“Up-downs,” my instructor said calmly, widening his eyes and smiling at us. It was the first class day after Friday’s and Saturday’s tests, but only four of us showed up, so my instructor must have decided he was going to whip us into shape black belt style. We had two new bo dans (me and a younger female student), a teenage bo dan who tested for black belt on Saturday and will likely be awarded his black belt in about a week, and a teenage black belt who will be testing for his 2nd dan in the fall. You would think a class of only high-ranking students would be deadly serious, mature, and determined. I have apparently forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager.
“Well if I’m a country boy than you’re an Indian boy…dot, not casino,” the black belt blurted out. My instructor and I gaped blankly at him while the bo dan girl fidgeted in the back.
“Your sentence just got worse and worse as it went on,” my instructor said in disbelief, trailing his hand down to indicate his point.
“He called me a country boy. I’m from Texas,” said the teen black belt, trying to justify his comment. My instructor and I both argued that (1) we didn’t hear the other student call him that (2) being from Texas doesn’t necessarily make one a “country” boy and (3) the two of us are from rural west Texas towns so if anyone could be considered “country” it would be us. It fell on deaf ears.
I looked back and forth to the two teens in amazement, wondering how I ever found high school boys to be cute and charming.
We returned to our regularly scheduled warm-up of torture. We did twenty up-downs (or “burpees” as they are sometimes called)…okay, my instructor, the other little bo dan, and I did twenty up-downs. The boys flopped and stumbled and gasped on either side of me, so my classmate and I had a little breathing break while the boys were forced to finish their set. The process repeated itself with knuckle push ups.
“We’re waiting,” said my instructor, looking at the boys on either side of me. They had both collapsed onto the floor before we even began our set. While he glared at them and waited I remained quietly upright in plank position, silently thanking my plank/chaturagna-loving yoga teacher and years of lap swimming for my upper body strength.
“Sir, I don’t have the upper body strength to continue,” the black belt whined, splayed on the floor. He’s a big guy, not in the greatest shape, but he’s at least 6 feet tall and has been training taekwondo for several years. My instructor ranted about how they should be training outside of class and how being thin is no excuse not to be able to do push ups. What a difference it makes when you’re there by choice verses when your mom drags you away from your precious video games to go to class.
“I do this because I care!” my instructor cried above our pants and gasps as we moved on to running, jumping, and kicking drills. It brought some comic relief but was little consolation for an intense workout. I finally had to use the over-30 rule and go from jump turning back side kicks to regular grounded kicks. My quads were swollen and numb by this point. I thought about when I ran my last half marathon, how I willed my burned out legs to keep pumping so I could finish in the time I wanted and dug into my last stores of strength and endurance. (I did finish the half marathon faster than my goal time with the help of caffeinated gel and sheer stubbornness although I couldn’t walk for two days afterwards.)
“Act like a black belt!” the teen black belt suddenly yelled at his compatriot, who was goofing off and giggling yet again. He looked at us indignantly. “You see? I don’t do that!” he shouted as if we had forgotten his behavior from the beginning of class. He then chased his classmate around and tried to redeem himself. Sigh…boys.
The rest of the evening we moved across the floor with sparring drills. Grandmaster joined us to give us some pointers and gave the black belt a fright as he speedily pounced toward him in fighting stance. I dragged myself home, took a cold shower followed by a cold Epsom salt bath, popped two ibuprofens, choked down a Powerbar and some Gatorade, and collapsed. I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. I smiled. Black belt training has officially begun.