(Just Like) Starting Over

It’s like we both are falling in love again
It’ll be just like starting over, starting over…
John Lennon

This spring I returned to taekwon-do after a long time away from the dojang. Years older, pounds heavier, spirit broken, and in some ways wiser, I started my martial arts journey again.

More than a decade earlier, I trained at another school. Training had changed my life – I worked out, wrote essays, took photos, worked on what was to become the black belt manual for the school. It was a space that brought me face to face with a body that I fought with constantly, and, simultaneously,a space that offered me sanctuary from my daily world of fear, pain, and depression. The clearly stated and understood expectations, as well as the rituals offered me a place to leave the world I knew for just a short time to challenge myself and feel strong. It allowed me to challenge myself in a way I’d never known before. I left having just earned my red stripe.

In the years between, my father had died. My mother died two weeks later. My remaining grandparents died with in the next 8 months. I had to find the strength to move on, to figure out who i was now that they were no longer alive. I fell in love. I got married. I’d found a new passion – Zumba®. I started teaching a specialized Zumba class for people living with chronic pain and seniors. But all of that had started to fade, and I found myself in a place where I was giving up on things that nourished me and giving up on myself.

I stopped teaching my classes. I stopped going to Zumba. I threw myself at work and found joy in some parts of the job, but not as many as I had previously. I no longer danced, and I no longer felt a spring in my step. I started pulling inward. By January, I was in the middle of some really rocky spots with Geoff. In February, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Something had to change.

I emailed the instructor at a school where I had watched classes where two daughters of a friend were training, and I found that piece of me slowly calling again. I returned to training this spring, hoping to recover what I had once experienced in the dojang. But, I’d forgotten my patterns. And more than that, I had forgotten who I was along the way. He and the other instructors met me where I was. We talked about my return to taekwon-do.

In a tear-filled moment, I decided to cut my previously earned taekwon-do belts prior to training again. The rank was no longer mine; the belts were no longer ‘alive.’ I honored all that I had done to earn those, was grateful to the instructor who I had trained with, and let them go. That world was foreign, forgotten and no longer mine. I entered the new dojang a white belt, having retained some technical knowledge, but needing to rebuild my stamina, my knowledge, my muscles, my spirit. I returned, white belt wrapped firmly around the waist, ready to start again.

I could no longer do jumping jacks without killing my knees. Patterns were a thing of the past. Training required faith – believing in myself when I didn’t feel like I deserved anything, let alone the effort to bring me back into the training spirit. I was nervous, broken and determined.

It’s been a little over 7 months now – and I am glad I took that jump. It’s hard. I still struggle with my weight and my stamina on a daily basis. I probably will for years to come. But I am rediscovering my voice and my worth. Finding pride (not ego) and safety enough to challenge myself. Some days advanced techniques are easy and fluid, and some days the simplest wrist lock baffles me. But there is joy in my heart as I train, as I take photographs for fellow students.

Taekwon-do, as one of the many tools, has helped pull me through an otherwise terribly dark time in my life for a second time.

My training is personal, and not at all about the color of the belt holding my uniform together.

Ever feel like your train of thought has been derailed?

It’s been a tough spring personally.  A lot of changes all at the same time have made everything feel like it’s not quite stable.  Much of it has been good – but it’s draining me energetically and physically.

Somehow that seems mildly ironic as in February my glucose was averaging around 400-450 and now it is down around 140-160.  I’ve lost and kept off 30 pounds since January.  My blood pressure is great.

But, along the way, self-doubt has crept back in insidious ways.  I can feel its paralyzing effects and am doing the best I can to fight back.  Literally.  I am finally back doing taekwondo.  Almost 4 years ago Steph Stowe dragged my out of shape tush and extremely depressed brain to Zumba®.  I fell in love and said I wanted to do that to get back to TKD.

Along the way I started to TEACH Zumba®. I had two classes a week that I taught using a chair.  People from 4-86 came each week and loved it – and I loved them.  It was a personal challenge to teach.  Almost every class I walked in wondering “Who the heck am I to be teaching a fitness class?  I’m fat, out of shape and far from the fitness ideal.”  I did it for them; I did it for me.

In February, I started back to taekwondo.  More than a decade since I had stopped training.  I’d forgotten the patterns.  But remember the feelings.  How much it challenged me, how much it let me get moving physically and mentally, how much it let the emotions I didn’t want to admit were there move.

I am back at it again.  50 pounds heavier than when I stopped.  I’m in my 40s.  The drills are different, and the students are different and my instructor is different.  The kicks are the same.  The patterns, rusty and dusty from lack of use, are there and will slowly come back.

One thing that has remained the same in deeply personal way for me is the fact that the sparring partner who challenges me most in this is me, my own brain.

I leave class tired, sweaty, proud.  And more often than not experiencing a flood of feelings that truly have nothing to do with class other than that the movement and focus allows them to come out of the tidy cubbies I want to stuff them into.  Some nights its pride.  Some nights it is just an overwhelming sadness.  Some nights it is feeling strong.

Tonight, it is sitting with the question that has haunted me the past few weeks…  “Can I keep up?  Can I do this?  How do I do this?”  It has shown up in so many places and ways – both large and small.  This is where I must exercise my indomitable spirit – keep persevering… lean in and lean on where I can.

There goes a fighter….

Enough said