On Saturday, I spent six hours at belt testing at our local Sun Soo Tae Kwan Do martial arts school. After three weeks of taking classes at the school and never having experienced anything like this testing, I was stunned – blown away – by all I saw: so much support and love, so much go-for-it energy, so many people going out of their comfort zones, stretching themselves, doing things they had not thought they could do. So much excellence, so much mastery, so much beauty.
I have spent the last two days integrating what I experienced. I expect to continue doing so for a while, but I want to capture some of it now. First I want to write about how all this confronted me with the “I can’t do this” voice in myself. I hear this voice on and off the mat.
On the mat (and, by extension, on my imaginary mat when I practice my forms at home), I don’t think I can do it. I am a total spas, my body just doesn’t work this way. I am too in my head and can’t get out of it. I can’t get myself to class enough. I can’t learn my white belt forms. I can’t bear the humiliation of being so terrible at movements that everybody else knows – and that 12-year olds are learning faster than me. I can’t bear the stress of testing on this stuff that I cannot learn.
Off the mat, I don’t think I can do it. As I have reflected about this today, I have come up with a long list of things I think I can’t do – and for now will mention two of them.
- I can’t stay off of sugar. Sugar is not a harmless indulgence for me. So much of my life goes out of whack when I am in the clutches of that addiction. And now I am getting fat from it – and feeling unattractive, less eligible for a romantic relationship, which is an aspiration for me. Each of the black belt candidates read a two-page essay about their Tae Kwon do journey to that point. One of them related that he stopped smoking the day he started practicing – five years earlier. I got inspired, but that went away for much of today. I do intend to get off of sugar tomorrow, but I’ve fallen off that wagon so many times that I don’t believe I can succeed this time.
- I’ll mention just one more thing (out of that long list) that I feel sure I can’t do. I can’t keep my room from being a chaotic mess. I have struggled with this for a lot of years, have had periods of some progress – but mostly not for long. One of the people testing for a black belt said of her life progress related to her martial arts practice, “I clean my room now.” This spoke to me.
I intend to spend 15 minutes organizing my stuff tomorrow, and I know that if I did 15″ on most days I would eventually have things in order, and some days I will not be able to hold myself back from going longer than 15″ – in love with my momentum.
In Tae Kwon Do, you are continually being confronted with tasks that take you out of your comfort zone – tasks that get more and more complex and physically challenging. As soon as you master one belt level, you move on to the next. And, at this school at least, you are also flooded with encouragement and cheerleading and instruction and connection with your peers who are being similarly challenged.
It starts tomorrow. I continue to do my Tae Kwon Do practice every day – at home on days, like tomorrow, when I can’t get to the school at the time of a class. I stay off of sugar. I spend 15 minutes organizing my room. A voice in me says I can’t do it. Another voice says “Maybe I can.” This already seems like progress. Another voice says, “We’ll see”. This is not terribly positive, but better than “I can’t do it.”