I do a ridiculous amount of exercise. I don’t say that to brag (well, maybe a little), but like a lot of people, my standards lag quite a lot behind my behaviour, and by the standards I had five years ago, I do a ridiculous amount of exercise.
Back then, I did absolutely no exercise at all, and certainly nothing resembling sport. I had a couple of stints of going to the gym, but they never lasted very long and never amounted to anything. From my childhood right up until I started kickboxing, I could never find a form of exercise that I actually enjoyed.
These days, I spend six hours in the dojo every week, and all of that time is spentshuffling around, punching and kicking, with a couple of breaks for stretching.
Quite frankly, it’s exhausting. I get there before six and by the time I get home again it’s after ten and I struggle to find the energy to shower and go to bed.
Even so, it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve learnt so much. I want to share some of these with you.
Perhaps the biggest thing is the power of hard work applied over time. Each session in the dojo is hard work, and there are plenty of times when there’s a technique that I can’t figure out, or a fighter who I can’t seem to touch, or I’m frustrated by how slow I am or how low my kicks are. But over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that I can overcome all of these things simply by trying over and over.
This might sound a trite lesson, but it was pretty profound for me. Until I started kickboxing, most things I tried either came easily to me or were things that I gave up quickly (see gym above). Kickboxing was the first thing that was difficult from the get go that I’ve stuck with. As such, it’s become my own personal illustration of the value of hard work.
The mental thing
Secondly, I’ve learnt that ability in exercise is, to a surprising degree, psychological. I used to hear football players and Olympians on the telly talk about how it was all a mental game and how they needed to focus and get their head right and I used to think that they actually had no idea what they are talking about. Chess is a mental game, programming requires focus, but swimming laps is not “all in the mind”. If it were, why would they need such big shoulders?
Now I’m sorry for being so arrogant. I’ve been physically exhausted, being tired, hungry and thirsty with flat feet and leaden limbs and nothing left to give at the end of hours of non-stop exercise, but then, as our instructor started to cheer us on for the final ten calls, felt energy come back and start to punch fast and kick high again. Where does that come from?
As the last couple of sections illustrate, many of the cliches that are repeated constantly by folk who exercise now have actual content for me. That’s pretty cool, because it means that there are great sections of people’s lives that I’m able to connect with in a way that I couldn’t before.
I hope also that it’s humbling. In the past, I was a bit dismissive of sport and the like, discounting it as something not worth bothering with. Now, at least in the form of kickboxing, it’s an important part of my life. How many other rich, interesting, rewarding things are going on in the lives of others that I’m ignoring, that I can’t even begin to connect to?
You can’t outrun your fork. Well, maybe you can, but I certainly can’t. I can exercise a lot and be quite fit cardiovascularly, but still put on weight by eating too much crappy food.
For the first time in my life, after years of being a klutz and feeling overweight, I feel some degree of mastery over my own body. I’ve got so much to learn, and so much to correct, but there are times when I actually feel skillful, and have the same pleasure in the working of my body that I do when I’m programming and “in the zone”.
For any other late-comers to exercise out there, does this chime with your experience? Have you learned different things?
For life-long jocks, what have you struggled to communicate to lazy slobs like me?