My Tae Kwon Do instructor stood in front of me, the board held tightly in his hands.
“Just tell me when you’re ready,” he said.
I had to break it. That thought was ringing around inside my head, inside my stomach. Break it. BREAK IT! You have to break it.
I stepped back for a practice kick. I got in a good stance, clenched my fists, and then I spun around backwards, doing a complete turn, and brought my heel up lightly on the edge of the board. Just to make sure that I was lined up, I practiced again.
The old, thin brown carpet was rough on my bare feet as I pivoted. The fluorescent lights in the ceiling filled the room with light. Everything was silent, waiting for me. My martial arts classmates sat Indian-style in a row on the floor to my left. In the back of the room, my mom and dad sat in chairs. I could feel everyone’s gaze boring through me like so many tiny lasers. I had never broken a board before, although I had tried several times. Even a boy in my Tae Kwon Do class who was two years younger than me (and a lower rank) had broken one, and he always made sure that I knew it.
My loose white uniform made snapping sounds as I lined myself up once more, but the baggy pants and jacket didn’t keep me from sweating. I felt as hot as if I were wearing sweatpants and a turtleneck. I paused to pull the knot in my deep-blue belt tight.
“OK,” I whispered, and with one last deep breath, I swirled around, the room blurring before my eyes. Then I kicked my heel against the hard wood. I stepped back. The board was still in one piece.
“You stopped,” my instructor said, smiling. “You have to go through the board. Try it again.”
I was getting sick of people telling me to “go through the board.” As if I wasn’t trying!
“Through the board, through the board,” I chanted to myself. I took another practice try and then flew around again, my long, blond braid swishing around behind me. But again, I couldn’t break the board. I hadn’t even cracked it! I felt tears of frustration welling up in my eyes and tipped my head back to get rid of them. I wouldn’t disappoint everyone by being a quitter. I wouldn’t disappoint myself.
“Almost,” my instructor told me. “You still stopped. Try it just one more time.”
One more chance. That was all I got. Suddenly, I remembered my instructor sticking his tongue out once and waving his hands by his ears.
“That’s what the board’s doing,” he had said to me.
I closed my eyes and pictured myself cracking the board in half.
“I’ll show you, Mr. Board. I’ll do it,” I whispered, and the words “I’ll do it” echoed inside me. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”
“OK,” I said quietly. I spun around. My foot snapped out and collided with the board in just the right spot. I heard a distant CRACK! and then my foot fell through the board and my instructor was holding up the two jagged pieces and grinning.
“Knowing that you can,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”