We all know the story. Someone trains in the martial arts as a kid, and then they fall out of it after a while for varying reasons. Lack of interest, teenage angst, moving, family issues, financial issues, college, injury, or any other reason can cause someone to decide martial arts is not their priority.
And that’s fine. People have lives, and have different priorities at different points of those lives.
While it’s common to hear about people dropping out of martial arts, it’s less common to hear about them returning. Even if they wistfully look back and think what if, they don’t always go back to it.
I was worried about falling into that wistful nostalgia trap, and doing nothing about it. I trained steadily from 5-17 years old, and then I went away to college. I went to Boston, where there was a plethora of martial arts studios around, but I couldn’t afford the Boston prices. I trained only when I was visiting home, which was mostly holidays. I attended Northeastern, so I didn’t even have summers off to go home and train since they have a year-round program.
I was fine. I enjoyed training when I could. I tried joining the martial arts club at my school but I just didn’t like the way the classes were run or the atmosphere. So I figured I would get back into it again someday.
I spent my 20s moving. In the past 9 years I have moved 8 times around 5 different states (not counting each little apartment move within the same area). Since I was pretty much constantly packing, moving, unpacking, starting new internships/jobs/contracts, starting new degree programs, and trying to have a social life, I let martial arts fall off my radar.
At 28 I moved to Colorado (last year). I finally had a place to train again. I finally had a town I felt settled in. My brother has a studio here, my other brother also trains here. The other students are friendly, and it feels a lot like the studio I grew up with.
But it was strange to train regularly again. Here are some of the things I learned/noticed:
Muscle memory is awesome
I may not have remembered all of my Korean terminology, or every step to every form. However I sure as hell still know how to throw a punch and do basic self-defense. The forms came back to me quicker than I thought they would. I just had to get past the horribly embarrassing moments of not knowing all the parts to forms I had learned as a green belt. After a few weeks, I had most of them down. I still get tripped up on some parts (I’m looking at you Pyung Ahn forms) but I’m less embarrassed and more likely to laugh at myself. It’s like my muscles remembered the techniques for me, and did at least half the work of remembering the sequence without me having to think too much.
I also find that random things come back to me. I’ll remember, out of nowhere, the practical application for a technique that a visiting instructor taught me when I was 9. Why? Because minds are crazy things. I think it’s tied into the action of the technique, the physicality of it. Memories can be reawakened by actions, so even after a long hiatus I can remember small details through basic movements.
Breaking boards was intimidating again
I hadn’t had to break a board in over 12 years. Then all of a sudden I was getting ready to test for my 2nd Dan. I panicked a little. What should I do? Do I need to do a jumping, spinning, back-flipping kick through a board that was lit on fire?? Obviously my anxiety became a little ridiculous. Once I figured out what I wanted my breaks to be, I then realized I would actually have to break the boards.
As most martial artists know, breaking boards really isn’t that hard. But only if you don’t let the board intimidate you. I was thoroughly intimidated.
So I practiced. I learned that my original idea wasn’t feasible. And I practiced some more. I eventually managed to start breaking boards again, once I remembered something very important: It only hurts if you don’t break the board.
I feel old
I’m going to be 30 in a couple of months, and have been told that I need to worry about things like my back, knees, and other potential areas of ailment. I already had to switch from using a wicked cute Marc Jacobs bag for commuting to a more comfortable backpack. My computer was just too heavy for my stylish bag. Now I have to suffer as an adult-child with a backpack.
I’m also noticing significant differences in myself when it comes to martial arts. It turns out I don’t have the flexibility I had when I was 17. Who would have thought?! I didn’t keep up with stretching, so I lost my ability to do splits. I’ll keep trying though!
It’s also strange to me that I am officially an adult. I grew up at my studio in CT, but stopped training before I was old enough to really be an adult. But now I’m Ms. Farquharson instead of just being Megan. I can talk with the parents of students on an equal level because I’m equally an adult. How weird is that? I mean, I still routinely have mac’n’cheese with cut up hot-dogs for dinner, can I really be considered a grown-up? Most of the time I feel like an adult impostor, but I think I pull it off well enough.
I feel young
Adult life is stressful. Rent, student loans, work, groceries, bills, commuting, trying to eat like a real person, etc. It’s all a total bummer. Bills can even ruin the fun of being able to eat ice cream for dinner whenever I want.
But karate makes me feel young. Even if I’m crazy exhausted from work, when I go to class I’m instantly re-charged. It’s keeps me moving, keeps me thinking, and keeps me playing. We try out new things in class, other students bring their knowledge from other styles, we work together. And, I have a legitimate reason to buy and use weapons! Martial arts is something that should be taken seriously, especially when working with a partner or with weapons, but it’s also good to have a little fun with it.
It also reminds me of my childhood. Like I said previously, memories are linked to physical actions. By doing a form that I’ve done a thousand times throughout my childhood, I’m brought back into that moment.
When I’m not too busy trying to catch my breath.
I know that I’m still fairly young for someone returning from a hiatus. Many people who are thinking of returning could be well into a different decade. These people will face different issues than me. Maybe there’s a loss of balance, the addition of arthritis, and varying other issues that tend to come with age. You will adapt. Martial arts isn’t just for young people. It’s for everyone. If there’s something you can’t physically do without risk of injury, or because of injury, work with your instructor to come up with some alterations. Instead of having a wounded pride because you can’t do the same things you did when you were younger, have a sense of pride that you’re doing something that you enjoy and that you were able to come back to it.
Returning to martial arts, especially after a long hiatus, can be daunting. If your anxiety is anything like mine, you get nervous every single time you go to class. But it’s worth it to give it a chance. Your instructors will understand if you talk with them. They’ll work with you to get you back to where you were. And you’ll be surprised at how much you remember as you get back into the flow. Just don’t expect things to be easy. Don’t expect to re-start at the same level you were when you left. Take the time to relearn. And this time, relearn your techniques even better than you knew them before. Take the opportunity to break any previous bad habits.
Things will be different than they use to be, but they’ll also be exactly the same.