Just A Number
By Joseph Gironda - 8th Gup
Lago Soo Bahk Do,
Bayonne, New Jersey
L to R:
David, Joseph, Master Lago, Patrick
"We don't want to be late
for karate, Dad!"
This past school year, I started taking my twin six-year-olds to Master
Noelia Lago, chief instructor at Lago Soo Bahk Do, in my hometown,
Bayonne, NJ. David and Patrick are in the autistic spectrum, and she
holds classes for special needs students. Dressed in their do boks,
earning colored stripes on their white belts as they worked hard and
made slow but steady progress, the boys' twice-a-week classes were
excellent for them, emotionally as well as physically.
What effect did this martial arts encounter have on me while I happily
brought my kindergarteners to the dojang, watching them learn and
grow? I was bitten by the martial arts bug myself, of course. There I
was, encouraging my boys to defy any imitations of special needs and do
the karate they relish. I'm fifty-six. Was my age an excuse not to do
approached their instructor after several months of my children's
training, to make it David, Patrick, and Dad as her students. We would
be in separate classes, but it would be my commitment, a greater bond
between my sons and me.
Private lessons brought me to a basic level, one where I could take
classes with teens and other adults. When I started classes what was
asked of me was to try my best. When doing jumping jacks to warm up
(when was the last time I did those?)if the teens did ten in the time I
did seven, Master Lago had no problem; just do the seven, and, in time,
I'll pick up. I did. If others could stretch with twice my flexibility,
no problem, I'll limber up.
pretty far. The main problem I had? Breathing. It sounds so simple;
after all, I'd been doing it my whole life. Now I had to control it
while stretching, punching, kicking, and sparring. When I'd be
lightheaded because I was swinging between hyperventilating and
suffocating myself (I kept trying to do it all in one breath!), she'd
let me recover, remind me how to breathe, then get me right back into
class activity. That's karate; you move at your own pace.
The time arrived for my test, with me vying to move from white to orange
belt, one of a number of students seeking promotion.
I hadn't taken a test since 1980, when I was in graduate school, and the
examiner was not my instructor; it was her own teacher, Master Denise
During the test, I sensed where I was weak or strong, and I had a
personal high point - when the white belts did the three basic hyungs
together. We were in tune with one another, adults and teens alike, our
skill - not our age - making the moment happen.
I learned a week later that I had passed the test, and in an awards
ceremony, Master Lago presented me with a certificate, a bronze pin, and
my orange belt.
Fifty-six? Age is just a number.
July 4, 2008