I suppose there’s something about thirty, over twenty, that makes it stand out more. Perhaps it’s the simple fact that it’s ten more. Maybe things were different at twenty. Things were less busy, more hopeful, and there was a greater willingness to delude oneself.
I’m talking about years, of course, and I’m doing so because the other day it dawned on me that this year, 2015, marks my thirtieth anniversary of living in the United States and also my thirtieth year as a Taekwondo student. For me, these two things will forever go hand-in-hand. They are and will always be connected; two halves of the same whole, separate yet intrinsically one.
I started martial arts, formal training, back home in Hong Kong when I was sixteen. I studied Shotokan Karate. A month or so later, I was flying to the United States where I was going to live. I knew that was the plan but it was like a dream; surreal that I was actually going to live in the place I’d only visited once before and seen numerous times in film and television. It’s not like I wasn’t excited but I also didn’t – and honestly still don’t – know why we were making the move to begin with. Martial Arts was very much in my mind and heart at the time – and it still is - so it was natural that I wanted to continue my training. I couldn’t find a Shotokan dojo (Japanese martial art school) so I enrolled in a Koeikan Karate school. At the same time, I enrolled in a Taekwondo dojang (Korean martial arts school) and, shortly thereafter, I left the Koeikan dojo and made Taekwondo my main art. (To varying depths, since then, I’ve gotten my feet wet with Escrima, Judo, Hapkido and Gung Fu.)
My involvement in Taekwondo was partially motivated by the fact that my school In Hong Kong had (might still have) a Taekwondo club and I was supposed to go back to Hong Kong, after securing US citizenship, to finish my secondary education and I would join the school club to continue my training. I never did. So, in some ways, unbeknownst to be at the time, I think martial arts – in particular Taekwondo – has served as a connection to home.
All of this reminiscing –pining for the carefree days of youth even – comes at a time when I say goodbye to the first half of my forties and hello to the part that’s closer to fifty. Tomorrow, on Janury 31st, I turn forty-six. Last weekend, on the radio, it was one of those ‘Best of the 80s’ weekends and the 1980s was my generation. I caught song after song that were hits when I left Hong Kong and when I was slowly learning how to live in America. Last Sunday, I came across a YouTube clip of Jim Diamond’s “Should’ve Known Better” which was one of my favourite songs as a kid. Shoot, it may be one of my favourite songs ever. Naturally, the bandwidth of my nostalgia radar has been on high since.
As I look to forty-six, there are definite thoughts that come to mind. I think of how there are likely less years ahead of me than I’ve already left behind. I think of how the time I have to make a success of myself is diminishing and how the energy I have to do so is also waning. The desire is not however but, in some ways, I wish it were too. Then I could just give in to where I am and who I am and not worry about trying to better myself for my sake, my son’s sake and my family’s sake. But that’s me. I can’t. I have to forge on because of the ‘what if’ factor. I’ll never know if I don’t try, right? More importantly, I’m a martial artist. We train for technique and self-defense and competition and discipline but, ultimately, we train to battle the most difficult enemy of all – ourselves. In Taekwondo, in particular, we have ‘Mental Training.’ It’s a kind of Ten Commandments; a code of conduct for our inner and outer lives. Since the first day I took class I’ve tried to live by that code. Number Ten is ‘Always finish what you start.’ So, whatever it is – my dream to be my son’s Taekwondo instructor, my drive to become a working writer, my need to leave some kind of legacy for my son, my attempts to regain my fitness – I will finish what I start. Whether I get there or not is another matter altogether because it is in the journey that we gather wisdom and as the Zen saying goes, it’s “process, not product” that matters.
My actual Taekwondo anniversary doesn’t happen until October. My anniversary of coming to the United States isn’t until July. But, my birthday is tomorrow and when 7:30am Manila time hits, I will be forty-six and when that happens I will male a vow to leave the best legacy for my son that I can – that I finish what I start and I never give up.