Everyone is always surprised to find out I’ve been practicing martial arts for over a decade. I don’t fit the stereotypes of MMA fighters or Kong Fu warriors depicted in the movies. I am definitely not an aggressive person. In fact during my 3rd grade Native American unit when we chose Indian names, I picked the name “gentle rainbow” as I felt it encapsulated my persona.
So why did I begin martial arts?
I expressed interest at a young age partially because of my fascination with Asian culture and because I always enjoyed trying new things. At age 11 I began Tae-Kwon-Do. Because I was a beginner and quite small for my age, I was placed in class with really young kids. Despite the lack of social opportunities and opponents my size, I was immediately hooked to the sport.
The studio was run a little too business-like for my parents taste. And when my master wouldn’t let me pass a belt test because my parents didn’t show up to break a board (I know-ridiculous) we felt it was time to search for a new Dojo.
We found a Kempo Karate Dojo where after watching a class, I reached an immediate understanding of a community based verse a business based studio. Even though I had trained over a year in the old school I was informed that I’d have to start from white belt, as the Japanese style was very different from Korean TKD. It didn’t matter too much to me, as I felt I didn’t fully deserve my current rank. The previous business moved students up every two months whether they were ready or not. The Karate style was a bit different but because of my foundation I moved through the first two belts quickly. I trained regularly for the next 5 years until I left for college.
I tested for my black belt two weeks before I started my freshman year of college. I consider that my biggest life accomplishment. The hardest part of leaving home was saying goodbye to my Dojo because it wasn’t just the practice but it was the community that had become family to me.
I struggled finding ways to cope with my loss throughout my first semester, by joining a variety of martial arts clubs, finding empty classrooms to practice and taking buses across town to random, sketchy Dojos. Nothing seemed to satisfy my craving and I fell into a bit of a mini depression.
While my friends were out partying, I found myself coming home random weekends to attend the early morning Saturday class. Okay its not as bad as it sounds. I enjoyed my freshmen year, there was just a little piece missing.
When I came back home for the summer I didn’t miss one class. In fact at that time I could probably count on one hand how many classes I had ever missed when I didn’t have something pressing going on.
Obsession? Maybe. Okay, fine yes it was. It definitely was.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the martial arts its important to understand that its way more than a bunch of nun chunks being swung in the air. Karate is a lifestyle. To be a martial artist requires dedication, responsibility, self control and a great deal of respect for both yourself and others. A requirement for my black belt test was to do 300 “acts of kindness” outside of the Dojo as a means of being an all around good human being. When I left for college I had a lot of trouble maintaining that mindset without the physical and mental practice. Yes I could continue being a good person, a “gentle rainbow” if you will, but how was I to exercise commitment, discipline, respect and control without ties to my foundation!?
It began to come together my second year when I found a small close-knit Dojo near my school. That place served as my home away from home. The art style, and the studio’s mentality was similar. It was very traditional and I had a lot of respect for that. I trained there regularly for the next three years, coming home to my Dojo on holidays. I learned a lot there. And I became a better martial artist in both the physical and emotional sense. My technique improved as the small class was much more individualized. I got to meet famous Japanese martial artists and watch some amazing tournaments. The karate culture in upstate New York actually had quite a presence.
I moved back to my home town after graduation to start working and return to my Dojo. This time incorporating the one Karate element I was missing. Balance. I became a little more willing to miss classes for more important things (which actually does exist).
So alas, I have taken you on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Karate is great, karate made me depressed, karate dictated my life, blah, blah, blah. What I am trying to say is that I am thankful everyday that I never quit because that mindset has led me to make the greatest decisions of my life. I would not being working in the field I’m working in, would not be as fit, would not as mentally or physically tough, would not be as excited to take on challenges, would not be as willing to go out of my way for other people, and would not be as disciplined if it wasn’t for karate.
So boys and girls, its never to late to jump on the bandwagon. You too could be a martial artist.