In primary school it became obvious I was different from the other children. Much more introverted. In the playground I’d take my skipping rope and use the wooden handles to enthusiastically beat out tunes on the metal railings. It wasn’t until secondary school when the fact I was different became a problem.
I didn’t have the social tools to deal with bullies. My response was to shut down: keep silent, look away and pretend they weren’t there. This wasn’t a good strategy – it just meant the little bitches kept needling. So I did what many nerdy, introverted, targeted kids do, and requested to my parents I be enrolled in martial arts.
The hoes faded into other classes, and I learned to use humour as a social tool. Taekwon-do remained a committed part of my life for 5-6 years, until my 1st year of university. Then it was out-competed by all the other sports and societies I jumped in to. After black belt I stopped.
This is a long preamble to the news that I’ve returned to martial arts. I cycle my hobbies: long-distance running was a part of my life in secondary school & university…then again several years later when I was in Basel. Ballroom dancing was “in” for a couple of years, starting from when I lived in Philly. Now I’m back to fighting.
I switched from Taekwon-do (TKD) to Karate & Ju-jitsu. TKD comes from Korea – it was originally designed for peasants fighting against horsemen, so it features a lot of jumping /flying kicks. They are hella fun to practice…but I wouldn’t be able to dismount a horseman with my kicks. Maybe somebody sitting on a small pony, or perhaps a cyclist that was stopped at a traffic light. I’m not naturally graceful, strong or flexible.
Karate isn’t wildly different from TKD. You learn patterns, do a bit of sparring, practice punch & kick sequences against partners. I remember enough TKD to do all the Karate moves wrong: stance too long, fists turned sideways when they should be down, etc. But most of the underlying principles are the same, and getting comfortable with Karate isn’t going to be a tough.
You can’t even say Ju-jitsu is in another ballpark. It’s in a seedy back alley late at night with two guys who’ll stab you and run off with your iPhone. Ju-jitsu is what I’d call “dirty fighting”: choke your opponent, throw them to the ground, then break their arm for good measure. In TKD and Karate you practice these clean technical punches aimed at the chest, and a knee to the stomach is as close as you get to your opponent. Ju-jitsu involves wriggly grabs/locks, learning how to fall diplomatically and jumping on people’s backs. Part of me is horrified when learning the mechanism of a neck break…but I admit I’m intrigued too. Here’s an opportunity to learn something totally new.
Because I’m a beginner I often don’t get placed with full-sized adult dudes, but rather the pre-teens. I would be morally-conflicted about trying to dislocate the arms of kids half my age…if it weren’t for the fact that 12-year old boys are 70% elastic. They only ask me to stop the move out of pity, after I’ve been twisting their limbs for several minutes without anything happening.
I’m still processing the ~4.5 years of my PhD, and will blog about it more when I’m at a safer distance. For now I’ll say that it’s been ~4.5 years since I invested myself in a challenging sport or hobby, gunning to master it. Now I’m waking up several times per week with aches and pain in my body. I’ve got conversation-piece bruises that morph through a tasteful spectrum of dark blues, greens and browns and are always diverting to look at. It feels like I’m pushing myself. And that feels good.