Yesterday I did an urban sketch with no purpose. I include it here by way of an illustration for this blog piece, which is about Taekwon-Do. I sketched it in my car on the way home after teaching a delightful class of kids, and although I filmed it and broadcast it live on Instagram, the wifi signal kept dropping out and so the viewers didn’t see much. However, following preparations for my first book, I have a lot of purposeless urban sketches to catch up on, so watch this space, and my Instagram story for live-demo videos, and there will be lots more.
I watched my daughter during her Taekwon-Do grading examination on a Sunday afternoon nearly two weeks ago. A thought began to take shape in my mind. By the following Tuesday I had booked a trial class for myself.
Why, at 51, did I decide to start a new activity involving strenuous exercise? I had considered and rejected many other types of exercise.
I walk a brisk three miles nearly every day but it’s not enough.
I hate running because it’s boring and not good for the joints.
I love dance but there’s no dance class on offer locally with music I don’t abhor.
I don’t want to sail because my Raynaud’s condition will have a field day and anyway it’s not vigorous enough.
Yoga sends me to sleep.
Taekwon-Do, on the other hand, had a little trick up its sleeve: it comes with a philosophy of living, five tenets that I have believed in since…forever. They are Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit (although self-control definitely needs work). Furthermore, I thought it might suit me from a physical point of view: I am flexible (or I thought I was until I saw the other students) and it is fast. It is never boring.
Saturday’s free trial class came around. This is how it went.
As we waited for the little kids to finish, three young people greeted me at different stages and offered me a smiling welcome, asking me if it was my first time (I stood out as everyone else but another beginner was in white uniforms).
“I’ve been doing it for nine months,” said a nice young man. “It takes a month for your body to get used to it.” Once we started there was a lot of warming up, for which I ended up being grateful.
The instructor, Master Fitzgibbon, told the beginners that it would take a month for our bodies to get used to it. It was a comfort to hear that.
Over the next hour and a half all of my “id” disappeared as I concentrated on Master Fitzgibbon’s instructions. I think that’s the bit I liked best: no decisions! The only negative bit came when we took turns to hit each other: guys were thumped in the chest, girls on the fleshy part of the upper arm. I wasn’t too keen on that but it’s not too big a deal. A bit of bruising is nothing (I have a big brother). I liked the hierarchy. The instructor is Master Fitzgibbon. I am Miss Róisín. Others are Mr or Miss (Surname). There are deep bows at the start and finish and little ones during the class. There are fast punches in the air and fast high kicks. There are lots of splits and stretches. There’s a lot of aerobic stuff and lots of push-ups. There’s a lot of sweating.
By the following day I was stiff and sore and by Monday I was aching as I walked up or down stairs. I was a bit concerned about being out of pain by Wednesday’s class but Master Fitzgibbon said we should come regardless.
Marcel, my husband, isn’t so keen on the Master bit.
“He’s earned it,” I told him, although at that point I didn’t realise how thoroughly: Master Fitzgibbon has a string of gold medals to his name, representing Ireland on the world stage. He’s an excellent instructor: patient, watchful, enthusiastic, clear in his instruction and above all inspiring.
(I have no problem with hierarchy, if it’s earned. I am very much against hierarchy by birth, such as one finds in the British system of royalty and lords. I am also suspicious of the “honours” system in Britain, which overwhelmingly favours men: if it is not distributed more or less evenly between the sexes then it can only be meaningless.)
In the event, I had recovered by Wednesday. I bought my uniform, paid my sub and went home afterwards with my Taekwon-Do handbook, feeling proud of being able to keep up with the 20-year-olds, give or take a premature collapse from an arduous move.
After my trial class I watched some Taekwon-Do videos on You Tube. My favourite, one I’ve watched lots of times now, is called Insane Taekwondo Skills 2016 and is set to a great tune by the Fat Rat. (About the spelling: apparently the dash before the Do at the end signifies that the philosophical aspect of it is crucial. The handbook says that if you don’t follow the philosophy as a vital part of it, then it’s just kickboxing.) I also watched a few You Tubes of old people doing Taekwon-Do: one old lady of 77 had only been at it for five years and said she has no joint pain anywhere. There was also a man my age, who was in much worse shape than I, but that didn’t stop him doing his moves.
I took my one niggling doubt to Master Fitzgibbon.
“I have a big brother,” I said. “What’s to stop someone grabbing your foot as you kick and making you hop around like an idiot?”
“It’s illegal,” he said. That didn’t mean a baddie wouldn’t do it in a proper threatening situation.
“Also…” I said, “I’m not into getting hit, or hitting.”
“Neither am I,” he said. I can’t remember the next thing he said. I think he said it’s fun to hit and kick in training sessions, which I can kind of understand, as I always liked roughhousing with my kids.
“And I’m not sure about grading,” I said. “Do I have to go through the ranks?”
“It’s part of it,” said Master Fitzgibbon, “but nothing will happen for a year, or until you’re ready. I know my audience.”
Ok. So far, so good. The uniform was comfortable and not too hot. I can walk today. Everything’s good.
I’ve had numerous health scares over the years which made me moribund for ages. I have bad knees from a motorbike accident on one and a fall on the other. I’m not very fit and it’s all downhill from here.
Or is it? The way I see it is, I can do this, so I will do this, and it can only be a good thing. Sketching occupies nearly all my professional and much of my personal life, and I wanted something physical in my life that had nothing to do with sketching. Taekwon-Do fits the bill: the mental stuff is a bonus.
If you are looking for a new sport or activity and are a little nervous because of fitness, or health, or your age, then follow my progress: you might decide to jump in too…literally.