I was idly wondering this morning what would have happened if I hadn’t swung by that Taekwondo place in 2006 and tried a lesson. I often fantasised about fighting and martial arts, a passion I was often in trouble for as a kid. (Miss Barrett absolutely hated how often I was reported to her for “play fighting” when in actuality I was choreographing complex fight scenes.) Throughout the past eight eight years I’ve trained very regularly, usually around 3 times a week for about six hours in total, but at one stage I was training six days a week for around fourteen hours. Why have I trained so much? Well, because I love it.
But what would have happened to all that passion and energy if I didn’t have the martial arts? I know that no matter how busy I was I always made time for training, and it has been an island of stress-relief in a sea of troubles. I think it’s fair to say that I probably would have broken down a lot sooner, maybe in the first years of uni and just stuck with what was familiar and convenient. I might be still working at Coles, a very scary thought. If I had stuck it out in social work, I don’t know how great I would have been at coping. I certainly would have struggled most days and I’m not sure if I’d be able to manage any job. (Even with martial arts as a coping mechanism, PICYS was still a really hard experience for me.)
I’ve made some of my closest friends through the dojo, and I’ve met many great and inspiring people. In particular, my teachers Dan and Nenad are among the very best men in the universe, and I am learning to be a better person because of them. Another important but unspoken element of training with others is that I am practicing being social in good company. I’ve always been a little quirky and I’ve found it hard to connect with others, but having friends forged through a shared passion is one of the most valuable elements of community. In all honesty, without the dojo I’d be supremely socially awkward and probably highly reclusive. (As it is I’m still a little awkward and enjoy time by myself.)
I’d probably be of less-than-average fitness. I don’t really consider myself especially fit, but compared to many other people I have to acknowledge that my physical abilities are fairly advanced. A huge part of how I understand myself is in terms of my flexibility, my strength (what little there is), my ability to fall over and land safely, and the hope that if I’m ever engaged in a fight that I’d be able to defend myself and avoid injury. If I hadn’t learned martial arts, I think some of that confidence and sense of identity would have remained because it’s just always how I’ve seen myself, but it might be muted. It’s kind of unfathomable for me to imagine not being able to touch my toes.
I’d probably not have very much self-discipline. As it is I still eat copious amounts of junk food and can’t quite will myself to sleep early or leave the house with time to spare. Without the tough sessions at the dojo where I push myself to keep on going, even though I’m shaking and staggering and feel like throwing up… Without the gashuku where I confront my fear of pain and cold and hunger and tiredness… Without my morning runs where I voluntarily get up early and push myself physically, I think I’d probably live a more comfortable, sedentary lifestyle. But discomfort is good sometimes because it makes you aware of what you’re capable of surviving, and reminds you to enjoy the comfortable things you have. I daresay without training I’d be surrounded by comfort food (which I kind of am now, but at least I work it off) and have low self-esteem.
I’d probably have quite poor foot-health. As it is, I’m oddly proud of how strong my feet are in terms of twisting and turning and lunging and striking in the dojo. On my runs I wear vibram five-fingers which are essentially gloves for my feet so I still exercise barefoot muscles without stepping directly in duck poo. My feet do a lot for me, and I am grateful for their strength.
It’s hard to say what other changes to my life might have developed if I’d gone a different path. But whatever might have happened, I am so grateful for what has been and what is still to come.