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Beginnings and hurdles

Samurai armor, NY Metropolitan Museum of Art

The biggest hurdle is often the first on the course, whether it’s waking and rolling out a yoga mat or lacing up running shoes, or walking through the door to something new.

With tae kwon do, I’d summoned the courage necessary to walk through the door into my first class, feeling pretty good about it, and found perhaps that wasn’t the highest hurdle. I had 300 more to go.

Every class begins with around 300 jumping jacks, that amazing full-body exercise that warms you up efficiently, improving cardiovascular endurance, even building bone density better than running. As someone having done, let’s say, 100 jumping jacks in her ENTIRE life up til that point (and that’s a generous estimate) this was a shock to the system.

It really doesn’t take long to do between 300 and 400; a few minutes or so depending on pace, but it ends up being a lot of time for thinking. Time in jumping jacks passes as slowly as the clock during your high school oral report… it inches along, painfully, as you notice how sweaty you got that fast, how your calves are burning, making a mental note ALWAYS to use the bathroom before coming into class, and seriously reconsidering your choice of sports bra. The sweat drips down, your face turns red, and your tied-it-four-times-before-it-was-right ponytail is lopsided and loose, like you’ve run a marathon. You reach the point where both legs refuse to hop out and back together, so you try for just one side, hoping no one will notice, but they do. Glamorous? Nope. Dispelling the myth that women glisten, not sweat? Yep.

However.

Like waiting in line to get into a restaurant, a roller coaster, a movie, whatever, the line isn’t the thing. It’s merely the preamble, the discomfort before the reward.

The rest of the class is a lot of fun. Jumping jacks are, to me, the worst part, and once I started disliking them, I couldn’t shake the dread of having to do them. Even now, after three years of doing jumping jacks twice a week, year-round, a tired or off day leaves me passionately despising jumping jacks after about fifty.

The only way out is through, so I keep working on not hating jumping jacks, and following Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to water the seeds I want to grow, so I try not to give them much emotion. (It’s hard.)

And, my teacher apparently doesn’t condone bribery, and offering “twenty bucks if I can stop at 150” is frowned upon. So, the only way out is through.

The first year, I hated them. I tried singing songs, thinking about other things, imploring my brain to think about something other than how much I really did not want to be doing what I was doing. Like watching a TV or listening to music while you walk on a treadmill in a gym…mindless. It never quite helped, though.

White, yellow, orange belt, moving into green. Jumping jacks still were this obstacle, this thing I was rebelling against internally, mentally and struggling with physically. I wondered, would I ever not despise this beginning to an otherwise valuable and challenging educational opportunity?

One thing that helped: I found a Rich Roll podcast with ultra-runner Courtney DeWalter, who talked about her “pain palace” and embracing a mindset that reacts differently to discomfort.

Amanda Gorman, poet of immense talent, penned these lines: But only when everything hurts, May everything change.

I’ve moved through the stages of jumping jack hatred to attempting to accept that jumping jacks are my growth opportunity in all this. Mainly because I don’t like them. (We could use the word hate some days.) I’ve accepted other things, like flying side kicks and back kicks (you want me to do what?) and sparring. I try accept jumping jacks as something I have to go through, and to see the discomfort (I can’t really call it pain, I mean, they’re just jumping jacks) as the place where change starts. After about 150 or 200, when breathing gets challenging and having my legs continue to cooperate is not a given, I remind myself that this is the point where growth happens. If I’m going to get better, I have to see this point for what it is: the entrance to the cocoon where, with any luck, my caterpillar of dislike, discomfort and inability will transform into a butterfly of 400 jumping jacks, no problem. What sore calf muscles?

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