Tapping Out

Last night my taekwondo instructor announced that his school would be closing in two weeks for financial reasons. After training for three and a half years and being within months of testing for my black belt, I felt crushed. The school wasn’t the best. The instructor wasn’t coming off the Olympic circuit. But it was small and friendly enough that I had the courage to try learning a martial art at the tender age of 43.

I have worked hard over the last few years. I’ve taken some pretty good hits, pushed myself to be stronger, faster and more flexible. Since I was the only adult color belt, I would train with black belts who were bigger, younger and lighter on their feet. When I would do a color belt test, I would be towering over 7- and 8-year old kids. I treated it as a lesson in humility.

Waist level attacks on my gi-normous opponents.

When I sparred with teenage gorillas, I prided myself every time I got up, shook my head and re-engaged after getting the wind knocked out of me. I would willingly humiliate myself with poorly executed front and back rolls. And I practiced. A lot. At tournaments, I could easily wait 10 hours to compete, since the 40+ division would sometimes be the last contest of the event. I really put my heart and focus into training.

There are few things more startling than a middle-aged lady bawling over her steering wheel in a strip mall parking lot. Since I’m not prone to tears, my husband and daughter stood paralyzed and baffled when I arrived home, as I blubbered loudly, wailing Now I’m just a housewife! And before housewives jump into flaming mode, I am simply an ambivalent housewife and I don’t enjoy it. Who wants their identity to rest solely on something they’re not very good at doing?

Attachment. I had attached myself to the idea that I would eventually be a black belt, that I was almost across that line. Changing martial arts schools is challenging at best. You tend to lose out to whatever ranking system they use, since there are no consistent practices among schools. Some schools can be painfully competitive and discouraging, while others are just black belt factories – the skill set involves ninja check writing and not much else. I don’t have the patience or wherewithal to begin again. I’m done. I’ve tapped out.

But wait, folks, she’s rallying! It seems like she wants to get up. She’s waving off the referee. She just does not want to stay down…

I took the opportunity to leave my job a few months ago when tasks had become mind-numbingly rote and frustrating. I knew I wanted to focus on writing. I’ve tried to adapt to a writing life, but I’m not there yet. My energy is diverted along so many paths. I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work, working on house projects, helping an elderly relative, learning long division all over again with my 4th grader, training hard for my black belt, being a sometime writer and preparing to try my hand at stand up comedy.

This morning I awoke with a big sigh. Who am I and what the hell have I been doing? Often people will frame random events and miscellaneous occurrences as “signs” of some greater import. Or you’ve got the making lemonade out of lemons crowd. I’m more of the screw it, I’ll make a new plan ilk.

I’ve chosen to see the passage of this part of my identity – this kicking, punching, struggling martial artist as a bigger push towards fewer intentions. I did some research this morning and applied for membership to a local writers’ group. Hopefully a few of them will be in my size and age ranking.

She rises slowly, slightly disoriented, but she’s up. Unbelievable! And the crowd goes wild!

39 thoughts on “Tapping Out

  1. Keep in mind that everything happens for a reason. Maybe Taekwondo has moved out of the way to make room for something more important and fulfilling — like writing. And all the discipline and endurance skills and focus and courage you learned will serve you very well now — just in another way.


    1. I tend to take the approach that there’s no reason for most things that happen, but it’s how we move forward that imbues reason to unexpected change. I’m moving forward, despite a great deal of disappointment. I think I will still feel compelled to kick people on occasion!


  2. A story well told in italics! I think focus easily trumps looking for signs that never quite point to anything or the pretend-it-isn’t-real lemonade. All great fodder for the eagerly anticipated youtube video of your first comedy routine.


    1. Thanks, Lyle. I’m still bummed about taekwondo being done, but I know I’ll keep trudging forward and challenging myself. Ach! I had forgotten about the whole YouTube deal and the vulnerability of public performance recordings. I’ll be the next viral video and not in a good way.


    1. There’s something anticlimactic about training for so long and not making it to black belt. I can see the positive progress, but I’m still disappointed and a little angry about how many injuries I endured to reach for this goal. Ah well. Onto the next adventure…


  3. Hah, love your last thought! You can be so proud of what you’ve accomplished! So sorry to hear about their business though. Good luck with the writer group!


    1. Thanks, Luanne. I’ve never applied to be a member of a writing group, but it felt pretty good to say I had one novel draft done, had been blogging for a couple of years and was working on a 2nd novel. I couldn’t have said any of that 2 years ago!


  4. When an injury forced me to stop Muay Thai, I felt the same. The sport got me through a really hard time in my life and I felt so strong and like somebody…better when I walked out of every training session. It took a while for me to get to a better place once I was injured, but I did it. I had to become someone other than the ‘kickboxing girl’. (I guess I’m the ‘Yoga Girl’ now?) I’m hoping that your next stage is as good as the last one.



    1. Isn’t it amazing how easily something can become part of your identity? I would never have guessed how emotional I’d feel about leaving taekwondo. Like you, I also felt stronger and like I was doing something special – something that made me feel special, anyway. I suppose that speaks to self-esteem issues and not accepting myself on my own merits, blah, blah, blah.
      I’ll be trying to move onto things that are gentler on my body, but will pick up a kickboxing class on occasion and am going to try Tabata training once taekwondo wraps up.
      I am looking forward to being part of a writing group. I’ve done workshops, but have never worked with a consistent group of writers with works in progress.


      1. Good luck with kickboxing and tabata! I loved interval training, still do it when I can (gently!).

        And good luck with the writing group! I’ve not had an in depth writing experience such as that since uni, and I’m craving it hard – which is why I’m trying out for an intensive workshop in the US this year.


  5. Humility is being thrown around on the mats by a 10 year old and not being bothered by it. That’s a trait you can take on stage, to a novel, or anywhere!


    1. Thanks for the suggestion. It’s a good one and an option he mentioned, but I got the sense it was merely out of guilt. I think he wants to be well and done with teaching at this point. Fortunately I have enough training to still be able to practice taekwondo and if I still feel strongly about pursuing it after sinking more into writing, I will search for another school. On the upside, it’s put me in deep thought mode about identity and attachment, which will likely be a few posts’ worth of material!


  6. I really like the encouraging comments made here. I can sort of commiserate as the activity that got cancelled out on me was actually tapping. Our group was a bunch of tap dancing beginners who gave our whole hearts to creating a team of awkward beauty. We even got a standing ovation at the year-end show. Then our teacher moved on.
    A couple of us tried a new class, but well, styles didn’t mesh. This year I started writing. It’s been fantastic, but once in awhile…


    1. I love writing, but there is something unmatched in moving your body, finding out what you’re capable of – it really takes you outside of yourself. I find that exercise, sport, dance to be such a necessary counterbalance to being in my head all the time!

      And I really enjoy and appreciate commenters here as well – such a great community!


  7. Yeah, I don’t believe things happen for a reason either. But we *can* find a lesson or learning in everything if we choose to. If this helps redirect your energies and intentions, it was worth it.


    1. Choice is the key word, since the same event can have entirely different outcomes for individuals. I do tend to make sure things “count”. New lessons to be learned, new choices to make. Right now, I’m just going to slink about in a funk until the sun pokes through the clouds. It’s an okay place to be. I think too often we rush away from sadness or disappointment in an effort to avoid pain. Sometimes I like to lounge about in a mood…


  8. Doors shut, and then we’re forced to get creative and make other plans. That’s a good thing! Keep reminding yourself of that. It’s all a process, not a destination. I’d be bummed out, too, with the closing of your safe place. But it has forced you again to look at your life and re-evaluate and make plans. It’s all good, girl.


    1. You’re right about that. I just have to figure out if I can work it into daily life. You know, using a side kick to push a grocery cart into a corral and an arm hold to get my kid to practice her viola….so many options!
      I hope that a writers group will be helpful and that by reading the work of others, I can learn more about what works and what doesn’t.


  9. There have been so many beautiful, eloquent and uplifting comments regarding your loss, and all I have is, “That SUCKS!” And that I am so sorry! I hope you find something to fill that void that gives you much happiness and fulfillment, and as a fellow black belt seeker, I hope you find a path to it eventually. And if not, you will always be a martial arts badass who took a beating and kept on ticking.


    1. It really has been a complete bummer. I have already given up sparring classes. It’s hard to justify getting the crap kicked out of me at this point! Even being in forms class is tough now, because all I can think is “what’s the point?” I never realized how attached to the idea of being a black belt I was, but I’m trying to remember why I started in the first place – it looked like fun (watching my daughter in class) and I’d always wanted to learn a martial art. Still, I gained a lot of physical confidence, especially that of performing in front of other people, so I recognize it was worth doing and worth every bruise and pulled muscle. I’ll enjoy hearing about you getting your black belt – it will be a vicarious experience!


      1. Deal! You will be my inspiration to keep blogging my journey, and to try and do it just a little more often! It feels good to know that someone is out there, rooting for me and on the journey with me, vicariously!


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