I am 57 years old, I have been a runner for 32 years, and the reality is I probably will never be able to do a split- and I am okay with that. Don't get me wrong, I have tried!
My first master would hit my thighs with a Jukdo (similar to the one pictured above) to "encourage" me to go lower when trying to perform a split. If I was not stretching hard enough in class (in his view), he hit me across the back of my shoulders with the Jukdo as well. But, I was doing all I could as a 40 year old male! Sometimes it seemed that the Jukdo was going to be worn out on my body!
I have tried to stretch, pull, and contort my legs so that I may kick higher, and get lower to the mat, but the reality is that it just may not be possible for me to make big advancements in my stretching. Running shortens leg muscles and I am not going to give up running, so I accept that I may not be able to side kick someone in their face. So, should I give up trying? Should I give up Taekwondo?
Never! I still stretch but now I do not tear my muscles as I did before (I can actually walk afterwards!). I accept healthy guidelines within my stretching. When I guide students to stretch, I apply those healthy guidelines to the students as well. There is no need for the Jukdo! There is trust. I trust myself to give my best effort and I trust the student to give her best effort.
No longer do I "beat myself up" for not being able to touch the mat with the palms of my hands. I no longer do I feel embarrassed that I cannot do this:
I trust myself to give my best effort, and I trust the student to give her best effort. We all have different starting points. We are all trying to get to the same destination-a better us. Sometimes it takes a little longer for some than others, but it's okay because every step forward is just that- a step forward!
Once we can trust ourselves that we are doing the best we can within a healthy boundary, then the acceptance of our best effort will bring us to a better us. That does not mean we stop trying, but instead it means we try and do the best we can within our own limitations. We keep moving forward knowing that we are moving forward.
The peace that comes from accepting our limitations and also our abilities makes us happier and healthier. Will I ever do a split? Maybe not, but it's okay, I can still kick powerfully low! And that is my ability: to protect myself with a powerful kick to the shin or groin. So, although I still try to achieve something I cannot do (and may never be able to do), I spend more time working on perfecting the things I can do very well!
The penguin cannot fly, but the penguin can swim wonderfully. The hawk can fly beautifully but the hawk cannot swim like the penguin. Both work on being better at what they can do, because it is crucial to their survival. Master Russell said this to me, "Sir, why would I test you on kicks I know you can not do? What does that prove? I want to test you on what you do well!"
So, let's apply this philosophy to our way of living: let's do our best on the things we have trouble with, but let's capitalize on our abilities and gifts in order to make a us all better individuals.
Master James Thamm