Taekwondo class. First day of no touch sparring. I’m paired with my friend Matt, both of us fresh white belts, and we are instructed to take turns throwing any three kicks. Standing next to us observing are two black belts a bit younger than us. I throw a few side kicks, crescents, sides, axes and a spinning hook kick. Matt does a throw some front kicks axes and finishes with a tornado kick. Both looking surprised one of the black belts turns to the other and says “They’re throwing nice axes, spinning hooks and tornadoes… I think they have the wrong belts.”
Comments like that and noticing your masters pushing you harder after seeing your skill and potential is the best feeling.
Today was one of the most physically painful days of my life.
At yesterday’s Taekwondo class I somehow severely sprained my left pinky toe early on in the class by simply walking barefoot across the mat. Pushed through the class throwing axe kicks, double roundhouses, etc. not yet knowing the extent of my stubbed toe. After the session ended I look down at my foot to find myself looking at a purple and black toe which is now incredibly painful to walk or even fully stand on.
Although I had/am having trouble walking/standing on my left foot I made the decision to still attend class and to push myself, but today was a day I wasn’t quite prepared for… Stretching day at the new school, and here they are serious business. I groaned whilst hearing “Stretch day” from my Korean masters mouth, already knowing of the painful hardship from previous martial arts ventures, but here at White Tiger Taekwondo (the largest martial arts facility in the world) they weren’t joking when they called it “crying day”.
After the usual extensive and exhausting running, jumping, and kicking drills, they placed us all, one by one, along the walls of the room, instructing us to lay on our backs, butts against the wall with legs spread wide. They handed us each a copy of the schedule to read as we were going to be sitting like that for a while. Master Kim then began walking to each person along the wall and spread their legs as far as they can go, literally to their limit. I was the last to go and when he reached me and pressed my legs down, I almost screamed in pain. I’ve stretched hard and far before but my legs have never been stretched to the point they were now stuck in. I sat there for minutes groaning in pain with the only thoughts in my head being related to wondering how long I would have to hold this position and if I was going to be able to withstand the agony for that unknown time, or how I thought if my legs were just a centimeter wider how I was sure my muscles would tear.
Minutes pass although it seems like an hour when suddenly I hear one of the girls in the class screaming in pain, yelling at the top of her lungs, and what I assume is cursing in Spanish. That’s when I realized that Master Kim was now making his way around a second time to push our legs even wider. I was terrified at that moment knowing that my legs were going to be spread farther than they were already spread, which was already a point past I thought my legs could even physically go without tearing with my current flexibility.
When Master Kim reached me, I didn’t know what to do. The voice in my head told me to say “I can’t go further” but the spirit in me told me to fight through what was up ahead. The usually happy and smiling Master Kim looked down at me seriously asking if I was ready as I shout “YES SIR!” He then begins pushing my left leg much further and I scream. I scream louder again as he pushes the right, as I listen to my screams echo through the room. Then out of character he says in the most serious tone, “You will be hurt tomorrow, this is far, but will be good. If you train hard like this you will see.”
This pain was the worst I’ve ever felt. I didn’t think I could last more than seconds in this new position. The tension in my legs was so strong that there was an incredibly sharp pain from the force of my muscles and tendons push my heels against the wall. The voice in my head repeatedly said quit quit quit quit, it hurts so bad I can’t last I can’t, but something in me didn’t listen. No matter how loud the voice got, something kept me from giving in. I yelled for the entirety of the stretch, I think from both the pain and to drown out the voice in my head wanting, needing to give up.
I made it, leg muscled intact, untorn, just barely. I pushed past more than one boundary.