Monday, May 23, 2011

Kicking and Punching

It's what I do.

I'm a month shy of my two year anniversary as a martial arts student, and my life has been redefined and restructured by it.

Just about every weekday, Middle and I spend several hours at the dojang.

For us, it's a much anticipated daily ritual. On the drive there, we chat and listen to music or the news. I take off my watch and rings at the stoplight. I take off my glasses in the parking lot. We grab our stuff and go in. He finds his friends and prepares for the kids' class; I go change for kickboxing class.

The kickboxing room is a normal temperature when we enter it. We stretch and talk while we're waiting for the music to start. My friends and I compare notes on how our days went, what we have going on this weekend, etc. We talk about our kids and what's going on in their lives, and we make plans for getting them together. Everyone is in fresh workout clothes, still looking put-together.

But not for long.

We work hard. Kickboxing class is a combination of push-ups, crunches, core strength exercises, and... kickboxing. One partner holds a bag or target and the other kicks (or occasionally punches) for the designated time. Lately, there's been a combination - like 10 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups or crunches, and 5 kicks - which we repeat until it's time to switch. No time to think, to notice the sweat dripping in our eyes, to feel the fatigue in the muscles. We just do it until we hear "TIME!" and then we get a small break while we hold the bag for our partner. Between sets, we run laps or do more push-ups or abdominal exercises, then it's back to the sequence. When the hour is up, we stretch.

By that time, the room feels like the inside of a sauna. We're soaking wet and bedraggled-looking. We head to the water fountain and changing rooms and quickly get into fresh gis before lining up and bowing in for Jung Sim Do class.

Jung Sim Do is a Korean martial art which combines Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido and Yudo. With such a variety of techniques and material, every class is different, and we never know what we're going to get. It could be a vigorous workout class, or a more mentally challenging technique class. Or an adrenaline-pumping class featuring things like falls or grappling. Or a working independently on advancement material class. You just never know, and that's part of what keeps it fresh and challenging.

After class, I'm spent, but in a good way. I feel calm, relaxed, peaceful. Clear-headed. We take our time leaving. Middle and his friends continue to hang out, practicing tricks and goofing off, and I wait with the other parents, also getting in a last bit of social time. During the summer, a group of us goes out for a long lunch after the morning classes. After sparring on Friday nights, many teens, tweens and parents go out for pizza. Savageman and the other boys join us for things like this.

But the typical post-class evening ritual starts with the drive home. The rings and watch and glasses go back on. Sometimes I pick up something special for dinner for us, since Savageman and the other boys will have already fed themselves. Sometimes my dinner is a protein bar in the car, lunch having been my main meal for the day. At home, I jump in to the evening routine, catching up with Savageman, cleaning up and helping with bedtime. An additional evening load of laundry consists of wet kickboxing clothes and gis, which I try to get done before I unwind with a bath and book or a movie with Savageman.

If it seems like a large part of our life is structured around this one activity, that's because it is - at least for me and Middle. It's what we do. And thankfully, Savageman understands and supports this. Because when I do pause to think about it, I realize how much it has reshaped and redefined who I am.

I was 39 when I started this. I'd never really played a sport, in the sense that I never put in the daily work required to really master something. "Athlete" was a word I never would have used to describe myself.

Now, for the first time in my life, I consider myself to be athletic. I'm healthier and stronger than I've ever been in my life. Taking a 2 mile run around the neighborhood is a pleasure instead of an ordeal. I have more energy, get better sleep, and am less susceptible to the anxiety and depression that used to come and go without warning. I feel calm and centered and capable of handling people and situations that used to overwhelm me. I'm less worried about the opinions of others and more focused on being true to myself.

It feels really good.

Two years ago, I was sitting on the bench, reading a book while the boys took a class a few times per week. Other parents who had become students prodded me a little bit, encouraging me to give it a try, and I chuckled. Yeah right. My back, my neck, my overall lack of athletic ability, flexibility, coordination, my fear of getting hurt...

But there was that little voice in the back of my head whispering, you only live once. If this is something you want to try, try it. Be brave. Surprise yourself. And I did. I'm proud of myself and of all the other adults who take the leap of faith required to start something like this and who work at it day after day to master it. I think this admiration for each other is part of the bond we share both in and out of class.

It's not something I would have understood before I was immersed in it, and it's not something I really expect other people to understand if they haven't experienced it themselves. But it's powerful stuff. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It's changed who I am.

It's what I do.

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