Last Wednesday, Nick and I went to our last tae kwon do class. Or at least the last for a while. We had taken the month of May off, as we both had lots of late afternoon activities that were going to keep us out of class most days anyway. Then it looked like June would be just as bad, and we have a vacation planned for July, and Nick’s starting pre-season practices for a new sport in August… In the end, we just couldn’t see a way for him to continue, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going without him. But we hadn’t really said our good-byes after our last class in April, and we had both advanced a rank and not yet gotten the “gup” to mark it on our belts, so we went to one last class.
It felt, of course, like any other class. There were some younger kids there who needed work on their patterns, some pre-teens who are making some great progress, another black belt who’s been part of the class for a few years now, and us. We stretched, practiced kicks and punches, learned some “one step” moves to disarm an opponent, practiced our patterns, and sparred. Then we hugged our master and said good-bye — for a while.
I’m not entirely sure why we’re giving it up now, rather than any other time. It hasn’t always been easy to find the time, after all. Nick has been taking tae kwon do since first grade — seven years! — and I joined him a couple of years later. It started out as a three times a week commitment, late in the afternoons. More recently we dropped back to two classes a week, and sometimes one of those was on Saturday. That was easier to fit into the work week, but it did cut the weekend right in half, making it hard to plan other activities. Twice during the last seven years we’ve been away for an entire summer, but picked right back up in the fall regardless. Worse was the period when Nick often didn’t feel like going to class. We fought over that for a while, holding out the black belt as the prize he was aiming for. Once he reached it, the battles almost miraculously stopped, and he continued for several more years, getting his second degree black belt as well.
I still struggle to remember the black belt patterns I’ve learned. I can’t consistently break a board whenever I want to. Sometimes my knees don’t want to do the kicks that I have in mind. Often, my spinning back kick goes awry. There’s no way I’ve mastered this sport. Then again, mastery’s not really the point: practice is, and I’ve enjoyed the practice so far.
I don’t know how long I’ll stay away. Over the years I’ve joked that one of the benefits of tae kwon do was that it gave Nick something to be better at than I am — he always outranked me, and I used to say he always would. It’s possible, of course, that I could continue even as he takes a break — and it would take at least two years before I got close to his current level. By then, I’m sure there will be plenty of other things he’ll be better at than I am — he’s already better at guitar, drawing, and various computer things I can’t even name. After a couple of years of high school, he’ll surpass me in other ways as well. Still, it doesn’t seem fair or right for me to go on without him, at least right now. It’s been such a joint venture, I can’t imagine doing it without him. So for now I’m filling the “reassigned” hours with yoga classes, and putting my tae kwon do uniform in a drawer. But we’ve still got a few boards cut and ready for breaking, whenever we’re ready to go back. In the meantime, I guess I’ll need to find a new analogy for my teaching!