Thursday, November 24, 2005

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving...

I am thankful for,

Furry Friends
My Frontal Cortex

Be thankful, each moment is a gift.

The Comfort of Furry Friends

I am house sitting for friends as they are away visiting family for the holidays. I have house sat for them before and it is always a great time. They have two cats and two dogs. The kitties are low key and affectionate... very cute! Their dogs are a basenji and a basenji mix.

Although I love all critters great and small, I have gotten especially close with one of their dogs, Tino, the full basenji. Both are rescues and Tino had experienced a rough life prior to his rescue to the house of wonderful love and care. So there is some baggage. But he is so much improved since I first met him and it is so wonderful to watch as he learns to trust again and take that leap-of-faith that this human will be different. That this time, no one is going to hurt him.

This time he's right.

So it is really special when he comes over to me, looks at me with those eyes that have way more intelligence than little doggy eyes should have and wordlessly asks, "So, can I get in your lap....Please?"
By all means.
Of course it gets a little better when he makes those contented little dog sounds, stretches, and rolls over in my lap so that I can rest a hand across his shoulders.
A belongingness for us both.

They give so much to us, these little furry friends, I was happy to be the couch.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My 2nd Degree specialty Paper

November 20, 2005

Lisa Montgomery
2nd Degree Black Belt
Specialty: Tai Chi Ch’uan

I have chosen Tai Chi as my demonstration specialty for my 2nd degree black belt. Through this paper I will give a brief overview of the history of the form I study, Yang Short Form, and a discussion of how Tai Chi has influenced my Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do hard style. My hope is to illustrate how the concepts I am learning in Tai Chi have had a synergistic affect with my Tae Kwon Do kata and kumite. Through breath, relaxation, strength with balance and finally softness; all elements I have been studying in Tai Chi, I feel as though my Tae Kwon Do has attained better flow, intensity and power.

Tai Chi: A Brief History:

Tai Chi Ch’uan is believed to have its earliest beginnings from a Chinese physician, Hua-tu'o (2). He believed true health and longevity could only be attained through regular movement and exercise. Although he is not credited with a specific aspect of Tai Chi Ch’uan’s development, his philosophy about movement, breath and health are recognized as foundations to Tai Chi Ch’uan.

Key influential people in the development of Tai Chi Ch’uan cover many years. The history begins in China with the practice of mediation and Taoism. A 6th century B.C. philosopher Lao Tzu, developed philosophies regarding mediation that were in conjunction with his Taoist practices. His metaphors spoke of the relationship breath has with health and keeping the body fit, resulting in a long and healthy life. This belief in focusing both mind and breath together would become part of the solid foundation of Tai Chi Ch’uan in years to come (2).

In the third century AD the physician Hua To developed the “Movement of the Five Animals.” These were the earlier movements from which Tai Chi Ch’uan would grow from. Health exercises were later added by Ko Hung around 325 AD.

Ta Mo came to Shao Lin Buddhist mediation from China. He developed exercises to help with the health and mediation of the monks. These movements developed into a martial art having all the power and strength that is identified with most martial arts. The Taoist master Chang San-Feng created a series of exercise that became known as Tai Chi Ch’uan. He and Ta Mo had similar goals; to develop discipline that complemented the practice of mediation; thus a moving mediation. Ta Mo’s method is sometimes considered the “Shao Lin the Outside School” and Tai Chi Ch’uan, “The Inner School” because of its more fluid, soft movements (2).

As with many of the arts, over time the systems and styles of Tai Chi Ch’uan diverge with different masters, wars and leaders. As the figure below illustrates, Tai Chi Ch’uan has different branches although there are familiar elements with in each style. This family tree illustrates the branches of Tai Chi: Wu, Yang, Wu Shi and the many other branches illustrated here were each fall into either the northern or southern family of systems (1).

Source: (1)

Tai Chi; The First Element:

One of the tenants of all martial arts is breath. We use breathing to calm jumpy nerves, give energy to our techniques and improve our stamina in forms and sparring. Proper breathing pervades our life and is essential to a healthy existence. Breathing as well as the physical movement in Tai Chi should never be still. At least this is the aspiration. Learning to breathe in a consistent motion from the diaphragm has greatly improved my ability to perform not only Tai Chi but all of my Tae Kwon Do as well.

Breathing properly is the foundation in many types of meditation or meditative movement. In Yoga, learning to breathe is a lesson constantly practiced. Stationary meditation involves schooling one’s self to breathe evenly throughout the exercise. “Focus on the breath” is the first lesson one begins working on when learning to meditate. Considering Tai Chi Ch’uan’s development as moving mediation, learning the breath is the obvious first step, albeit one of the most difficult.

Learning to breathe as Tai Chi demands overflows directly into my hard form martial arts. Breathing was always discussed in Tae Kwon Do and therefore not completely foreign. With the addition of Tai Chi Chuan, breath began to give life to each technique; it helped me have better beginning, middle and end to all the techniques in my forms. Physiologically, deeper breathing simply gives more oxygen to the circulatory system, and thus more to the muscles doing the work. So with the habit of better breathing in place, my sparring gained more stamina. In the words of Mr. Danny Davis, “You control your breath, you control your life.”

Deep, even breathing brings me to the next element Tai Chi has helped me with.

Tai Chi Element Two:

The slowness of Tai Chi is a key part of its lesson of relaxation. Tai Chi is so very difficult, with so many movements and techniques occurring all at once that even as slowly as the art is practiced, it still seems way too fast when first learning it. There are the proper steps, keeping an even head-height, where the hands go, the angle of the torso, what the next posture is, and what transition will get you there; a great many things to internalize and learn. Oh, and remember to breathe. Sounds simple; very few things have been more difficult in my experience.

With persistence, you find the relaxation that Tai Chi’s slowness teaches. Compared to Tai Chi, my Tae Kwon Do forms are much more straightforward and simple. Case in point, you can learn them in a class, sometimes two. Granted the finer details and associated bunkai of my Tai Kwon Do forms may come much, much later. I can still get the gross movements down more quickly. Once I became more accustomed to all the detail of Tai Chi, when I went back to my Tae Kwon Do form, I found so much more ‘time’ in the form. Learning to relax and become more mentally still through the complexity of Tai Chi has greatly improved my Tae Kwon Do forms. In Tae Kwon Do, this relaxation and this ‘found time’ allowed me to decrease any rushed feeling I used to experience. Now the forms have their own cadence. All has its own time. With practice, Tai Chi comes to have its own ebb and flow, like the tide of the ocean. I believe I found this same aspect in my Tae Kwon Do much sooner with the influence of Tai Chi.

Tai Chi Combination Element Three;
Strength and Balance

The physical demands of Tai Chi will strengthen any student regardless if this was an initial intention. When I hear people comment that Tai Chi looks as though it is not a workout, I know instantly they have never tried it. The postures require a great deal of strength to hold and move through. They also demand balance. I have found that you cannot attain one without the other. Balance requires strength of the muscles to hold your posture, compensate for instability in what lies under your feet, and be able to move through the transitions to the next posture. Strength requires balance to be able to have proper movement and stability. I have found that these two elements are inseparable in the practice of Tai Chi. This combination lesson has had great influence in my hard form. Strength and balance has improved all my stances, giving them more stability and a solid muscular foundation. That improved stability yields more power and intensity. With every step in one-steps, forms or sparring, I am physically aware of my balance in a muscular way. Each step or turn in a form now contains a choice of where my steps end. Tai Chi has given me strength and balance so that all steps are chosen and no longer simply fall where they may. Having educated my musculature to what proper balance and body alignment is in a kinesthetically, all my movements, regardless of what I am practicing, have much improved.

Tai Chi’s Elements Combined;

This has been the most challenging thing to learn in Tai Chi; softness. And, it will take years to truly wrap my mind around it much less master it. Its difficulty may possibly be because there are so many other lessons that need to find their place before the path is clear for this aspect to be internalized.

Initially in Tae Kwon Do, power and hardness accompanies all that you learn. As you progress through the ranks, the forms begin to require both slowness and speed, hardness and softness. Still, often times when you increase the speed, the hard power overshadows all else.

Through all of the elements of Tai Chi discussed here: Breath, Relaxation, Strength and Balance, the end result is Softness. Softness does not equal weakness, which is a misconception I have found that many people hold. Learning softness and translating it to my Tae Kwon Do helps with forms and sparring alike. Softness in my Tae Kwon Do forms has taught me regardless of the pace of a form; it still should have flow and constant motion without hard endings to each technique. With softness, the end of each technique becomes the beginning of the next.

I have found similar results in my sparring, along with fewer bruises. I feel that one goal of martial arts, regardless of which art you practice, should be to use your attacker’s force against him. If you meet force with force or power with equal power, the laws of physics manifest and you have an impact with the force or energy equivalent to both opposing forces. Softness allows you to redirect energy to where you may want it to be. If you give no hard power to your opponent, he has nothing from which to fight you. There is no fight if there is no one to fight with. So, with softness, I am learning to blend and redirect, not necessarily stop or end and attack.

In the words of Lao Tsu:

Yield and Overcome;Bend and be straight.


He who stands of tiptoe is not steady.He who strides cannot maintain the pace.

As a woman in the martial arts, this lesson is most meaningful to me psychologically. Since I lack the raw physical strength of the gender most likely to attack me, I must find another method with which to defend myself. I can be soft. I can also use my mind, the muscle Tai Chi exercises most exhaustively.

Instead of meeting force with force and using muscle, a fight I am simply not equipped to win, a small amount of yielding grants success. Being flexible allows for a straighter path. Resistance and force does not always succeed. Since my gender does not possess the greater physical strength in this world, seeing and learning a path that strengthens my softness is necessary for my success on a physical and personal level.

The strength found through relaxation and breath has done nothing but make my hard form more solid, stronger and given it a greater sense of control.

The improved breathing I have learned along with relaxation, strength and balance, all have helped me discover a path more quickly in my Tae Kwon Do that is both strong and soft at the same time. The equation of strength coupled with softness equals a different kind of power.

My hope is to continue my education in the martial arts knowing I have but only scratched the surface. As with any art, it is a way of life.
Abbreviated Bibliography
Sun, Wei Yue; New Style tai Chi Ch’uan : the official Chinese system./ Wei yue Sun, Xiao Jing Li. 1999.
Tsunetomo, Yamamoto. Hagakure. 1979 and 2002. Translation by William Scott Wilson. Kodansha International Ltd.

After Three Years....2nd!!

The combined black-belt test was this past Sunday the 20th. Three of my school's students were up for 1st degree black belts and I was testing for 2nd. Scarey!

Happily, our students did very well and all received their 1st dan black belts! I received my 2nd degree as well. We all have sore muscles and some bruising to show for it as well, but no blood-shed.

My Specialty was on Tai Chi and its influence on my Tae Kwon Do. Below is a post containing my paper. Many thanks are in order for all the people who helped me along the way. Rest assured there were many that encouraged, told me the truth, listened and gave great feed-back. Not to mention those people who instruct on a regular basis.

I am in debt to everyone.
Thank you!

Monday, November 07, 2005


Where does it come from and what is lacking when you don't have it?
There are all these verbal analogies for this materially intangible thing. Typically, these analogies are for one person to motivate another, not always to motivate one's self.

Build a fire under your butt.
Cattle-prod someone along.
A good kick in the ass.

So, really, what is motivation? Motivation can be defined as a concept used to describe the factors within an individual which arouse, maintain and channel behavior towards a goal.
This link goes on to describe motivation as "goal oriented behavior". But how can the same goal that normally motivates you or anyone, loose its motivating ability?

This is something I have struggled with recently and I am very curious about the whole feed-back loop that drives, satiates and turns off this behavior pattern.

What baffles me is how it can evaporate and how what normally you do willingly becomes a chore. What changed?
Food for thought....
If it motivates you!

It's Still Blue...

I have finally decided on a car, and actually acquired it. I bought a 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX. I have had the hardest time deciding what to choose, so many choices. I like the car research part, but the actually going and talking to the sales people...not so fun. I had a good experience at Randall Noe Ford in Terrell. No pressure, relaxed and they really don't take themselves so seriously. That was evident by the half-finished paint job in the lobby area ( bright yellow) and the sales guys running around in shorts.

There were a couple things that my garage found when I took the car for its inspection, so she is at the dealer getting these minor things corrected. When I get her back, I'll post pictures.

I did manage to get pulled over within 24 hrs of actually getting the car. Fun. Here is the dialogue that transpired:

Rowlett Police Officer (RPO): ma'am I pulled you over because your left front head light is out.
Me: Oh....I will put that on the list for the dealer to fix when I return on Monday. I just picked the car up yesterday.

RPO: Yes, I saw your paper tags, you still have 20 days, so that means you got the car....
Me: Yesterday, sir.

RPO: Well, you can have this back (handing me my insurance card), I'll be right back (leaving with my oh so clean license.)

Me: Heavy sigh...

RPO: Well ma'am, I will just give you a verbal warning, but get it fixed immediately because you can get a citation for that regardless.

Me: Yes sir officer, I will get a bulb and fix it myself. Thank you.

RPO: (Taking a step backward, looking the car over...) ma'am, there's a lot of engine under that hood, did you know that when you bought it?
Me: Yes sir, I was aware of that. But it's OK because I have a brain.

RPO: (With suppressed grin) Well, I wasn't referring to that, I was thinking of commuting and, uh, gas and what not.

Me: Well, I have virtual no commute to work, so it's not a big deal.

RPO: Well, get the headlight fixed and have a good evening.

Me: Thank you very much sir.

So, the question I have is.....
Would he have asked a man if he knew how much engine was under the hood??

Maybe I just should have replied..."Why no officer, I just thought the color was oh so pretty..."

Word to the wise, behave in Rowlett.