Martial Arts was something I always wanted to do but I never had the confidence to try or the courage for that matter. As a young boy I was introduced to Martial Arts like most kids via Bruce Lee films and I can remember being mesmerised by his speed and agility. I often dreamed about being able to fight like him especially as I was bullied as a child on a regular basis. Realistically there was little chance of me taking up Martial Arts of any kind as there was always going to be financial difficulties coming from a large family with a very modest income. In addition to the financial implications I had already taken up smoking at the very young age of eleven and as Martial Arts movies became established in the United Kingdom so had my smoking habit. By the time I was fourteen years of age I was a seasoned smoker. Sadly I continued to smoke for a further twenty one years and eventually kicked the habit a few months after my thirty fifth birthday. It took a further ten years for my lungs to fully recover from the damage smoking had inflicted and by that time I had rediscovered my appetite and my sweet tooth. At the age of forty five my lungs were healthier than they had ever been since I first took up smoking at eleven years of age. Alas my girth was also larger than it had ever been thanks to my improved palette and that cursed sweet tooth.
My forty fifth year was a very special year for me in that I had just successfully completed a university degree course. What was remarkable for me about that achievement was the fact that I left school with no qualifications and it was not my strongest subject. Anyone who knew me would have assumed I would have pursued a degree in Art. Computer Programming and Software Development for the Internet seemed like a change of direction and a bit more of a challenge than Art which I had always enjoyed doing. It was well outside my comfort zone and I was not disappointed in the sense that it was definately a challenge. I totally bombed my first exam and I can remember walking out of the campus with my results in my pocket and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. After a brief bout of self pity I decided that I had to either walk away and forget university or knuckle down and give it my best shot. Thankfully I chose the latter of the two options and after much deliberation and soul searching, not to mention bloody hard work, I fulfilled my goal. As with most climaxes though came the anti climax and after many years of study I was at a loose end and just did not know what to do. I was working in a make do job that was only meant to be a stop gap and I was looking for another new challenge. Sitting answering phones wasn’t exactly the healthiest way to earn a living never mind the stress and I was piling on the pounds.
One day I was sitting looking out the window and I saw my older sister walking down the street with a white suit on sporting a yellow belt tied around her waist. Out of sheer curiosity I asked what the suit was for and she replied that she had taken up Taekwondo with her youngest daughter. My sister was only a year older than me and had just recently celebrated her forty sixth birthday. On top of that she was quite a frail and timid person who did not keep well which is all the more reason why I was so impressed by her courage and positive attitude. After speaking to her I reflected on my own situation and the fact that I was getting larger and unhealthier by the day or so it seemed. I said to myself “if she can do it then so can I”. As a result I decided to take a look at the club my sister was attending to see if it was something I could realistically contemplate doing. I didn’t even know there was a club in the area until that point let alone a club run by very professional and able individuals who were as humble as they were lethal. I was made to feel welcome straight away and reassured that despite my age and physical condition this was indeed something I could consider doing.
For many people in their forty fifth year Martial Arts is probably not the first new hobby that springs to mind. More so if you are slightly more than a tad overweight and you have been a smoker for most of the first thirty five years. With that in mind I decided that I had to be totally realistic and take things one step at a time ‘literally’. Having first observed the younger and more agile students I came to the conclusion that I may never be one of the best students but I was determined I would always give my best. In the same way that I approached university I decided to set myself a series of milestones and goals with exit points along the way. In other words I would strive to reach a certain level but would accept the fact that I may not be able to go any further. As long as I gave it my best shot then I knew I could walk away with my head held high even if that meant I went no further than white belt. There are six belts in Taekwondo, white, yellow, green, blue, red and black belt. Each belt has an intermediate grading such as, yellow tags, green tags, blue tags, red tags and finally blag tags or ten grades from white belt to black belt. This meant I could set myself ten sets of goals with each colour belt being the milestone. By following this strategy I could focus on each grade individually and aim for each milestone with the view that trying was just as important as achieving. Before any of that though I had to pass my very first grading and I can remember fondly how elated I was when I was presented with my first ever pass in Taekwondo.
Of all the things that I have managed to achieve in my life that very first grading was by far one of the most fulfilling and probably more so because of my age and physical condition. However, I did not want to spend too much time living off my laurels and decided to focus on the next milestone which was reaching green belt and promotion from the beginner’s class to the advanced class. On many occasions along the way I thought I would never reach the end of the session never mind the next grading but I always knew training would be a struggle and for most of the time it was exactly that, a struggle. Once I reached green belt I began to think that going all the way to black belt was possible even if it was going to be far in the distance and extremely challenging to say the least. As a student of Taekwondo I soon realised that it was better to leave my dignity and pride at the door and this was no less apparent whenever I was reminded of my limitations. I also realised though that it was a good thing to work and train within those limitations whilst at the same time always endeavouring to improve. This was perhaps the very essence of Taekwondo philosophy and I only needed to look at my peers and seniors to witness this executed with immense integrity and humility.
It has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination but achieving my black belt a few months before my fiftieth birthday has been worth every ache and pain along the way. I am not obsessed with Taekwondo but at the same time I could not see myself possibly going without it. Going to university and attempting a subject well outside my comfort zone was a huge mental challenge rather than a physical one and achieving a degree was all the more rewarding for that fact. Taking up Taekwondo in my forty fifth year was both physically and mentally challenging and I am extremely proud of the fact I achieved my black belt. If I do have a regret it is that I did not take this wonderful activity up when I was much younger and that I was not able to bestow on my own children in their childhood such a wonderful ability and gift. I will always be grateful to my seniors for their dedication and for enabling me to benefit from their expertise and for welcoming me into the Taekwondo community.
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