A little more than a week ago, I earned my red belt in Tae Kwon Do. For someone who started this demanding martial art late in life, getting this far — only three more levels until the test for black belt — the switch from blue to red feels like an incredible accomplishment.
When you’re 48 and trying to do a flying side kick and only getting a few inches off the floor — and the young bucks have one-minute hang times — it can be discouraging. Still, I persevere.
I was going to use this post to compare the trials and tribulations of being an author with doing Tae Kwon Do — but the comparisons were too predictable, too pat.
Instead, I thought I’d let you into my Tae Kwon Do world this bright Monday in August.
WARNING: These pictures are unflattering (not the photog’s fault, btw). Don’t hold that against me when we meet. I’ve been told for at least a year that I have a very intense, fierce face when I do TKD. Well, I didn’t believe it until I saw these . . .
Every testing is different. This time, we broke out into male/female groups and did the first six of our forms (in karate, they’d be called "kata")together. I’m in the back, to the left near the mounted staffs (bo).
You never know with testings . . . I expected to do several forms by myself. However, I only had the opportunity to do one — and it was with the other lady testing for a red belt. This form is called Toi Gye (pronounced "ta-gay"). The following two pix are also this form — and I’m looking mighty fierce.
Many people hate Toi Gye because it has six stomps. These make you look like you did in second grade when you pretended to be a tree. To make the stomp, you have to twist your body and land hard. I still am not very good at it — but you can see I bring real energy to the motion. The woman behind me is more than 10 years younger than I am and quite an accomplished athlete. I want to hate her . . . .
I’ve just leapt and landed in that position. It’s a very satisfying move.
The next few photos are of kicks — we do them to keep limber at testing and, later, in preparation for our board-breaking. I’m including several so that you can see the focus in preparing for the kick and then the execution. The woman who is in front of me in line is 55 — and every time I start feeling sorry for myself, I just look at her and stop it.
I had no idea I got my leg that high. Not bad for someone looking at 50.
Here is a challenging balancing exercise. You kick that little red pad front to back — with power — as many times as you can without setting your foot down. I managed to get at least seven sets — the most in the line that time through — and it was such a good feeling to do something really well.
Again, the men and women were separated for — what I think of as — running the gauntlet. We have four large pads, spaced moderately evenly and we have to run and kick with opposite legs as fast and hard as we can.
Usually when I spar, I wear a helmet, mouthpiece, sparring gloves, kicking pads (and sometimes even shin guards) — but at testing we have no equipment. Still, I love sparring — though I get socked, punched and kicked a lot. I’m in the middle of the picture here, leaning back — my hands are raised to protect and attack. I’m also laughing.
I’m still center screen here, my butt to the camera (with the blue belt). I’m trying to land a kick on my opponent — but he has the same idea. This happens often in sparring and can hurt like the dickens when knees or shins meet. Why am I still enjoying it so much? Insanity, I tell you.
Of the many breaks we can do, this one has always scared me because I have horrid and very painful bunions that hurt all the time. Merely getting my foot in position to do the kick hurts like hell. But, I DID IT.
Though I’ve broken more boards with other kicks and hits, my fear of this break was very important to overcome.
I wish I had a photo of me smiling and showing you my new red belt . . . but none of them turned out very well, alas. . .
Thanks for letting me relive my glory day.
And, thanks to Master Brian Kast for taking these photos.
What challenge, besides writing (if you’re a writer), have you pursued in spite of frustration — so that now, it brings you more pleasure than not? Please share it with the rest of us in the comments.