Monday, April 20, 2009

Board 2 - Knuckles 0

In November of 2007 I took on a new challenge in the form of Tae Kwon Do. Things have changed a lot since I took that trial class way back then. Last year I wrote about my struggles in mastering new things in Tae Kwon Do. One year, five months and one day later I'm now a red belt. 8 colored belts down, bodan belt to go. Then comes the hard part; the journey to Black Belt. Today was test day. It was a good test. I remembered all the steps of my form, and my focus was good.

Off with the old, on with the new.

I learned a very important lesson on Friday which helped me yesterday at the ICA Spring Open (details at....) and today during the test. Twice a month at the do jang we have board breaking classes. Board breaking is an important part of our training. It helps with focus, concentration and technique. It's also a confidence builder. Without good focus and concentration it's hard to use good technique. Without good technique it's almost impossible to break the board. The part of the equation is believing that one can break the board. At the lower belt levels the breaks are fairly simple, and one can get by with less then stellar technique. At the higher belt levels, the breaks are more difficult. Sloppy technique doesn't cut it.

The board break for today's test was a spinning hook kick. For Friday's board breaking session I did that break with both left and right feet. I did both on the first attempt. Next was a back kick which was a break I had done for my blue and purple belt tests. I had no problem with the right foot, but for some reason I could not break it with my left foot.

The last break I was to do was a straight fist break. I don't like breaking boards with my hands very much. I'm always afraid of how much it's going to hurt. I rushed into my attempt to break the board. All I managed to do was break the skin on two knuckles. I then broke the board with a hammer fist. On that break one uses the meaty part of the hand to make contact with the board.


Unknown to me, Grandmaster Kim was watching from outside the do jang. He observed how I gone about doing the last few unsuccessful breaks. When you're a junior belt he may not be overly critical of your performance. Once you become more senior amongst the color belts, more is expected and he will point out the mistakes and make an example of you in front of the group. I guess now I've made the grade, because I got it big time. His observations were that I did not set myself in proper stance, my technique was sloppy, and that I was totally unfocused in my attempt to break the board.

In thinking about what happened on the last few attempts, it reminded me of what happens to me in chess. After doing the two most difficult kicks on the first try, I think I had gotten a little overconfident. It's easy to get pumped up when the black belts are watching and applauding your efforts. I got a little too pumped up and rushed the back kicks. Then I got flustered when I couldn't do the back kick break with the left foot. By the time I got to the fist break, I'm thinking "There is no freaking way I'm breaking this board with my knuckles." I I just hauled off and punched the board straight on. My thoughts did me in.

Does this sound familiar? Yep. Recently way too many chess games have come to unfortunate conclusions due to poor execution, lack of focus and concentration, loss of confidence and poor time management. I thought a lot about what Grandmaster Kim said to me on Friday, and tried to apply to my games this past weekend. My results were mixed, but I seemed to be more aware of what was going on. There is still much I need to do to avoid digging the holes that I till find myself in. It's hard to do much against an International Master when you let him totally tie your pieces up, and all you can do is sit back and wait for the inevitable. I guess that's why he out rates me by 800 points.

Our regularly scheduled chess programming will resume in my next post.


chesstiger said...

Must one yell and scream when punching and kicking? How thick are those boards? Are they the same for each belt or do the thickness or material change alongside the color of the belt?

*Bows for his worthy adversairy*

Blue Devil Knight said...

Congrats on moving up in the ranks! It seems there are many ways that chess training and martial arts training can cross-fertilize.

Anonymous said...

What would you say an equivalent "rating" would be for Black belt? They say that having a Black belt is like mastering the fundamentals. So to what would that equate? 1500? 1600? or 2000? I have no idea. Going merely by time, it takes about two years of dedicated practice or, say, three 2-hour sessions per week, to obtain Black belt. A chess beginner, with this type of dedication, could probably achieve 1600. No?


Anonymous said...

If this is so, then chess gets a bad rap. Everybody seems to be impressed if you tell them that you're a Black belt in karate; however, if you tell them that you're a Class-B chess player, they're like, "" --Howard

Polly said...

Tiger: The yelling is a very important part of punching and kicking. Kihop (spirit yell) allows one to forcefully exhale as he kicks or punches. It does add power and purpose to the kick or punch. It does make a difference. The boards are about 3/4 inch thick. Children's boards are about 1/2 that. Black belts will often break 3-4 boards together with one kick. Very advanced black belts will break cinder blocks or bricks.

BDK: Thanks. Yes there is a lot to the training that crosses over to chess training. In some ways learning a form is like doing circles. You repeat it over and over until the moves become natural.

Howard: I think it's hard to compare belt color to chess rating. Chess ratings are based on performance against others. The math geeks that developed the rating system will tell you it's an indicator of future performance. It's true that to improve one's chess rating one has to master certain principles and apply them over the board.

In tae kwon do, a student has to learn certain things at each level before being allowed to move up to the next level. One does not move up because he is better then somebody else. He moves up because he's learned techniques required for that particular level. It's more like going to school, and getting promoted to the next grade.

However unlike school there is no set timetable. Some people can achieve black belt in two years, and others it may take 3 years.

Once you get to black belt, you don't stop. To go from one degree to the next usually takes two years. I think of the color belts as going from kindergarten to being a senior. Being a 1st degree black belt is almost like being a freshman in college.

I think people ohhh and ahhh over somebody being a black belt because they think of Bruce Lee or other movie martial artists. They don't really know what it means to be a black belt.

Outside of Bobby Fischer the typical outsider has no real knowledge of what it's like to be a tournament player, so they don't understand what it means to be a class B player. If I tell a kid rated 500 that I'm a 1700 player I'm a god to him. If I tell a grandmaster I'm 1700, I'm just another patzer he can demolish..

phishcake5 said...


I must confess (not trying to sound like Martin Short here) your write up inspired me. Its great to see people set their sights on a new goal and go for it.

Guess I've been thinking about this subject more then usual as I just read Kasperov's "How Life Imitates Chess" where it is at the heart of the work..

BTW Blogging and creative writing are my somewhat new challenges, and though I'm finding more and more enjoyment in the process I don't imagine either will ever cease to be challenging :)

Knight Fork and Spoon said...

Thank you for your blog. I don't know how you find the time to do all you do.

I invite you to be the first reader of my blog. I have been writing this Chess blog for about two weeks.


wang said...

Yes I find that Martial arts and chess cross pollinate quite well. Congratulations on your advancement.

Polly said...

Phish: It's been an interesting time of mental and physical growth. Now if I could be as fanatical about my chess study. :-)

Blogging is challenging. It started out as something for myself, but as I find myself with a group of regular readers I have the challenge of trying to keep things fresh and interesting. Hopefully I'm meeting that challenge.

Anonymous said...

"I guess now I've made the grade, because I got it big time."

Congrats on your progress!

In hapkido class, one of the brown belts was demonstrating a technique. Because he rolled out of the throw improperly, he damaged his shoulder and was limited for a couple weeks.

The master is normally easy-going, but he was obviously pissed after that. It was a mistake a senior student should not have made. Class was extra-strict for a while after that.

Pawn Shaman said...

1.Your meeting the challenge.

2. Bloody knuckles count as a victory. Next time you shake hands with an opponent be sure to flaunt them.

3. Dont worry about a little hand pain. Those boards can only hurt you if you let them intimidate you. Working the heavy bag more often can toughen up your hands if it isnt too soft already. That and knuckle push ups on non matted flooring. :)

Polly said...

LEP: It was easier when I was hidden behind all the senior belts. Now being up there myself, there's no hiding. Discipline and focus during training is so important. The masters don't put up with much crap, and the grandmaster puts up with even less.

Shaman: I had a few people ask me about my knuckles when playing. It didn't scare them enough to lose to me.

I have enough trouble with regular pushups. :-)

es_trick said...


My older brother has a second degree black belt in Taekwondo , and one of my former colleagues had a 4th degree black belt. A couple of times I heard him talk about getting his butt whupped by far superior masters of the art. When I was a a kid, one of my best friends got about as far as a blue belt in two or three years.

Just because I like to think about these things, I'll take a wild stab at calibrating Taekwondo belts to an ELO style scale

Based on the info given at this site:

I would venture something along the lines of

White ~ 100 - 399
Yellow ~ 400 - 699
Green ~ 700 - 999
Blue ~ 1000 - 1299
Red ~ 1300 - 1599

Black Belts

1st dan ~ 1600+

2nd dan ~ 1800+

3rd dan ~ 1950+

4th dan ~ 2100+

5th dan ~ 2250+

6th dan ~ 2400+

7th dan ~ 2500+

8th dan ~ 2600+

9th dan ~ 2700+

I think, once you get to the level where you can compete against students from other schools, or in state, regional, national, and international competition, there's a good chance that the belt levels could be validated by means of head to head results, resulting in the same kind of relative performance expectancies that ELO ratings predict.

Polly said...

ES: Your chart is an interesting comparison. I know when I started out I felt like I was -100 strength. I had a lot trouble at the beginning because of my left and right issues.

One can progress through the various levels without necessarily competing against others in tournaments. In a Tae Kwon Do tournament there is sparring, poomse (form) and breaking competitions. My school hosts a tournament every year. I competed in poomse against two other brown belts. Since I had only being a brown belt for a couple of weeks I did the purple belt form. The two brown belts did the brown belt form. My form would have needed to be flawless to have a chance, because right away the judges are mentally taking away points because you're doing a easier form.

Chess is more objective. Any sport with judging tends to be more subjective.