Embarrassment and the Middle Aged Martial Arts

After hanging around and working out at a Martial Arts School for almost twelve years…I’m officially the oldest and slowest student in the school.  And it sucks.

I’m a middle aged second degree, surrounded by teen aged hot shots who are faster and quicker than I ever was. Their spin heel kicks buzz past my nose like a Gulf Stream Jet. Their youthful crescent kicks crack past my face like Indiana Jones’ bull whip. Still, I come back to class week after week.

Granted in a dark alley I could probably beat the poop out of most of my classmates because I’m pretty strong, I’m still pretty flexible,  I watch a lot of classic boxing, and I’m a whole lot meaner (mortgage payments and bankruptcy court have made me mean. That stuff hurts a lot more than a side kick to the ribs).  But when it comes to playful sparing, I’m doomed.

I wasn’t always the oldest and slowest in the class, but over the years all of  the other adults have dropped out because of injuries (like hip replacements and pace maker installations) time constraints, family, church and embarrassment. 

Embarrassment?  Yes, it’s embarrasing being the oldest and slowest. My running joke  is “my spin heel kick is so slow you could grab a cup of coffee waiting for it to drift past”. My kicks are pretty, maybe even elegant, and very strong but they are ridicilously slow compared to everyone else. After twelve years…that’s embarassing.

I have other middle aged friends in other schools, from blue belt to black, and no matter our rank our embarassment is the same. We know  the money is in the kids classes. So what’s an instructor to do with old, dedicated, Taekwondo war horses like me?

1. Please don’t give up. Don’t assume I can’t get any better and focus all your attention on the younger students. Fix my square block, stretch my hamstring.  Even if I’m old, I come to class because I still want to get better.  If I were a runner I’d expect to continue to get faster, the same is true in TKD. Fix me, you’re not going to hurt my feelings. And if you do, I need to suck it up and be thankful you took some time to work on me.

2. Sometimes, tell me when I get it right.  I know my front kick won’t look like the fifteen year old cheerleaders I’m standing next to, and my butterfly kick looks more like a dying moth, but when I land a 360 pole block, without stumbling around, say something nice. Genearlly, my daughter Lexie (also a 2nd degree) is the only one who says something like “good job Mom”. I know I didn’t get as high as everybody else and it’s not really that important, but it’s a huge deal in my brain and to my body.

 I know all this sounds kind of needy but you’ve got to give me a reason to keep coming to class, even though I’m the oldest and slowest. There are a thousand reasons I can skip class. My husband and children would be much happier if I stayed home.

I used to have an instructor who would regularly praise the teenagers for not giving in to peer pressure. He’d go on and on about how great the 16 year olds were for hanging in there.  Oh my gosh!  You can’t imagine the looks I get from grown ups at work when I have to explain a bruise the size of New Mexico or broken pinky. “Your still doing that”? they say, with a funky “bless your heart” smile.

So, all I need is one word from you and I’ll be back tomorrow night. Because you still inspire me and I still think I can get just a little bit better. And please, don’t give up on me yet.