Finding a Fitness Niche

2011-10-19 by . 0 comments

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I’m a nerd. I’ve always been one since I was a kid. I never grasped the rules of sports that other kids just seemed to innately understand. I lacked coordination, strength, and speed which resulted in me being picked almost always last for any kind of team sport. That was a regular experience for me since early elementary school all throughout the end of high school.

Despite my lack of physicality, my mom signed me up for various activities to keep me moving and not sitting at home doing nothing. I took tennis lessons when I was six, but it never stuck with me. Swimming lessons were a routine part of my childhood years though I never developed proper skill in the sport. Most of the time I struggled to do a proper stroke, and I ended up with a fear of the deep end of the pool. I no longer have that fear, and at least I know how to swim. Swimming was marginally enjoyable at best.

In college, I became a bandwagon weightlifter because I perceived that’s what everyone did when they “went to the gym.” I also tried running because, again, that is what I thought everyone else did. These were two activities I could perform on my own due to my lack of social skills, uneasiness in large social groups, and a dwindling number of friends (who were graduating and moving away) that were interested in fitness. I made little progress in terms of how much I could lift and how far I could run. I had no knowledge of technique or form, but I figured it was better than nothing.

I felt an imperative to stay active after leaving college and starting my career as a software developer. The thought of sitting in front of a desk for 8 hours for the rest of my life (that was my impression four years ago) was not a life I wanted. I pondered over the type of things I liked and that I could realistically commit to over time. The only two physical activities I truly enjoyed were dodgeball and martial arts.

Matt Chan Playing Dodgeball

Dodgeball was one of the few things I was actually good at.

Dodgeball appealed to me greatly, because I could actually perform it with relative ease. It came natural to me solely for the reason of my ability to dodge balls in all sorts of means — jumping, ducking, crouching, and in general just running away. I was often one of the last survivors in dodgeball games in which I became a strategic player in keeping my team alive. There were some adult dodgeball leagues near where I lived, but scheduling and location made the effort to join somewhat prohibitive for me.

Martial arts was my other option, and it is one that I have always been interested in since I was little. I may have not understood the nuances of martial arts, but I was able to break down movements into discreet parts from simple, visual observation so that I could crudely repeat them on my own. This satisfied my nerd mind, since I found so many other sports to be chaotic and confusing. There was structure and discipline in martial arts, which I never found in gym classes. Gym teachers essentially resorted to the idea of, “Here’s a ball. Go run around, and do something that isn’t sitting.”

The appeal of martial arts was also a culture one. I grew up watching Hong Kong martial arts action films. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also a big influence on me in my early childhood years. There would always be big festivals in Chinatown for the major holidays where I was exposed to martial arts even more. I always found martial arts to have some “heroic” aspect to it, a sense of justice so to speak, which spoke to my inner self about the person I wanted to be. There was a philosophical aspect, and a long history, that I had not seen in other activities.

Matt Chan Doing Kung Fu

Me doing a form with a "large sweeper."

Regular sports were “just another game” to me, but martial arts provided me the avenue for which I began to understand myself. I chose martial arts because of what it represented and the meaning that it had for me. It was a fitness niche that engaged both my mind and my body. When I started, my goal was simply to become “healthier.” The physical benefits were enormous; I improved my posture, developed my muscles, gained coordination, and lost some fat. Mentally, I developed some wisdom, depth, and understanding of the practice and culture (and still am). Martial arts was something that I could call my own, something that I could claim to be part of me, which no one could take away.

Even though I was looking for something physical, the intellectual satisfaction was the real reward when I found something I liked and wanted badly. My journey in finding an activity is one that personally took a long time for me to settle. What I realized is that staying fit and being healthy is something that should be a personal physical and mental endeavor. It means finding a place you can call home, doing what speaks to you, and not leaving your health at the mercy of others. The rewards will be much better in the end.

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