Dabbling in Martial Arts…

“Hmmm…that looks like fun…I want to try.” This is how most of my adventures start. I see something on TV, or watch someone I know doing something and next thing I know, I’m signing up for classes. In this case I was at taekwondo practice with my youngest son. He had recently started and was loving it. I noticed that there were some adults who took the classes also so I asked the Master (the teacher is a taekwondo master so will be referred to here as “Master”) about signing up. Here we go on another adventure!

I had some background in martial arts. I took a boxing class in college. That was just to check off a credit. Even though I enjoyed it we never got to do any actual sparring. Just learning some of the movements and techniques. Years later, after having my first child, I took up kickboxing. I think I was just feeling vulnerable or something. Or my mama bear instinct was really kicking in. I knew that I was going to protect this child at all costs and felt like some actual training could help:). I enjoyed it! It made me feel capable and strong. But per usual, I got excited about something else and that was it for kickboxing.

I thought taekwondo would be a good way to bond with my son as we would be starting together. I also thought that since I would be working toward something…a belt…that maybe I would stick with it. As you may have noticed, I jump around a lot. I may have issues sticking with things, but I was excited to try at least.

So I started. The same way everyone does…at the bottom. It was fine, but I felt a little silly. My class was mostly children and preteens. But I chose to keep going because everyone needs to start somewhere right? We all need to put our time in, step by step. After a few weeks, the Master told me he was going to start a class for adults during the day and asked if I would be able to attend. It worked for me so I started with the adults. It was great to be with others my age, but it was intimidating because it was all belt levels. I was a newbie (a white belt) and everyone else had been training for years (was a red or black belt). I felt like my inexperience was glaring, but again…I knew everyone has to start somewhere and everyone had been in my shoes at some point, so I kept at it.

I found the classes to be challenging. It was a good mix of being both physically and mentally challenging. At first the forms were really difficult for me. It was like my mom brain juse couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. It finally clicked when I saw other people doing it. Class was challenging, but also fun…we had started sparring:) I have always enjoyed fighting (not really sure why). I had a wonderful childhood, I’ve never really experience violence, but I’ve always had some underlying aggression. It’s not like I went around trying to fight people…far from it. I actually hate confrontation and tend to avoid it at all costs. But part of me wanted know if I could defend myself if I had to. I don’t like feeling vulnerable. I may have some control issues:) I was genuinely excited when I finally got to spar with people. This was very different than my boxing classes. I finally got to hit someone! Fully padded, but still:) And honestly, I was pretty good at it. I sparred with both men and women and enjoyed the fact that I could handle myself.

Master saw this and asked if I would like to be in a competition. It was the first year our dojang would attend a competition. I said I would think about it. I was only a yellow belt (second belt you could get) after all. I asked Master if he thought I could do it. I decided that if he had confidence in me then that was all I needed…I would do it. He said yes…he thought I could do it. So I began practice for competition! We met on Saturdays in addition to our regular class days. The practices were grueling. This was completely different from class. Sparring in a competition was a whole other level. Instead of repetition doing form and technique we were sparring nonstop. We were also learning about points and how scoring worked. I haven’t pushed my body that hard since track practice in high school. Not only was in physically exhausting but also tested us mentally. We had to have some sort of plan for every different opponent. There were 3 other adult females and a few adult males on our competition team. I had to spar all of them….being a yellow belt mind you. Most others were higher belt levels. I did my best to learn…and learn quickly.

After a month of intense practice, it was competition time. I was so nervous. I’d never seen anything like it. There were multiple competition rings. I didn’t know how it worked and Master wasn’t sitting there to explain, because he was getting all of us registered. I was watching the other competitors and I was terrified. They were incredible; I knew that I couldn’t fight like that. I thought I would be crushed. It took me awhile, but then I realized what was happening. They were all black belts…professionals. We would compete in the afternoon. These were not our opponents. Phew!

We all went to register for our events. It turned out that there were no other yellow belts to spar with in my age group (35 and older….yep at a certain point we all got lumped together. The crazies…the ones still holding on:) So they asked if I would be ok sparring with someone in a more advanced belt. The only other females in my age group were the 2 other ladies from my dojang. I had sparred with both of them every day in class, so I said yes…it was not a problem. It was a bit concerning, however, when I had to sign a waiver. The waiver stated that I was aware that I would be sparring with someone more advanced and that I realized I could get hurt. And that the people running the tournament were not liable…of course:)

So in the afternoon it was finally our turn…the old ladies:) It was nerve wrecking to sit around all day watching other competitors and waiting for your turn. I just wanted to get it over with at this point. It surprised me how nervous I was, especially since my opponents were familiar to me. It is one thing to spar in your dojang with other students watching you, but it is a whole other thing to spar with strangers watching you. I fought 2 rounds…1 minute each. Wow…exhausting. I didn’t realize how exhausting. We sparred for 1 round lasting 1 minute, we rested for 1 minute and then sparred for another 1 minute round, the second round.

In the end my opponent won. As she should have…she was a red belt and a tough opponent. I held my own though! I was proud of myself! One of the judges even said, “Wow…you did so well as a yellow belt! You have a long career of you!” As much as I appreciated the comment, it made me chuckle:) I actually ended up with a 1st place medal. I was the only one in my belt level to compete…therefore I won:) I could have even headed on to nationals had I been so inclined. I couldn’t help but think that this was probably the only competition I would ever do however. Maybe if I was younger! Maybe if the training time didn’t take me away from my family. I checked it off my list of experiences. I did it once. It was challenging and fun…a great learning experience for sure. And that was good enough for me:)

I continued taekwondo for a few more years after that. I am now a high blue belt. I am very proud of that. I am currently taking a hiatus however. I enjoyed the training very much. It was repetitious, but I understand that is the point. Building muscle memory so the moves become automatic. I mostly enjoyed the sparring. COVID ruined that for awhile. We had class via Zoom for a few months, then when we were back in the dojang wecouldn’t spar for awhile because we were too close contact. During COVID is when I got into horseback riding because it was an outdoor activity that I had been longing to try again. Horseback riding lessons turned into owning a horse, then 2 horses. Two time-consuming hobbies proved to be too much for me (at this point in life at least…with a business to run and 5 kids at home, all with demanding schedules of their own). I may go back someday. We can spar again now. My son started sparring and it is actually very hard for me just to watch. Not because I am afraid he will be hurt, but because I miss it. I want so badly to be out there again. But we just don’t have time for everything do we.

Parents…training in martial arts is wonderful to build your child’s self esteem and discipline. It teaches the importance of respect…to the Master, to your opponents (the other students), and to yourself. It also teaches the importance of being a good human and a good member of your community. All martial arts teach students to use their skills only for good or to defend yourself. These are all excellent skills to teach your kids. And also for adults. That is why I believe that if you have any interest in martial arts at all, it is a very worthwhile hobby to pursue…at any age.

Train tirelessly to defeat the greatest enemy, yourself, and to discover the greatest master, yourself.

Shi Su Yan

Sincerely written on this day,

The Dabbler

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