What Do You Want Your Child to be When They Grow Up?

My Dad and I the day I got my black belt.

My Dad and I the day I got my black belt.

New parents walk through the door at the school all the time and ask, “How will taekwondo help my kid?”.  Martial arts training benefits students in so many ways, that it would be easier to explain how they will get the specific benefits the parents are looking for rather than listing them all.  Do you want to know about the benefits you’ll see now?  If so, let’s talk about better hand-eye coordination, improved balance, increased self-confidence, better overall fitness, getting better grades in school, having more focus/paying better attention, or the fact that they might suddenly surprise you by using words like “yes sir”, “no ma’am”, “please”, or “thank you”.

Another question I get all the time is “When are they finished [with their training]?”.  Well, that really depends on them and on you.  The real question here is, what do you want your child to be when they grow up?  There is no finish line in taekwondo, or in life, and what you get out of both is directly proportionate to what you put into them.  I know parents love to brag on their children, but I am fortunate enough to get chances all the time to brag on my parents.  My father started taekwondo when he was 10 years old, and now over 35 years later his journey still isn’t over.  His physical abilities may not be what they were when he was 10, but he has trained 8 people who went on to open their own school, served as a role model to countless students over the years, and is exactly what his parents always wanted him to be when he grew up – happy.  To read more about Mr. Lacy, check out the feature segment from Frisco Style Magazine here.

Categories: About Our School, Motivation | Leave a comment

September Squat-fest!

Today’s blog is for everyone – students, parents, siblings, friends.  You can even email it out to your relatives and make it a family challenge!  The ancient Korean secret to stronger kicks is stronger legs, but just because you don’t take class doesn’t mean you can’t have strong legs too.  Our monthly 5 Minute Fitness challenges are designed to be done in a super short time period so there are no excuses.  You don’t have to do all of the squats at once, but you can if you want.  When will you ever find the time to spend 5 minutes each day getting stronger?  Well you could do it:

  • While you wait for your coffee to brew
  • While you wait for the shower to heat up
  • While you are brushing your teeth (and be sure to brush the full two minutes!)
  • During commercial breaks
  • With a buddy at the end of class
  • While talking on the phone
  • While yelling at your husband for not unloading the dishwasher (but that might make you look a little crazy)

I could go on, but you get the idea, right?  Print the calendar and put a big red X through each day when you’re finished.  You can even print one for each person in your house (even kids can do bodyweight exercises like squats to get stronger) and make a plan to do the challenge together.  You can also download a pdf version here.  Ready, set, squat!

September 5 Minute Fitness

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May I Have Your Attention Please…

No, really.  No, no, over here.  Helllllllllooooooooo! *frantically waves hands*  Earth to the student not paying attention, please respond.  Ok, let’s try sitting on the target so you’ll quit throwing it back and forth with your partner arguing over whose turn it is to hold it.

Why, as instructors, do we spend so much time demanding your attention?  There are a couple of reasons really.  First of all, this is called a Taekwondo school.  That last word there implies that learning will take place.  If you don’t pay attention when we review the material, one of two things is going to happen.  Either you will do it incorrectly, or as soon as the instructor gives the green light to begin you’re going to come up and ask “what are we doing”.  Either way, we spend time recounting the same information rather than having time to go more into detail and help individual students who paid attention but are struggling with some aspect of the technique.

The second reason is safety.  Why is it dangerous to not pay attention?  If you perform the techniques incorrectly there is a chance you could get hurt.  If you’re not paying attention to what is going on around you, you may accidentally hit someone when you are practicing your form.  If you aren’t listening for the instructor to let you know when it’s time to go or stop during sparring, you may hurt your partner by hitting them when they are completely unawares and unprepared to block.  This is also why it’s so important to answer, and answer loudly!  Maybe you are ninja focused and paying amazing attention, but your partner has an ear infection and doesn’t pay very good attention in the first place anyway.  If you answer, it clues your partner in to the fact that something is changing, and may avoid you getting hit unexpectedly.

Another problem we’ve seen lately (and if you’re paying attention you’ve heard us stop the entire class to talk about it) is with students not paying attention to where they are going.  When we ask you to go around a group it’s not because we think you need the extra exercise from walking a little further.  At least 2-3 times each week a student comes within seconds of getting hit because they walk through a group to go get a target, or between an instructor and a student testing for a stripe, or in the middle of a group doing their form, or between and instructor and someone about to break a board.  Remember when Mrs. Lacy talks about the difference between contact and impact when sparring?  If you get hit in one of these situations, it is going to be impact, because the other person isn’t expecting anyone to magically appear at the end of their foot.

Last but not least, we want you to pay attention because of the very first tenet of Taekwondo – Courtesy.  If you are spinning in half circles while holding the target for your partner, it’s not very courteous to them because by moving the target you’re actually making it harder to get better.  If you are paying attention to your partner, you can help make sure they are doing the correct technique.  If your partner isn’t doing the right kick, or is performing the kick incorrectly, do **NOT** abruptly move the target out of the way mid-kick, put your face where the target used to be, and point to what your partner is doing wrong.  This also happens several times a week, and each time it makes my heart skip a beat.  If you think your partner is doing the kick wrong, ask an instructor.  We are there to help, not just to stare at ourselves in the mirror and look pretty while you’re doing target work.

A final note about sparring:  the goal is always not to get hit, but that isn’t always feasible (especially if you spar with your hands down).  Last week Mrs. Lacy asked one of the juniors classes, “what should you do if you’re sparring and your partner kicks you upside the head?”.  One of the students (who obviously wasn’t paying super close attention because he misunderstood the question a little bit) responded, “Point and go ‘IN YOUR FACE’!”.  While he was a little confused, he actually did have the right idea.  If your partner hits you and you don’t block, it’s important to acknowledge the hit with a quick “Nice” or “Good hit”.  If you don’t acknowledge it, the next time your partner is going to hit you a little bit harder.  If you don’t respond to that, they’re going to hit a little bit harder and a little bit harder to try and get your attention until you either acknowledge the hit or go and complain to an instructor that they are hitting too hard.  Even though taekwondo is an individual sport, everyone at the school is on the same team.  While no one wants to get hit, it is important to congratulate your teammates when they do well (i.e. getting in a good, clean shot while sparring).  Acknowledging the hit also helps you acknowledge weaknesses in your sparring defense, and until you acknowledge them you cannot fix them.

Classes are only 45 minutes, so come prepared to pay attention the whole time.  Parents can help their kids pay better attention in class by getting them into the school 5 minutes before their class starts with their belt, taekwondo clothes, and gear.  If you drop your child off too early, they will be bored and unfocused when class finally begins.  If you get them there late they miss lining up and warming up (when we are working on getting them focused) and are often so frenzied by being late that they spend the rest of the class trying to play catch up but never quite getting there.  Adults who get to class early are encouraged to begin light stretching on their own.  Not only can extra stretching help prevent injury, but it also gets your mind focused on what’s about to happen.  Taekwondo is a physical sport, but it is also a mental art form.  If your mind is wandering, you’re missing half of the benefits.

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Testing Cycle Week 2: Let’s Kick It Up a Notch

Motivation

Today begins the second full week of the testing cycle.  By this time all colored belts should be familiar with at least the first half of their new form.  I realize it’s a busy time with the start of the school year and trying to get back into a set routine for a lot of people, but be sure you don’t let your training fall by the wayside.  “We’ll be back to class as soon as things settle down a bit” can very easily turn into a month or more off.  If you  make room for at least one weekday class and a Friday or Saturday class in your schedule now, it’s much easier to rearrange your class days once things settle down – plus, kids get discouraged trying to play catch-up when they start back halfway through the testing cycle.  Making sure you get your two classes in each week will help keep them motivated and on track with the rest of their classmates.

This week we are taking extra time to focus on the new kicks introduced at each rank.  All of the new kicks are in some way closely related to the three basic White belt kicks – the front, side, and crescent kicks, so you’ve already got the foundations.  Just like with a form, instructors will work on breaking down the new kicks so you can fully understand them, but be sure to keep in mind that each kick is designed to be one fluid motion.  For instance, a spin side kick is a combination of a spin and a side kick.  It is not supposed to be a spin, stop to look at the target, then side kick.  Likewise, jump spin kicks were not created with bunny rabbits in mind.  Not only should the jump and spin be executed together, they should not be made up of 12 consecutive jumps with 2 inch turns, followed by the kick.

Ok, now it’s time to take a look at that testing goal we created last week.  Be sure you take a minute to write down on your goal sheet what you did last week to help improve your technique and work towards your goal.  Now is also a good time to start taking weekly pictures or videos so you can actually watch your progress over the course of the testing cycle.  At the start of each week you should write down things you can do to improve, but I also want to make sure you write down what you actually did at the end of the week as well.  (If you are a little lost right now, go back to Week 1’s post on goals so you can figure out where to start with charting your goals for the upcoming testing along with us).

So, how can focusing on kicks help you get closer to your goals?  Maybe you need to go back and review all the kicks up to and including the ones at your belt level.  It’s amazing how many Brown, Red, and Black belts get so focused on doing 360 kicks using their front leg that they have to go back and re-learn how to do a plain spin kick with their back leg.  You might need to work on throwing a wider variety of kicks, or you may need to vary your combinations if you’re stuck in a front kick/round kick/spin side kick rut.  Perhaps you just need to work on throwing combinations instead of single technique after single technique.  All of these things can be practiced using a target or two before you jump into trying them out during sparring.

What other ways can kick focus help your taekwondo training?  Try using a body shield or a wavemaster to practice the kicks in your form if you need more power – don’t cheat by pushing it though, you still have to kick out and pull back!  If your focus this testing cycle is on stances, spend extra time practicing performing each kick in your form and then landing in the correct stance for the next move.  Do you need to work on getting those kicks up above your belt?  Be sure to incorporate extra stretching at least once a day into your workout or pre-bedime routine if flexibility is the culprit.  You can also practice kicking over a fixed object, such as a small ottoman or the seat of a chair for a child, or the back of the chair or top of the couch for an adult.  Finally, if your goal is to focus your aim better (i.e. you sometimes miss not just the center, but the whole board), it’s time to downsize your target.  Using a small wiffle ball tied to a string, have someone hold your new “target”, and be sure you are hitting with the correct striking area of your foot.  The key is not to slow the technique down – it’s still got to be fast and powerful to break the board.

Anyone who has ever gone to a conference, camp, or regional workout has heard instructors say “find a partner *NOT* from your school.  In honor of back to school day for public schools across the great state of Texas, this week I want you to try and find a new partner in class.  That same old partner you always grab may be holding the target in a way that allows you to cheat a little bit so things are easier, or they may just be so comfortable that they’re not pushing you to work just a little bit harder.  Pick someone different and ask them if they notice anything you can improve with your kicks.  Last but not least, if you need just a little more guidance, ask!  We’re here to help you succeed.

Categories: Technique, Testing | Leave a comment

The Side Kick

As long as we are on the topic of basics this week, let’s take a closer look at the side kick.  Much like vanilla ice cream or a good black suit, the side kick is a classic that stands well on its own, but can also be dressed up with a jump or a spin.  The side kick will never be as flashy as a twist kick over your shoulder or a jump front kick over the top of your head, but when is the last time you saw someone break 5 boards with either of those techniques?

The side kick is a purely black and white technique, with no strange grey variations or cheats (I’m looking at you here round kick, with your ball of the foot or instep both as acceptable striking surfaces, and you front kick with your weird thrust kick cheater cousin).  Odds are almost certain that you learned a side kick during your very first taekwondo class, and when executed properly it is by far the strongest technique in your taekwondo arsenal.  So then, why in the world would you ever see someone not break a board with a side kick?  I’m so glad you asked!

Today we have two very special guests with us – Mr. Bobby Lacy, 4th Degree Black Belt, and Mrs. Jenny Lacy, 7th Degree Black Belt.  They are going to help take us through some examples of the most common ways students are performing a side kick incorrectly.  This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but they are the most common mistakes we see on a day-to-day basis.  We’re also going to have a little fun today in our blog, for two reasons.  First, we like to have a good laugh in Valley Ranch, and we like to make our students laugh too.  Laughter is good for your state of mind, and good for your abs.  Secondly, your instructor has probably explained how to correctly do a side kick about 18 million times in his or her career, give or take.  After a while everything starts to sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown.  Hopefully a little humor and a lot of bad puns will help you finally translate what it is they’ve been saying.  So, without further ado…

Mrs. Lacy Teaches a Side Kick

Teaching

Today Mrs. Lacy is teaching the class how to do a good side kick.  Mrs. Lacy is a very good instructor, but Mr. Lacy is playing with his target instead of paying attention.  Oh dear…Good luck Mrs. Lacy!

 

 

 

 

Final Step

Ok, Mr. Lacy already made a mistake.  Can you spot it?  Look closely.

Straight line Edited

When you do a side kick you should never, ever step in front of your kicking foot.  There are two main reasons.  First, on a side kick you are supposed to pivot your base foot 180 degrees (verb – to turn the foot you stand on to a specific angle, which is predetermined by the type of kick in question, away from the target).  Secondly, the power in the side kick comes from the hips and moves in a straight line.  By stepping in front of his kicking foot, his hips and foot aren’t in a straight line, so he’s losing all of his power.  The end result of this kick is going to look something like this:

While Mr. Lacy’s racing stripes on his pants are pretty, they help to demonstrate how far off course this kick is.

Let’s try again.

Hulk Stomp Edited No, no Mr. Lacy.  We are doing a side kick, not Hulk stomping the ground.  When you chamber your knee, you should pick your foot up so that it is even with your knee (verb – to pull your knee across your body, as close to your opposite shoulder as you can; the chamber helps to rotate your hips for power, and gives your foot more room to accelerate towards the target which also creates more power).  If you are very flexible and not kicking pretty much straight out from your hip, then your foot should be on the straight line between your knee and the target.  As long as we are on the subject of kicking high, you should never sacrifice proper technique for height, whether it’s on a side kick, a round kick, or any other kick.  How do you know if you’re sacrificing technique?  It all comes back to those straight lines.  If your butt is sticking out, it’s wrong.

 

Toes Wrong

 

Ok, take number three.  It looks like this time Mr. Lacy somehow forgot about those straight lines and turned his body at the last second so that his toes are pointing the wrong direction on the target.  Do you notice what’s not on the target?  His heel.  Do you remember what the striking surface is supposed to be on a side kick?  The edge of your heel.  Why does it make a difference what part of your foot you hit with on a side kick?  Let’s take a closer look at that for a minute.

Big FootMr. Lacy has a big foot.  In fact, his foot is so big that it takes up almost this entire 6″ board!  If he practices hitting the target with his whole foot for 2 years, by the time he finally gets his Brown Belt and starts breaking boards, what part of his foot do you think he’s going to end up using to hit the board?  That’s right, his whole foot.  So why don’t you want to hit as much of the board as possible?  I’m going to need some help here, and judging by the look on her face in the last picture, Mrs. Lacy has her hands full with Mr. Lacy right now… Axe

Special guest instructor and 8th Degree Black Belt Mr. Robby Lacy?!?!  How did you get here?  Mr. Lacy is here to help make a point about why you don’t want to hit as much of the board as possible.  You want to concentrate all of your power, not spread it out.  That’s why he brought his ax along today.  If the goal were to cover the most surface area (i.e. your whole foot) then you would use the flat side of the ax to chop wood, but you don’t.  You use the pointy surface when you need to cut something.  Well, your foot is the ax.  You don’t want to use the whole thing, you want to use the pointy surface (which is the edge of your heel).

 

Half Kick

Ok, let’s get back to our side kick.  We have a lot to remember now.  Here is a quick recap.  You have to step behind your kicking foot.  Then, you’re going to pick up both your knee (to chamber) and your foot.  Focus on those straight lines, and make sure your toes are turned sideways so that you can hit with just the edge of the heel.  Ready?  Here goes.

WAIT MR. LACY! YOU ONLY DID HALF OF THE KICK!!!!  After you hit the target, you’ve got to re-chamber.  Then you get to put your foot down.  Alright, last try.

Good Sidekick

 

And the crowd goes wild!

Good Job

 

Categories: Basics, Technique | 1 Comment

Testing Cycle Week 1: The Basics

WorkNo matter what belt you are, each testing cycle at our school begins the same way.  The first week of the cycle we always focus on the basics – after all, how can you hope to properly execute a jump spin hook kick if you don’t understand the principles behind a plain hook kick?  Improving your basic skills is the easiest way to improve your overall taekwondo skills, and the good news is that everyone can improve upon their basics.  By the way, for everyone who has ever asked, improving on the basics is the main purpose behind the existence of senior ranks, so make good use of this time.

This testing cycle I’d like to ask you to do things a bit differently.  For most people, their routine is to cram in all of the information (sometimes in the first week and sometimes in the last two weeks) and then start working on what they need to improve.  Right now I want you to come up with at least one thing that you want to do better on than you did at your last testing.  Don’t be vague.  You’ve got the next 8 weeks to work on getting it just right, so really think about it.  I don’t want to see any “I’m going to break my boards”.  Why didn’t you break?  Did you completely miss the board?  Did you hit with your entire foot?  No “better stances” either!  What is wrong with your stances?  Are they too short?  Too long?  Not wide enough?  Too wide?  Wrong weight distribution?  If you’re having trouble, ask one of your instructors and they will be happy to help you out.  Have you figured it out?  Good.  Now, write it down and keep it handy.  Each week I want you to figure out a way that the week’s theme can help you improve on your goal.

Phase One is the basics, and it’s actually a lot more work than it sounds like.  This phase covers memorization *and* comprehension.  To use a very basic example, it’s not enough to be able to recite back that on a spin side kick your back foot picks up, you spin backwards, and side kick – you also have to know which foot is your front foot, which foot is your back foot, and that if your feet are side by side you cannot possibly have a front and back foot.  If you have questions about how the basics apply, or what the proper basic technique is, leave a comment, or ask your instructor.  The student manual is also a great tool for refreshing the basic information.  You can get a copy from your instructor, and if you do I encourage you to keep it in your gear bag with a pen so that you can make notes as you learn, or if you prefer an online version you can purchase it through iTunes here.

Remember, your goals can be anything you want.  Look back at what had you the most worried going into your last testing, or ask your instructor what feedback the judges had on your performance.  Maybe you need to work on your technique, maybe you need to incorporate a better variety of techniques into your sparring, maybe you need to work on your stamina, or maybe you just need to get a little stronger.  Now is the time to start.  You don’t want to worry about unlearning bad habits three days before testing, so take the time to figure out how you can improve on your basics.  Good things don’t always come to those who wait, but they do come to those who work hard and never give up!

Categories: Basics, Technique, Testing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Why Choose Failure When Success Is An Option?

I love teaching taekwondo.  Almost every day, without fail, a moment happens that is truly great.  Every now and then though, something happens that makes you realize you could never be this happy doing anything else.  Yesterday I was lucky enough to have one of those moments.

ImageOur first class back at the end of each testing cycle is our advanced juniors class.  Yesterday they were standing around talking to each other like they always do.  One of our Senior Brown belt boys walked up to everyone who came in without a new belt (whether they didn’t pass or just hadn’t picked up their belt at the award ceremony) and asked, “Did you fail? It’s ok if you did. I did too and so did this other student. It’s not too bad. I’ve failed before”.  He wanted to make sure that everyone that didn’t pass knew they weren’t alone.  He’s only 8 years-old, but he completely gets it.

Testings are always slightly bittersweet as an instructor.  If it were just the no changes, then it really wouldn’t be that big of a deal, because I know if the students keep trying they will eventually succeed.  The hardest part of testing every time is that e-mail (or two) I know is coming.  “So-and-so is having a really tough time, so we’ve decided to let him/her take a break for now”.  There is a reason we call it a no change.  It may take two tries, or it may take ten, but if you keep working hard eventually that change will happen and you will pass.  By giving up and walking away that no change turns into a failure, and why would you ever choose failure when success is an option?

A no change stinks.  Trust me, I get it.  Each testing we ask our Senior Red belts to write an essay on what being a black belt means to them.  This testing cycle I took some time to think about what being a black belt really means to me.  Here is what I came up with:

The most important thing my parents ever taught me is that some days your best is not good enough, and that’s ok.  This testing was one of those days for you.  It doesn’t mean you didn’t try hard, it doesn’t mean you’re not awesome, and it doesn’t make your parents or your instructors any less proud of you.

I know exactly how you feel right now.  I have an 8th Degree for a dad and a 7th Degree for a mom.  That means unlimited private lessons and always having someone to stay late or get up early and hold boards for you.  That still wasn’t enough to save me from two no changes at Brown belt, two at Red belt, and two at 2nd Degree Decided Black Belt.

This past May I was lucky enough to get to test with my two brothers at the Black Belt Conference in Fort Lauderdale.  My brother Luke stayed up late and got up early to hold boards for me in the hotel room.  I didn’t pass then either.  I tried my best, but on that day it wasn’t enough, and that was ok.  My parents were just as proud of me as they were of both Mr. Lacys, who did pass, and I was proud of all the hard work I put into testing and getting ready for it.

Taekwondo is not easy.  If it were, being a black belt would not be anything special.  After all, a black belt is the same as the white belt you got your first day of class – it’s just been dyed and sewn with some gold thread.  This may not be your first no change and it almost certainly won’t be your last.  I should know – I’ve had seven and am still counting on a few more along the way.

Over 10 years ago when I got my first no change I had a very important choice to make.  Your first no change more than anything shows you how tough Taekwondo truly is.  It is tough to work hard for something and not get it on the first try.  It’s tough to come back to your first class and have someone ask why you’re not getting a new belt.  It’s tough to be happy for other people who succeeded when you didn’t.  All these things may be tough, but I promise you they are not impossible.

When I got that first no change and realized how tough Taekwondo really is, I decided to be even tougher.  Six no changes later, I would not change my decision for anything in the world.  I love coming to work each day, I love teaching, and I love being able to watch students finally succeed and earn their new rank.  Now it is your turn to make a choice.  This is the moment that defines what it means to be a black belt.

Not everyone is meant to be a black belt.  Less than 3% of people who ever start a martial art actually end up getting their black belt, but I know you can do it.  Mrs. Lacy and I have watched you in class for a long time now, and I’ve seen for myself that you’re tough too.  A no change is not the end of the world, and it’s certainly not the end of your taekwondo career.  Take a minute to celebrate how hard you worked to get ready for this testing and how hard you’re going to work to get ready for the next one.  Then, come back to class.  If you aren’t here, we can’t help you prepare to test again, and the next testing is only two short months away.

All of the Lacys have been in your shoes.  In fact, the eldest, handsomest Mr. Lacy no changed four testings in a row at one point.  He later went on to open his own school, co-found a taekwondo organization, and be the highest rank in Taekwondo America.  This no change is not the end of your taekwondo journey – it is the start of a new journey to make your best even better.

Categories: Motivation, Testing | 1 Comment