It is truly a privilege of kids to be allowed to dream of being anything. But it is a misfortune of them that most dreams, naive and grand as they are, go unresolved.
Once a kid myself, I had my fair share of both privilege and misfortune. Thrilled by the badass martial arts scene in action movies, I dreamt of at least being able to do the 360-degree turning kick. Awareness of my poor health and the consequent insecurity made me admire the people whose great strength allows them to stand on their own feet and fight the bad guys.
So, in high school, I had a chance of making this long-desired fantasy come true by joining a karate club. While I knew it would not be easy and effortless like in action movies, the hardship of training to master just one technique was unimaginable. My teacher always said to us students: “Behind one right kick is one thousand wrong ones”. But those days of pushing beyond the physical limit, which I had imposed on myself before, were by far one of the best periods of my life. Though I had not one tiny hope that this would lead me to the National Karate Championship or anything, I just believed if I kept doing it, I could at least be like those badass people in action movies.
However, after 3 years, I quit karate. The reasons could be as many as I convinced myself having: busy with schoolwork, changed priorities, just a hobby, etc. But what really distresses me is that I never achieved anything that was characteristic of a martial artist. I was never able to stretch my legs perfectly 360 degrees for the kick. Hell, I never even won a single one-on-one combat in school’s competition! What came out of my three years of training cannot give me the credit for being a karate practitioner.
My regret may sound nonsensical, as I didn’t intend to take karate seriously as a career path. But in a neoliberal world that virturizes the perseverance to pursue your dreams and sees it as a key to excellence, quitting something, even if it’s just a hobby, can throw an attack on you as a person. After all, if you don’t intend to gain something big out of what you do, why take it up in the first place? I used to trap myself in this mentality and feel deeply mortified for giving up and wasting three years of training.
The regret persists till one day, feeling dragged out as a result of no exercise after quitting karate, I tried running to unwind. Little did I know that the run would develop into a new hobby for me. I kept running forward, passing buildings after buildings. The heat of stretching muscles running through my body pushed me to keep going. Ah, this feeling! I remember it all: It felt like coming back to those days of demanding, strenuous karate lessons. At that moment I realized what karate truly brings me, even after quitting it and forgetting all of its techniques: awareness of my health, the addictive feelings of freeing my body muscles that continue to nourish my love for exercise. Though I cannot be a badass martial artist, at least I have learnt to keep myself healthy and active.
Steve Jobs once said in his Standard commencement address: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Sometimes, we cannot realize how things we’re doing can have any meaning for the future, until looking back and seeing the journey that we come through. Three years of practicing karate left a meaningful legacy that now reminds me to take care of my health and have regular exercise. In the future, many more dreams may be lost, due to a variety of obstacles life will throw at me, but I shall remember one thing: the permanent legacy of those dreams.
Author: Tra Mi Nguyen
Editor: Phoebe Elliott
Visuals by: Lam Ngoc Do & Ira Lizenko