Perspiration oozed down my temples, pooled briefly along my brow line, and finally dripped onto the floor mat in front of my nose. The tickling sweat felt barely perceptible. I was preoccupied with the sharp pulling sensations in my abs and fatigue in my shoulders.
“Twelve, ma’am. Eleven, ma’am. Ten, ma’am…”
In unison, we counted pushups backwards, aching for the last one. Mrs. Kim restlessly tightened her black belt and walked between our lines, moving from one student to the next with form corrections, encouragement, or playful goading.
“Look down at the mat, keep your neck straight!” she barked. “Good job, Schindler, keep going. Does this help?” she asked one student, placing her foot between his shoulder blades and applying the slightest pressure.
“No, ma’am!” he gasped, half laughing and half gasping for air. She chuckled and moved on.
At last we shouted, “Done, ma’am,” and held a plank position with our arms locked and our backs straight. We weren’t supposed to move until Mrs. Kim told us to. She let us wait for about ten seconds. More sweat dripped down my nose, and this time I noticed the tickle. My clammy hands and feet threatened to slip away from me on the slick mat, and my muscles strained to hold it all together. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my classmates struggling as well, shifting their weight or arching their backs to alleviate discomfort.
“Now do one more. Go!”
I hesitated for just a moment, processing this deviation from the normal routine. With a silent apology to my triceps, I bent elbows with the class.
We talked over each other, choking on the counting’s logic.
Ah, we agreed once more.
Mrs. Kim instructed us to do a few more reps, and then finally let us stand up and rest. A few groans rippled through the class as we assessed the damage.
“Do you know why I just made you do more pushups?”
“No ma’am,” we ventured.
“To show that you can always – almost always – do one more rep. How many of you felt exhausted at the end of all those push-ups? How many of you thought you couldn’t do any more? Raise your hands.”
We all raised our arms, and I could already tell how sore mine would feel over the next few days. But after the soreness faded, they would be stronger.
“You thought you had already done as many push-ups as you possibly could, and you were wrong. In Tae Kwon Do, and in your life, you will almost never encounter your true limit. It’s always just beyond you. It’s after the next rep, or the rep after that. You can almost always keep going. Just keep pushing.”