Enough already, Yoda!

Maybe it’s my sarcastic nature, but I just can’t get into motivational quotes. A participant in a recent leadership development program suggested that we send them an inspiring word of the day. Instead I sent her a link to the fabulous site despair.com, which lampoons those awful motivational posters. I bought a wine simply because the label read “Pessimist.”

That brings me to a quote that has been popping up in people’s email signatures and Facebook feeds:
“Do or do not. There is no try.” —Yoda

hipster yoda

Give me a f***ing break! I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Sometimes you just have to jump off that proverbial cliff to see results. Sometimes people use the word “try” as a CYA tactic in case things don’t work out. Trying allows an exit. Doing implies commitment despite the risks. But can’t we have a little wiggle room? Life is not that black and white. Zero to sixty still has incremental progress. Trying gives us the chance to experiment, to make mistakes. Doing it means we can execute based on applying what we have learned through trying. That rarely happens the first time. Doing also means it’s now or never, and you’d better not slow down.
I am trying this blogging thing because who knows! I might give it up or I might laugh a year from now at how primitive it looked. I’m making changes as I go along, and despite my need for structure and control, I’m open to possibilities.

To Yoda’s defense, he had to be harsh. Remember how whiny Luke Skywalker was? I’ve seen white belt children who were tougher than he was.

Last night’s class was great. Everyone in our small group was ready to learn, including a freshly minted black belt. The color belts are a warm-up to the first big step of learning in taekwondo. The black belt is not the end of the journey; it’s just a step along the way. There was a whole lot of trying going on. We were learning new one-step sparring techniques, which included complicated hand-to-hand combat and takedowns. We tried them several times. The first few always end in eyebrows raised in question and self-deprecating smirks, and eventually they become fluid and powerful. If it weren’t for trying my instructor wouldn’t have been able to give me constructive feedback so I could change my approach, and I wouldn’t have been able to coach my training partner along so he could make some progress.

“Do” sounds so harsh. Get a sense of humor, man. Try it on for size.

TKD has a motto that may evoke some eye-rolling: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” The TKD symbol, a roly-poly encircled in a water lily designates tenacity, like the weighted inflatable clown that pops back up after a punch. The beauty of that quote is that it allows for failure. It acknowledges the dark side of life. You can’t have triumph without some tears. Once in a while you slip and step in the mud, and if you’re astute enough to learn from your experience, you try something different.

And I just hate sappy quotes.


The Big Bang of Little Black Belt

If I had learned my lesson from those countless “a year of” memoirs I would have started blogging from when I showed up to the dojang on April 1, 2013, wearing my stiff white deeply creased dobok. A little over a year later isn’t such a bad thing. I had no idea I’d be where I am now–comfortable in a new and challenging role at work, in the most loving relationship I’ve ever had, and a little higher up on the dojang food chain.
Blog names I considered:
TaeKwonDo Diva
Sealed With a Kick
Black Belt Beauty
Does This Dobok Make Me Look Fat?
Yoga On Speed
The TKD diaries
Kick in the Pants
There’s No Crying in TaeKwonDo!
The Taekwondo Tenet: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”
My journey began 23 years ago when my brother and I enrolled in the taekwondo school in our small town. I was excited and terrified, and I loved it. I was a serious little kid, so I was militant about showing respect and paying attention. I meditated before P.E. class at school. I smirked internally when a little friend who had lambasted me before I started my lessons (“Why are you doing that?? They’ll punch and hit you! Don’t come crying to me when you have a broken leg! My mom says that’s a waste of time and money!”) started saying to other kids: “I can kick higher than your head.” Jealous much?? For some reason I always seemed to attract domineering female friends whom I eventually abandoned due to their increased bullying and clinginess. I mean seriously, they were worse than smothering boyfriends. Luckily that phenomenon and many other toxic forces in my life are gone.

Getting back into the dojang falls somewhere between chick lit and existentialism.

At first I just needed a familiar distraction. It turned into a passion, a driver, a sense of community. Getting a black belt was an afterthought; I just wanted to be there. It is the only moment in my busy life that I am completely focused in the present. Take that, Eckhart Tolle.
I fell down seven times. My life changed when I decided to get up again.

Shove chronic loneliness, a string of failed short-lived relationships and the inevitable ego bruising, career ambiguity, poisonous regret, and a crumbling sense of self into a cheap second-hand blender, dilute with whiskey and tears, and watch the mess begin. It doesn’t help that I tend to isolate myself and can easily fall into the trap of the fractured tunnel vision reality the mind likes to create. I had had a big showdown with my mind and ego about a year prior to that and came out scratched but victorious on the other end. Apparently they came back for one more round. I thought I was getting my act together but was still seduced by magical thinking. I was clinging to everything I could except what I really needed. I showed a brave face to the outer world while reaching my, ahem, breaking point. 
In a weird way though I was happy to have that freedom again. I had tended to attract relationships that left me pretty much single anyway–i.e., not spending much time with the other person, which broke my heart but seemed to be just fine with them. I was in the habit of doing my own thing–cooking, shopping, exercising, pursuing my hobbies. I dared myself to either join a swim club or get back into taekwondo. Now I had no excuse. My first web search pulled up the school of the grandmaster who was over my small town schools’ instructors. Texans would call it a “God thing.” Some attribute it to the power of the universe. Either way I knew my search could end right there.

The one “plus” from that dark time was that I was the thinnest I’ve ever been–so much so that to my annoyance more than one person at work tried to have the concerned talk with me. (Of course I lied and said nothing was wrong) Apparently I’m at the age where a super thin face no longer highlights my Eastern European cheekbones; I just look haggard. Now that I’m doing well at work, am a part of one of those couples I used to hate, and am happy and progressing in the dojang…I’m 10 pounds heavier. What the hell?! Granted I do have that cool V-cut to my lower abs now from all the kicking…but that’s about it. (I still wear a petite size 4. The tomatoes are going to be thrown right…about…now)
As my fate would have it I have to be miserable to be svelte. I used to count on some kind of stressful event every six months or so to push me beyond the edge of minor stress eating to weird chest pains and zero appetite. Damn my healthy happy ife.

I started my MBA for the wrong reasons (bored, lonely, isolated tunnel vision) and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I’m not proud of what pushed me into TKD, but it was what I needed at that time. One of the black belts said, “Wow, LBB, just think if you’d stayed in taekwondo for all those years. You might be a 5th degree black belt by now.” That doens’t really bother me. Every step, misstep, setback, and victory has been perfectly aligned to get me where I needed to be. I had to fall, I had to learn hard lessons (sometimes repeatedly), I had to realize that learning from my mistakes and owning my choices would lead to happiness—no one else could do that for me. I had to learn to trust that God & the universe would take care of things in better ways than I could imagine if I’d just back the hell off and stop crying about it. 
TKD came back into my life at the exact time I needed. It wouldn’t have worked at any other time. I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t have grown emotionally and spiritually as much as I have. I would have missed the point entirely.


Fear of Flying (Kicks)

“Um…no, I’ll break a hip,” I said tartly one night in an early January taekwondo class, giving my instructor the side eye and choosing to hop daintily to the side of the pads set up for flying side kick practice rather than leaping over them. Ah, flying side kick, the bane of my existence, the barometer for my physical prowess…or lack thereof.
“It’s OK, I know you’re scared,” the instructor said. Wait a minute, hold up, WHA? I didn’t want to own up to it, but I definitely was afraid. Of what? Falling on a soft mat? Drawing some muffled giggles out of prepubescent boys too shy to look me in the eye and who probably think I’m older than their mom? Bruising my pride or my ego? Exposing the holes in my confidence? I pride myself on being healthy and athletic, and all I can muster is a tentative flop a foot off the ground. How dare I be less than a gazelle in white pajama pants?


How often do we stop short of taking a leap? How often do we let the fear of failure derail us before we even get off the ground? I’ve faced seemingly much larger challenges than that. I’ve done two successful stints in grad school, I bought a home with no financial assistance, and other than a recent bout of good luck in the boyfriend department, I’ve faced the pain of disappointment and rejection time and again. I’ve been the housewife AND the breadwinner for a better part of a decade. I have learned (the hard way) to savor solitude rather than linger in loneliness.  I’m am doing what women fought for the right to do for generations and living a freedom that countless people around the world can only dream of doing.

Why couldn’t I do what comes so easily to children? The weight on our shoulders gets heavier as the years click by: the obligations, the regrets, the triumphs and mishaps. Worry and Logic perch on opposite shoulders and make their countering arguments. My ability to trust has diminished.

Let’s look at the other side of it–when do we need to listen to our limits? Sorry to disappoint–I’m a glass half-empty kind of girl. I bought a wine called “Pessimist” just for the name. (It turned out to be a delightful syrah). The sky is not the limit, the world is not your oyster, we cannot all grow up to be President. I’ve probably just earned some haters. For me it makes for a more peaceful mindset. If you vehemently disagree that’s fine. Whatever works for you. Enjoy the whirlwind and send me a postcard.I’ve said “no” many times in the name of efficiency and my own sanity and well-being. Do you really need to take on that new project when you have 20 others halfway completed and piling up on your desk? Do you need to stay in that toxic relationship that is emotionally draining? Do you need to train for that triathlon when you haven’t recovered from a nasty injury? What are we trying to prove when we push ourselves too far? I’m on the wrong side of 30, and there are some things my body just won’t do. I can run a half marathon, swim the butterfly stroke, and beat those same goofy preteen boys from class in pushups. I have legs that run and dance and jump, strong lungs that pump air, and a healthy heart that keeps beating. Life is pretty good.

So how do I find that balance–pushing myself past my comfort zone while being patient and accepting of the equipment I’ve been given?  I know I need more strength training and drills to build up the power in my legs. That just takes time. Technique doesn’t happen over night. There’s something to be said for being planful over being pushy.
I’ve found that when I trust things will be OK, when I let up on the mental or emotional grip I have on the outcome things work out more sweetly than I could have planned. The trick is relaxing while running full speed ahead….we’re still talking about kicks, right?During the December ice storms I did a spontaneous gleeful flying front snap kick in my living room when I learned we had yet another day off work. Maybe pleasant surprises are what I need to get my feet off the ground.