D is for Dojang

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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’m still learning how to draw these kind of figures but this is good practice.

In ITF Taekwondo, our training space is called a dojang. Many schools have their own building so their space is always dedicated to TKD* but our dojangs are rented space in a church hall and a community centre and I think there are real advantages to using a multi-purpose space.

While we *call* the space a dojang, it is the training that takes place there that gives it purpose. The  instructor leading the students through the rituals of coming to attention, of bowing in, of practicing – the activities create the dojang.A black ink drawing on white paper, depicting a stick figure martial arts class in white uniforms. They are in a gymnasium and there are double doors behind them with the word ‘exit’ written above them.

The practice can take place in any space – indoors or out – and it will be transformed into a dojang.

There is power in that.

With our classes taking place in multi-purpose space, we are regularly reminded that the building itself isn’t some sort of magic. Our instructors create the space for us to learn and we sustain that space through our attention and our commitment.

We don’t need a specific building – we need that mental space – that frame of mind.

It’s the same for anything you want to practice regularly. Sure, a dedicated space for writing/drawing/lego/meditation/board games is cool but you don’t *need* a specific physical space in order to do those things. You can do those things in almost any space (as long as there is room for the activity).

What you need is the mental energy that transforms the space you have into a space for doing that activity.

In TKD, we bow when we enter the dojang and that is a signal that we are in our training space, that we are here to do that specific thing.

If you are trying to fit something into your life and you find that the lack of a dedicated space feels like an obstacle, perhaps you need something that lets you mentally transform the space you already have. A shawl that you put on for writing. A piece of cardboard that your puzzle fits on so you can slide it under the couch (and back out when it is time to fit pieces together). A ritual for turning on the music that you use for exercising.

With repetition, you can turn any of those things into a signal to yourself that you are entering the time and space for your chosen activity.

What activities are you trying to fit into your life?

Do you have a way of marking space for them?

 

 

*I know there are advantages to a dedicated space as well – being able to drop in at non-class times, having more control over the contents and design of the space, and so on. However, it is still the instructor and the students that make it a dojang.

 

C is for Commitment

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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’m still learning how to draw these kind of figures but this is good practice.

This might be the most straightforward connection between TKD and the rest of the world: You have to commit in order to get results.

Some students think that by showing up at class twice a week, they can easily learn everything they need to know and earn their belts. Actually, showing up at class is just the beginning – those few hours a week get you started but you will require a lot more practice outside of class to be proficient.

I’ve seen some people get really annoyed about that. They view practicing at home as ‘extra’ stuff that they didn’t sign on for.*

I see that as a lack of commitment.

If you want to be a martial artist, you have to commit to learning in class and to practicing at home.

It’s the same with almost any area of your life.

Improvement requires a commitment to do the work. If I don’t practice – writing, art, TKD, whatever – I’m not going to be good at it and I won’t get any better.

Change requires commitment. If you don’t focus on trying, you won’t be able to make the changes you want to make.

I’m not saying ‘Go big or go home.’

I’m not saying ‘You need to make this your LIFE.’

I’m not even saying that you need to be 100% committed (anything more than 50% is good).

What I am saying is:

If you decide that you want something, first you make a commitment to yourself THEN you in put the work to meet that commitment.

I know that you can learn commitment like this outside of TKD but, for me, that’s when it became most clear. When I am struggling with a new move or concept, I commit to working regularly on that thing and I get better – the results are visible.

If I didn’t COMMIT to learning it and I didn’t do the work, then I would have no right to complain about the results. I would be getting exactly what I worked for.

What sorts of things have you committed to?

How do you demonstrate that commitment?

A black ink drawing on white paper of a woman in a white martial arts uniform with a black belt. She is facing to the right with her left arm extended in front of her at shoulder height, her palm is facing the camera. Her right arm is in a sling.

This a representation of my practice at the moment. My right wrist is broken and in a brace so when I go to class, I put it in a sling so I don’t move it too much. I’m learning my newest patterns this way because I don’t want to miss any training time. I am committed to learning these patterns in time to text for my 3rd degree black belt in June.

 

*Please note: I some people live with a lot of time crunches and they can’t squeeze in much practice, this isn’t about them.

 

B is for Backward Movement

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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’m still learning how to draw these kind of figures but this is good practice.

A black ink drawing on white paper. The drawing is of a woman in a martial arts uniform with her left foot forward, and she is punching with her left hand. Her right hand is pulled in by her right side. There are arrows indicating that her left fist is moving forward and her right arm is moving back.

The sunglasses were an accident – I’m drawing with a brace on my right wrist and precision is tricky right now. Also, it turns out that it is really hard to create a sense of movement in a quick doodle.

One of the training principles of TKD is that, with VERY few exceptions, every movement starts with a slight backwards movement. A punch is pulled back a little before it is thrust forward, a sidekick starts by pulling the thigh toward the body before the leg is pushed outward. That backward movement adds power to your attack.*

(If you have ever been coached by me, or if you have complained to me about having to start over, then you know where I am going next.)

I apply the principle of backward motion to all kinds of non-TKD situations. It’s okay to have to take a step back, to go over something again, to go back to the start. It happens to us all on a regular basis – you aren’t the first one to retrace their steps. AND, you can definitely view it was a move to build power.

When you do have to step back and reassess or to even start over, you are getting a new perspective and incorporating your experience. There is inherent power in that.

A lot of us seem to have this idea that anything but continuous forward motion is a kind of failure.** Having that as an internal story is damaging and painful, and it leads us to be hard on ourselves.

What about if we could substitute the idea that backward movement is adding power to our next forward motion?

What about if we could see it as a necessary step in the process of progress?

How could considering backward motion as a means to build power bring some ease to your thinking?

I dare you to try it.

*Go ahead and pretend that you are about to punch hard at something in front of you. I’ll bet your elbow was stuck out behind your back for a moment. We do that some backward movements naturally, we just don’t think about why.

**I’ll address the fact that is okay to fail in another post sometime. The short version is that we all fail all the time. It’s a sign that we are trying new things and challenging ourselves and it should be encouraged not shameful.

A is for Attention!

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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.

Let’s begin the way a TKD class begins, with Attention!

a black ink illustration on white paper -  a person with shoulder length hair, dressed in a martial arts uniform with a black belt. The person's feet are together at the heel, toes pointing outward to form a v-shape. hands are slightly extended away from the body.

My Taekwondoodles will be imperfect, might as well get used to it now. 🙂 This person’s left arm should be a bit closer to their body.

Before Taekwondo class, the students will be moving around the dojang. Some will be practicing patterns, others will be doing drills, kicks, or punches, others will be chatting or stretching. There is a sort of chaotic energy to the place, the kind you have right before anything really starts.

When the instructor is ready, they shout “Charyot!” (Attention!)

Every student in the room pivots to face them, getting into a specific ‘attention stance’ to demonstrate that they are, indeed, paying attention. Attention stance means that the student stands up straight, with their heels together and toes apart (making a V with their feet), upper arms close to their bodies, forearms and fists pointing out to the side. They are awaiting the next command.

It’s reassuring to have a clear way to get started. The instructor takes charge of the room with that single word, there is no sort of wheedling, whining, “Hey, guys! Pay attention! Over here! Come on now!” It’s just the imperative “Attention!”

What would it be like if you had that sort of clear line in other areas of your life? I don’t mean for bossing other people around (although that has its appeal), I mean for bringing your focus to the task at hand.

Could you have a signal to yourself to switch from scrolling though Facebook to reading that book you can’t seem to get to?

Would it be possible for you to command yourself to stop dwelling on that one issue for an hour or so and focus on something else instead?*

I find it useful to use the timer on my phone as my “Attention!” command.**

I set a timer for whenever I have to get started on something or when I have to switch tasks.*** When it goes off, I immediately switch my attention. It helps me make a clear line between different activities.

What kinds of things require your attention? How do you direct your focus? Could you create an unquestionable ‘Attention’ command for yourself?

*It seems a bit silly but sometimes you can get your brain to give you a break if you promise that it is for a limited time.

**I even label my timer with the thing that needs my attention. I change the default label to “Work Now!” or “Make List!”

***I just realized how hilarious and terrific it would be to have recordings of each of my instructors saying “Charyot!” to use as timer tones.

 

Creativity Coaching: Use What You Know on 10MN

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My latest post for 10 Minute Novelists is live!
I use my Taekwondo skills to make myself a better writer. I teach TKD using storytelling skills.
Once I learn a skill set, I apply it in as many places as I can.

http://www.10minutenovelists.com/use-know-improve-writing-transferable-skills/
An image of a yellow circle against a white background with test that reads 'Use What You Know: Improve Your Writing With Transferable Skills'
 

Small Creative Projects

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I am a big fan of short-term challenges, particularly creative ones.

Right now, I’m doing the #MarchOfRobots Challenge and I’m having a grand time with it.

Some of the other participants on Instagram are really taking things up a notch – clearly drawing is their particular practiced skill or perhaps their profession – but I am keeping it simple. Black ink on an index card, drawing the first thing that comes to mind.

 

Drawing of two robots in an airplane with clouds behind them. Drawn in black ink on a white index card.

These robots are demonstrating ‘flight’

Here are a few of my recent ones.

A drawing in black ink on a white index card. The drawing depicts a robot doing yoga. The robot's mat has nuts and bolts on it and there is a window drawn on the far wall with a cloud and a tree visible.

Eloise is doing some yoga to relax.

A blank ink on white paper drawing of a small robot holding a flag. The robot is standing on a moon and there is a small spacecraft nearby.

Today’s prompt was moon. Shirley the Robot has just landed in her solo space craft.

Pile of Tasks

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A sketchbook page with white paper. Drawings are in black ink. The page is divided into three sections. The first section has a tidy pile of stones, the second has a messy pile and the third has a rising sun. The
I’m doing a 365 Somethings Challenge this year and, as part of that challenge, I have been doing week-long themes in my sketch book. The photo in this post is one drawing from a week or so ago.

Sometimes, I get a bit too caught up in the ‘how’ of things and I forget about the ‘do’ of things. This drawing is a kind of ‘note-to-self’ to remind me that sometimes getting the thing done matters far more than how you do it.

 

A sketchbook page with white paper. Drawings are in black ink.  The page is divided into three sections. The first section has a tidy pile of stones, the second has a messy pile and the third has a rising sun.  The

Sometimes, you approach your tasks with mindful care, taking pride in the process. Sometimes you just do them or even leave some undone. It happens to us all.
Either way, things get done (or not) and, tomorrow, you can try again. Be kind to yourself about it. Pretty please.

Flash Coaching: A little less overwhelmed

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White index card with black printing. Text says 'Maybe a cup of tea can't solve everything but I'm willing to try. Note: I am reserving the right to enact a cookie protocol as needed." There is a drawing of a mug next to the word tea and the edges of the paper are decorated with arrows and lines.
I didn’t mean to drop off the face of the blog after my last post but I caught the almost-flu. Hope you escaped that plague.

If you are feeling a bit swamped right now – and many people I know are – I have four things for you to do. Well, okay, five, but the first one really just sets you up for the action steps.

White index card with black printing. Text says 'Maybe a cup of tea can't solve everything but I'm willing to try. Note: I am reserving the right to enact a cookie protocol as needed." There is a drawing of a mug next to the word tea and the edges of the paper are decorated with arrows and lines.

Here’s my operating philosophy. It’s stuck on the wall next to my computer.

Start here: Make yourself a cup of tea. Coffee or hot chocolate will also do.  Really, just have a beverage you enjoy. Take a few deep breaths. Grab some paper, a pen or pencil that you like, and your calendar/schedule.

 

  1. Get stuff out of your head: Take a large-ish piece of paper and a pen or pencil you like and start writing down all the things that are in your brain. Tasks, worries, ideas, projects. Put it all on the paper. You can start with headings if you like – work, volunteer, family, etc. – but you don’t have to.
  2. Categorize: Make a pass through the whole list.* Note the things that can be done by someone else. Note the things that can wait until later. Note the things that are truly urgent/important. Note the worries. Note the tasks that can be done quickly. If you are bothered by the monster list, you can rewrite each category on to a separate list if you like.
  3. Schedule: Schedule items with deadlines (or other urgent factors) first. Then ‘park’ the stuff that can be done later – this means you put a note in your calendar to check that list at a specific time. Schedule a time to do the quickly done tasks. Pick a time to deal with the things that are worrying you (and to identify actions that you can take on those worries**). Fix all of those things to a specific time so you know they will be handled – your brain will love the break from having to hold all that information.
  4. Do something now: Push any item on that list one step forward right away. Even if it is looking up the phone number for a call you will make later. Cross it off the list and celebrate – perhaps have another cup of tea.

It seems a bit weird but I find this process enormously helpful. My brain likes knowing that I have everything put somewhere – even if it is just a slot on my calendar that says ‘read the list’ – and it stops churning stuff around. I even find it useful for worries because if I know that I am going to come back to the topic and try to find a solution at 10am on Tuesday, then that worry doesn’t loom as large on Monday at 2.

I know this won’t cure everything, it won’t make it all better, but it does give you a little mental space to decide what to do next.

I wish you well.

 

*I know it’s huge. It’s too big for one person, that’s why you feel overwhelmed. We all do this sometimes, don’t be hard on yourself.

**Yes, this may be too simplistic in some cases. You will know if that is the case and you can decide how to deal with those worries. Sometimes just having them on paper is enough to give yourself the distance to deal with them.

Thinking Small

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I was discussing resolutions with a group of people on Monday night and it turns out that we all had different metaphors for our process of trying to cram a small amount of as many of our plans for the year into the first day as possible.

I don’t have permission to share their metaphors so I’ll just tell you mine.

I was thinking of New Year’s Day like it was a cookie. According to an old cookbook I have, you are supposed to decorate cookies with a ‘hint’ of what they contain.  So, if your cookie has nuts in it, you should sprinkle some on top. If it is a cherry cookie, the icing should be red…and so on.

So, for my New Year’s Day, I made a list of all the types of things that I wanted my 2018 to contain and I did a little bit of as many of them as possible. It worked out pretty well and my day was quite interesting.

I realized today, though, that I am still kind of in cookie mode. I haven’t fully fleshed-out my plans for the year, especially work-wise, and so I am doing small bits of all kinds of things while and seeing what feels like the best path.

It’s working out pretty well, but I have to be patient with myself in the meantime – I do like to get things hammered down ASAP, usually.

So far, this has been my guiding principle…A notebook page that has a cup of tea drawn on it and text that reads 'draw and write before you do the boring stuff'. The boring stuff will wait. (It usually does). And below the teacup it reads 'tea might be a good place to start.'

 

I highly recommend this practice, if you have time and patience to let your stuff develop.