I just threw away all of my Tae Kwon Do belts and the first place medal that I’d earned in the last tournament in which I fought in 2004.
When I was 11-years-old, we moved from Houston to Cat Spring. And I was absolutely lost. I went from the suburbs to 35 acres in the country. I had no friends. I’d never moved in my formative years, and these were important years. I went from a class of over 500 kids to a class of 80. We’re talking rural, “Friday night lights” kind of town where everyone knows everyone, outsiders were slow to be welcomed, and, I was a city kid trying to figure out life.
I’m an only child of my parents. My dad had two daughters from a previous marriage. My mom had two sons from a previous marriage. Dad was done having kids. Mom wanted a daughter. Dad relented. He got a son. Mom didn’t get a daughter. But my parents loved me unconditionally.
We moved away from Houston because my dad was a country boy. He’d made it big as a sales representative for a food brokerage company in Big Houston. He’d done that job for years and became a vice president. He bought weekend land in Cat Spring and eventually we’d move out there because Dad wanted to slow down and he was sick of our suburb homeowner’s association.
I started the 6th grade at Bellville Junior High. Again, I was a big city kid and I was thrust into the “boonies.” To say I was nervous would be an understatement. But I adapted quickly and latched on to anyone that would be my friend. School and social life were very sports-oriented. Since Dad had a son now, I found it as my obligation to play football since he nudged me, and he really liked watching the Oilers. So, I jumped into the local pastime and played football (poorly) in middle school. I think I might’ve also ran track and played basketball.
I sucked at sports. I didn’t like not being good at ball sports. I didn’t like that all of my peers talked about nothing other than sports. And I didn’t like being told what to do.
But I kept being active in sports when I got into high school. Football in high school was different. It was harder. We started two-a-days in Summer when I’d rather be hanging out with friends, or just enjoying not being at school. Shortly into summer football practice I busted my ass. Literally. We were doing some kind of ground drills that required us to spin laterally while on the ground, and I landed in such a way, directly onto my ass that caused a hairline fracture in my tailbone. The X-rays proved as much. I was out for my freshman football season. Not that I was going to get to play anyway because I was 5′ 9″ and probably weighed 120-pounds.
Around that time, Gus moved to Bellville and opened a Tae Kwon Do studio. When I was a Houston Kid, I loved watching movies. I loved Sho Kosugi, Bruce Lee, the Karate Kid, and anything ninja-related. Martial arts was the coolest thing in the world for me. I’d taken a Karate when I was six or seven because my mom was good about getting me involved in things, but this suburb class required sit-ups and a 6-year-old can do a sit-up about as well as he or she can explain the Pythagorean Theorem. So I didn’t do well at Karate.
When Gus moved into town, I knew, immediately, that I wanted to try Tae Kwon Do. It just made sense. I didn’t really know what Tae Kwon Do was, but I knew it was a martial art, and when you’re in a town of 2,000 people, you take what you can get.
So Mom and I went and met Gus one weekend morning. He hadn’t even opened for business yet. He was rebuilding the old 500-square-foot pier and beam church that he’d bought to turn into a studio. I’m pretty sure I was his first student. He asked me if I wanted to help him. I immediately thought of him as my Mr. Miyagi and quickly agreed. This guy was going to give me life lessons by means of manual labor that would turn me into a ninja that will need to have my hands and legs registered as lethal weapons.
He had me spackling walls because he needed help finishing his Tae Kwon Do studio. I’m bad ball sports. I’m equally bad at spackling.
Gus taught me Tae Kwon Do. He taught many Tae Kwon Do. I went to class every Tuesday and Thursday night. After 6 months or so, I earned two yellow stripes on my white belt. I had to learn some basic kicking, punching and blocking techniques to earn those stripes. However, after earning those yellow stripes, we were now allowed to spar. Sparring is controlled fighting, employing the aforementioned techniques. When I strapped on those pads, I had an ear-to-ear grin. I will never forget that moment.
And I loved to fight. We still had to do those “techniques” (we called them patterns) to prove that we were learning Tae Kwon do in order to move up in belt colors. I begrudgingly learned them, but all I wanted to do was fight. If I didn’t win first in a tournament, I would be angry. I was a fighter.
And that’s when I learned something about myself. I wasn’t a team sports person. I could play as best and as hard as I could, but someone else on the team could be having a bad day, or make an honest mistake. And our team would lose. When I fought, it was just me. It was all of my training and all of my heart. I never wanted to lose, and that was all on me. There were countless times that I was intimidated beyond my imagination, but I had no one to fall back on. So, I gave it absolutely everything that I had, and invariably that would pay off. I fought my ass off and I absolutely loved it.
I earned a lot of gaudy trophies from fighting in Tae Kwon Do tournaments. I decided to throw those away when Mom finally moved from the 35 acres.
After I’d moved to Austin and taken a hiatus from Tae Kwon Do for many years, I decided to get back into it. I found a studio in Lakeway and earned my second-degree blackbelt. And I felt good enough to compete again. So I went back to the homeland and fought, as an old(er) guy, in my 30’s, in the adult division, which is males 18+. And I won 1st place.
And that’s when I retired.
Since then, I’ve held onto all of my belts, medals and trophies from when I was 13-years-old.
Tonight I threw them away. That was me from a long time ago. And those experiences very much played a part in figuring out who I was back then. And those experiences and memories remind me of who I am today. I’m an individual sport and self-reliant kind of guy. I’m not discounting team sports. It’s just not my thing. I like to fight and push hard and drive myself to the results that I want and need.
Throwing those belts away tonight was really, really hard. But they served their purpose. They’re just things. They represent the past. And they’re very much a part of who I am today, but I don’t need to hold onto them. I’ll keep them in my heart. Since the tangible are gone, now they occupy a larger part in my heart, and that’s where they need to be.