Jan 22, 2008

Posted in Tae Kwon Do | 0 Comments

Karate moms vs. Soccer moms

I’m not a soccer mom, even though I probably fit into that demographic. I’m a karate mom. Not just because I ferry my son to and from his karate classes but because I practice karate myself. I’m a red belt in taekwondo, staring down the barrel of that elusive black belt, which is at least another year of hard training away.

The pros of being a karate mom vs. a soccer mom are numerous. I don’t have to watch my son play a competitive team sport and listen to crazy parents behaving badly from the stands. I don’t have to spend every weekend wringing my hands nervously from the sidelines. I don’t have to wear SPF 70 sunblock and invest in a folding beach chair. And most importantly, a karate mom can kick a soccer mom’s Juicy Sweats-clad ass should the need arise. Unfortunately, “need” is not to be confused with the sometimes overwhelming “desire” to do so.

The cons: Since it’s an individual sport vs. a team sport, there is no diffusion of responsibility during tournaments or belt testing. Failure and victory rests entirely on your child’s frail shoulders. I spend way too much time indoors in a studio that smells like stinky feet. And since I do karate myself, my body is a roadmap of pain.

One of my instructors is fond of saying that all practitioners of martial arts have to be a little bit crazy to be willing to put their bodies through so much punishment. I wholeheartedly agree. My classmates and I come from all walks of life and are all ages. The adult classes are filled with a motley crew of suburban moms, real estate agents, lawyers, nannies, teachers and firemen. The one thing we have in common is our high threshold for pain and our inexplicable, sadomasochistic need for it. We are the walking wounded with various injuries du jour wrapped in ace bandages or braces and reeking of Tiger Balm. We kvetch endlessly about our aches and pains, broken bones, sprains, pulled hamstrings, slipped discs, missing teeth, black eyes and bad knees with a relish that rivals the denizens of a rec room at a senior citizen community center. We gossip in hushed tones about so-and-so who broke their ankle breaking a board doing a flying sidekick (something I didn’t want to hear since that’s on my next belt test); the architect who knocked his front teeth out falling on top of the brick he was supposed to break; the musician who snapped his Achilles tendon while sparring; or the pregnant girl who broke her tailbone because the architect who knocked out his front teeth, “accidentally” kicked her so hard during a non-contact drill, it hurt to sit down for months.

Unfortunately, that pregnant girl was me and that broken tailbone injury came back to haunt me later. It healed at a funny angle and blocked my son’s descent in the birth canal after 20 hours of grueling labor. I ended up with an emergency c-section and will be forced to have repeat c-sections for subequent births. Yet, I eventually came back on the mat after a long hiatus. I immediately cracked the top of my foot and then limped for three months. But as soon as I was able, I wrapped my foot in a brace and was back on the mat. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. So why do I keep doing this to myself?

I’m not sure I have the answer. As a workout, it’s unparalleled total body conditioning. I can do pushups on my knuckles (not the cheater ones on the knees) like all the guys. I can do splits in every direction and my balance is superb. Mentally, I never get bored unlike other workouts I’ve tried. There’s so much to learn, remember and concentrate on that it’s the only exercise that quiets and engages my restless, nervous mind. When I’m doing taekwondo, I can only think about taekwondo. Even yoga was never as relaxing because I found myself thinking about all the things I had to do after class. I’m addicted to the adrenaline and endorphine rush that comes from mastering a jumping spin hook kick or any other crazy kick that seemed impossible at first.

But it seems that every belt advancement comes at the cost of an injury and as I turn 37 next month, I’m getting to the age where the warranty on this body of mine is due to run out. Yes, I’m extremely fit for my age but I know that it’s inevitable that I’ll be sidelined by something or another before I get my black belt. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” Until then, I’m going to stock up on ace bandages and Tiger Balm.

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