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"Dude, you spar pretty good for a geezer!"
Old 05-25-2008, 05:00 PM   #1
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"Dude, you spar pretty good for a geezer!"

I'm getting a bit tired of everybody being so damn solicitous & complimentary. I caught a hint of it at a March three-day clinic and even more of it yesterday. I think I've sparred in my last taekwondo tournament.

We just finished the state qualifier; 250+ competitors and a crowd of about a thousand. We set up on Friday night at a high-school gym and on Saturday we were going from 6:15 AM to 3 PM. Our kid brought home silver/gold in forms & sparring (she's qualified for the national tournament) and I brought home "double bronze".

We're about six months away from our black belt tests so we're being extra helpful & supportive. We enter every tournament (more medals for the dojang's display case) and we're judges (never enough volunteer judges). Some day I'll qualify as a ring ref. We also do a lot of grunt work to move equipment around and set up/tear down the tournaments. Although we spent nine hours at Saturday's meet, this was actually the fastest one we've ever seen-- an "easy day".

For our 2-3 annual tournaments we move old mats & gear from our dojang's attic to the site and back to storage. Each mat is a meter square and weighs a couple pounds-- a lot like the interlocking rubber flooring in fitness centers. It takes about 300 mats to set up four tournament rings. Being a bigger guy gives me the job of pulling them down from the attic (and later lifting them back up) for an invigorating upper-body workout. Of course slinging them on the gym floor, interlocking them, and moving everything else around is also a great squat/flexibility warmup. It makes for a high-calorie weekend.

I enjoyed meeting a couple friends from other dojangs. The first, in his mid-50s, had just had knee surgery (meniscus cleanup). He's been warned that this recovery will take over a year (his last meniscotomy was 30 years ago) and that his other knee is already arthritic (joint replacement within a decade). He does forms but he no longer spars. The other guy, in his high 50s, is a national sparring champ in what's euphemistically called the "Ultra" category. (The term "master" has already been taken by high-ranking black belts.) His four grandkids are moving to other sports and he's being tugged away from the dojang to coach soccer & baseball.

The reason I was looking forward to chatting with those guys is because they're the only active taekwondo competitors in the entire state-- out of nearly a thousand students among a half-dozen dojangs-- who are older than me. I'm the only one who still spars and I was the oldest sparring competitor in this tournament by nearly a decade.

Our instructor is in his mid-30s. He's been fighting for over 20 years and teaching over 15. He's actually the #3 guy at the business and we train at his dojang a few miles away from the main dojang. A couple years ago he injured his knee at the nationals and he's eventually going to have to have some loose cartilage removed. Friday night we met the owner with a master from another dojang. The owner has taken a dozen fighters to national & world competitions and he's coaching an Olympian, so you might expect that his mind would be on other things besides talking story with me. I only see him a few times a year but he immediately wanted to know how my knee-strength exercises were going, when I was having ACL reconstructive surgery, who'd be doing the work, how the braces were working out, and so on. The other master was also very familiar with the vocabulary. Both are in their high 30s and have had their own meniscotomies. I'm not sure why we had our chat but the subtext might have been the politics of my sparring with carbon-fiber orthopedic knee braces, which technically meet the rules but which can still bruise both us fighters like a sonofagun if they accidentally kick them.

My matches were each two one-minute ("short") rounds against guys in their 30s. (I do better at longer rounds because I have more endurance.) One of my opponents is a recent arrival but I've sparred with another, Jake, a half-dozen times. It used to be that if I didn't enter the tournaments then he wouldn't have a match. I usually lose by a few points but I'm learning his tricks. This time I managed to tag him with a head shot (he's five inches taller) and a sneaky 360-round kick that caught him flatfooted. Stopped him in his tracks with a jump back kick, too. 3-5 is our closest score ever but he hung on for the gold.

Must've been an exciting show-- I was surprised to hear the crowd cheering. When I'm in the bleachers I hear a lot of "How's your daughter doing? Oh, wow, you're sparring too? Fo' real, brah?!?" Our ring ref is the master of another dojang, and she's a good friend in her 30s, but she was so darn complimentary over our mediocre matches that it was almost embarrassing. We were honoring the sport, sure, but you got the feeling that it was more for geriatric endurance than athleticism.

I didn't have the heart to tell all these enthusiastic fans that our thrilling performance was partly due to the enhanced visual acuity proffered by my new multifocal contact lenses. Now I can actually see the kicks coming before they arrive.

Before we sparred, Jake was on his feet for two hours refereeing other matches. He says it kept him from stiffening up, but he was tired. Me too-- and after the rest of the mat-moving and the ebb of the testosterone poisoning sparring adrenaline I was totally wiped out. 800 mg of ibuprofen and a day later I'm still dragging.

It would appear that our achievements are now considered noteworthy because we happen to be older, not just because we've worked our butts off to hone our skills. Spouse says that when we get really old, no one will care who we are or what we're doing-- we'll just be perpetually congratulated for not dying yesterday.

Sparring has been incredibly educational, quality parenting head-kicking time, great exercise, and a lot of fun. I think I've sufficiently honored both the sport and my ego, and from now on I'll stick to forms. Jake should be able to find his own matches...


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Old 05-25-2008, 05:34 PM   #2
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Yeah, about ten years ago I was playing a little football. OL against a kid that had played college ball the year before, trying to rush the passer. At the half he tried to compliment me by saying I played well "for an older man".

He apologized for any misperceptions about half way through the third quarter. He decided to drop back in coverage shortly thereafter.

I had to wear a long sleeve shirt and pants to work in the 95 degree weather the next day to cover the bruises. But it was worth it

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Old 05-25-2008, 05:37 PM   #3
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Hey, better the geezer compliment than the one that goes: "For a fat girl you don't sweat much"...
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Old 05-25-2008, 05:43 PM   #4
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Old 05-25-2008, 06:10 PM   #5
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Nords, congrats on tournament accomplishments. Sounds like you'll have no problems achieving Don rank.
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Old 05-25-2008, 08:30 PM   #6
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Before reading your post I was going to give you encouragement to continue to "represent us old guys" but after reading your post I changed my mind.

My take away from you post is that the probability of injury and the toll that it takes on the body is so high that unless you really, really love sparring and can't live without it then it is best to consider giving it up and focus on forms and surfing. You must make that decision.

I know that at 50 I can't run as hard as I used to and still recover and stay healthy so I've made a conscience decision to substitute biking or swimming for running on some days and back off on the intensity on other days. I've seen to many guys that were really good runners in their 20s, 30s and 40s forced into "retirement" and I want to continue to do this in my 60s, 70s and 80s.

Now for my old guy story: I was walking back to my car after a triathlon a couple of years when a 30s something "kid" that I vaguely remembered passing on the run asked what my time was. Since he was younger than me and the younger heats have earlier start time he must have started the race at least five minutes before I did. I told him my time. His comment was "Wow, you old guys can go pretty fast!"

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Old 05-26-2008, 01:25 AM   #7
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You rant pretty well for an old fogey. Way to go for busting hump to get ahead.
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:02 PM   #8
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Hunh. Sounds like the old man made a pretty good training dummy for the kid - Good for both of you!
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Old 05-27-2008, 10:25 PM   #9
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Embrace geezerhood, you old squid. Let them underestimate you. Encourage it even!

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