The bestest and mostest

2 Aug

Getting older is an adventure, not a problem. — Betty Friedan

My feelings included a unique combination of pride, nervousness and intrigue as I surveyed the three black belt candidates about to test. The first was Hawkeye, a lanky, athletic, 15-year-old boy who has been a Taekwondo student since around third grade and is gifted enough to have recently begun gymnastics training. The second was Cecilia, a young woman from Mexico who is a veterinary medicine student at a local university. The third was Ramona, a 62-year old woman who only began her Taekwondo training three-and-a-half years ago as a new adventure following her retirement from her job — as a pilot flying wide-body jets around the world for a large commercial airline.

The pride I felt speaks for itself. I am always proud of students of any stripe who train long enough and with enough diligence to reach the milestone of a black belt test.

The intrigue I felt was in anticipation of how they each would perform and what would be the group dynamic among three such diverse candidates all performing similar requirements. The nervousness I felt was in regards to the visiting presence of my instructor and informing him of my plans and expectations as to how the challenges and requirements for each candidate might vary due to their differing circumstances; I want to be deemed as having conducted a proper test, across the board, with proper expectations of performance and quality. The idea is to challenge each candidate enough such that they very likely — perhaps more likely than not — could fail, but not so much that the challenge is insurmountable or unrealistic, or puts them (particularly an older students) in undue risk of physical harm.

The test happened, the test finished. Hawkeye completed all of the requirements and got his belt handed to him that night. It was touch-and-go here and there, but he did it! Cecilia and Ramona each had some uncompleted requirements that they would have to again attempt in the near future to complete their test and get their promotion. They subsequently did so and are now black belts!

It was not until a couple of weeks after she completed her requirements and got her belt that I saw the following Facebook post that Ramona had shared after that night of completion:

Last night I was awarded my black belt in Taekwondo. If I have ever worked so hard for something, both mentally and physically, I don’t remember when. I want to say a special “thank you” to Master Instructor Chris Correia of North Shore Taekwondo for understanding the challenges of taking on such an endeavor as a “senior citizen” and working with me. I can’t wait for the next leg of this journey!

That from a woman who flew and landed jumbo jets full of people around the world!

I was not only happy for her and proud of her, but enormously humbled by her trust in me and others, and by her dedication in the face of physical and life challenges that likely would have discouraged or sidetracked most other students. She is a special woman who has taught me lessons by her example.

I started my own Taekwondo training at the age of 33, in horrible shape at the time. I only got into fairly decent shape in my early 40’s when needing to prepare for my first Korea training trip that was to be a boot camp — a hell week — of sorts. With only a few short months to prepare, I worked smart and hard out of panic, if anything. I pretty much held onto that level of conditioning and ability into my 50’s. All along I largely viewed myself in a “looking back” manner, thinking like a younger guy, putting myself in context of what strong, fit, young Taekwondo fighters can do. And that was OK; it provided push and motivation, and made sure that all of those young punks knew I had some juice! I got more fit and skilled than ever before. That pretty much describes a good Taekwondo mindset.

Three years ago I had ACL reconstruction, a surgery that takes a while to come back from as an athlete, pretty much a year to be more or less normal. I had stellar recovery and came back stronger than ever on many levels — at 51 years old. About a year after that, I pretty-severely pulled a calf muscle that slowed me down for a number of weeks. This past winter, I tore a hamstring, which has affected me for months and is only now almost not noticeable. My conditioning and skills from reduced work and practice have suffered. My mental toughness has softened.

During this latest recovery period, I finally realized that as much as I have the context of youthful ability as a standard of excellence, I have a different future before me. At some point age and the changes it brings are realities that have to be embraced. Notice I didn’t say accepted, though. I don’t mean purely giving in to realities. I see guys hit 50, or even younger, and just go into “grandpa mode” with, potentially, decades of life ahead, but which they are actually cutting short, both in terms of quality and quantity; grand kids want a grandpa around who is, well, actually alive, and can actually do stuff!

By embrace, I mean better understanding myself and circumstances, and pursuing new standards of  — and gaining different perspectives of — excellence, of performance, ability and skill. It’s still being the best I can be, but recognizing that it is a different best (though not a lesser best).

I’ve let myself slide a bit through the challenges and frustrations of surgery, injury and recovery. I’ve seen one Taekwondo colleague my age have to come back from open heart surgery and another my age take on the new challenge of running more marathons than he ever has before. And then there is Ramona. All context, all motivating.

Age. Injury. Infirmity. Other limitations or challenges of whatever kind, at whatever age. We can’t deny them and ignore them. We also can’t give in to them. Nor can we just flat out fight them. We must acknowledge them and embrace them and find how to make the most of them. It just might not be the exact same “most” we’ve had in mind. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t squander what we have, which is usually more than we realize. Perhaps most so, whatever the challenge or circumstance, don’t look at it as a problem, but rather, as has Ramona, as an adventure!

And, in the midst of that effort . . . be kind, have fun, make other people’s day, and savor a nice, cold pint of something you enjoy!

2 Responses to “The bestest and mostest”

  1. Robert Frankovich August 2, 2014 at 14:14 #

    Sir,
    Nice article. I can appreciate the topic completely! I’ve been called the “biggest kid in the house”.

    • chriscorreia August 2, 2014 at 16:12 #

      Thank you for the feedback. Yes, I well know the phenomenon of being the biggest kid in the house, sometimes even when I am with five and six year olds. Fully youthful in mind and spirit, even if aging a bit in body.

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