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.

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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!