Fighting Old Age Kicking and Screaming

a Black Belt Paper Respectfully submitted by LaRue D. Rains

Typical of many people, as I got older, my metabolism slowed and I started gaining weight, with every year bringing more pounds. And then I began to slow down, finding it more difficult to bend over and my balance wasn’t what it had been; in other words, I was feeling my age, and knew I had to do something about it. For my 52nd birthday, in January of 2006, I gave myself the gift of a Tae Kwan Do class at our local recreation center.

Why Tae Kwan Do? Although I’ve always enjoyed being active, I’ve never been athletic. Phys Ed was continually the class that messed up my GPA, but I had read somewhere that anyone could learn Tae Kwan Do, if they were willing to work at it, and one thing I’ve never been afraid of is hard work.

When I attended my first class, I thought I must be crazy, thinking I could learn to kick and punch, and learn a pattern. But, I’d paid for four weeks, and I wasn’t going to waste my money, so I attended the four classes I’d paid for.

Fortunately, the instructors of the class were very patient and encouraging, and ever so slowly I began to learn the movements for the first pattern, Chon-Ji. Learning the meaning and number of steps was easy, but remembering which way to turn, as well as which stance and which block to use, was very difficult for me. However, I didn’t quit, and found that as the weeks progressed, I began to develop more stamina and stretching was paying off, as I slowly began to reach toward actually touching my toes, rather than just below my knee, so I continued going to class, and by the end of July I tested for my gold belt, a huge accomplishment for me, who had never, ever achieved anything sports-related in my life. And when I actually broke a board with a front kick, I was ecstatic.

Encouraged, I continued to train, and after another year, I earned a stripe on that gold belt, broke boards with both round and turning back kicks and knew two patterns. Another year of training, and I earned a green belt. I remember telling my sister that I felt achieving a green belt was a bigger accomplishment for me than graduating from college.

After I earned my high gold belt, my instructor introduced me to high altitude training, in the form of training at Genesee Park. Parking at the top of the hill, there is a lovely dirt road to run down a mile and a half, and then back up, for a total of three miles. There is also a beautiful pine grove with a relatively flat area, perfect for practicing patterns. Well, nice idea, I thought, but this is the kid who couldn’t even run around the block. However, I tried. I’d jog a few yards, walk, jog, walk; and then came that marvelous day that I was able to jog ALL the way down the hill. Of course, back up was a different matter, but after succeeding on the down, I started working on the up – running just one tree further each time. I was exhausted, but absolutely thrilled the first time I completed all three miles, down and back, running.

I continued to train, and each year I earned a new rank, finally testing for my high red belt in 2013, putting me on track to earn a black belt the year I turned 60.

That plan was derailed, however. The head instructor of our very small school left town – in fact, he left the country; moving to Shanghai, China, where both he and his wife landed jobs teaching in an American school. That left no one willing or able to continue the program. The City of Lakewood, however, contacted Mountain Academy of Martial Arts to continue a Tae Kwan Do program at Green Mountain Recreation Center. That posed a slight problem for me, because I had been training for eight and half years in ITF Tae Kwan Do, not Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwan Do. So the nine ITF patterns I had so struggled to learn were no longer applicable, and I had nine new forms to learn, as well as all the other curriculum of my new school. The one thing I didn’t have to learn was the meaning and number of steps of the new forms…the only learning that came easily for me.

Perseverance is one of the tenants of Tae Kwan Do; therefore I began learning all the new material. Fortunately, Mountain Academy is blessed with many patient teachers, because learning movement is a challenge for me, and I have to be shown many, many times before I can get the moves in my head and translated to my body.

Why have I persevered? When I started nine years ago, my size 16 clothes were becoming very tight on me. I now wear size 8. Nine years ago, if I entered a 5 km race, I was lucky to finish in an hour, and that would have been speed walking, not running. September 13 last year I ran the Blue Shoe 5 km race in 35:37, a personal best for me. I walk like a young woman again, rather than plod along, I stand up straight, not stooped over, and not only can I bend down and touch my toes, I can put my hand on the floor. Although I am often frustrated with myself because I can’t learn physical movement with the ease I can learn facts and figures, I started this journey, not for rank, or even to learn a martial art, but to improve my health, and that has certainly become reality.

After a nine-year gestation period, a new black belt will be born, and I am excited that there are opportunities to continue to learn and grow in Tae Kwan Do, because I truly feel I am fighting old age by kicking and screaming.