By Bruce Dean, 1st dan
I turned 51 last September. And I don’t necessarily notice too much, except maybe when my knee aches. Or better yet when I am attending a Moo Sul Kwan expo or symposium and we are asked to line up by age. And while maybe a few years ago I might not have wondered what benefit could be had from adult martial arts classes, these days that question has become more pressing. This is especially so after a near miss last fall with an infection in my right knee. And then, of course, there are those who do not understand what The Colorado Taekwondo Institute, and Moo Sul Kwan, mean to me. These are some of the same people who suggest that maybe water aerobics would be a better choice for physical fitness. I guess those people really don’t know me very well. Let me try to explain...
As I was part way through my commute this morning I heard an excerpt of a speech given by a former pro football player who had recently succumbed to cancer. In the speech he said that winning over cancer is not about whether you live or die. Rather, victory was in how you live your life and whether – in a battle, as a warrior – you let cancer defeat you, beat you down, take from you your love and your hope, and leave you broken and beaten. This really struck a nerve for me. Going on three years ago my father in law passed away with the unwelcome assistance of pancreatic cancer. And while this horrible disease robbed him of his health and his strength and his rugged good looks, it did not defeat him. The last time I saw him in this world he still had the same faith, the same positive outlook, and the same strength of character that I had always known him to have. And while the disease stole his life from him and from us – far too soon – it did not defeat him. There was never surrender. He was a warrior until the very end.
And compared to metastasized pancreatic cancer, my trifles with a bit of titanium in the lateral compartment of my right knee are insignificant. Yet, one must answer for one’s self why or what is the appeal of martial arts classes for adults. I think that anyone who walks through the door of a dojang and ties on that first white belt has shown a warrior’s spirit. They have entered battle with intent to persevere to whatever goal brought them into that room “behind the glass”. And while most will never know what it feels like when the six hour lesson at Snow Mountain Ranch is over – and weeks later your first black belt is presented – I think that those few who manage to overcome and to persevere might inspire others to come. And I still remember my day of perseverance on in June of last year. One of the best things I remember was in the middle of the test, while working out, Grandmaster Sautel asked me in front of the entire room, “Bruce, how old are you?” I answered (I was 50 at the time) and continued paying attention and doing my best for the rest of the day. It occurred to me later that perhaps he had asked the question for the benefit of the young teenagers in my test class – that maybe at that moment they were in need of some inspiration – that maybe if that old guy with the knee brace could do it then maybe the 14 and 15 year olds could do it too.
But it was never my intention to be an inspiration. And that is not why I participate in adult martial arts classes or what I personally derive from that participation. But you might be able to tell the most important parts from some of these words I have written. I am a warrior – as are all of us in Moo Sul Kwan. My battle is with age and physical decay. And while for all eons this is a fact accepted beyond question, there seem to be real exceptions. Two Moo Sul Kwan national conventions ago I did 400 chops BEFORE my particular class started warming up. And those chops were lead by Great Grandmaster Bong Yul Shin who is somewhere north of 70 years old. And those 400 chops he lead for my class were on top of the however many hundreds he had lead for the classes before. Talk about an inspiration. But one of the things I totally got from that day is that the best way to prevent the physical decay is to take care of your body, while pushing it to never let the decay set in. Maybe many years ago when I was sixty pounds heavier that would have been a good realization. But as it is now, my intent with the next many years of classes at the Colorado Taekwondo Institute is to reject decay. My intent is to embrace fitness – both physical and mental. My intent is to stay young by being a warrior – by fighting for health and rejecting the slow descent into old age. And my battlefield will be the dojang. And my fellow soldiers are my fellow students. And death will eventually steal all of our lives from us. By I will fight to never be defeated. So do martial arts classes for adults let us cheat death and old age? No, I think not. But if any of us are only as young as we feel, then it is good to feel young and very alive when your class is over.