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Monday, February 27, 2012

I did it!

I'm a black belt. It hasn't really sunk in yet. Promotion on Saturday went really well... I didn't forget anything, and I broke all the boards. I'm happy. When I get the videos edited and uploaded, I'll post them. Little Man promoted with me, and he was amazing. He got his red belt, so he's only 6 months away now. I'm so very proud of him.

And I finally joined leadership. So, I'm going to be a TKD instructor. That's something I NEVER thought I would say. Seriously. When I first walked in that school, a black belt wasn't even on my radar. Now there's so much more. So many goals - championship titles, teaching, greater fitness, another degree... I'm not stopping now. I feel like I'm just really getting started.

But today, I'm focused on my mother. She is having extensive surgery today... she's probably in the operating room right now. I'll be thinking about her and praying for her all day. Please say a prayer for her.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


This past Saturday was my last tournament in the color belt division. Next time I compete, it will be as a black belt. So I decided that I wanted to end on a high note. I made it my goal to achieve a personal best in this competition: first place in forms. I had won several second and third place medals, but I had never won first place in any event.

I always compete in forms and sparring, because when you sign up for one, the other is automatic. I don't love sparring, but they go together. Competing in other events involves additional fees and paperwork, and I'm not ready to commit to that unless and until I'm earning points for it (more on that later).

Going into this tournament, I was doing a form I've done before. I learned it early and practiced it often because I'm getting ready for black belt promotion. I spent several hours in the last week working on my technique and tweaking the areas I had problems with. I felt really good about this form.

Saturday morning, I practiced it several times just to work through my nerves, and I felt like I did it extremely well. Color belt adults compete toward the end of the tournament, and waiting around all day is rough on the nerves, but I did ok... I kept myself busy with my son, practiced when I could, and tried not to think about it.

We got into the ring, and there were 6 of us total. One of the women wasn't doing forms, so I was competing against 4 other women in that event, and I had the good fortune of being last. I watched all of them go first, and thought "oh, I can do this, no problem." I thought I had first place in the bag. If I had done the form like I had practiced it that morning, I would have. But I didn't. I got up to the center of the ring, and the judge told me to go. My peripheral vision went fuzzy. My hands started to tingle. My head felt lifted away from my body, and my joints felt like mush. Five moves in, I did a punch wrong. My balance was off. When I heard one of the competitors say "she's going to get sixes" (that's not a good score), it was all I could do to keep from dissolving into tears in the middle of the ring. In other words, I choked. And I knew it. I could tell from the way she looked at me the center judge could see it all over my face. I was furious. I went to sit down and gave up on getting any medals at all in this tournament, much less first place. My main goal at that point was just to not cry.

It doesn't matter how well I can do my form in class, if I never learn how to overcome the stage fright.

I watched the weapons event and slowly put on my sparring gear, dreading the added embarrassment. I have never liked sparring. I feel like I think and move too slowly. I feel clumsy and uncomfortable when we spar in class. I always spar in tournaments, but I always get my clock cleaned. In all the previous tournaments I have sparred in, I've scored a total of 1 point. Not 1 point per tournament, 1 point EVER.

By luck of the draw, I didn't spar the first match. One of the women from my school sparred a woman from a Texas school. I watched them and cringed. I don't know what's different about Texas schools, but they all seem to spar the same way - fast and loud, with lots of punches. It's like a swirling noise coming directly at you and if you aren't fast there's no escape. I think my last match against a Texas student lasted about 15 seconds.

I was in the second match, with another woman from my school. She usually beats me soundly in class, because she understands the concepts really well (especially considering she's a lower rank than me) and her reflexes are good. She had a splitting headache, which may have given me a slight advantage, but I fully expected her to win the match.

I don't know who scored the first point, but I remember when something changed. It was like something slid into place in my head, and I could see exactly where her weaknesses were. When she leaned in to punch, I scooted sideways and landed a punch directly in the center of her chest pad. Break. Point to me. We got tangled punching and I skipped backward and swung a kick up to connect with the side of her head. Break. Two points to me. I felt bad about that one, and mouthed "sorry" to her. She looked at me like I was nuts. Next round I noticed she was expecting me to fight at my height (she's shorter), so I dipped my shoulder to belt level and swung a punch around to connect with her pad under her arm. It kept going that way and suddenly the match was over, score 5-3. I had won my first match ever. I couldn't believe it. The center judge gave me one minute to catch my breath, and then I had to spar Texas girl who had beaten the stuffing out of my friend just a couple minutes ago. Oh boy. Well, at least I would get second place.

She called me to the ring and we squared up. My heart was still racing, but my head was clear. I was watching her to see what she would do. I knew she would be fast, but I had to find a weakness. I tested her with a fake front kick and she did exactly what I expected: came in yelling with a flurry of punches that knocked me out of the ring. Break. Point to her. I hadn't quite figured it out yet, and the second round I tried to counter her with her own weapon. No good, she was too fast with the punches. This time she knocked me to the ground. Break. Point to her. Now I was mad, but it wasn't blind fury (for maybe the first time ever). I was focused, and when we squared up again I suddenly realized what she was doing, and what I needed to do. I had a good 5 or 6 inches on her, and she could barely get her kicks up to belt level. She was relying entirely on speed and punches. So I did what I do all the time in class but hadn't figured out how to use well yet: I put my leg up and held it there, and waited. When she came in I planted a front kick directly in her middle. Break. Point to me. Second round, I swung several kicks in a row in her direction without putting my leg down. They didn't land, but I could tell the balance of power had shifted. She looked slightly bewildered, and she was backing away from me. I became acutely aware of the possibility that I could win this match. I scored three more points, which put me ahead. One more point and I would win the match. We squared up and I stared at her, waiting to see where she would go. I wasn't moving in, I wanted her to come to me. She stepped forward and dropped her guard to swing punches and I straightened my leg, planting a side kick in her chest pad near her hip. Break. Point. Match.

I was totally stunned. I had never won a single match, and here I was with a first place medal. I did achieve a personal best. I did meet my goal. It just wasn't at all what I expected.

I learned all over again the value of perseverance, and never giving up on myself. Fitting, since that was the theme of this particular tournament.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Moving forward, looking back

I will earn my black belt in a few weeks, and it has me thinking back over the last three years. What a wild ride it has been.

I moved back across the country from California into my parents' house four years ago. For a year, I just sort of floated along. I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't want to get divorced, but I couldn't leave things the way they were. I didn't get a job because I thought I might move at any time. I just focused on my son, and survived one day at a time.

Then something happened that made me realize I would have to take care of us myself, and the work I was doing from home wasn't cutting it. I got a job, cried over putting my son in day care, did it anyway because I had to. I put him in TKD because my mom and sister loved the school and thought it would be good for him. Goodness knows he needed the extra discipline.

I gained some confidence from working to support myself, and bought my first car in my own name.

I finally got the courage to file for divorce when he proved to me that the marriage was truly over. Then I started dating again.

I lost a dear friend to cancer. Overwhelmed with grief, I considered moving away.

I welcomed my nephew (godson) into the world.

Lost the first job, freaked out, and then got a better job.

Mom was diagnosed with cancer.

I changed my mind about moving away.

I fell in love.

My son and I moved out of my parents' house.

I lost my last living grandparent.

The one constant through it all is that I kept going to TKD. Even when I felt unready and unworthy of belt promotion, Joshua and I both were there, every week. It has given us a sense of community, and when I was really hurting, it gave me something else to focus on (or something to hit and yell at when necessary). And ultimately, it made us part of a bigger family. It gave us new friends, and a support system. It gave me a partner. It gave my son a Dad. And for that I will always be grateful.

What started out as a way to get some more exercise has become a deeply personal journey for me, and getting this belt now is symbolic to me of not just surviving the hard parts of the past few years, but of coming out on the other side stronger, happier, and more confident than I have ever been.