Kendall Bailey -- First Dan

Post date: Sep 25, 2014 2:3:32 AM

Finding Balance


Laziness. Impatience. Hubris.  

These are qualities I strive for.  In my professional life, I write software.  One of the programming legends, Larry Wall, wrote that these three qualities are virtues of a great programmer.

                Larry Wall, Programming Perl

This list of “virtues” was almost certainly meant to be humorous, but there’s truth behind all good humor.  I spend my days telling myself that I can write software that saves a business millions of dollars, will be used 24 hours a day by hundreds of people, and will not fail.  That takes hubris.  Computers are unforgiving beasts.  One logic error in a fifty thousand line program can cause havoc and cause sleepless nights of debugging to discover.  However, the power to automate tedious tasks is intoxicating.  That’s where the laziness and impatience comes in.  I hate doing the same tedious task over and over.  I can spend hours writing code that automates a 2 minute task, because when I’m done I know I’ll never have to do that task again, ever.  I can move on to the next interesting challenge and not waste mental effort on a solved problem.

What does this have to do with Tae Kwon Do?  I’ll get to that.  I started Tae Kwon Do, twice actually, because my girlfriend/wife (same person in both cases) had started.  I had no particular ambitions or goals in the field of martial arts.  While I will admit I am a math/computer/sci-fi geek by profession and interest, I don’t mind a little hard work.  My parents grew up on farms and had no qualms about putting their kids to work.  And I enjoy various sports, although I’ve never considered myself athletic.  So the idea of Tae Kwon Do was a little daunting but not exactly scary.  When Ms. Bailey started at Two Rivers, we had two young kids in gymnastics classes, and I chose to keep our lives a little simpler by alternating activities with her so one of us could be home with the kids each night.  She went to TKD, and I went to a table tennis club off and on.  When both kids eventually transitioned from gymnastics to TKD, I was happy to tag along and try it out.  I had seen Ms. Bailey’s successes.  She and I are alike in many ways.  On the other hand, she was driven in part by a goal to earn a black belt, while I didn’t know if that was in my future.  I figured I’d give it my best and see where it took me.  I promised myself I’d put in 100% effort, every class.  Otherwise I’d be wasting my time, and worse, the instructor’s time.  Laziness would have no place in my TKD journey.

Getting old is tough.  For the seventeen years following college I’d been gaining about a pound a year.  I’d tried the usual things: a sit-up contraption, weight bench, rollerblading, bicycling, etc… My favorite is racket sports, such as racquetball, tennis, and table tennis.  These need a partner to play with, preferably one of similar skill.  Did I mention I’m an introvert?  My participation in sports over the years was sporadic at best.  TKD offered a way to put some physical activity into my life on a regular basis.  My short term goal was humble, to perhaps halt the slow and steady weight gain.  My bigger goal wasn’t the attainment of a particular rank.  I was afraid if I focused on a black belt as a goal, I’d consciously or subconsciously  decide I would quit if/when that was achieved.  Early on, I made it my goal to build a life-long habit of TKD training, at least whatever part of my life was left.  One can quickly fail at such a goal, but it takes a very long time to achieve success.  For that reason I will continue to keep my eye on the long view.  Impatience has no place in my TKD journey.

I’ve enjoyed a degree of success in my academic and professional pursuits.  While I have been called a “perfectionist”, I hope no one thinks I’m arrogant.  That said, my job requires a particular kind of hubris.  It requires a belief in myself to build layer upon layer of software abstractions, rickety towers of library dependencies solving mathematical models with algorithms and heuristics, and then deploy the result to users, expecting them to use my applications to be productive and make better decisions.  I must believe this despite some past experiences to the contrary.  In contrast, in Tae Kwon Do I find it is impossible not to be humble.  Every kick, strike, block, escape and self defense technique has been and continues to be a challenge.  I watch more advanced students, admiring their power, flexibility, and crisp techniques looking natural and effortless.  Breaking concrete? Blind jump reverse board breaks? Uniform snapping with each move in a form? I’ve received compliments on my own technique, but from inside I struggle with many things: feeling herky-jerky and off-balance, lack of flexibility, being winded with burning muscles, and board breaking failures just to list a few things. Not only are new challenges added, but the initial techniques I learned can always be improved.  I think it’s safe to say hubris will never have a place in my Tae Kwon Do journey.

I believe Tae Kwon Do helps bring a balance to my life in more ways than one.  I’ve listed ways that my professional work needs such a counter balance.  The mindset I have at work involves avoiding repetition, squeezing out inefficiencies, and abstracting detail away in order to create models of the real world that have useful solutions.  In Tae Kwon Do, repetition is key to improvement.  There’s no substitute for hard work, no shortcuts, and all details matter.  The feelings of having more life balance don’t end there.  I’m an introvert, which isn’t the same as anti-social but nevertheless makes it difficult to form new relationships.  I work in my home and while I grew up in Des Moines, three years ago I had few connections apart from extended family.  Over the last three years I’ve come to know many of the TRMA students, families and instructors.  I value these bonds more than these people are probably aware of.  The degree of support and fellowship my family and I have experienced has made TRMA an integral and valued part of our lives.   I get to experience being a part of a community, one that is rich, welcoming and diverse.  That’s not something that I’ve always had and I know it is a balancing force to my natural tendency of focusing inward.

I started my TKD journey not knowing where it would take me.  My wife deserves credit for bringing me to the start, and she’s been one of my instructors almost since the beginning.  She may think that I “put up with her” while she was training, before I started, but it was more than tolerance.  I felt immense pride and was happy she was finding more balance in her life.  I used that phrase even back then.  She’d ask me if I resented her being gone so often.  I told her on more than one occasion that I wanted her to find her own balance.  I am finding that balance too.  I’m pretty sure she doesn’t just put up with me either.

TRMA is a special organization.  I am amazed by the commitment of the instructors and thankful for the time and energy they give to me and all the students.  For each instructor I’ve had the chance to train with, I remember small snapshots in time, moments of encouragement, humor, advice or instruction that I’ll never forget.  I can’t repay them all but I can try to pay it forward.  I’ve pitched in where I can and plan to do what I can in the future to keep this organization strong so others who are searching for more balance in their lives might find some of what they’re looking for.