Martial Arts

Reflection points

Photo by George Hiles

Photo by George Hiles



My son’s tournament competition time was 7:30 a.m. and mine was 12:30.  Due to Covid, everyone was divided into smaller groups in various locations for safety. He’s nine, and gets nervous, and I’m not sure how much he’s really ‘into’ the competition part of taekwondo. He doesn’t seem particularly cutthroat in his endeavors, but is more into the fun, community, and exercise.


As we pull into the parking lot, I’m providing the usual pep talk: go in and do your best, then let the rest go. I sound wise, and impressed with my adept parental speech-making skills. Especially since I’m 24 hours post 2nd Pfizer vaccine, and want nothing more than to be back in bed instead of sitting in my car beside the other parents in their cars, watching our kids on our phones via Zoom.


Fast forward seven hours, and I realize my parenting skills are bullshit and my speech was nothing more than something I must have read somewhere. Because, total honesty, I got last place in all categories and I’m not being Zen and graciously letting it go. Community and fun, what bozo talked about all that? I just got freaking last, in all three categories, for the second tournament in a row. 


There is no hint, no whisper of the parent who gave the inspirational “do your best” speech in my head. It is me, the same me who has been competitive since high school. I hate not being good at something I want to be good at. 


The worst bit may be: I did my best, and it may have been one of my best tournament performances, yet my poomse still wasn’t ‘good enough’ to beat a less-technical one. I’m no stranger to breaking a board, but my foot failed to go through in all three of my breaks. 

 Sigh. Huge sigh. Deep sigh. 


The last two individual tournaments have prompted me to write a pro/con list about taekwondo, and whether I should keep going. Five black belts sat and judged me, my fellow green and blue belts watched me. There are whispers in my head about what others are thinking–dangerous territory. That’s really none of my business, yet there we are. Are others shaking their heads, wondering why I keep showing up? 


Our student manuals list reasons to participate in tournaments; in addition to pushing ourselves to be better, they give us a sense of community and camaraderie. But are they also a filtration point? Many college tracks have that one class in their track, often the second or third year, that leads students to drop the major. The class that isn’t easy to pass, challenges students in the major, and where the door to “choosing another major” is open. Are tournaments like that? Are they stress-points where it begins to become obvious that you should change or your shouldn’t be there? 


To me, they are definitely a reflection point. Do I give up? Do I try harder, work harder, or open a different door and try something different? The blocks on our path give us time to pause and think: are we rising to the challenge or is it a better use of our time and energy to go a different way?


I went to class the Monday after the tournament, which wasn’t easier than showing up after the last one. Thankfully, it was easy to avoid talking about it, and I made it through unscathed, my embarrassment at my performance hidden under the task of getting back to the work of weekly classes. 

 Wednesday, my heart sank as I saw piles of medals stacked at the front of the class.  All that shiny silver and gold. Maybe no one will notice I didn’t get any, in their joy over their own. (note: because of Covid, nothing is passed out at the time, but given to individuals later.)

 Ha! I wasn’t so lucky. Mr. Ninja questions Mr. Ninja 2, “Where are the medals for Carrie?” Silence from Mr. Ninja 2, who had been one of my judges at the tournament. Not wanting to make Mr. Ninja 2 say it, I said, “I don’t have any, sir.


Now that was a hard sentence to say. Admitting in front of the very-well-performing classmates of mine that I lost. I didn’t do well enough on anything to even warrant a 3rd place. I’ve always been competitive, despite having tempered it a bit with age. Even with that tempering, it is not in my composition to admit that taekwondo is too much for me.

The days pass, and eventually I rebound, after each tournament or event that goes this way.

 Will this always be the case? I don’t know. But after a few days of 

  1. Feeling sorry for myself, 
  2. Feeling embarrassed, in a way, that I was SEEN and deemed last and lesser than,
  3. Totally overthinking it all and then writing about it:

I, so far, have come to a place of wanting to keep going. And so, of course: I make a plan


You gotta love a plan, black ink filling lines with the possibilities of the future, of improvements, of gains in strength. A path forward. I’ve figured out some of my weak spots and decided on some ways to exercise and strengthen them . (Wall kicks, anyone? Yoga vinyasa? I even found a Pinterest article about making an agility ladder with painters tape and paint sticks.)


You can lose a hundred battles, ‘long as you’re winning the war. — May Belle, in Conjure Women


In my copy of Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, this quote has a tiny little dog-ear on the page so I can always find it. I love the words. For anyone who is learning a new skill or stepping into personal growth that requires change and strength, these are words to keep going on. Words that let you climb back up on your surfboard and again paddle out to meet the waves, and to see if you’ll be churned under by them, or if you’ll catch a sweet ride.


My martial arts journey currently has a lot of big tally marks in the Lost Battles category, from tournaments and workshops and taking longer than others to test for the next belt. But every day, I build little tally marks in the Won Battles category, from gaining health and fitness to mental strength and confidence. And in the end, my personal war may be won not by the noticeable slashes of a tournament medal, but by the consistent daily wins, no matter how small the tick marks are.

No Comments
Previous Post
May 4, 2021

Comments are closed.