Thursday, July 2, 2015

Where have all the old folks gone?

I'm writing this on the eve of the USA Taekwondo National Championships, one of the highlights of the competition calendar.  This year's event, which will host something on the order of 6,000 athletes of all ages, is being held in Austin, Texas, next week.  If you find yourself in town, plan to buy a ticket and check out some amazing talent.
   The talent in the older age divisions, I'm sad to say, will be in rather short supply.  Even though USAT offers age-specific poomsae [forms] competition for athletes of all ranks -- right on up to the 4th Master Division, for ages 66+ -- the number of seniors participating in this year's event is disappointing.
   The good news is that, yes, there are some older colored belts, yellow through red, participating.  This means that more seniors are taking up Taekwondo later in life and will eventually be competing in the World Class black belt divisions.  The bad news, though, is that seniors who already hold black belts seem to be disappearing from the competition trail.
    Taekwondo is not just for the young.  In fact, in many ways Taekwondo is better suited to the old.  Although Taekwondo certainly holds its own as a major competitive sport with an international following, it is more than anything a way of life.  It is a way of uniting mind, body, and spirit in a positive, meaningful, and life-enriching search for one's genuine self.  And its challenges and rewards remain active in your life long after your athletic capabilities have peaked.
   So this month's post is a plea.  If you hold a black belt but are no longer training, get back in the game.  And if you have never studied Taekwondo, visit a local school and take the first step toward a fulfilling lifelong enterprise.
   Now if you happen to be one of the few senior black belts participating in this year's USA Taekwondo National Championships, here's an interesting and instructive true story.  At a recent tournament I was, as is often the case, one of the few 66+ competitors, and because of that each of us was guaranteed a medal.  We just didn't know what color.  While waiting to perform, I overheard the parent of a teenage competitor say, "See how easy it is to get a medal?  Just compete in the 66-and-over group."
   Easy?  Well let's think about that.  It's certainly true that a 16-year-old competitor faces a greater number of challengers than someone who's 66.  But will that 16-year-old still be training half a century from now?  Will he or she still be competing?  Probably not.  Getting older happens automatically, but remaining fit enough to train and compete when you're closing in on 70 represents decades of challenges that have been overcome successfully.  Things like raising a family, holding a job, and overcoming health issues all work against the senior athlete, so there's nothing at all easy about being one of those few "old guys" who competes for a medal.
   If you're still competing at 60, 65, 70, or beyond, you have earned whatever medal you may receive, regardless of how many others stepped onto the mat with you.  Thousands of others could have competed . . . but didn't.  That makes you a champion, with or without a gold medal.
   Good luck, and good training.  Taekwondo for life!

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Many thanks for sharing your comments with Seniors in the Martial Arts. Best wishes for continued success with your training.