem connected until you recognize that they are both part of a greater system that you have to keep in order if you want things to work out the way that you like.

Your turned foot sets the mechanics in motion to ensure that your kick will reach its target. Your regular fill-up time ensures that you always have gas when you need it and you don’t need to make extra time on the way to an appointment.

When you find you are facing a similar issue over and over in your daily routine, it’s a good idea to backtrack through your ‘and thens’** and make some adjustments for the next time you have to do that thing.

If you can’t find where the tweaks can be made – ask someone who had to LEARN how to do that thing to point them out to you.

(If you ask someone who does it naturally, they may not be able to break it down for you.)

And please, be kind to yourself while you figure it out.

Organizing routines, schedules, and even self-care takes just as much practice as perfecting a kick.



*An interesting thing that has developed as I have been learning to help instruct in TKD classes. At first, I could see that a student was doing *something* wrong but I couldn’t necessarily tell what it was. As my instructing abilities grew, I began to see at what point the issue occurred but I couldn’t necessarily tell them how to fix it. I am now at the point where I can often help students get started in addressing the issue and then my advice gets refined by a higher ranking instructor. It’s cool to see my own growth as an instructor as time goes along.

**You know, this went wrong and then I couldn’t do that and then I forgot that and then…

J is for Joong-Gun Tul

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Joong-Gun is a tricky pattern.

There, I said it.

blue ink drawing on white paper of a person with shoulder length hair in a martial arts uniform. The person is facing to the right and their right hand is extended at about waist height, palm upward. Their right leg is bent and is slightly ahead of their left. Their ball of their right foot is touching the ground but the heel is off the ground, their left foot is flat on the floor.

In case you are wondering, I messed up the face for this drawing but I was pleased with how the body came out so I drew a head. face and hair on a separate piece of paper and overlaid it.

When you start learning Joong-Gun in preparation for your red stripe test, you encounter a lot of new stances and movements.  You haven’t done rear foot stance before, nor palm upward block, nor the 12 other new movements that that are included in the 32 movement pattern.

It’s complex and even black belts (who can mostly breeze through the earlier patterns) have to pay VERY close attention to the moves in Joong-Gun.

This is not to say that it is impossible, and I am definitely not saying that it isn’t worthwhile, but it is tricky and requires a lot of effort.

I got discouraged when trying to learn Joong-Gun and so does almost every other student.

The thing that makes us all feel better about it, though, is being told that it is indeed complex.

I think, previous to being told that it is hard, we get in our own way, blaming ourselves for not ‘getting it.’ We think that we aren’t working hard enough.

And while I’m sure that some struggle because they haven’t committed, when it comes to Joong-Gun, most people struggle because it just takes a long time to learn. You have to just work your way through it, over and over, and eventually it will click.*

There’s nothing wrong with YOU if you don’t get it quickly. You just need time.

And that, my friends, is where we cross over into the rest of our lives.

It’s okay to say things are hard. It’s okay to acknowledge your struggle. Even if you can only admit it to yourself, it’s okay to say it aloud, “This is really hard.”

There is power in that admission.

You don’t have to pretend everything is fine or easy. The effort to pretend takes energy away from your actual work on the problem at hand.

I’m not suggesting that you stay in a complaining mode all the time, that might make things worse, but I am suggesting that you say to yourself – and anyone else who needs to hear it – that the thing you are doing is challenging.

That doesn’t mean you are going to stop. It doesn’t mean you are giving up. You are just acknowledging the effort required.

That’s almost like paying your respects to the task, isn’t it?

Saying ‘You are challenging me AND I will keep going.’

And I think that acknowledging someone else’s struggle is a kind of blessing, too. Recognizing that they are putting in a lot of effort on something that is difficult for them gives them strength for the effort ahead.

It’s okay to let them off the hook of feeling ‘not good enough’ in the face of a daunting task. You can let them know that it is, indeed, daunting, and that others found it daunting but they persevered. Then, remind the struggler of their previous victories over daunting tasks and give them the boost they need to keep going.

I have felt *almost* defeated by many tasks and many TKD patterns so far but with the right kind of encouragement (from myself and others), I have come out on the other side.

Acknowledge that things are hard, then give yourself the encouragement you need, and let yourself off the hook of ‘not good enough.’  I dare you.



*The same could likely be said of any pattern but Joong-Gun is a particularly vivid example.


I is for Inner Forearm Block

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Trigger Warning: I mention abuse in a non-graphic way in the latter half of this post. If you are vulnerable or triggered by such mentions, please do not read this post.

During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Sometimes, you don’t know what you think you know.

I can distinctly remember learning Inner Forearm Block.

I have a great memory but because of how I store information, I don’t memorize specifics easily. Hence, I sometimes have trouble associating the names of TKD movements with the movements themselves.*

However, Inner Forearm Block made perfect sense to me. When I do the block correctly, I can see the inside part of my forearm. I was pretty impressed with the fact that I could always name that specific movement.

When I learned Outer Forearm Block, I had another victory. In Outer Forearm Block, I could see the outside of my forearm, it was easy to remember!

Any martial artist reading this is currently thinking “Wait, but…that’s not…” and then they aren’t even sure how to address the problems in those previous sentences.

This was early in my TKD training and I didn’t know the scope of what I didn’t know.

When I began to learn other blocks and their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ positions didn’t match what I “knew” from those first blocks, I got very confused and frustrated. Why were they changing things around on me? How come this wasn’t consistent from block to block?

Truthfully, the context had been properly explained to me from the beginning but because I was so focused on learning the movement itself, I had missed it. Those blocks are named for the blocking tool – the piece of your body you are using to block the strike.

So, the ‘Inner Forearm Block’ is using the piece of your forearm that is naturally closest to your body when your arm is hanging down – the side that your thumb is on. An ‘Outer Forearm Block’ uses the other side of your forearm, the side furthest from your body when your arm is hanging down – the side your pinkie is on.


Black ink drawing on white paper. A left fist with the palm side facing out ad a right fist with the back of the hand facing the camera.

Before the new information forced me to correct my position, I was confident in my incorrect knowledge. I didn’t have enough experience to know that I was wrong.

Now, that incorrect knowledge did serve me well for the time being but it didn’t give me anything to grow on. I couldn’t get any better  – and in fact, couldn’t add any power to those blocks – until I understood the big picture.

I have encountered a lot of people – including myself – who make that mistake in other areas of their lives, too. It happens to my coaching clients all the time and they end up being very hard on themselves.

They don’t have the full picture or the full context so they focus on one piece of knowledge and assume it explains everything.**

Usually, that comes down to blaming themselves for a situation over which they have no control.

They don’t know why the other person is behaving badly, so they blame themselves.

They can’t get their schedule to behave, so they assume they are flawed.

They can’t establish a certain habit, so they decide they are lazy.

In every case, the person in question has either been focusing on the wrong information or they have lacked a bigger context – just like I was with my inner/outer forearm blocks.

You don’t know why the other person is behaving badly but you are not responsible for someone else’s behaviour. They choose (consciously or unconsciously) to act the way that they do. Their behaviour may have nothing to do with you, or it may be related to you but it is still their responsibility to communicate effectively and maturely to address the situation.

(NOTE: If someone is hurting you in any way and they are telling you that you are bringing it on yourself, please seek some outside help. As convincing as abusers can be, they are choosing to act the way they do. No victim of abuse ’causes’ that abuse – it a ploy used by  abusers to control their victims.)

If you can’t get your schedule to behave or if you can’t establish a habit, the problem isn’t you. You are not flawed. You lack the information to make this work.

There is a perception that schedules and habit creation are one-size-fits-all but we don’t have one-size-fits-all lives. (spoiler alert: even one-size-fits-all clothing doesn’t most people)  We all have unique histories, experiences, lives and obstacles and what works for one, may not work for you. You are not flawed, you are not weak, you just need a different system or approach.

I hate to see anyone be hard on the themselves because they can’t make a system work for them. They need to look at the things that get in their way, the things that challenge them, and then figure out specific work-arounds. Yes, there are general guidelines that can help most people – stacking habits, preparing in advance, having specific start times and signals – but the specifics of how those things will apply vary from person to person.

Please don’t assume that because you are the central character in your life that you must be the problem. 

There is always a bigger picture, a bigger story, and, like me with the narrow view of the forearm blocks, you need to figure out that broader context. That’s when you will understand what’s going on and become more effective.

Please be good to you.





*For example, twin knifehand block and knifehand guarding block are different movements but there is nothing in the name that inherently distinguishes one from the other, you just have to know which is which. Or, if you are me, you make a one line story about which one is which. 😉

**I’m not getting into the areas of politics or internet arguments here but obviously this can apply in those contexts, too. I’m just sticking to how this works for coaching.

H is for Hands

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

In the rest of my life, I just rely on my hands to do their thing*. In Taekwondo, I spend a lot of time telling them what to do.

Have I made a fist correctly? Is it at the right angle?

Is my knife-hand correct?

Is my other hand pulled back to my hip? Guarding my chest? Where does it belong right now?

Did I start my hands in the opposite direction than they are now?

While the hand movements for a pattern become fairly automatic as I practice, learning a new pattern means that I spend a lot of time coordinating my hands to the move with the rest of my body.

A black ink drawing on white paper. Multiple images of someone's hand in a variety of positions - fist, knifehand strike (flat with fingers extended),  repeated at different angles. One image of a woman in a dobok, arms extended out to the sides, at shoulder height, hands flat, palms down.

So many different many ways to move my hands during a pattern.

Lately, because of my broken wrist, I have been practicing my patterns with my right arm in a sling – to keep me from accidentally compounding my injury. That leads to a whole different level of awareness. I have trouble remembering my hard-earned patterns when I can’t make the whole movement.

I didn’t realize that having my right hand out in front was a cue for me to turn a certain way, or to do a certain kick immediately afterwards. I’ve been struggling to keep the patterns together without those now-unconscious cues. It has broken my (good) habit of knowing these patterns.

It’s frustrating but it is also kind of useful. I can’t do the majority of any pattern automatically, so I have to give each move a lot of thought. That helps me make small improvements in technique that I might otherwise have missed out on.

Wondering how this could apply in the rest of your life?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to be more mindful – mindfulness has its benefits but it is not the only lesson in the world.

We do a lot of things in our day to day life by routine – we’d break our brains if we didn’t – and those routines include things that don’t serve us very well. You know the things I mean – zoning out in front of the TV (by accident rather than by choice) because it tends to be on after supper, or eating cookies when we’re not hungry because they are right in front of us on the counter**

Like me with my right hand (not) out in front, we may not realize what our cue is for a given activity or action.

If you have something in your life that you want to STOP doing – see if you can find what cues you to do it so you can make a different choice. (And make that different choice easier – prepare in advance when possible.***)

If you have something you want to START doing, see if you can find a way to introduce a cue into your routine, something that will remind you to add this new thing. (It’s a good idea to prepare in advance for the new thing, too. It makes it easier to add it!)


*This has changed while I have had my right hand in a brace. It’s really weird to be conscious of which hand you use to open a door, to turn on a tap, or grab a pencil.

**If you want to zone in front of the TV or you want to eat cookies, by all means, go ahead! I’m talking about when you do this things on autopilot instead of choosing to do them.

***e.g. If you want to drink water instead of soft drinks more often, put the soft drinks in the back of the fridge or in the cupboard and keep a filled water bottle or water jug in the fridge. If you want to journal every day, put your notebook and pen next to your bed. If you want to stop slouching back on the couch, pile up pillows so you only have room to sit the way that serves you best.

G is for Global Learning

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

After many, many years of getting frustrated while trying to learn new physical things – dances, sports, or whathaveyou – my desire to learn Taekwondo overrode my frustration with the learning process and I was able to stick with it long enough to understand what was getting in my way.

It turns out that that, at least when it comes to physical activity, I am a global learner.*  I have to see the big picture before things make sense and as I practice, I learn in big jumps instead of step by step. Once I have the big picture in mind, I *can* practice it piece by piece but before I fully understand what I’m doing, the individual pieces don’t stick.

Basically, without knowing the greater context, I don’t learn easily.

That was a huge revelation for me. And without my strong desire to improve at TKD, I might never have discovered why I struggled with these things.** I might have never stumbled on the fact that there were different ways to learn things. That it wasn’t that I was bad at these things, it was that I approached them differently.

That understanding changed how I approached learning new physical skills. I started asking my instructors (or senior students) to show me the whole pattern before I started learning. I began reading more about the movements before I tried to learn them. I watched videos of people doing those patterns.

And, most importantly, I was more patient with myself.

(Yes, Kevin, I can hear you laughing at me right now. 😉 )

You see, previously, I would get frustrated at my inability to pick up on things that other people were getting right away. I would get impatient and irritated with myself and I ended up getting in my own way.

After figuring out about global learning, I realized that learning these new things was a mostly a matter of time. I would be able to get them eventually, and that there were things I could do to help my understanding along.

A blank ink drawing of a woman in a dobok with a thought balloon over her head that contains a book, a stick figure and a broken board.

This just in: it’s hard to depict learning.


And that’s where we get to how this lesson from TKD applies outside the dojang.

Is there anything that is frustrating you that might have its roots in how you are looking at the problem?

Is it possible that your approach is not ‘wrong’ or ‘inadequate’ but just different?

Having diverse learning styles and diverse approaches to problems means that more problems can get solved. If we can be patient with ourselves while we figure out what we are bringing to the (metaphorical) table, we can get all kinds of great things done.

So, perhaps you haven’t figured out how to do the thing in the way that is it usually done.

How ELSE can you do it?

What experience can you bring to the help answer the question at hand?

Perhaps, like me after the global learning revelation, you can work from the assumption that the answer lies ahead and just keep pushing forward until something clicks.

Your struggle doesn’t automatically mean that this thing is ‘not for you’, it doesn’t have to have any meaning at all. Sometimes it is just tricky to learn something new and we just have to accept that it will take time.

P.S. – All of this is assuming that you even want to do the thing. Part of the reason that I didn’t figure out about global learning earlier was that nothing was important enough to me to keep working at it. Once TKD came along, the stakes were raised and I figured out how to proceed.

It’s okay to decide that that something isn’t worth it to you – in most cases you can delegate it, change up the task, or get a team together. If you aren’t really interested in getting better at this thing and you *can’t* ditch it then do your okayest with it and let it be. You have my permission. 😉

*I have not done a lot of research into learning styles or education practices but in the course of figuring out how to learn TKD, I happened on the description of global learning and it fit so perfectly and served me so well that it doesn’t much matter if the concept is well accepted in the world at large.

**There is more to it that the global learning, of course. I also was dealing with a fixed mind-set and the perception that coordination was just innate  – that there was no way for me to improve my existing capacity. And, discovered that I have ADHD (the distractable kind) which reassured me about why some things were so tricky for me.



F is for Fight-Ready

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Sure, it’s satisfying to learn to kick and punch. Our bodies like the movement and the muscles we build feel powerful.

But do you know why martial artists train to fight?

So we are ready.

Ready to defend ourselves, ready to protect someone else, ready to fight for something important.*

It’s not about looking for an opportunity to fight, it’s about being able to fight if we need to.

An ink drawing of two people in martial arts uniforms and sparring gear. They both have a ponytail sticking out of the top of their helmets, the person on the right is jumping in the air, and has their left arm extended in a punch toward the other person's head.

The only reason I would like to have a ponytail is so I could go full warrior-style with my hair sticking out of the top of my sparring helmet. Unrelated note: I’d also like to be able to easily employ a jump punch like the person on the right. 🙂 I had to redraw the person on the right several times, hence the line of folded paper.

Doing drills, getting into the ring for sparring, practicing techniques, they are all about developing our instincts.**

We want to have a direct and competent response when we need to fight, we don’t want to just freeze in place – so we practice until we don’t have to think about a response, we just respond.

How does that apply in the rest of your life?

Let me start with a joking example…

At Christmas time a couple of years ago, I was baking and a precariously balanced spoon covered in dough started to fall toward the floor. I reacted quickly, snatching the spoon out of the air and saving myself from a mess.

It’s a bit silly but I credit my TKD practice with being able to save myself the trouble of cleaning my floor in the middle of my baking session. I am trained to react quickly to movement, either to strike or to get out of the way. My “instincts” in this case had me step forward and grab the spoon. I didn’t freeze and watch it unfold. My previous practice saved me from an annoying situation.

You can train yourself to be ‘fight-ready’ in any situation you regularly encounter (again, I don’t mean that you have to be spoiling for an argument). You can train yourself beyond that ‘freeze’ response and into something that serves you better.

For example:

If you know that you will regularly encounter an annoying person, you can prepare and practice some self-calming techniques in advance. You want to leave their annoying nature with them, not to carry the emotional residue of your encounter around with you all day.

If you regularly have to use certain papers, you can find a way to store them that makes it easy to retrieve them. You want to make the storage and retrieval process instinctual.

If you often need to babysit, you can prepare a list of games and songs in advance. That way, when things go wonky (and they will), you don’t have to scramble for a response, you can just act on something from your list.

Martial artists train so they are ready to respond in a fight. You can do your own training to respond to the situations you encounter in your life, no matter what they are.

Training to be fight-ready is not a one-step, one-time activity, it’s a process.

It will be the same for whatever you are training for so don’t panic if it takes a while to ‘stick.’

What sorts of things would you like to be ‘fight-ready’ for?


*Just so you know, fighting in an escalated situation is actually the last straw for martial artists. Our rules for self defense advise us to try to talk our way out of the situation, to leave if possible, and then, if that doesn’t work, we fight. Meanwhile, our training means we are ready if someone attacks us first.

**Sidenote: I find the phrase ‘trust your instincts’ to be absolutely maddening. I think that humans have far fewer instinctual things than we pretend that we do and society as a whole trains us out of a lot of the ones that we could be using. There are a lot of layers of experience and instruction that mask many of the instincts we would have once had. A lot of the time, what people are calling instincts have been honed from repetition and practice. So, if you don’t have the ‘instinct’ to do something you need to do – look for some repetitive practice to do in that area and your automatic response will develop.


E is for Eyes…and Energy

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During April, I’m writing 26 posts for the A to Z Blog Challenge. I’m combining my skills as a writer, a life coach, and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo) to create a series of posts about applying aspects of TKD to life outside of martial arts. Whenever possible, I’ll include a little Taekwondoodle to illustrate what I’m talking about.

In Taekwondo, we are always working to get our eyes, feet, hands and breath operating together. It’s an underlying principle in the Theory of Power – that if our movement, breathing and visual focus are all happening at once, the end result will be powerful.

In training, this often gets shortened to ‘look where you’re striking’  – which doesn’t necessarily mean to look at your hand or foot, it means to keep your eyes on your training partner.*

This same basic idea is also encapsulated in ‘where your eyes go, your power goes’ and that’s where the connection to the rest of your life comes in.

Ink drawing on white paper of a person in a martial arts uniform. Their stance is wide, their right arm is half way across their chest, their left arm is extended out to the left. Their head is turned toward their left arm.

Turns out sitting stance is challenging to depict. Their eyes are in the right spot though.

You have to choose your focus.  You have to choose where to apply your power, your energy.

I know that we have a lot of things competing for our attention, and we may not have a lot of choice in how we spend our time.

We can, however, take charge of our energy – of what we put our metaphorical ‘eyes’ on.

If you focus solely on how far you are from your goal, you will become discouraged.

If you keep your eyes on where people let you down, that is all you will see.

If you focus on only one area of your life, it will loom large.

All of your energy will go where your eyes are.

That makes it a good idea to be choosy about your focus.

None of this is to say that you need to pretend nothing bad is happening. I’m not suggesting that you ignore the challenges around you. I am suggesting that you keep perspective and put your energy and your power toward the way you want to view the world.

Keep your eyes where you are striking. 

Where do you need to keep your eyes at the moment?

(It’s okay if you keep having to remind yourself to look that way. It takes a lot of practice.)

*When we’re doing drills, we often refer to the imaginary person as an ‘opponent’ but when we are practicing with another person, they are our training partner. It sounds like semantics but you know how I feel about the power of words and the stories they shape. A training partner is helping you get better, an opponent must be defeated. There is very different energy in those two things.