I am most grateful to Master Daniel Sng and my brothers and sisters in training at ITC for gathering for an extraordinary training session on 23 January for my benefit.

In terms of content, it may have been just another “ordinary” training session for them with a guest but every single one of them were far from ordinary – in fact extraordinary doesn’t even express my respect for their stamina, perseverance, and discipline – they are truly awesome!!! And aspirational to be with.

When I learned that I was coming to Singapore on a business trip, I was very excited… and determined to attend training at ITC.

I was crushed when I heard that there are no classes on Thursdays… but five words from Mr. Jeremy Tan put me back on Cloud Nine in no time. He said, “I will arrange for you.”

I would have been more than obliged to just have the dojang opened for me. But when I was welcomed by nine black belts and Sir, it was more than I could have ever asked for!!! I am absolutely humbled by the honor of having Mr. Dennis Wan, with whom I feel a special bond as we graded for 1st dan together, “drugging himself” to cheat illness so that he can make good on his promise to spar with me; and for Mr. Calvin Eng participating despite broken fingers. At ITC, one never needs to look far or hard to find living examples of the tenets of Taekwon-Do.

When I packed for my trip, 80% of the space in my suitcase was taken up by my dobok and sparring gear. I am glad I remembered to pack my skipping rope, too. It is still the very rope I purchased when I first started training at ITC in 2002.

The very first thing Sir asked of me after I changed into my dobok was, “Jules, did you bring your skipping rope?” And he had that smile on his face that all ITC students recognize… the one that says, “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, and training won’t kill you.”

The opening warm up of approximately 10 minutes of various types of skipping was a serious wake up call on how unfit I am. Back when I was in the dojang almost as much as the furniture, I could skip for 45 minutes without getting stuck. Last night, I was pathetically getting stuck after the first four variations of skipping. But I also now remember how I literally had tears in my eyes the first time I managed to skip 300 times without getting stuck.

That is where I come from… at age 36, I was unable to skip or do push ups properly. Sir even grabbed the back of my white belt from above as I tried to do push ups… earth’s gravity was too strong for me back then and Sir said, “At least she has perseverance.”

Fast forwarding to me today, at age 46, and I am back in training after taking six years off to have my twins who are now yellow belts themselves. I was promoted to 2nd dan last year, and was most honored to have Master Sng and the lovely Justina come all the way to Japan to witness it. I truly feel a part of the ITC family no matter how long or far away I am from Singapore. And thus, this training was a “home coming” for me.

Everything felt so welcoming, and when I got to clean the mats, it felt like I had finally come home… I was cleaning the mats of my “home dojang.”

We spent a decent amount of time on sit ups after the warm up, and then proceeded to sparring. Everyone moved around to spar with everyone else… and though Dennis tried to get in for a second round with me, eagled-eyed as ever, Sir caught him and he didn’t get the chance. Perhaps next time, we should volunteer to do an extra round so that we can have round two.

Sparring with new people is always an exciting and testing event that requires the use of all of one’s senses and attention to analyze and understand your opponent. In the end, the only real opponent is yourself; the little voice that says “he is stronger/faster/better/bigger/more senior than me” and tries to give you license to lose or give up. But your opponent helps you to conquer yourself by turning your focus outwards, because it is easier when you can hit or kick and get a physical response than to conquer an indivisible foe.

In that regards, the nine black belts at ITC were challenging me in every way – speed, technique, power, strategy, and combination. And because I had little or no idea of what each member’s style and strengths were, every second was a new and exciting discovery, and the rounds were often over before my engine warmed up.

We then proceeded to tuls- from Kwang-Gae to Ko-Dang. I still find myself more out of breath and exhausted after tuls than after sparring because tuls demand that I not only use my favorite techniques, but things that I find difficult as well. The comprehensive demand on the entire physical and mental being is what makes tuls so exhausting for me.

And tuls is also the most visible materialization of a dojang’s DNA. I have noticed that each dojang or group has their unique signature when tuls are performed. Sir’s attention to detail and precision coupled with the physical strength built through the taxing exercises at ITC enables ITC students to perform patterns accurately and with much stability. I realized that there are slight differences in the rhythms that we use to perform the tuls, but that is my ITF Hyogo DNA showing its colours vs. those of ITC.

I was given a special bonus to see “the original Ko-Dang” performed by Messrs Shaun Chua and Jeremy Tan, as well as the stick pattern. Sir is always most generous with his knowledge and expertise to those who hunger to learn… and they were both feasts to my eyes.

We played games – “sink the battle ship” and “tag” – and Sir “saved the best for last” – push ups!

I publicly admit to both “hating” and “being terrible at” push ups. Yet, in Japan, at every black belt grading, men must do 100 knuckle push ups nonstop, and women and children must do the same number of palm push ups at the very end of grading. Failing to do them is one sure way to not pass because “there is no room for making mistakes in push ups like patterns, and also there is no room to be ‘clever’ and to hold back to reserve one’s strength and stamina. Also, while some people may not break boards no matter how many times they practice, anyone can train up to do 100 push ups if one just commits to doing them… and so there is no excuse for not doing them. It is a very visible sign that you either did not care or was too lazy to train up for your grading.”

So my daily routine calls for 130 knuckle push ups on a padded floor and holding myself for 170 counts in static push ups. But as Sir required us to do many variations, thus putting strain on different parts of our bodies, I learned through the best teacher, as Sir always refers to it, – pain – that my training is inadequate. In particular, I was pathetic at touching my knees, so I have my work cut out for me going forward: I must train up to do at least 10 of those!

I confess to not cleaning the mats after class, and hope that doing two rounds at the beginning of class makes up for it. And I promise not to let it happen again next time.

I thank Sir and all my brothers and sisters at ITC for making me feel like a rock star, too. We took so many photos together, it made me feel like Homecoming Queen!

I would like to close this write up by wishing Mr. Justin Gan good health and much success – in whatever form success at NS can come in – as he goes off for his NS in February. I was touched that he told me he still remembers how I shouted “SANDWICH! SANDWICH!” when we did sandwich sparring when he was a young boy.

I would also like to thank Mr. Jeremy Tan for facilitating the training session and for fetching me and embracing me like we have known each other for years and making me feel very welcome and right at home again.

Thank you to everyone who hosted our pre-Chinese New Year feast. Doing Lo Hei with you has reinforced as bond as “family” and I truly wish all of you a happy, healthy, and prosperous Year of the Horse. (And I know everyone will be younger and prettier because I wished so much for it during our Lo Hei!)

I hope Mr. Kelvin Goh, the man who has personally taught me many colour belt patterns and who has always been generous and an aspirational figure will be back in the dojang again soon so that we may train together next time – and perhaps even grade together for third and fourth dan relatively in the not too distant future!

Last but not the least, I am forever grateful to Master Daniel Sng for his generosity and hospitality. Every time I take a class by Sir, I learn something new and because of it I feel I am constantly becoming a better student and person as a result. Sir is always generous and patient, and no one can (almost) kill you with a smile better than Sir. – Jokes aside, I am very honored to be counted among Sir’s students (and furniture), and hope to be back soon.

I am sure no one at ITC believes they can keep me away for too long!

Written by Ms. Harue Jules Takagishi, 2nd Degree Black Belt, ITF Japan – Hyogo
© Island Taekwon-Do Centre 2014

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