This blog has started to take a self-development/self-help/change-yourself-change-your-life vibe, which was part of the package, but it’s starting to overshadow my taekwondo journey other than my weekly Poomsae Series. It’s starting to lose its story arc and the context behind the life lessons. I’m going to make a better effort to tell stories from the dojang on a more regular basis.
Wednesday nights are reserved for sparring followed by an advanced class for red and black belts. Sparring brings with it both a sense of dread and a sense of excitement. I hated it as a kid. Whenever “free sparring” was announced in class my stomach dropped and beads of panicky sweat sprung up on my pre-pubescent forehead. I hated it for the same reason I hated improv acting—I didn’t know what to do next! Nothing seemed logical. I couldn’t just pull stuff out of my tightly-wound intellectual ass. I’ve mentioned my guitar playing before. I’ve studied various instruments since I was six so while I was well-versed with dynamics, tempo, time measures, and sight reading, for the life of me I could never improvise. My lockstep rule-following brain just couldn’t put it together without that proverbial recipe.
Since then I’ve become adept at ad-libbing during workshops or presentations, and I’ve created several delicious meals from scratch. These days I actually look forward to sparring even though it’s my weakest area in taekwondo. With sparring I get to apply what I’ve learned, pick up new strategies, and well…improvise. Even the best intentions and willingness to improvise, though, are sometimes derailed by little things called age and size differentials.
This is where my boyfriend says “I told you so” about my preference for hour-long swims over 30-second sprints.
“I’m 35,” I said as I twisted my head around and grinned at my classmate in the back of the room. “You win.”
We were doing some aerobic warm-ups, and the two men and I cracked jokes about being able to beg out of doing them because we’re “old.” It was a very sparse class, so the two men (a red belt and a yellow belt—hey, we’re a small school) went at it while I paired up with J, an awkward but polite teen who informed me that he misplaced his mouthguard and asked me to please be careful. Damnit, I wanted to practice head shots!
J and I started giving the “let’s go easy, I’m tired” eyes about 30 seconds into sparring. We heard huffing and puffing from the two men and hoped our instructor would show us some mercy. I don’t sprint. I just don’t. It’s not an aversion to it; I just don’t think about it. My exercise of choice is swimming, and when I’m not doing that I’m in yoga class. I look good, but that all goes out the window when I spar. Hopping around for five minutes is way worse than swimming a mile.
“I hear a lot of heavy breathing,” my instructor barked. “That either means we’re all working hard or our conditioning is down.” The poor 37-year-old almost started retching after he and I lumbered around for a minute or two throwing weak kicks into the air at each other. He had attended the lower ranking sparring class before and was understandably exhausted. “Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “When I first started sparring I was bright red the entire hour and so disoriented that I’m surprised I was able to drive home.” I admitted to my instructor that the first time I attended red & black belt class right after sparring I was so wiped out that I yawned every time he turned his back.
Black and Blue is the New Black
Our school is tiny, and our advanced belts are few and far between so unfortunately that leads to a lot of mismatched pairs in sparring class. The best I can hope for in a size match is a chunky 10-year-old boy. Usually I’m letting the boy and girl 6-year-olds win by encouraging them to try out a new move on me or I’m getting knocked halfway across the room by men a foot taller than me and a good 70-100 pounds on me. As I watched young women spar at the tournament this past weekend I was both relieved that they weren’t at my school because they would have all wiped the floor with me and bemoaned the fact that they weren’t at my school because I don’t have any proper partners.
Neither of the 6-year-olds were in class, so I got to spar the 30-year-old man who outweighs me by at least 70 pounds. I had to ask him more than once to chill with the super-hard hits and shoving me across the room with his front kicks. Was I being a baby used to easy sparring with kids? Maybe. But the look on my boyfriend’s face when he saw several dark ugly brusies and scrapes across my elbow and wrist (from catching the brunt of those big grasshopper monster legs flying at my ribs) told me I need to call the petite woman card the next time I’m up against this guy. I really don’t want a broken elbow. Besides, if I were really fighting a guy his size I’d fight a whole lot dirtier.
Ending the night with comic relief
“S, You’d make a terrible pet,” my instructor said during warm-ups in red and black belt class. We all paused as the words hung in the air and then burst into laughter. S, a goofy, gangly 14-year-old would not stop talking (mainly about Ebola) during warmups so my instructor gave him what my yoga teacher would call an “assist” during stretches. S squawked harder with laughter and pain as he was shoved deeper into a seated forward fold. “With animals you give them a little smack and they stop misbehaving,” my instructor continued. “You don’t seem to learn anything with pain!” For a long time, neither did I (told you I’d still keep the self-development/life lesson theme).
Bonus: baked beans, On the Border tortilla chips, and an avocado eaten off a paper towel on the coffee table make an AWESOME recovery dinner.