Monday, August 11, 2008

Sparring, Worry, Joy, ACL, Decisions

From a letter to a friend:

I recently told my sensei that I'm not going to test for the black belt this fall. I took on a very tough assignment in March, the kind of demanding assignment I avoided for years because I had to save energy for dealing with my son. He is actually back in the house now, and doing extremely well--in part because he's learned, in part we think because we've gotten back in touch with his birth mother (which is a real healing thing for him), and in part because he's just older. The job just has not left me with energy to prepare for a black belt test AND devote energy to my family. I would have to put in 48 hours of class in six weeks to prepare, and I just can't do that now. (What I have to figure out eventually is whether I will ever enjoy this demanding job that is running me ragged. I'm at the start of two weeks of vacation now.)

Stepping back from the test has allowed me to enjoy my classes more. I also returned to sparring class, which I left after I had a slight re-injury of my knee in the early spring. My thinking had been, I don't need kickboxing for the test, I already passed that part, and I didn't want to put my repaired ACL at risk.

But the primal chess game of kickboxing with people is what I enjoy the most about martial arts, and I've now been to two classes. I've got some ring rust, but I still can see sometimes when people are making mistakes I can exploit. And as my friend Larry told me, "You've still got your front kick," which was my signature move before I tore my ACL.

Part of the fun of the class too is that our sensei is an amazing kickboxer, and he studies you and gives you tips. He wants me to work on throwing my jab while I'm backing up in good form--keeping people at the end of the jab and frustrating them as they advance, instead of standing in place and jabbing while they get close enough to hit me. He's shorter than me, and keeps talking about what an advantage my reach is. I know I would trade my reach for his lightning speed and strength any day, but it's good to work with what you have.

I do wish I had taken all this up at 19 instead of 52. I do wonder how good I could have been--I don't think I would have been a great athlete, but surely I could have a higher level of skill. Would I feel the corrosive worry I now feel about so many things? (Probably so, just different things!)

But I also think about what I have gained--my health has vastly improved. I no longer have to take cholesterol medicine, and I've lost something like 20 pounds despite adding muscle. A nascent hernia in my bellybutton has vanished. I have new friends, and I love the feeling of physical motion again.

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