Much better to break a board than be bored (or worse)

19 Dec

Just this morning, six guys sitting around.  Five guys in their 70s. Me, young enough to be a son. We meet in a youth group room: old furniture, foosball tables, red plaid carpeting (it IS a Presbyterian — Scottish roots — church after all).

Every Friday morning, 6:45 am, leave when you have to. Sometimes discussion centers around a common reading, video, or podcast. Those are the most targeted discussions. Sometimes we have no focus, just sharing. There is always too much time distressing over local and world affairs.

We often view this distress talk as coffee shop banter, wasted time. However, I see it as older guys sharing their concerns in the context of life not being all-right, running out of time and not being able to do anything about it. How did things get so wrong?

Scene change to belt promotion testing just last night. An eight year old makes three sloppy attempts at a turning side kick board break. He seems worried, in early stage exasperation. I give him a tip. His next attempt is slightly better, but still not nearly good enough. I can tell the exasperation mounts a bit more. “Good one, Mr. Sam. Just move a teeny bit closer and kick straight through. You’ve got this.” One more try, much better, but still too tentative. “Yes, that’s it! You’ve got it now! Just do it again, just like that. Focus; be determined.” Kick. Crack. Done. Just words moving a boy from dismay to accomplishment. It was the technique, but more so it was the belief, the confidence.

This same scenario plays out with students of all ages: teens, 30-somethings, 60-plussers. We’ve had students need several sessions of re-breaks (left over breaks from tests) because they physically can do it, but their lack of belief is stopping them from focusing on the proper way to get it done and committing their will to do it. We’ve also had students quit after a failed re-break attempt or two because they must feel that they will never pass this milestone, rather than keep at it until it’s done.

Recently, my church guys have engaged in other distress, talk which relates to the whole sense of value and purpose in their older years, the second half of life as I’ve heard Angeles Arrien refer to it. Value, purpose, relevance, contribution, limitations. These are some heavy emotions, fears, and insecurities. Life is certainly not playing out like it did in younger years, nor even as we imagined it to be now when we were younger. Things are different. The story, the narrative we have lived by, and often still live by, isn’t playing out. The thing is, it CAN’T play out.

Simply on the physical plane, one thing Angeles Arrien points out is that in our first half of life, we do what we do despite our bodies; our minds, our wills, dictate what we do and how we do it. In the second half of life, the body says, “You can do lots, accomplish lots, but now it’s on my terms.” Adaptation. Moderation. Different rhythms of active and not active, internal and external, reflection and doing.

I didn’t start my taekwondo training until I was 33, and I didn’t really come into my own until my 40’s. Now, past 50, I have begun to realize that I can’t, or shouldn’t, try to do stuff I previously took for granted because I might have a mishap. I am struggling with the entire notion of what I do, how frequently and how aggressively to do it, and what simply not to do. I never even got to have a big prime, and already I have to moderate  things!

This is not just an older guy thing. One of the biggest drop-out groups of students has been former athletes, in their 30’s or so, who attack class like they’re 22 again, and then determine rather quickly that they are too old for taekwondo. Rather than adapt and figure out what they CAN do and how to do it, they drop out. This is rather like older folks who, with different life circumstances, stop trying to find a purpose and relevance, and more or less despair and drop out of life.

The mindset I try to come back to, not just in taekwondo but life in general, is to maintain a belief, an assumption, of capability and value, of focusing on what I can do, what I might be able to accomplish, how I can contribute and be relevant. This mindset is important at any age and stage of life.

I recently read of a woman who went to visit another woman, an author whom she admired. The visiting woman brought along her father. The author had lost her sight somehow along the way. She’d also had some serious marriage problems, and had also suffered the murder of her teenaged son. The visiting dad, who had experience some vision loss, shared how he did not think he could ever cope with going blind. The author exclaimed that her going blind was in fact a blessing, because of all of the opportunities and good things it had brought to her, which she otherwise would not have experienced. This is quite the sense of finding purpose and relevance in the midst of otherwise despairing life circumstances!

A turning side kick break may seem trite in the context of illness, infirmity and tragedy. I pray that the small lessons in belief, accomplishment, and contribution that I’ve encountered in taekwondo can help me keep a mindset of living to always make my best contribution in whatever days or years I have left. I want to believe we are created to fully do and be all of our days, regardless of circumstances. In fact, just the other day I told some friends that I was really trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up. It will be interesting, and hopefully fun, to find out!

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