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Life After Black Belt

4 May 2009

Me doing a flying side piercing kick

When you are a colored belt, the paramount goal is to get to first degree black belt (I Dan). It’s a daunting task. I’ve heard a statistic that half of students don’t make it from 1st gup high red belt to I Dan. After I joined the ranks of black belt in September 2008, I wondered what might come next, whether taekwon-do could possibly become any harder.

Rest assured, it can. First Dan is a quantum level more difficult than 1st gup.


One area of increased difficulty is tuls — patterns, those set groups of moves many martial arts possess. Even at 1st gup high red belt, a student is only required to learn one tul per belt level. At I Dan, there are three separate ones to learn. Each comes with its own peculiar difficulties.

I was first introduced to Kwang-Gae, which was the most similar to colored belt patterns I know. There are some technical nuances, such as some rapid stance changes in the middle of the pattern, but I was able to perform the gross movements of the pattern soon after learning all the moves. What makes Kwang-Gae difficult for me to perform well are those technical nuances and all the slow-motion moves, which frankly seem to be designed to try my physical limits.

Next came Po-Eun. Po-Eun is symmetrical, but unlike previous patterns where the symmetry is bilateral, the first half of Po-Eun is done mirror image for the second half. I found that mirroring to be a detriment in becoming proficient in the pattern, as I am forever performing a technique with the wrong hand or foot. Po-Eun is performed in a straight line, containing many sitting stances. Like many students, my sitting stances are inconsistent. I often step long in the direction I’m traveling and end up doing a hybrid sitting stance / L-stance. Additionally, there is a set of fast-motion sequence of moves to hone, flashy but much longer than those encountered in prior patterns.

Last up is Gae-Baek. Gae-Baek is also performed in a straight line. It’s the longest pattern I’ve learned to date: 44 moves. It’s very asymmetrical, which has proven to be a barrier to memorization. Unlike any other pattern I’ve been taught, I’ve had to prevail upon my instructor to walk me through it again and again. Up till now, I’ve found that there are often a “sticking point” or two, where I sometimes have to remind myself what the next move is. I’ve learned to cue those up in my mind before I reach those points in previous patterns. However, for me, Gae-Baek is chock full of them — too many to effectively use that cuing technique. I’ll need to formulate another approach to this pattern. Once I get the flow in my head, I’ll need to overcome the bizarre stance changes in Gae-Baek, which are unlike anything that’s come before.


The other area where taekwon-do has become challenging is new required kicks. Our only new standing kick, pick-shaped kick, is relatively easy, though it does require a foot position change mid-kick, which is new.

Flying downward kick is posing a muscle memory issue because I’m being asked to do it without taking a step. Since we’ve taken a step for every flying kick up to this point, I’m constantly having to stop myself and remember not to take that step! I’m sure it will become smoother over time.

At high red belt, we learned to perform twin foot front kick, which I can do reasonably well. At I Dan, there are now also twin foot turning and twin foot side piercing kicks. These kicks require a person to jump into the air, twist their hips to the side, perform the kick at two different heights (shoulder-level and chest-level, typically), and then regain one’s feet before hitting the ground. I have a fair grasp of all of the above steps save the last one. 🙂

I definitely need to put some time into the gym and work on my leg strength and hip flexibility. It will certainly help with the other category of kicks that plague me at the moment: flying combination kicks.

In one example of these flying combination kicks, we are asked to step forward with the rear leg, driving it up into the chest while pushing off with the front leg, do a front snap kick with that same front foot, then twist our hips mid-air and perform a side piercing kick to the side with the rear foot, and then land in stance. I’m simply not getting enough air to turn my hips over enough to do a side piercing kick yet. The end result is that I end up popping my hip out of joint a lot in class.

This post may sound dreary, but I could have posted something similar about every belt level up to this point, and probably will be able to about every belt level to come. It’s all part of the learning process.

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