When you do something over and over you either become stronger or you break.
Tonight was an extremely small class, so one of the masters worked with me and a younger bo dan on our forms. We walked through it piece by piece, performing each move over and over as we made tiny corrections each time.
“Come over to the wall, let’s work on your side kicks,” he said since there was a side kick in our new form, and it wasn’t quite up to scratch. Side kick is tricky. It’s one of the kicks we learn early on in our training but is one of the most difficult to master. Many students tend to short change side kick by not pulling it back and instead do a weird twist and half-heartedly fall forward into “panic stance” before regaining balance. For the next half hour my classmate and I deconstructed and reconstructed our side kicks, first holding the barre for support, then stepping away and doing “free range” kicks, and then finally hitting bags.
“Go slowly, speed will come over time,” he said. “Get it right first.”
I did the side kick so many times that I actually got worse before I got better. My mind and senses started swimming about the same time my eyes became blurred with sweat. It was that same unnerving feeling of staring at a word or picture for so long that your brain disconnects from the meaning of it. The word begins to seem like it is nonsensical and the picture becomes dissonant shapes. I refused to admit that I was tired (“I’m tired of my low kicks!” was all I would say). I hoped the master didn’t think I was getting frustrated with him or myself. Even though I’m very serious most of the time in the dojang, being there is the highlight of my day. That’s where I’m happiest and most excited. Taekwondo has fundamentally changed who I am for the better.
But the truth is I’m burned out.
I have been living and breathing taekwondo for the last several weeks, especially the weeks leading up to my bo dan test. I need a break. I’m actually looking forward to having company this weekend not just to see my family but also because I will skip Friday classes to spend time with them. I need to get some distance from it, even if it’s only for a few days, before I can go back to it.
When I got home another burning situation I’ve been dealing with hit me with full force. The initial shock was long over. I haven’t cried in a week other than when I watched a World War II documentary all day Sunday and finally lost it when they started playing Mozart’s Requiem. (Who wouldn’t lose it at that point? I will again if I start thinking about it)
So when the tears threatened to well up I focused on the pain in my muscles, tendons, and joints, a pain that is hewn from growth and triumph. It distracted me from the pain in my heart, a pain sprouting from grief and frustration and loss. I was tired of being my own hero all the time and having to tap into every last reserve of my strength. I was tired of kicking and fighting over and over when what I really needed to do was rest. I had to back off so I wouldn’t get burned.
Sometimes what you love can burn you. The trick is recognizing when you need to step away from the deceptive warmth of the flame and rest in the cool quiet darkness for a while.