It was halfway up over my torso and would go no further. The straps on the back had no give, and the one strap that was supposed to unclip and loosen was broken and tied shut Only two people were still taking off gear in the back, finishing up to run back to class, looking away from me. All those experienced upper belts were already lined up in front of the teacher. Dawdling was not smiled upon by any of the Mr. Ninjas. Yet here I was…STUCK in my sparring gear.
This was worse than being in a dressing room stuck in a dress that you couldn’t get back over your chest and shoulders, because the struggle was not solitary. I was in full view of a room full of upper belts and the Master Ninja teaching, who only had to turn around. I felt like an overturned turtle stuck upside down in a plastic, sweaty shell…Oh, geez, the humiliation of being stuck in my sparring gear. And let’s face it, when you’re the chubby one in class, you are more sensitive to the squeak of chairs as you sit, uniforms that don’t fit and, you know, being stuck in sparring gear.
The heat was broken in our classroom so our usual class had joined another location’s class. I was extremely nervous about going, and when I got there, I realized why. I was, again, the only white belt in class. There was one yellow belt, no orange, a couple of greens and the rest of class were brown, red and black belts. Mr. and Ms. Ninjas everywhere.
And behind the majority of black, red and brown belts, all lined up in front of a Master Ninja, ready and waiting for class to continue… was me. The white belt. STUCK in her freaking sparring gear and waiting for the moment when someone noticed and everyone turned to look. I’m having some junior high flashbacks here.
Thank you to the black belt who quietly came to my rescue, giving the plastic-covered chest protector a push to get over my shoulders and my head. He was nice enough not to laugh (out loud) while I panicked. And I managed to make it into the ‘line-up’ of class before everyone noticed.
I am resolved to buy my own sparring gear as soon as possible, because let’s face it. Two times sparring and I’ve had 1. Gear too small that I could barely sit (and then I was leaning a weird way and Mr Ninja had to tell me to sit up straight. I invoke, again, the overturned turtle image of me in sparring gear). And 2. I got stuck in borrowed gear.
Let’s consider it an investment to my future, improved self-image.
I’ll end with a thank you to all the upper belts who have compassion for an adult beginner learning to spar. So many started when they were much younger, often elementary school, and may not realize the challenge of being an adult starting out. While I laugh and make fun of my experiences, the experience itself stays positive because no one else is making fun of me. Time and again I get a helping hand from those around me, proving the value of what I’m learning. The journey of learning Taekwondo is so much more than physical strength and flexibility. I’ll quote Amy Poehler: “find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” I keep going to class because I am challenged and inspired.