Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Journey to Black Belt
by Lysne Tait

I wish I could say my journey to my black belt had an auspicious beginning. A fortune cookie, say, or a little old lady with a gnarled finger pointing me to the dojang; but it didn’t. My journey started with peer pressure. My husband and sons were going to taekwondo on a regular basis, my daughter wanted to go, and my new friend Tasma had just started. (I should probably add that Tasma was such a new friend, I didn’t even really know her name at the time - we had met in Pilates class. She was soft spoken, well read, and had rabbit-fur mittens.) She would bound up to me after Pilates and say “When are you going to go? You’ve got to go to taekwondo” and finally, sometime in February, I went.

That first class took me by surprise. It was so much more difficult than I had ever imagined. Even standing up straight and still on the mat was hard. I laughed out loud at myself and my inability to make my body do what I wanted it to do. It was fun - a lark. Not something that I was going to take seriously. It was just something to fill the time while my daughter was at school.

Slowly it changed into something more. I can’t even put my finger on the point when I started to enjoy the challenge; that point when I let taekwondo be part of my future; when I let go of being self-conscious. Instead of filling the time, taekwondo became purposeful. I was calmer, more focused - I could handle life in general, better. I was never one for sitting still and meditating. My mind would go off to a hundred places at once. I needed to do walking meditation - to keep my body moving so that my mind could be calm. The forms provided that outlet for me. Here was a place that I could let go of ought-to’s and should’s and just be.

I’m not a church-going person. I haven’t found the place that feels right yet, but taekwondo is close. The rituals, the acceptance, the support, the camraderie - I’ve seen similar instances in houses of worship. I belong and I love that I belong. My taekwondo friends have become family. I need that structure, that outlet, to keep sane.

My first tournament was nerve-wracking and fun at the same time. I didn’t participate in organized sports growing up, so I had never really been in a competitive atmosphere. My knees were shaking as I heard my group called to the staging area. They separated us by gender, age and belt level. My group consisted entirely of moms of other taekwondo students; instead of being competitive, they were very supportive. I came home with a few trophies, had a terrific time, learned a lot about competing, and became fast friends with the women in my ring.

Taekwondo slipped into other parts of my life. I set up a self-defense course for the parents at my daughter’s school. I typed up a list of addresses for Master Flotka, then designed a brochure, organized a volunteer spring cleaning for a former student who was incapacitated, and headed up a Holiday potluck. Soon I was working on the website and answering phones for Master Flotka and dreaming of getting my own staff shirt.

Now I help out with teaching a couple of times per week. I answer phones, pick up trash, cheer the kids on, and always have part of my mind thinking of the school. I am supremely thankful to those who pushed me in this direction (my husband Craig, my kids, Tasma, Mr. Duncan), and to those who have helped me along the way (Master Flotka, Master Lance, Maria, Melissa, Lindsey, and everyone I’ve been in class with). In every version of what I imagine I will do next in my life - taekwondo is a major player. I have become more self-confident, more engaged, more excited about life. I am looking forward to becoming a certified instructor. My black belt is not the culmination of a journey, it is the beginning: a most auspicious beginning.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

my heart is full, and heavy,
my limbs are aching with inaction and indecision;
restlessness runs up and down my spine,
- itchy fingers tracing patterns:

stress manifests itself into jawline pressure
crawls up to the top of my head
around my neck

so much to do
when all I really want to do is sleep, or read.
too many things too many things too many things

dishes mock me from the sink
dog hair blurs the edges of the floor, the couch,
the dirty sock islands

detritus of five lives deliniates high water marks in the house
(and this is when I worked until 8;

and this is when Craig was gone;

and this is Liams lacrosse practice;

Molly's party;

Adam's game; leftovers for dinner, or take out..

tattoos beating in my head: you will nevernevernevernevernevernevernevernever

Please write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

The bruise seeps away from the toe, coloring the other toe and the top of the foot. I keep it up, raised, covered with ice, like the book says. The other toes are cold and stiff, but the movement of color slows and the swelling abates. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just pretty - purple and blue and pink. I am trying to figure out how I can still work out with this injury.

Please shade in the entire circle. Do not mark outside of the circle.

My husband is educating my son - finding Eddie Murphy on YouTube talking about Elvis, and lemonade. My son Liam is 13 and could care less, but he still comes over gamely. My other son Adam, 10, is at his computer, making the Google Translate lady talk to him in Spanish. “Liam sucks his thumb” becomes “Liam se chupa el dedo pulgar” - and he laughs and plays it again. There must be something magical about teasing your brother in another language.

and still, blood pumps rhythmically in my toe, pounding.

Use only a number 2 pencil to complete this area.

Sleet falls against the window. I am sitting on the “cold couch” - the one closest to the window. The couch is leather, and sitting here in the winter requires soft blankets, a warm computer and a cat, if possible. It’s a loveseat, and I can rest my foot on the arm - which ensures that the toe stays elevated. Condensation from the ice dribbles down the arch of my foot, tickling.

Do not leave your seat until notified to do so.

My daughter comes over to check my foot. Her forehead creases in concentration as she touches the ice pack. Her hand rests on my shin, and she giggles. “Cold hands mama! Didja feel my hand? Want me to tell you a joke mama? Would that make you feel better? Why did the skeleton cross the road?” Before the “d” of “road” is out of her mouth she jumps back in with the wrong answer “He had no body to dance with!” and then she is off again, caroming around the room; fearless.

If you have any questions, please raise your hand.

I do have a question... This is good, it is pleasant, I am warm, my family is happy, I want for nothing and yet

What do I want? What drags my shoulders down, carves lines in my forehead, forces my jaw together?

I am raising my hand wildly in the air

and no one comes.