I didn’t really like sports growing up.
It simply wasn’t something I was very interested in. While others were relishing watching Football on TV, I was watching Goku fight Freiza. When others wanted to read about the stats of their favorite baseball player, I was busy reading Tolkien. Others might be playing a game of pickup on the playground, and I had a stick, pretending to be a warrior from Final Fantasy.
I was quite simply a geek, in a world in which that wasn’t popular yet. I was unpopular, stocky, and not really interested in what anybody thought of me. At least, that is what I told myself.
Then I found Taekwondo.
Every young geek probably likes the idea of martial arts, especially a kid growing up watching Kung Fu movies and anime; so the idea of it was immediately intriguing to me. I remember taking my very first class, unsure of what I was doing, fumbling at the instructor’s commands. I left that night with a fervor for martial arts, something I would spend the next few years of my life enjoying rabidly.
It would be nice to tell you I was a natural at this, but you must remember that part earlier about being stocky. I’ve always been built shorter and wider, with hips turned naturally inward. Even when I wasn’t obese as I am now, these hindered me in performing perfect roundhouses, because of the pivot required for a good form.
Since I wasn’t naturally inclined or talented towards Taekwondo I had to work ten times harder than some of the people who practiced with me, and I did. When I was in class I gave it my absolute all, on weekends I trained in specialty classes, and I made it onto the Tiger Team; a team built for competition that were the best of the school.
I won competitions in both forms and sparring, I went to Nationals; I was actually good at something.
My instructor was very hard on us, expecting military like precision and would usually grind us into the ground physically. I thrived under this attention for some reason, but things would soon change. The man leading the school was a charismatic man who was also a con artist that abused his wife and children. We learned this too late, being swindled out of money for belts and certificates we never received.
Thus my love affair with Taekwondo ended and I moved on. My younger brother rejoined years later at another school, this one far kinder and well run than my other school. He stayed until he had earned his black belt and as I stood next to him proud, I was also angry. I felt robbed of something I loved and wanted it back. I joined his school not long after, but had to start over as a white belt.
I was too proud then and not the best person (as you might recall from this post). I looked around at people that were kind, good teachers, and all I saw was that they weren’t as good as we had been at my old school where they were harsh and demanded perfection. At the time I saw what I interpreted as weakness, and too proud to start over and learn from these people, I left Taekwondo behind for forever.
Or so I thought.
Life moved on, I got married and divorced, got married again, had two children, grew old and fat.
My son is now twelve years of age and having recently lost his grandfather (my father) he was searching for something to invest his time in. Baseball didn’t take, he didn’t like Basketball, and Boyscouts wasn’t something he enjoyed either. In a moment of clarity my mother offered to put up the expensive monthly fees for my son for him to join Taekwondo.
I watched him on his first day, a mixture of pride and happiness that my son had now found something he loved, but also a deep, abiding sadness and nostalgia for what I had lost. Being a parent is funny like that, often our lives lose meaning as an individual and we give all the attention over to our children as they become the focus.
Going to several more classes I often expressed to my wife a longing to be back on the mat, a fondness for days gone by, days I thought lost. I had considered the idea of rejoining, but it seemed silly on its face. I was a 35 year old man who was clinically obese, not to mention it was already too expensive to consider placing my son in; so adding myself would increase the cost for a family that lived paycheck to paycheck. My son begged me to join when he heard the idea, he thought Dad being in class would be awesome, but I dismissed it out of hand.
Besides, there is no way they would find a dobok (uniform) big enough for my fat self.
Then, two weeks ago, I came in to watch my son practice on a random Thursday. As I entered the dojang (training hall) the wife of the Grand Master called me over to the front desk. There she presented me with a dobok to try on, which I did hesitantly though confused, my heart already sinking because I knew it wouldn’t fit.
I couldn’t believe what happened next, I stumbled out in a haze and found out my mother had already paid for my first month, and the class I was waiting to watch my son in I would instead take part of.
Since my father’s death months ago happiness has not come easily, even the greatest of joys is paled to know that he is no longer with us. In spite of that my heart absolutely soared and I realized, in a moment of flashing clarity, that a hole had grown where once a great passion of mine had lived.
For the first time in 17 years and 150 additional pounds, I stepped onto a Taekwondo mat; something I thought lost to my past.
In the last two weeks I’ve gone from a completely sedentary individual filled with despair and emptiness into someone who goes to over 5 hours a week of an extremely physically demanding activity (especially for one as big as myself). I go to 7 classes a week now, and the only reason I don’t go to more is because I have a full time job that prevents it.
I have enrolled again into Taekwondo and I test for my first belt stripe tonight. I cannot properly describe to you this feeling. I’m already losing weight, I feel more confident and happy, and I’m absolutely certain of one thing: I will be a black belt someday.
If I’ve learned nothing else from my father’s death it is that life is fleetingly short, and we don’t have time to waste on letting chances to truly live slip by because we are afraid of failing or looking foolish, nor do we have time to ponder that we have grown beyond the activity as our age has increased.
Do you have something you used to love? Are you worried about how you’ll look, that you are too old, or perhaps too fat like myself?
Forget those, harness that joy, and do what you love.
You deserve it.