I believe that there are no limits.
The crisp sound of the zipper opening on the front of my tent woke me from a restless sleep. I could see my mother through cracked eyelids. She was dressed in her martial arts uniform, or Gi (say: Gee), complete with her black belt embroidered with her name and rank in Korean.
“You going to be able to workout today?” she asked, as she checked my forehead with the back of her hand. “They’ve got breakfast ready.”
I grunted and shimmied out of my sleeping bag. Once dressed in my own Gi and brown belt, one level below black and my parents, I left the tent. The sun burned straight to the back of my brain, and the smell of mountain weeds in bloom stung my already reddened eyes and runny nose.
I felt terrible.
A field of multicolored tents stretched out before me. Dozens of people dressed in white Gis greeted and laughed with one another in the cool mountain morning. Some were practicing various Kata punctuated with short and loud yells, Kiai (say: Key-eye). A sign hung in front of a couple of covered picnic tables: “Tae Kwon Do: Jemez Camp”.
After breakfast, we lined up for Basics. 40 of us lined up in a large block on a dirt lot. We practiced punches and kicks, blocks and stances, all designed to attack an array of vulnerable points on the human body. Kiais produced long echoes off distant mountainsides.
My body was exhausted, and I felt like laying in the very weeds that had kept me up sneezing all night.
“Feeling alright?” asked Ron. He was a 5th Dan black belt, one of only a handful across the country. He smiled. “We are all proud of you for sticking with it. I know it’s tough with hay fever.”
With the last of my strength I lined up for “Killers”.
A half-mile run through the woods lead to the first station. Five front kicks on the worn trunk of a tree. The ball of my foot hit the trunk with a satisfying thud. My weakened body shook with every blow.
More running. More stations.
The final station loomed ahead. Two trees stood six feet apart. The woman in front of me was just finishing her 50 sidekicks back and forth between them.
I started strong. Hard hits. But soon began to slow. My parents and the crowd cheered me on.
They grew louder. So, I pushed harder. 25 sidekicks. My head pounded and my vision became oily. 30 sidekicks. My legs wobbled beneath me. 40 sidekicks. I pushed.
My legs became stable. I sped up, and the trees shook when I hit them. A deep reservoir of stamina surged through me. My body was weak, but something within me carried on unburdened. 50 sidekicks. Kiai.
A personal limitation was broken, and I realized that if one pushes hard enough there are no limits.
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