Second Degree, 52 Years Old

So why did I go to 200 extra classes? Well, I’m lucky, for one. I’ve stayed healthy, my work, such as it is, doesn’t get in the way, and my family, whether because they’re really generous or because they know how sulky I’ll get if I don’t go, are always very accomodating. Even if I wasn’t doing tae kwon do I’d be doing some exercise, if only so I can fall asleep at night, but there’s no question that I enjoy classes here more than I ever enjoyed the repetition of biking or the elliptical trainer. I know that pretty much every time I go to class I’ll leave feeling better than I did when I got there, whether because of the exercise or the challenge or just because I had a chance to hang out for an hour with some pretty cool people before heading back to my desk.

But still, why 200 extra classes, many of them when my legs were screaming for a break and I thought that if I stepped out into a horse stance and punched one more time I might scream, and I don’t mean kiyop? During almost every one of those classes there came a point when I wondered why I was there. I mean, I was never going to be Bruce Lee, or Ethan Morris or Dawson Jones for that matter. The best I can hope for is to make grandmaster by 2063, and that’s if I don’t miss any testing cycles when I’m in my eighties and nineties. There has to be something else making me stay all those times when my legs are stiff and my back aches, and I vastly prefer to just lie on the floor rather than do yet another variation on the sit-up.

One answer has something to do with what happened in a class a couple of months ago. Actually, I could use an example from pretty much any class but this one was particularly vivid. To describe it, I need to go back to when I was a kid — this won’t take long, I promise — when I used to sleepwalk pretty much every night. I would get out of bed, walk past the bathroom I shared with my sister, cruise past the top of the stairs and into my parents’ room, where they were probably still up watching Carson, and then make a right into their bathroom. There I’d proceed to use the, er, facilities, before heading straight to bed. When my parents would tell me in the morning I was at it again, I only partly believed them. I never remembered any of it, even after I’d been taking the same nightime walk for years.

And then one night, I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, I awoke in the hall. I knew instantly where I was and what I was doing, what I’d been doing all along. I knew the whole routine, exactly the way it had been happening for all those years. When I was done I got back into bed, and unless there’s something Julia isn’t telling me, I’ve never sleepwalked again.

So back to that class a couple of months ago. We were doing our forms and another black belt pointed out that I wasn’t extending my arms in one of the black belt forms, po an. You’re supposed to go like this…but I was doing this instead. I only half believed her, or if I did believe her thought it was a one time thing, that maybe I’d been concentrating on my stances and hadn’t been paying attention to my arms. A little later in class though we did our form again, and this time I just happened to look back when I got to that move. It was exactly like waking up in that hall all those years earlier, because even though I knew, or thought I knew, that my arms were fully extended, when I looked back I could see I’d been fooling myself, that it only felt as if my arms were extended.

Now I don’t know if, as when I stopped sleepwalking, I’ve never crooked my arms when performing that move since then, though I suppose Master Morris would be more than happy to let me know if I haven’t. But the force of that awareness is, I think, why I keep coming back. Somewhere in pretty much every class I get a mini-version of this. I’m not even sure if I can articulate why that feeling should be so compelling, or why it makes me keep showing up. Sometimes it can be pretty discouraging — “You mean after five years I’m not still raising my arms all the way?” And in some ways it doesn’t even matter, since it’s not like even if I ever did get into a fight I’d ever use that move. But still, just that little bit more awareness does seep into the rest of my life in ways that I can’t always fully articulate. There’s something about figuring out what you’re supposed to do, and figuring out what you’re doing instead, and trying to fix it, that keeps me going to class even on days when I don’t really feel like it. What’s that old phrase, “Wake up just as much as you can?” Those 200 extra classes woke me up just a little bit more than I would have woken up without them. And so, with continued good health and luck, maybe I can do an extra 400 or so before I test for third degree somewhere down the road.

I’d be remiss in not thanking everyone here for helping me from white belt up, but I’d especially like to thank Mr. Langley for patiently trying to fix my jump spin side, with what success we’ll all know in a few minutes. I’d two other lower belt martial artists, Rosie and Mia, for making sure I don’t take all this awareness stuff seriously. Sometimes tae kwon do is just fun, too. And of course I have to thank Julia, the most beautiful red belt ever, and a dream from which I’d prefer not to be woken, thank you.

And lastly, I’d like to thank the Sun Soo stadd, Ms. Goyer, Ms. Dexter, Mr. Dickinson, and Master Morris. There’s lots of stuff I’m thankful for from each of you, but in keeping with the theme here, I just want to say how good all of you guys are at waking us up as much as we’re ready for, and then maybe a little bit more. We’re all a little better for it. Once again, sugahashi samnita.