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What do we do when our reality is traded for a new one? How do we let go of what we can’t control, influence what we can, and embrace our new normal?
I can’t seem to jump very well anymore. For a while my strength was improving, but recently it seems that I haven’t so much hit a plateau as much as my body has decided to take a different path. I first noticed it when I had to exert a lot more effort to spring myself into the air for box jumps in physical therapy. (At least I can do them. About this time last year when my physical therapist tried to introduce them I was in tears with anxiety.)
I’m noticing it quite a bit in taekwondo. It’s harder to get off the ground, hike my knees up, and heaven forbid if I have to add a kick (or even worse, a twist) at the apex of that jump. It’s exhausting, and I feel like my legs are made of lead. My thoughts alternate between, “Come on, Black Belt, you’ve got this!” and “What’s wrong with you, Black Belt? Kids can do this. Maybe you don’t deserve your belt.” I feel like I should apologize to my instructors for being a disappointment.
I suppose I am entering a phase of a new normal. Maybe I just haven’t quite accepted the fact that I am not the kickass gazelle bouncing around that I see in my head when I’m in taekwondo class. I’m almost 40 years old, and in reality I’m lamely spazzing around in a too-big uniform that feels like a soaking wet king size bedsheet when I sweat. Despite my brain yelling “GO! GO! GO!” I’m slow in sparring matches and am finding the more gravity-defying aspects of my martial art increasingly difficult.
It’s frustrating that when I’ve reached the age, maturity level, and belt rank to understand the nuanced mechanics of taekwondo, my body can’t do them either at all or not very well. Although I sincerely believe I had to leave taekwondo as a child and go through a bunch of stupid shit for the next 20 years to find myself and find my way back to the dojang, it makes me wonder. Had I continued taekwondo into my teens or even stopped and taken it up again in my twenties rather than my thirties, would my muscles, nerves, bones, and brain would be more finely tuned to and more adeptly able to execute the movements that are becoming harder and harder for me to pull off?
Perhaps I’m not as hopeless as I think. Perhaps this is a new “normal” state of fitness for me: I easily swam for an hour this morning. Despite having to really haul ass in physical therapy to do my exercises, my jumps were pretty good today (I DID get my knees up and clear my boxes and land softly like a kitty ninja), my balance had improved, and I did nearly 9 continuous minutes of holding planks. And y’all, I can do a form like nobody’s business. Not bad, Black Belt.
Plus, I’ve noticed improvement in the more advanced aspects of taekwondo, notably around self-defense. In the end that’s rather what I’d be good at anyway. I can probably go my whole life without ever needing to do a 540 kick–good because I can’t do it anyway. Some of my kicks–the ones on the ground anyway–have become more solid and make more of an impact, which serves me better in a fight than more complicated kicks.
For my fellow martial artists reading this, I’m not discounting more complicated airborne kicks. This is not sour grapes because I can’t do them. Many people not only do them beautifully but do them effectively . When you’ve been whomped in the chest by someone slamming into you with a 360 roundhouse you appreciate that kick very much.
On the upside I’ve gotten pretty good at teaching and coaching. I might not be able to do a jump spin kick or a 360 roundhouse, but I can help someone else do them, and that is honestly more satisfying than being able to do them myself. If I can be one of those aging ladies who punches wood, slams guys on the floor, and inspires students to work hard and believe in themselves then I’m good. If this is my new normal I’m okay with that…but it’s hard to let go and it’s hard to embrace my new normal.
So how does this translate to “real life?” As I hinted at in my last post, my reality has been shaken up quite a bit. A new reality is being presented to me, and I have to choose how I will interact with it. Will I spend all my time mourning what I can no longer do and what I have to give up? Will I fight myself into a futile corner? Or will I take advantage of the opportunities lining the new path in front of me? Will I embrace a new reality and a new identity? I think I know what I will do.
“AH!! What are you doing??” I shrieked as I hopped backwards, narrowly missing a swipe from my chief instructor, who was holding a thin but painful-looking and very solid wooden bat. I was expecting an overhead strike, which I had just practiced defending against, but instead he had swung the bat from side to side.
“What do you mean?” he asked, laughing. “You don’t know what someone is going to do when they’re attacking you.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Life takes swings at us in expected and sometimes less expected ways. Illness, job loss, death, financial hardship, onions on your hamburger when you specifically stated, “No onions”–the unexpected slings and arrows shot at us can take us by surprise, leaving us feeling hurt, betrayed, and vulnerable. Sometimes we’re left in a state of limbo, not knowing whether things will turn out to be better than imagined or worse than expected.
I’m in that state of ambiguity right now, as are several other people in my life. Life took a swing at us, and while it wasn’t entirely unexpected (just as I knew my chief instructor was going to take a swing at me), the gravity of it shook us to our core. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I was angry, upset, and very worried about my future. I know I wasn’t the only one opening a bottle of wine after the news hit.
And then a funny thing happened–I got over it. I bounced back very quickly, which may very well be a case of denial, but I’d like to think it’s partially due to the “indomitable spirit” I’ve honed from practicing a martial art. Fall down seven times, get up eight. It wasn’t forced or a mindful choice. After a day or two of stewing I suddenly felt very calm and positive. Just as I kept my mind focused on testing for black belt last year in spite of a very painful injury, I’m keeping my mind focused on the very favorable outcomes that could come from this situation. I’m banking on things turning out better than I could have imagined…and if they don’t, well, I’ll get back up that eighth time.
Gallows humor helps too. No sooner than we were hit with our new reality, we all started finding the funny in the situation. It helps us bond during a difficult time and keeps us from getting too bogged down in the grim details. We laugh a lot in taekwondo class too, maybe more than we should in a disciplined martial art, but it lightens the mood, strengthens our bonds, and keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next, just as I didn’t know for sure how my chief instructor was going to attack me. All I know is I need to be prepared for anything, trust my instincts and my training, and not back down.