On Being Oversized and Undertall in the Martial Arts

I admit it. I’m fat. It’s okay for me to use that word because that’s what I am. I am what others who were being more “medically correct” would call — obese. Me? I prefer to think of it as Garfield does, “I’m oversized and undertall.”

I have been for most of my life, and it’s a battle that I started to fight years ago, only to realize that the battle involved more than I thought. It’s a battle that perhaps one day I will win.

I remember watching another “undertall” person at the school where I train, comparing him to the lithe blue stripe in the row behind him, and thinking the thoughts I am sure others now think of me: “That belt was given out of pity.” “He can’t (name a technique) like the other guy!” Don’t think I didn’t hear the laughter the only time I competed. The ripple of snickers as I set up to perform my pattern. It didn’t help matters that I botched it up. Twice.

Being overweight and training is both a blessing and a curse. It means that I finally got off my duff and have decided to try and change this aching out-of-shape body. But, being overweight and training presents a number of problems: injury due to force created while landing from a jumping technique; being a woman, the whiplash of the chest (I hate jumping jacks!); the snickers from the back row of the class (sometimes; not often).

Justin Cruz, a 13 year-old put it this way, “Sometimes when I see someone overweight I figure they eat too much and never exercise. Lots of times when I see someone who is really big, I wonder why they let that happen to them. Sometimes I just feel sorry for them.”

But before you get the wrong idea about Mr. Cruz, wait. Read on. “I started noticing the snickers and jeering when a larger person entered the rings for a forms competition. Maybe they didn’t look as fluid because of the body lines, but their techniques were just as good as their counterparts,” he added.

No — my stamina is not as good as it should be. But, it’s better than it was. Is my side kick as high as it should be? No — but my downwards kicks are beautiful. Can I run a mile? No way. But I can make it through a class now without wanting to die (most days!) — which is more than most.

Yes, there are basic things that each student needs to know, understand and be able to perform to advance to the next level. It’s part of the progression. But part of the consideration for this advancement is comparison to the self. I try to remember things such as: “How much am I able to do that I couldn’t before?” “Will I be able to?” “Is this something I need to strive for — or should I pursue my other gifts and talents in taekwon-do?”

Do I always remember to be this calm and logical about it? No. Being overweight is one of the last places that it is considered okay to be “politically incorrect.” People who wouldn’t dream of telling off-color jokes, think nothing of telling a fat joke. I still hope to lose all of this weight. I hope one day not to see puzzled faces when I tell someone I train in taekwon-do. I can almost hear their thoughts, “What her? No way!”

Sometimes I feel like it’s my job, there in the middle of the ranks, there, the student struggling just like the rest of the class to do 100 side kicks, to inspire those who think that they can’t and to look to the front of the room to remember — I can.

7 thoughts on “On Being Oversized and Undertall in the Martial Arts”

  1. In my many years of experience with being a recipient- “Fat-Shaming” is all about fear of being fat. I’d also like to say that this is not to bring some huggy-sympathetic understanding of those who do it- I think they’re a bunch of lowlife shitheels. Fat-Shaming, IMHO, given the climate of fat-fear/loathing that goes on, is clearly about being afraid of getting fat, obese, “ugly(their perception not mine) on and on- it’s pathetic, demeaning and shows what tiny and shallow mental/emotional landscape these people live in day after day. We who struggle with weight/eating issues keep moving forward, backward nd sideways- working with our lives; but at least we actually have self-exploration beyond some shallow set of norms and dogmas as a result of fighting with our struggles. I’m getting back on the wagon of weight loss/health/lifestyle change- thanks for the pep-talk! Fight on Stacy!

  2. I have never trained in a dojo where laughing at someone would be even close to acceptable. If someone has a problem showing respect to their fellow practicioners, they need to go somewhere else – but that’s something that needs to (and should) be handled by the instructor.

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