I took my first taekwondo belt test last night. I’m happy to say I passed, graduating to the rank of Orange Belt! That’s still pretty low on the list, but I’m no longer the newbie. Here are three things I’ve learned in the last 6 weeks:
1. Learning martial arts is both empowering and highly entertaining. One second, I’m focused and balancing all Zen-like on one foot before completing a controlled, snappy side kick in perfect form. The next, I’m kicking and throwing my arms around in such a spastastically wild manner Elaine Benes would be in awe. To sum it up: keep at it and keep your sense of humor.
2. Testing and practice are two different things. I was confident going into my test last night. I had my forms down and felt that the support of my instructors and classmates would carry me through. Besides, I wasn’t saving lives, so, really, how hard could it be?
Like many of my classmates, I experienced the one thing you don’t get in practice: the pressure of performing in front of 30+ people who have nothing better to do at that moment than to watch you. I ended up rushing through my form, focusing on things I usually don’t consider (“Hey, let me impress that five-year-old in the front row with an amazing jump front kick! See, kid, I’m awesome!”), and then came out of said kick only to realize I had no idea where I was in the routine. I’m sure my pause lasted for only a second or two, but it was disorienting. Then there were the issues of bonking myself in the head during the weapons test and flubbing my way through line sparring.
All of that aside, if there’s a positive about being in your 40’s you know “the show must go on”. (And empty your bladder before jumping, kicking or, generally, anything.) In other words: It may not be your best ever, but it’s your best at that moment.
3. Everyone is your teacher. My testing partner is a 62-year old woman who started taekwondo because her granddaughters take classes. To look at her, you think “sweet and petite”, but this former Navy engineer is tough as nails and throws a mean punch (thankfully, the no contact kind). My other classmates include two 13-year old boys who are your typical self-conscious, goofy, mostly uncoordinated teens. But, god love ’em, they accepted practicing with someone their mom’s age without a word, right from the start. My buddy, Jesse, even gave me a big smile and high five after we earned our new belts. Consider this: You can learn something from everyone you meet…regardless of how old — or young — they are.
Yes, your supporters will help carry you through.
It’s ok. You’re not saving lives.
You’re not Elaine Benes.