Saturday, January 8, 2011

A human butterball turkey walks into a martial arts school...

It definitely helped that I knew people there already. To be honest, I was embarassed in that "I'm-about-to-make-a-terminal-fool-of-myself" kind of way, but to my surprise, people were more impressed than anything. Several of the teenaged black belts gave me a high five and said "Way to go!" Well baste me up and call me turkey dinner! I was so shocked and delighted.
Much of my first days are a blur. My kicks were a truly sorry thing to see. I could tap your ankle and annoy you, yessiree, but oh, yes, while I was at it, I would be hanging onto you so I wouldn't fall over (although sifu (teacher) told me it was quite legitimate to hold my victim in place while I whacked the bejeebers out of him). I know how dubious my expression was--over and over--when they told me what new impossibility I was to tackle next. (Really? In the air? Then on the floor? With what?)
Still, I concentrated hard and paid attention and tried with no regard to whether I could do it or not--which is a point I would like to make about life in general. If I had a nickel for every thing I've tried even not believing for a minute that I could do it--and then managed it just fine--I would be retired in the Riviera, pinching the tushies of all those adorable young waiters in their thong Speedos. Scrapbooking, knitting, beading, writing, drawing with colored pencils, sculpting, singing, weight lifting--tried all of them and generally succeeded quite well. Painting with oil paints, making useful pottery--total failures. You can't do things only because you believe you will succeed. You have to try them because they intrigue you, because you want to and never once worry about success or failure. You must simply do them because.
Belt cycles for brown and under (it goes white (comes with the uniform), yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, brown, red and black at Premier Martial Arts--a wonderful school in Olympia, Washington) go in three month cycles. The cycle I entered was 1/3 over when I started; I had a lot of catching up to do. This was a whole new culture and I came into it on the level of a newborn with the mind and head of what I was--a 53 year old, college-educated professional with my own ideas. Some people might be able to wipe themselves clean; I had to figure out how to blend my own ideas harmoniously and respectfully with this new way of being--not to mention remember an awful lot of details! One new friend advised me--"get a notebook and write it down!" I scoffed for about a month. I now have two notebooks. One to write the first time; one to copy into to cement the knowledge into my brain.
Over and over I proved that I could do it, whether I initially believed I could or not. Sure, when I did do it, I was hardly as good as even the most uncoordinated child there. I was routinely outclassed by toddlers.
On the other hand, I discovered I had some real strengths. First and foremost was just--strength. Secretly, hidden carefully beneath my round and squishy surface, is a small titanium tank. Thirteen years of heavy weight lifting--I was the strongest woman at both gyms I had patronized--made me far stronger than I looked. And while from shin down I was (and am) disadvantaged, all that strength and the speed and reaction times given to me by my case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD--that's another story) made me surprisingly effective at sparring. More than one teenaged black belt started out thinking they would baby the old bat, get a look of horrified surprise, and then started fighting for their lives. And then, of course, I had, with a gleam in my eye, to tell them "Honey, I was 40 when you were born." And to the occasional scoffer I would add "Would your grandmother be doing this?" Uniformly, that answer was "no."
The day I got my yellow belt was one of the best in my life. I look back on my pictures and cringe (which I usually do), but I am also delighted. I was still short. I was still fat. My legs looked like tree trunks (and still do). My belly was and still is a personal mortification. But I had done it. And I was (and am) out there and doing it.
More still to come...

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