The only formula for success I know is hard work and perseverance. It may not be all there is, but I know nothing else. I haven't always had the best of luck. I'm not usually the best at something, but I've made good things happen with what I know how to do.
Deep down you dream of the best outcome -- maybe even a lucky one -- by working hard, but sometimes it feels like a crap shoot. For me, at least. Maybe my expectations for myself aren't always the highest. Maybe I still -- only sometimes -- don't feel that I'm worth having the best luck or the best of everything. I don't feel that way about love anymore. I feel fully deserving of that. But about other things. Even with all the work, here's what I feel lucky about: To be above the poverty line, to have a great apartment, for unlimited food, to have a car that runs, it goes on and on. This is a kind of stunted thinking that lingers from my youth.
But I see an unchartered freedom when I realize that my girls know none of this weighed unworthiness. Like when Maya works hard, she expects the very best results. And sometimes I sit in my sludge and just push her out to a place with no limits. It inspires me to wiggle myself more free from whatever it is I'm stuck in.
Maybe Maya's first Tae Kwon Do tournament after having lost her spirit in Atlanta doesn't have to be a metaphor for everything else. Maybe it was just a series of great fights by Maya and her competitors. But life swirled around in the long collaborative seconds before the referees declared a decision on her final match. I found myself standing, clasping my hands against my face, my heart pounding out all other sound of the huge convention center. I looked down in her ring, staring at the backs of Maya and the other girl who were both padded like little warrior women and I was yelling in my head, "Please god, give this to her. Please give her a little luck with everything else. GIVE IT TO HER." I don't wish luck on myself usually. I've convinced myself that it's greedy, ungrateful. But I'll openly wish it on her. Let it rain on both my girls, gratuitously and unending.
Maya's been with her new coach, Master N, for six weeks. He is attentive, encouraging and he whips her butt lovingly. Nothing pleases him more than a tough spirit and he pulls that out of Maya with smiles and affection and world-class training. Before the tournament, he had her working out four days a week. He gave her Olympic-style training; core workouts for days, things you see only elite athletes do. And she did it all with an equal amount of spunk and joy. She'd complain loudly about the umpteenth set of double kicks, but when it came time to start she'd lowered her head and kick the shit out of some pads. Master N sat her down daily and gave her strategic fighting tips. How-to-treat-the-refs tips. Tips about discipline and respect for the sport, her opponents, herself as an athlete. He gave her at-home stretching tips. And Maya gave him 110% and huge dollops of her tough spirit. He couldn't have been more thrilled. The girls also taught Master N and his assistant Luciano Knock-Knock jokes which may have been the funniest day of 2006 for me. Teaching jokes to people that have only a functional grasp on the English language is high hilarity, and I suggest it whole-heartedly. We guffawed every single time Luciano said, "Who de Boo?" instead of Boo Who . . . or when Maya instructed Master N to say WHO'S THERE after Knock-Knock and instead he said, "Oh, it's Master N!" We cried over the sweetness of it all.
Maya's first match on Saturday was tough and energy-draining because her opponent would rush into Maya's body and stay close. It's a defensive way to fight. Maya had to shove her off to get in her kicks. Maya's signature Jump Back Kick was bottled because the girl stayed too close. Husband wanted mainly for Maya to win this first fight. He felt this first one was monumental to her morale. And she got it. The ref held his hand over Maya's head at the end of the match and we exploded; Husband, me, BD and Sanne jumped in our seats and yelled wildly.
The second match was for gold or silver and it started similarly; Maya the aggressor and the opponent staying as close as possible. It's hard to tell with each match how points will be scored. You never know what a judge will allow or for what he or she is looking. And when Maya's opponent kicked Maya in the head -- not legal until age 12 -- Maya sputtered back and looked dazed. Master N stepped into the ring and protested but it looked like they would allow the head kicks, which Maya had not practiced yet, either giving or receiving. Three kicks to the head would score a point in this competition, which Maya learned mid-match. The girl nicked Maya in the chin with her toe, heeled her in the jaw, and got in another legitimate kick to the head. But Maya stayed the aggressor, shook off the kicks and got in good shots to the girl's body, even tried to kick her in the head once though not effectively. She did pull out the Back Kick and scored decisively with that. By the end of the match, they were both exhausted, and in the end I was completely unsure how the judges would call it. Did they think some of the head shots landed more than they did? Did they miss some of Maya's points? Would they score higher for aggressiveness and Maya's variety of kicks? And I stood there standing, clasping, staring, praying for some luck to be piled on top of all that talent. I was pushing her to that place with no limits with my will. She deserves this. GIVE IT TO HER. The ref had the girls bow to each other. They took off their head gear and faced the judges with sweat-matted hair, heaving through their mouth guards and the ring ref raised his hand over Maya.
There's nothing more glamorous to me than this picture. This is my SPC this week and I offer it as a reflection and an improved revision of myself.
When Maya won the fight, Master N grabbed Maya and threw her around in an enthusiastic hug. He slapped her on the back and hugged her again. When I came down to see them I said, "Master N! This is Maya's first gold medal in sparring ever!" And he yelled back, "This is my first gold ever with our new gym!" Maya had won her new gym their first gold.
But it wasn't the last gold of the day for our gym. All three of our women warriors earned gold at the tournament: Tat, Master N's 12-year-old reigning champion and her 10-year-old sister, Nic, both powerhouse phenoms.
Mina told me, in her own words, that she doesn't want to spend another tournament in the stands. She said next time she's earning the fourth gold for our team. And I completely believe her.
atlanta + amsterdam: celebrations
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