Friday, November 30, 2007

The beat(ing) goes on...

This is one of those posts that have been stuck in drafts folder for a few weeks now...

I have purposely avoided writing much about my karate training. Things are good, overall, but as I advance it is no surprise the training gets harder and harder. One could only hope for such an instructor as I have, but - predictably - there are days when I wish I wasn't as lucky.

If all goes well, I could be testing for my Tae Kwon Do Black Belt in the Spring of '09. I realize that sounds far away, but it isn't. Considering the best length of time for a new student to start the program and attain a Black Belt is just over 3 years, and that I've been in training since July '03, I've certainly taken long enough.

In the early days, I never expected to attain more than a Green Belt (7th Gup - students begin as a White Belt as a 10th Gup and work their way to 1st Gup and then a Black Belt; see chart), so I puttered along. Once I reached that mark in mid 2004, I figured I'd wait an appropriate period of time and then drop out; I didn't want to do so right after being awarded the belt, because I figured it looked obvious that I suddenly upped and quit. I was working out along side of my then 9 year old son (figuratively, as I was in the adult class), and he and I were promoting together, so I didn't want to appear to him as a quitter.

Late in 2004, he started only going through the motions. He'd go to class, but his heart wasn't in it. A big part of Tae Kwon Do is the Poomse (forms), which are routines of blocks, kicks and punches. Ideally, one is supposed to show strength and determination when performing the Poomse. If you're practicing, you typically don't show that much emphasis, but in class you need to show you're serious. He wasn't; he moves showed no strength, but rather that he was doing it just because he was told to do it.

We talked at home about him continuing, and ended up having him sit out a few months. He returned full of vigor, and proceeded on. In late '06 he stepped out between November and January, for the very same reason.

Through his breaks, I continued, figuring the law of inertia would set in on my old bones, causing me to not to return when he did. I also figured that if I quit, he wouldn't return to the program. Much to the displeasure of my instructor, I told him I wanted to concentrate on the exercise and not so much in promotions, in part because I wanted to wait for my son to catch up. I said in part because I seriously didn't see myself ever reaching a Black Belt. The instructor allowed me to continue - he is a good man, and a great teacher, and while I am sure he had my best interest in heart, he wasn't going to chase away a student who was only there for the work-out alone but who always paid on time!

Well, about a year ago - in fact during my son's last sabbatical - I realized I was starting to get the hang of the program. So I started to pursue the promotions and work my way up in ranking. I realized how well I was doing when I went for a promotion while he was out, in a way of encouraging him to return to class. Maybe he thought I'd always wait for him? As soon as I earned that next belt, he was all eager to return! However, when he did start again, he was 2 levels below me.

At present, I am a 2nd Gup - a Red Belt with a single black stripe. The next level will give me a second black stripe, and after a minimum of 6 months training after that level comes the test for 1st Dan - the coveted Black Belt. The tests for Black Belt are held only annually, so that means early '09.

As my son is a full belt below me (he is a Blue Belt, a 5th Gup), the earliest he can test for his Black Belt will be spring 2010. He is now 12 and is at least as eager as he's ever been; his strength and confidence have grown, and I am very fortunate that he has never lacked the respect for his parents that so many kids seem to do. He can test for his advanced Blue Belt as early as mid-December.

It has been said that about 1 out of 100 students who begin TKD training (in earnest) earn their Black Belt (and that 1 out of 1000 earn their 2nd Dan). As much as I relish accomplishing the goal of earning the Black Belt, some days have seemingly become too long to make reaching the goal worthy, even if doing so means I would be 1 out of 100.

Obviously, I can account for a lot this funk on the fact that my work day has gotten become increasingly more robust over the last year, what with the new position and such. There are several students in the adult class that are at or above my level: 3 are my contemporaries, 4 are kids - none over 18. All of them have become at least as good better fighters than I have; that most of them are younger than I am by more than half my age also plays heavily into the equation: not only are they good fighters, they are faster and can recover quicker than I can ever hope to do. I suppose the kids also view the bragging rights of achieving their Black Belts; few people even know I train, and somehow I don't think wearing a Black Belt as I walk down the street would attract any kind of positive attention.

And maybe, deep down, I don't regard the Belt with the same majesty as they do. Sure, it would be great to have, but is it worth aches and pains? Yes, yes, I know: no pain, no gain. Here's one for you: who cares? I mean, this has no impact on my career at all - it won't bring me any money. There's no prospect of formal competition in my future (informally, I must attend two tournaments, before I test for Black Belt but that's a two shot deal, at best). To become an instructor, I would have to earn a 4th Dan -- and assuming I picked up the pace in my training, it would require a minimum of 8 additional years to reach that esteemed rank - I wouldn't bet on that happening if I were you.

So again the question that begs to be asked: why am I doing this? If fun and exercise is all that matters, then I can go back into cruise control and skip the promotion track; it may not hurt a whole lot less, but it certainly shouldn't hurt any more.

But still, there's that shadow of quitting in front of my son. Sure, if I were seriously injured, or if I had to do the kind of business travel I used to do, it would be easy to write it off. But those are not the case.

I suppose I am trapped with the parental responsibility of not setting a bad example in front of him.

Of course, there's his 5 year old brother, who wants to start karate, too! He's got to wait at least another year before our instructor will consider him (and even so, there's other things to contend with, too), so that means if I survive and manage to pass my Black Belt test, they'll be a new a new White Belt in the family at the same time.

My bones ache just typing those words....

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