With all due respect to the Marine Corps, I am working on purging the Few and the Proud from my mind. And it's not easy. The few and the proud in question are not, of course Marines. They're wimps.
I always knew I wasn't very athletic. Every year we had physical fitness tests in gym class, and I could look up my scores on their charts. Pretty much never above the 20th percentile. I was a little overweight, and reasonably well-coordinated, but just not strong and with no stamina. My mom once asked me if there were any tests I actually scored near the average in. In an 12-year-old burst of true sarcasm, I said, "Well, height," which cracked my mom up.
One of the requirements of 8th grade was to be timed running a mile. The true athletes could do it in about 7 minutes, I think, and the average was somewhere around 8.5 or something. I don't think I made it in under 10. In what I see now as an obvious mechanism for coping with the humiliation of it, some other non-athletic friends and I found just a bit too much glee in being "the few, the proud, the wimps."
During my freshman year in high school, I started training in Tae-Kwon-Do. I wasn't especially good at it, and it wasn't the best choice of style for me because I wasn't (and still am not) at all flexible. But the instructor was very good about insisting on non-violence from his pupils, and I was persistent. It helped my body image quite a bit. When in my junior year I couldn't do the stupid parallel bars because I a) wasn't strong enough and b) had a bruise on my hand from when I had broken a board with it the previous night, which is much cooler than the parallel bars, I didn't really care as much.
But still, I excelled at academics and music, was teased by the jocks and cool kids, and very much defined myself in direct opposition to athletes.
So in a couple of weeks, I am scheduled to take my black belt test in my current martial art. This January will be the 6-year anniversary of when I started (it was my New Millenium Resolution...kind of a tradition with me). The art is more about rolls and throws and pins than punches and kicks. It requires you to learn how to apply power without having to be especially strong, and it doesn't insist on hours of continuous hard workouts. On the other hand, even the more athletically inclined will break a good sweat after training for just 20 minutes or so.
It has done wonders for my body image, and I think I'm in decent shape for a pushin'-40-year-old guy. When I teach classes at the dojo or just help other students, I feel like I know enough to have a black belt. More and more often in my training, I find that I've just executed a technique pretty well and I feel like the defense would really have worked in a true physical confrontation (not that I expect ever to have one, since I never have before). If a student came to school with a knife and threatened to hurt other students or him/herself, I think I'd have a fair chance (50%-60% as opposed to 10%-20% for untrained people...those numbers are total guesses) of disarming him/her without life-threatening injury to myself, the student, or bystanders.
When I describe myself, it sounds like I'm on the verge of getting a black belt, and our teacher will pretty much not let you take the test if there's any real chance of failing, so it looks like I will be one soon.
But when I hear the phrase "black belt in a martial art," I still truly can't imagine that the description would apply to me. It implies some true athletic skill that probably other people can see in me when I train, but which I just can't feel even when my training is going well. Mike J. and Gary S. are still with me in wimp-spirit when I imagine how people will think of me if they find out I "have a black belt." I still make a living by excelling in academics, and I have little to no interest in competitive sports either at my school or professionally. (I have very little idea who's in the American League playoffs. Seriously. Boston and Chicago?) Being an athlete is just not on my self-identification radar.
The Few, the Proud, the Surprisingly Difficult to Emotionally Purge.