Don't mess with Momma!
| It has only gradually occurred to me that I am middle-aged. I don’t really believe it, you see. It seems impossible that I have lived half a century; however, my body is beginning to convince me. I never have been much of an athlete, and things like falling down have an unpleasant connotation in my mind.
So when my younger friend (the one born the year I graduated from high school) said, “Hey! Let’s join that new women’s martial arts class!” I laughed.
“No, I really think we should,” she insisted. “It will be so good for your body and a great stress reliever. Just commit to three months. You’ll love it!”
First I said, “No, thanks.” Then I said, “I don’t think so.” And lastly I said, “Alright, I’ll try it once.” My friend is the persuasive type.
On the way to our first session, I had somehow committed myself to a month’s worth of lessons through September. My teacher was a friendly Hawaiian man about my age, with a crinkily smile. Sifu Ron. He wore a jacket with some Chinese characters down the front. When we asked what it said, he responded, “Tai Chi Chuan Fa. The Supreme Ultimate Way of the Fist.”
“Oh,” I said. That’s me, for sure. A member of the Way of the Fist.
He tried to teach me to fall down correctly. Each of us had to learn five ways to attack and take someone down to the ground, in order to get our first belt in June; a white belt. This necessitated that their partner actually fall down, rather than curl up in a ball clinging desperately to their opponent’s middle. I just couldn’t seem to let go. My younger friend would get kind of hot about it.
“You have to fall, Gail. You can’t just grab me and hold on.”
That’s all you know about it, I would think. Your bones aren’t going to come to pieces any minute now.
Gradually, however, I learned all the other skills. I could do an outward block, and an inward block and the strikes, snake and dragon, which go with each. I learned to follow along in the choreographed forms that show these skills to music. This is the Tai Chi part; slow, intense practice of moves to be used later in fighting. Next we practiced defensive and offensive moves; the Chuan Fa (Kung Fu). I even learned ten ways to get away from a grab attack and five ways to knock somebody down, but I just could not fall!
In the meantime, somehow it was Christmas. I had already passed the one-month mark a while ago.
“What do you think about Tai Chi?” asked my friend as we nibbled reindeer cookies. “Are you going to continue?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “I like it. I like learning all these new things and feeling like my body can perform tasks I never thought it could.”
“Good,” said my friend. “But you’re going to have to learn to fall before our belt test.”
So that’s what I worked on. Over and over, I tried to let go. After awhile, I was only grabbing my partner’s knees instead of their waist. Then came the day when I could get all the way to the ground by myself. A landmark!
A year later I was taking a walk in the neighborhood. Lost in thought, I tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and down I went. Up I bounced, and went on with my walk. A few minutes later, it hit me. I’d fallen—on concrete—and it didn’t even shake me up. Here I was walking along like nothing had happened, except kind of enjoying the bounce.
Right now I’m a brown belt, six years out from that one-month commitment. I know twenty ways to take someone down, and can fall for each of them, too. I am a Middle-Aged Martial Artist!