I began martial arts with preschool children - at age 39. After a year and a half, we have tumbled, kicked, punched together, and we have groaned through push-ups and sit-ups together. We try to listen and hold still and bow at the appropriate times. I am 5’8” and they are 3 feet, more or less.
This school year, at the honorable invitation of our Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do Master, I decided, at the age of 40, to try something unusual - train with adults.
Our Master, trainer of both children and adults, is a 4th Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, among other things. Her students are aged 18 months to, well, 40 years.
This fall, she invited the adults in our group (all 7 of us) to compete in the year-end tournament. After injuries, children’s illnesses and general parental duties called, only two of us were able to attend the tournament, and at that, only for two hours.
Nevertheless, when my teammate and I stepped into the gymnasium at a boxing center in Moscow, we both gasped with intimidation at seeing about two hundred children equipped with white Tae Kwon Do uniforms, ready to compete, and their parents, equipped with cameras. The children wore belts of every color, not the least of which was black.
The youngest to compete were the beginners – the “White Belt” three year olds. They demonstrated punches and kicks in sparring competitions in one of three rings. This was, however, no three-ring circus. This was serious business, with judges, scores and medals (and light-up wands for the little tykes).
You already know who the oldest to compete was. And I am what’s considered a “No Belt;” I wear a white belt, but only because it came with the uniform I ordered on Amazon, not because I have earned it. To earn it, I will need to demonstrate in my upcoming “belt test” that I know some basic forms – certain kicks, punches and movements.
I had agreed to photograph at the tournament and was busily doing so when my name was called to Ring 1. The organizers said to each other questioningly, “Only one competing in this round?” and then they looked at me, “Are you ready?” After my moment of hesitation, during which I was thinking, Go ahead, just skip me, I’m fine, really!, one of them said, “You’re ready.”
Thus, I, in my no-belt white belt, timidly performed one piece, or form, that of “Appreciation.” I faced my three judges, all black belts, aged 20 to 30 years younger than me, and spent roughly 40 seconds performing in front of lots of on-looking parents and even more kids with colorful belts.
My judges mercifully gave me scores of 6, 7 and 7 out of 10 and graciously bestowed upon me a diploma and a medal of first place in my category, since I was the only one comepting and there was no one else to give it to. I accepted my prize, bowed, and left the ring, humbled.