“So…then you’re not a taekwondo person?” my instructor said coldly as he raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips. Eric*, a sixteen-year-old black belt who uses his intellect to make sarcastic comments and talk back rather than improve his martial arts skills, was sighing and complaining about a minor injury and was accepting none of my instructor’s encouragement to keep coming to class and doing his best. “You can at least come here with the taekwondo spirit: fall down seven times, get up eight. You need to set a good example for these new green belts.” The two young freshly minted green belts fidgeted in the back, wide eyed and wondering if anyone was going to erupt.
I have seen Eric erupt. He stormed out of sparring class spewing obscenities and swearing he was DONE with everything. He doesn’t know that I have housed those same volcanic demons longer than he’s been alive. Those are the same demons who told me that no one understood, that life was pointless, that the only way to react to the world was with a combination of anger and shutting down. I have learned how to tame them.
Lately, though, I have wanted to shut down on everything, not just taekwondo. I had a lot of time to think during last week’s never-ending color belt test, and it sent me into a bit of an existential crisis. I don’t think it was the demons whispering in my ear, and I don’t think it’s burnout with tkd or work or anything else. I’m just hitting “pause,” looking around, and wondering if this is all worth it. It’s something my busy and questioning mind likes to turn over and examine every once in a while.
Months ago I was struggling to find the point of this blog. Lately the same thought has flashed across my mind on a grander scheme. What’s the point of all of this, of any of this? Why am I here? Is this my life? If I think about it too much I’ll turn into that David Byrne song: “This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” I started to wonder if taekwondo would go the way of my other hobbies.
“You started doing this so you would’t be afraid, right? Don’t be afraid of this” another instructor said, coaxing me to hit harder as I was practicing turning back side kick. I was turning too much and letting my bent leg fly out too far, which threw me off balance and diluted the power of the kick. “It’s not a matter of being afraid,” I laughed. “It’s muscle memory.” I was actually a little offended by his question but later wondered if it had some truth to it. I didn’t start taekwondo because I was afraid of muggers or street gangs. I started taekwondo because I was losing myself. I was giving up and giving in after fighting so hard to become a better person. I was erupting and shutting down at the same time. I needed a drastic change. I wanted to tap into that steely independence and confidence of my long-buried eleven-year-old self who just wanted to draw cartoons, listen to the Beatles, and go to taekwondo class and didn’t care what other people thought. So maybe I did start taekwondo because I was afraid. I was afraid of losing my steam, my drive, and my newly found enjoyment of life. I was afraid of erasing all the hard work that I had done to uncover who I really am.
A taekwondo person doesn’t give up. A taekwondo person deals with failure and disappointment with grace and determination. A taekwondo person doesn’t erupt or walk away. A taekwondo person gets back up.
I’m in. Bring it on.