Thursday has turned into the day of pain. It’s the day that I just flirt with my staff and actually date the forms and techniques that can break my body. It has to happen sometime; it has to happen regularly, actually. If it doesn’t I won’t be able to do some of the things a black sash is expected to do, and that’s unacceptable.
I’ve been there before, as a matter of fact. I spent most of 2013 unable, at first, to do a decent kicking combination, then, unable to do one at all. The kicking combination is the red sash testing kicking; i.e., it’s the series of kicks that has to be done very well in order to be promoted to black sash. The humiliation of being unable to do it anymore was more painful than landing on a foot supported by a knee that’s been under the knife four times.
No. That’s a hyperbolic inaccuracy; otherwise, I would have simply kept doing the kicking combinations to avoid the embarrassment. But I truly couldn’t. That’s how much it hurt to land from a jump that’s supposed to be at least a yard off the ground. And let’s face it: a yard’s not that high in the kung fu world.
The cortisone shot in my lower back almost three weeks ago has returned my ability to do a kicking combination. The ones I did tonight were not very high, and they still hurt my back and knees to land, but I could execute the move, and so I did. I did it and the subsequent difficult moves of the Lian Huan Tui form – spinning inside and outside crescent kicks, followed by a tornado kick, a side kick, forward and backward sweeps, a back kick and a final tornado kick, all in quick succession with just one pause – until taking a simple step made my back hurt. And right after I gave my twelve-year-old a nod of agreement on her observation that I should probably stop for the night, I remembered something crucial to my martial arts training, a fact that I couldn’t have earned my black sash without embracing: fear of pain is more restrictive than the pain itself.
I remember in the early months of my black sash testing (which weren’t long after my last knee operation) having to repeatedly tell myself not to be afraid each and every time I jumped into a mid-air horse stance in the 12 Kicks form and had to land. The landing continued to hurt for a while; but I’ve had two children and been tattooed several times. Everything is relative. The more I just went through the pain instead of trying to avoid it, the more relaxed my body became – and the less it hurt. It didn’t take that long for me not to need the internal, pre-jump pep talk.
I don’t know why I remembered that tonight, a memory that’s fifteen or sixteen months old, but I’m glad I did. It made me decide to keep going until I was satisfied that progress had been made with at least one thing that needed to be fixed. I only did another half dozen repetitions of the kicking combination, but I did another dozen or so reps of all that follows the combo and even tacked on the ending of the form for good measure. I don’t know where in that process my back pain turned into little more than a dull ache, but it did. And more importantly, half of that killer list of kicks looked better when I walked out of the building than when I began.
Walking up and down my stairs after sitting through the twenty-five minute car ride home is as unpleasant as it always is. But tonight, the fact that Thursday is a guaranteed day of pain comes with one helluva smile.