But I’ve Been Smiling All Day Long

I sat for half an hour staring at the blank email response. In the end, I wrote little more than ‘thank you’. Thank you is often a perfectly fine response and I’m sure the receiver of the message wasn’t expecting much more than a thank you, if he was even expecting words of gratitude at all.

You see, when I was around twelve my parents decided to enroll my younger brother in Karate classes. They found a school close by and as siblings often get, I was quite jealous. I had always found martial arts fascinating but never thought that I would get the chance. My younger brother was there only a few weeks before I finally joined.

I loved it. I’m sure my parents were surprised when I stuck with it. I was one of those kids who tried something only to quit a few weeks later. By that time, I had tried ballet, a couple other forms of dance that were over so quick I don’t even remember what kinds they were, and volleyball. I think the latter overlapped somewhat with Karate.

Eventually, I didn’t care about dance or any other sports. The only thing I wanted to do was martial arts. While I didn’t care too much about the belt system (I wasn’t entirely competitive), I loved going to the classes and sparring nights. We went to tournaments. We did kick-a-thons for charity. The beginning work-out at the beginning of every class was brutal but SO worth it by the end. My favorite area was self-defense and it was also my strongest. I was woeful when it came to katas. It took endless repetitions and demonstrations before I would figure them out. It was always worth it in the end (well okay, maybe except for one of them). I always left happier than when I came in and as most of those years I was a moody high school student, that’s a really great feat. Even the things that weren’t my favorite, I still loved. Even the things I was terrible at (ever heard of ground fighting?), I still loved.

For five years, I was quite active in Karate. There were times when I had less time to dedicate to it, but I never saw a point in which I wouldn’t attend lessons. I always had dreams of going to my black belt test. The test looked terrifying! But I knew that I would get there one day and that there was no rush. At the end of my fifth year at the studio, I was getting ready to go to college and my anxiety (and thus my OCD) was beginning to rear its ugly head. At the time, I had not recognized the anxiety for what it was; all I knew was that there was fear and I thought it would be better if I only focused on necessities. And that’s what I did. I stopped going to Karate. I promised myself that I would do it later. I would go back. I went to college, worked part-time, and developed full-blown OCD over the next two years. There was no room for martial arts. And then I transferred schools and I decided when I was done with college I would go back.

And then, on what was supposed to be my last full year, I became a gimp.

And still I promised myself I would go back.

I wasn’t certain if I could attend the same place or not, so I began looking for disabled martial arts places that were equipped and used to working with disabled students. I learned that if I wanted to join any of those places I would have to move out of state. So for awhile, I put it out of my mind. It wasn’t giving up even though a small part of my brain screamed loudly that I was most definitely giving up.

Recently, I’ve been working on managing my OCD again. It got rather out of control due to finishing college and moving out and beginning a whole new life. I decided the other day to look into Tai Chi, as there’s a center close to where I lived. And while I was looking online I remembered that one of the black belts learned Tai Chi from the very same center. I became curious about whether or not he taught classes there so I did a bit of Googling (some people call it cyberstalking) and I learned that he opened his own martial arts studio where he teaches both Tai Chi and Karate. And from the testimonials on the site, there were people who took classes while having arthritis and Parkinsons.

I tried very hard not to get too hopeful, but I immediately sent an email telling him who I was, that I was a wheelchair-user now, and that while I could stand, it was not for very long and I sucked at it and if the curriculum could be modified for me. It was one of the hardest emails I’ve ever sent. And although the reply came the very next day (today, in fact), the wait seemed agonizing. I worried over how he would let me down, or that he would just never reply, or that he would say that he could which would change everything.

It wasn’t a very long email, but I think it’s one of my favorite emails I’ve ever received, and I daresay, it beats the email with the picture of Darth Vader reading Harry Potter. When I read the sentence that said that there were no adult Karate classes as of yet but when he implemented them he would certainly modify the curriculum for me, I was thrilled. I ended up pausing on the sentence and re-reading it multiple times to make sure it said what I thought it said.

Finally, I continued reading the rest of the email where he added that he did have a beginners Tai Chi class beginning at the end of February and it was designed to be done sitting or standing.

I nearly cried.

To most people, this wouldn’t seem like much. The ability to take any sort of exercise class is really taken for granted, with usually the only problem being the money or the scheduling. But when it comes to disabilities, you wonder if you’ll be allowed. You wonder if the instructor is willing to adapt the program for you. You wonder if they’ll make up a reason as to why you can’t be in their class. I don’t like being a non-active person. I never have. I love my TV, but I need physical activity. And a lot of people, just don’t think that I can be an active person.

It’s not that I can’t be active. It’s that I’m not given the chance.

But this time? I am. I get the chance. Sure, Tai Chi is not the same as Karate, but I also get the chance at Karate again once the classes are implemented.

I cannot describe how this makes me feel. “Thank you” seems far too small. Logically, I know that “thank you” is a proper amount of gratitude. But when you’ve been missing something that you love for five years, and spending two of those years somewhat uncertain if you’ll ever get the chance again, it’s like…

I have no words.

None.

But I have been smiling all day long.

My original Karate instructor once pointed to me and my brother and mentioned that he had a feeling that we would stick with Karate for a very long time.

Well guess what? I’m sticking with it. I’m coming back.

Thank you, is an inadequate description. But it’s the only one I have.

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3 Responses to But I’ve Been Smiling All Day Long

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