Before I went to Richmond, back in the good old days of my prime, I used to do Taekwondo. And this wasn’t just your normal, calming, finding your center, peaceful and beautiful Taekwondo. This was training for hours a day, grab some shin guards and a mouthpiece, jump in a ring and have six minutes to go all-out karate-kid on the person in front of you Taekwondo.
In high school, this was my sport and my passion. We were a team that traveled across the country together, trained together, won together, lost together and cheered for each other every chance we could. Unfortunately, when I left that summer in August for Richmond, I knew that I would be saying goodbye to a huge part of my life and some very important people. I knew Richmond didn’t have a Taekwondo club, and though I was ambitious to start one, I never quite found the time. But when I came to Melbourne to study abroad, I heard of a Taekwondo club here.
Believe me, I was skeptical at first. I knew it would be nothing like my own Taekwondo dojang back home. Actually, some part of me was reluctant to go at all. I think that somewhere inside, I wanted to preserve the pure memories I had from high school and avoid the risk of contamination that would occur if this new club failed to meet my expectations. But, through a series of unfortunate events that left me without a laptop, extracurricular activities and a social life, I decided I would check this Taekwondo club out.
I showed up on that Tuesday, and found it to be the calming, finding your center, peaceful and beautiful Taekwondo I wasn’t looking for. Five minutes after going to that first class and introducing myself to all these people who were eager to meet me, I knew I wouldn’t be going back. However, some good did come out of it. I had discovered that there was a more competitive advanced club that met on Wednesdays and Fridays. It sounded more like what I was looking for, but I couldn’t be sure. Still, it couldn’t get any worse than this– or at least that’s what I told myself.
I went to that Wednesday training, and to my amazement, it was so nostalgic. The stretches were the same, the drills were the same, and even the atmosphere was similar. Despite the fact that my legs were so sore the next day that I couldn’t walk… in fact, because my legs were so sore the next day that I couldn’t walk, I knew that I would be going back twice a week, every week. In the first five minutes of that class, I knew I had found exactly what I was looking for, and that, even though the semester was halfway over, I would make friends that would change my study abroad experience.
Gold Coast, as much as it was an opportunity for a break from schoolwork, was also an opportunity to compete in the Australian University Games. I had been training for the last two months to compete, and maintaining a lower weight than normal in order to compete in a weight class more suited to my strengths. It was just like old times. So, while I went to places like Pancake Paradise with my friends and they chowed down pancakes piled high with whipped cream and maple syrup… I nibbled on a slice of pineapple, half a tomato, toast, and the green leafy decoration stuff it came with. Still, I was happy.
I got to the tournament with the Taekwondo team who came later that week, and I could not wait for my first match. I was fighting in the same black belt division I used to, and I heard there was some very good competition. I even heard there was an Olympic-level fighter whom everyone was talking about. When I was finally called to fight, I discovered that, out of all the fighters, the Olympic-level fighter was my first match…and that he was about six inches taller than me. Even so, I was confident. I used to fight guys like these all the time. It was no big deal. I walked into the ring for the first of three two-minute rounds.
Now, in my last blog entry, I told you that Gold Coast was loaded with extraordinary adventures filled with panic and crisis. And, because I am a man of my word, here it is. After the first minute of that round, I was already tired. After the first minute and thirty seconds, I was exhausted and just trying to catch my breath. Cutting weight had cut my stamina, and this guy looked like he was still warming up. I had been training for the past two months, but this guy had been training consistently for years. I trained twice a week. The days that he hadn’t trained in the past year probably didn’t even add up to two weeks.
It was at this point in my life, at the ripened age of twenty, that I finally understood what a “midlife crisis” was. I couldn’t just get up and try to fight these youthful people out of nowhere. This guy was not only in better shape than me, but he was also on a higher level. This is the point in my tale where I would like to introduce the panic and crisis. If any of you were, in fact, wondering where it was, no need to fear…I did that enough for all of us. But my pride, the thing that was the source of this “midlife crisis”, told me that I couldn’t just quit. No matter how tired, how defeated, I had to finish that match and do it in one piece.
Long story short, I finished the match. I lost pretty badly, but I walked off that mat with my own two feet and my head held high. I think, in retrospect, that match taught me a lot. As much as Taekwondo had always been about the competition for me, it was equally about those important people who I trained with. As I walked off that mat, I had a team of people to pat me on the back and praise my hard work. I had people to laugh with the next day as I watched the recorded video. I had teammates to cheer on to victory, even if I couldn’t reach it myself. Maybe, just maybe, when I get back to Richmond, I’ll find some time to start that Taekwondo club. You know what they say… better late than never.