Disclaimer: I almost didn’t post this. After I wrote it, it seemed the very fact that I wrote it was not an act of humility so I kept it privatized. Karmen, after her read this morning, very strongly encouraged me to put it out for general viewing. I am doing it solely at her prodding.
I have an interesting experience that is ongoing. One of the things it is teaching me is a bit about humility. I like to call it appropriately humiliating. It is not one of those hit you hard and leave you lying in a mess kind of humility lessons. It is a gentle ongoing lesson in being appropriately humbled. Now for the story.
My youngest son has wanted to try TaeKwonDo for several years. But he has a problem with being easily embarrassed so getting out in front of people all while doing kicks and punches has been intimidating. At one point a few years back we signed him up for a $15 class at our local YMCA. Karmen and I watched as he stood against the wall for the entire class refusing to participate. It was then and continues to be interesting to me that he was so afraid of being embarrassed that he tried to protect himself from that embarrassment by doing something which looked more ridiculous than actually participating in the activities that everyone else was doing. How often, I wonder, do we behave in that same way? We all do it. How often has my standing at the edge of a crowd, refusing to get involved in the conversation, been the same exact thing? How many times? But that is probably for another post.
So we waited a couple more years, and his interest in TKD stayed intact. My oldest son started football this year, but my youngest had to sit out until he is old enough. So we tried TKD again, this time at a local TKD academy that had a good reputation. On that first night, knowing that there would be some trauma to work through for this little guy who has a tendency to be embarrassed, we showed up early. One of the instructors took him out into the gym to begin explaining the basics. Sure enough, there he stood crying. He and I had talked about this beforehand and that I would not rescue him, that he was going to do this thing. The head TKD Master stepped in, gently prodded him along, and he completed that first hour long class like a champion. I was so proud of him. Now, 5 months later, he is a yellow belt and will be testing for his orange next month.
The first Wednesday of each month at our particular gym is “Bring a Buddy Night,’ and, of course, Jace wanted me to come along so I did. It was really very enjoyable for me. Unlike any athletic thing I had ever done. Jace wanted me to sign up and do it with him. After considering the benefits it would give me to my triathlon training (mainly core strength and flexibility, two things I was looking to improve at this season) and the fact that Jace and I would be doing it together, I decided to sign on after Jack’s football season ended. So I did. And it has been a great. Jace and I are having a blast.
Here is where it gets interesting for me. Tonight, I test for my yellow belt. And I find that I’m excited about it. A lot of friends and family come for all the testers. There will be people testing for nearly all the belt levels so the crowd could be rather large. It will be a good time. So in my little group of fellow white belts testing for their yellow are a girl who is in Jace’s 3rd grade class at school, a boy who is in the 5th grade, and another girl who is about 15 years old, and then me, 40 year old dude. We have developed a bit of a bond, high-fiving each other when our roundhouse kicks deliver a bit of power, helping each other up when we fall or fail. We usually end up working in our same group each class because we all started about the same time and are on the same testing schedule, working on the same forms and kicks and punches.
In the entire class of which I am a part there is one other adult male. He has a son who is 16 or 17 who is also in the class. Everyone else is early teens or younger with most being in the 5 year old to 11 year old range. To begin each class we line up in order of rank. Almost all of those 5 to 11 year old’s out rank me so me and my little group are always near the back of the class. The other adult is testing for his blue belt tomorrow so I am at the bottom as the lone adult.
I have realized over the past few weeks that this experience has been appropriately and gently humbling. I have graduated from college, graduated from medical school, graduated from post-graduate residency training, passed my medical board certification and re certification, lectured in national and state level medical meetings, delivered 1,000 or so babies, performed 500 or so colonoscopies, performed 500 or so EGD’s, managed managed critically ill ICU patients on a regular basis, am a full time teaching faculty member at a residency program, have full physician privileges at three hospitals, played college basketball on scholarship, finished an Ironman triathlon without any outside coaching and am in training for my 2nd, finished several Half-Ironman triathlons and am in training for two more, finished the Pikes Peak Marathon, climbed several 13,000 and 14,000 peaks in Colorado (one in blizzard conditions), backpacked in and out of the Grand Canyon, surfed in California, played basketball in Europe, won a George Brett scramble golf tournament and shook Mr. Brett’s hand at the awards banquet, played a few small rock concerts, and best of all married a beautiful woman, inside and out, who teaches me how to be a better human being on a daily basis. I know listing all those things is not a measure of humility in and of itself, but it is pertinent to what I have experienced in TKD.
All of those things don’t matter for a second in my TKD class, especially tonight. I am still a beginner right along side my little group, and I am outranked by large numbers of children. I am at the same skill level as my little group of four. We will be doing the same test forms and kicks and punches as a group tonight in front of all those people. And rather than feeling embarrassed and like I ought to be considered differently than them because they are kids and I am some big shot adult, I am actually honored and humbled to be doing it with my little friends. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is the way it should be, and it is appropriately and gently humbling. We will succeed together.
I have traditionally thought that most humbling experiences were of the harsh slap you up side the head and leave you crying in a heap type. But I have learned through this TKD experience that keeping myself open and honest to what is before me and the situations in which I find myself can actually teach me humility without the agony. There are a lot of lessons to be learned out there, and I don’t know that any of us are ever finished, certainly not when it comes to learning more about humility. I for one hope that I never consider myself finished. The learning is what is important, not so much the result.