Friday, May 3, 2013

Meridian ATA Martial Arts: A Love Story in Fits, Starts, and Parts, continued…

If you’re just tuning in, please start here, or you might wonder what the heck I’m talking about.

So—after my little freak out—and Ms. Strader’s kind and true words about being safe in the ATA family, I sheepishly made my way back to class.  I fully expected everyone to look at me warily and keep their distance, or perhaps whisper about the crazy chick, but my beautiful classmates and instructors acted as if nothing had ever happened. The only awkwardness came from my own self consciousness. I wish I could say it went away completely, but as the class continued to stretch me physically and mentally, I worried.  Could I stay in control if confronted with *something* again?

I found that certain drills and self-defense techniques triggered my panic mode, but I was determined not to lose it again.  My instructors walked me through tough techniques and let me opt out and just watch when I needed to.  I felt like a pansy sometimes a lot all the time.  I wanted to be able to just walk into class and kick butt like everyone else.  Some days, I had to talk myself into going to class, because I’d want to chicken out, or I had convinced myself that people thought I was ridiculous.

But I kept going back, because no matter how pathetic I felt, I was supported and cheered on by my instructors.  I grew especially fond of Mrs. Karen Redmond and her husband, Mr. Steve Redmond. Mrs. Redmond was great at explaining and demonstrating techniques (over and over again because I’m a slow learner!) and she is SO patient and upbeat. Mr. Redmond was exacting and has a dry sense of humor that made me laugh even as he doled out extra jumping jacks or tension kicks to whiners me the class. I also found out that one of the instructors, a venerable man named Mr. Roy Ivey, was connected to my family—he was the childhood friend of one of my uncles, and they still golfed together regularly!


A line up of instructors (l-r): Miss Shaw, Mr. Ivey, Mr. Bullock, Mr. Redmond, Ms. Strader, Mrs. Neitzell, Mr. Neitzell (P.S. I’m seated in front of Mr. Redmond.)

The teen instructor trainees were amazing, too.  Kids as young as 13 or 14 who were in training to become certified instructors were so mature and helpful. It was humbling to have to call a teen “Sir” or “Ma’am” and recognize them as my superior in class.  But the kids took their role as instructor trainees seriously. They always showed courtesy and respect to the class and to each other. I mean, it’s built in to the system, but the feelings and behavior were genuine.  They were patient and enthusiastic and encouraging. And they know their stuff.  Any question I had was answered. Any technique demonstrated.

I learned to loosen up and laugh at myself.  When I was frustrated or discouraged, or had fallen on my butt (a common occurrence), people were there to offer a pep talk, or relate their own failures and shortcomings and how they dealt (or were dealing) with them. Often the stories they told were hilarious and we’d get laughing so hard, we’d cry.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE had a “can-do” attitude. One of the mottoes of the ATA is “Today impossible, tomorrow possible.” Another is “Everything turns out beautiful and perfect.” How can you not love something as optimistic and affirming as this? In fact, the whole philosophy behind the ATA is about growth and possibility and living up to your potential.  Not that growing and living up to one’s potential was ever easy. But, I can tell you that my experience in the Meridian ATA tae kwon do program made me more comfortable with myself—physically and emotionally, and boy, did I gain confidence.

I couldn’t hide anything for very long when regularly practicing tae kwon do (or Krav Maga—but more on that later.)  The physical exertion of martial arts stretches one to one’s physical (and sometimes emotional) limits. Very quickly, I had to accept the fact that I was out of shape, inflexible, and had very little endurance. I mean, I already knew that, intellectually, before I started tae kwon do, but Spanx has no place in martial arts. (It restricts range of motion significantly….not that I would know….I plead the fifth on this one.)  At any rate, it was immediately apparent what I had to work with.  Because it was impossible to fake my abilities, I had to accept what I had and go from there.  This was very freeing.  I was free to work, free to challenge myself, free to actually see improvements bit by bit…going from not being able to do one abdominal crunch when I started, to (months later) busting out full sit-ups like nobody’s business. I lost 20 pounds in three months.

Accepting where I was emotionally was tougher.  I didn’t trust anybody much, and wasn’t willing to “let people in.” I admit, I still struggle with this today (says the gal who posts all her angst on a public blog.  I’m better in writing than in person, it’s just the way it is.) but I’ve come a LONG way in learning how to speak up, set boundaries, be kind, and learn to discern who is trustworthy and who isn’t.


Me and my classmate, Tracy, in 2009.

And what about my kids---the ones who started this whole adventure and led the way for me?  Well, they thrived.  Calvin—who was always previously outshined by Ellen’s stellar little self—came into his own.  He was good at tae kwon do. He was regularly given leadership opportunities and he gained confidence and a sense of humor (there’s a pattern here, you know.) Ellen, who had previously never struggled with ANYTHING and thereby got complacent and even a little lazy, found that she had to WORK---and it agreed with her.  She was able to see her own progress, and learn how to deal positively with disappointment and failure, and how to set and achieve goals.  She also gained confidence and learned how to handle her nerves.  Gloria just loves using her body, moving around, showing off trying new things. When Blythe got old enough, we enrolled him as well---an adventure, which Mr. and Mrs. Neitzell and the other instructors have borne with grace (and the use of Spider Man and Avengers stickers to encourage Blythe to behave.)


Mr. and Mrs. Neitzell with the kids in 2008.


Blythe.  The pose says it all.

Our instructors have been more than just teachers in a class a couple times a week.  They have helped me back up parenting decisions and my value system by adding another layer of accountability for my kids.  They check in on the kids’ behavior and chores. They encourage the kids to practice respect, courtesy, kindness, and positive attitude—and they do it in the best way—by example!

My Meridian ATA family rocks.  (I’ve had a blast looking for pictures for this post—there are gazillions and they all bring back fond memories.) Stay tuned, because I’m still not done (with the story or the photos.) Telling my story here reminds me how blessed I’ve been to have these people and this organization in my life. They are my home.

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