It amazes me to realize that of all the subjects I have touched upon since the beginning of my blog, one particular facet of my life here in Germany remains shrouded in silence. This is a grave injustice, for it is probably one of the greatest influences Germany will leave upon me, something that has been life-changing in a completely true and revolutionary way. It provides a high point in my weekly routine, pulls me out of depression on a regular basis, and helps me face the following day with a bold face. Were I without it, my life here would be unquestionably grayer, and if I do not take it home with me, I will have lost something incredibly precious. After praising it so highly, I feel almost guilty to admit that the greatest thing Germany has brought me is not actually of German origin. Quite to the contrary, it is from Korea.
Seven years ago this summer, I began taking classes at a local Tae Kwon Do dojo that had long been affiliated with my homeschooling group. Since then, I have practiced Tae Kwon Do sporadically, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the result being a slow but steady climb upwards till I reached the 3rd gup rank. (The first belt color, white, is 10th gup. 3rd gup means that my third belt from now will be black. The belt colors shift from time to time, but currently, 3rd cup TKD students wear a blue belt with a brown stripe.) At this point, after training for about five years, the dojo where I had been training closed down. I had at first intended to find a new place to train right away, but about a month later I was offered the opportunity to come to Germany. I decided that finding a new place to train would be pointless since I would only be there a few months before leaving for a year. It was a poor excuse, but it was one I used regularly up until my time of departure. That mindset was one of the most challenging and crippling things about my decision to leave. For eight months I could find absolutely no motivation to do anything. No long-term project could be started, because it would necessarily be abandoned once I left. Instead of using it as an effective due-date my goals, I turned it into a deadline, with particular emphasis on “dead.”
So for approximately a year, from the time when my dojo closed until the time when I left for Germany, I pretended to practice my TKD, pausing every month or so to run through my pumsae so that I was sure I still knew them all. They turned sloppy, my punches felt weak, my kicks were unbalanced, but I convinced myself that a couple weeks of solid practice would put it all straight again. I would take my year in Germany to practice harder, and then I would find a dojo when I got back. Meanwhile, I still considered myself as a martial arts student, and mentioned my training to Markus in one of my emails, thinking very little of it at the time.
Soon after my arrival in Germany, Markus unveiled a surprise that he was sure would be very exciting for me. He had done a little research online, and found a local TKD club within walking distance. He had even called up the instructor, and if I was interested, I could go check it out after we got back from our vacation in France. I was terrified. I hadn’t trained seriously in a year, and I new I was out of practice. I was going to humiliate myself. It was going to be an embarrassment. Besides, I am somewhat shy, and there was a considerable language barrier to be crossed. But there was Markus, happy to be of service, and fully confident that a new TKD club was just what I wanted. So as things turned out, I was more afraid of admitting to Markus my fear of failure than I was of actually going to the dojo. So I thanked him, and vowed that I would train every day for the whole two weeks we were in France so that I would be alright by the time I went to my first class.
I didn’t train once.
There wasn’t enough space in the cabin, so unless I wanted to walk down to the beach and pull a Karate Kid, my crash course was not going to be happening. (Come to think of it, I wish I had. Training on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea in France would have been pretty hot, if I had been any good.) In any case, I told myself it would not be a problem. We’d come home Saturday, I’d put in some training on Sunday, and it would bring me up to speed in time to go meet my new instructor on Monday.
This also did not happen.
No problem, I told myself. I’ve always been one of the best students for my rank in the class. Also, I have incredible flexibility. I can deliver a front snap kick that goes well over my head, and has never failed to impress before. I won’t make a complete fool of myself. Chances are, they’ll think I’m pretty good. This is what I tried to convince myself of on the way to class, nervous, but certain it would not be nearly as bad as I was envisioning.
I was wrong.
The Germans at that studio were good, and I mean that they were good in a way that strips me of superlatives. It was not that they were only good, it was that they were good good. So good that to begin tacking on words to describe their goodness would destroy the pure, powerful simplicity that already forms the perfect sum of their ability. They were good. Sure, not all of them were that good, but there were enough of them to make me ashamed of myself. I thanked the Lord that I had left my uniform and belt at home, because it allowed me to pretend that I was still a little new. I did feel humiliated and embarrassed, and rightfully so. I had nothing to be proud of, given my record of complete non-effort, and for me to expect to walk into that dojo after a year away and be just as decent, if not better, than people who had been working hard for who knows how long was arrogance at its highest peak. Yes, I was indeed rightfully and heartily ashamed.
I was also incredibly excited.
Suffice to say, I’ve been going to training twice a week since mid June, and it has been incredible. The feeling I have coming home after being run completely ragged by the crazy black belts tops every other point in the week. In fact, TKD has been so awesome that I have actually begun practicing at home on days where I am not in the studio. The happy result is that I may be ready to test for my next belt before I go home, putting me only one belt between me and black. Even more, I am amazed at how much energy I have. I would never have said I was out of shape. In fact, I have probably never needed to lose more than five pounds in my life, if that. But I never realized how exercising could make my normal, daily routine easier. Even waking up and getting out of bed in the morning is less of a trial, and once I am awake, I am more alert. I am more active, and can keep up with the kids. Daily life has to work harder to wear me down. And maybe best of all, I can run half way to Lidl without losing my breath. This may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but when put into the context of a minor breathing problem I first discovered when I started my TKD training, to have reached a point where I can mildly exert myself and still breathe deeply is truly a joy. Instead of being in a complacent state of non-ill-health, I actually feel powerfully and emphatically the opposite.
In fact, I dare to say that I am in the best shape of my life.