Saturday, November 18, 2006


Nick started studying tae kwon do, a Korean martial art, about two and a half years ago. At first it was a once-a-week after school class at his school: little kids in the basement yelling and kicking. It was actually pretty fun to watch them all work on their patterns, but we weren't sure it would last.

When that class ended, though, he wanted to find another one. He'd tested for his first belt at that point, gotten over the jitters of being in a big room with strangers and working through his routines, and he was ready to do more. So we called around and found a class only a few blocks away. Perfect!

We didn't know quite how perfect. While the first class had taught him some basics, in the new class he was getting real discipline. I knew I'd love this class when I saw the teacher get his small group of boys to sit cross-legged and meditate for a few minutes after stretching and before beginning their practice. (I still wonder what goes through their heads at that time.)

Nick quickly advanced, earning a new belt about every three months. He memorized complicated patterns of kicks, punches, blocks, chops, and turns--sometimes as many as 38 moves in a single pattern. He focused his sparring techniques. He (mostly) kept quiet when the teacher asked, stood, bowed, and addressed him as "sir," and helped the other kids. He broke a board or two.

After a while I started noticing adults in the class. Apparently parents of the kids had asked if they could take the class rather than just sitting and watching, and the teacher agreed. (Actually, to be more accurate: moms of the boys in the class joined up. Although there's one small girl in the class, and more recently one adult male, there's an interesting gender dynamic going on that I'll analyze another time.) So this summer, I joined too.

Pause here to remember that I'm not an athlete. I have no storied past as a runner or swimmer or softball player to regret. I started taking yoga classes about seven years ago and had recently fallen out of the habit. I don't like to sweat. But I was feeling the lack of exercise, and it seemed like time to start something new. And I was a little frustrated at work, and I thought maybe a more active, aerobic exercise practice than yoga would be a good release. Maybe I'd even learn how to break a board.

So far I'm nowhere near Nick's level--like most of the other parents in the class, I lag behind my son, which makes for an interesting dynamic: the sons outrank the mothers, but the mothers are bigger and stronger than the sons. We used to laugh when we first started sparring--it seemed so silly, trying to hit someone else! But now we don't. We practice our spin moves, our kicks, our punches, and we ki-ya (shout) as loud as the kids when we have to. We take our tests and advance through the ranks. I know three patterns now, and my kicks are getting more focused and stronger.

And yesterday, when I tested for my orange (third) belt, I broke a board with my foot. Didn't hurt a bit.


Heather said...

rock on, fabulous... seriously- rock on.

Caroline said...

You broke a board!?! So cool! I am very impressed!

kate said...

Wow! This sounds interesting...

Susan said...

Libby, I had no idea you were doing TKD. That is soooo exciting! I just took my first two classes in kung fu (or a type of it) and it is intense, exhilarating, hard... I don't know if I am going to keep it up but I am seriously impressed that you are at a board-breaking stage! COOL.