Picking up the Gun



Twenty years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I took a couple of quarters of Taekwondo to satisfy a P.E. requirement. When it was time to test for my yellow belt, I refused. This is the story of why I turned away from martial arts then, and why I'm trying not to turn away from it now.


Power makes me uneasy, especially if I'm the one who has it. The physical realm isn't the one I'm usually worried about: I've never been in a fight, and since I got to be 12 or so I've only hit another person in anger three times (two slaps and a knife-hand to the solar plexus, if anyone's counting). I have a really bad temper, but my usual response to losing it is either to get very verbal or to throw something at a wall (I put holes in the walls of the first three places we lived after we married). For the most part, no matter how angry I get with another able-bodied adult, they've been pretty safe from me.


That's about to change, and it worries me.


When I was 4 years old, a female relative who was visiting our house put her purse on top of the refrigerator. This made me curious. I pushed a kitchen chair over to the stove, climbed up on the chair, then on the stove, and got the purse. It had a loaded gun in it. Assuming that it was a toy gun, I carried it into the living room where most of the family were gathered, said "Bang!" and fired. The bullet narrowly missed hitting my brother in the head.


Nobody was hurt but me (the recoil knocked me over backwards and I bit my tongue), but I think this was when fear became my basic approach to life. I've had a tendency to undermine myself, keep myself out of positions of responsibility, sabotage my potential successes. I think I'm trying to keep from picking that gun up again. And I think I need to pick it up anyway.


I'm 40 years old now, and physically I'm looking at a long downhill slope. Paradoxically, the thing that's made me confront my fear is another fear: I don't want to end up like my mother. She's 84 and her life consists mainly in watching TV, going shopping, and waiting to die. She gets no exercise, eats poorly, has little or no interest in any activity, and sees almost nobody outside the family. I don't want to turn into her. This means I have to get strong and stay strong as long as I can, physically and emotionally.


I love what taekwondo is doing for my body. I love having some endurance for the first time since I was a teenager. I love the boost it's given my confidence and the way it's teaching me to keep going long after I feel like quitting.


I do not love the thought that I can hurt people. Every time we do hoshin sool I have flashes of terror that someday a perfectly innocent person will startle me and get hurt. Yes, that's pretty laughable coming from a short middle-aged 7th gup with no upper body strength--but every few months it gets a little less laughable.


I need the discipline and conditioning I'm getting from taekwondo. I need to be doing this right now along with the rest of the family. I need to prove to myself, over and over, that I'm not my mother, that I'm not going to turn into my mother. Apparently the cost of fulfilling those needs is that I must become someone capable of doing genuine physical harm to another.


I have to pick up the gun again. I have to live with my fear, and if the fear gets stronger right along with me, I can consider that a price worth paying for my lessons.


--LFR 05/06/02