One step…

I have a habit of getting impatient. When I want something, I want it NOW. I don’t always like to wait for it. Okay, the truth is I NEVER want to wait for anything. Must say something about me that I’m looking for instant gratification. Maybe its because I always have so many things going on in my life at the same time. Or maybe I’m just impatient.

Curiously though this time I am patient. I know I’m not quite ready yet. I realize that there are some things I need to master. Its a path to walk along, one step at a time.

I’ve watched other students as they progress through martial arts. They get discouraged. We all do. Its hard sometimes. But they just forget to do one thing – put one foot ahead of the other and focus on that. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Well, its true. And that same journey of a thousand steps is completed because no matter what the traveler found on the path before him, he took one step. Sometimes he had to step off of the path to go around what was blocking him, and so he took more steps than the person who could step right over the barrier. But he got there.

Frequently I hear the younger students (yes, I mean kids) get really competitive about reaching their black belt. Its natural I suppose; however, I like to remind them that we are all on the same journey striving for the same goal. We’re not running a race to get to the finish line first, we’re walking together, each of us there to support the other, helping to carry them along at spots (that’s where mentoring comes in!) if necessary so that we can all reach our goal. I might get there first. You might get there first. The important thing is to get there – to cross the finish line – to achieve a monumental goal.

One step, one slow plodding step, one foot in front of the other, until the goal is reached.

Karate teaches character, perseverance, control. I think it must be teaching me patience as well.

The Teacher Becomes the Student

One of the most exciting new developments in my karate training has been the class that I now co-teach. Its a class for women taught by women and its all about self defense and fitness.

It was so intimidating to stand before all of the ladies the first time, offering them instruction and advice about how to handle dangerous situations. I heard the clock ticking on the wall. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. We had an hour class. A whole hour to fill. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I saw their faces staring at me waiting to hear what I had to say. I felt my voice choke up inside and internally I stuttered, practically unable to speak. But somehow the words flowed out, spilling forward with an ease that seemed effortless. One idea after the next. One instruction after the next until the minutes melted away. The ladies were smiling but serious and did each technique eager to master it and move on to the next.

I was smiling, offering encouragement as my instructors have always given me. Words of praise and subtle corrections all mixed and blended together, designed to move them forward and become stronger and more powerful. Every word, every instruction I gave was important to them…and possibly even more important to me. Whatever I said had to be correct. I had to be sure. I had to KNOW what I was talking about.  I had to be right.

That room full of smiling ladies helped me grow more in that hour than I’d probably grown in karate for a while. The test wasn’t for them to succeed it was for me to realize all of the things I still had to learn. It was for me to go back to the beginning and redo all of the basics that I’d done before. But not just to do them. To understand them. To know why they were important and what they meant to self defense. Anyone can tell you ‘now throw a punch’. You have to understand body dynamics, hip rotation, focus, and how not to be forced to throw a punch to really be able to teach it.

At the end of the class we all celebrated our success in completing it. For them it was a physical accomplishment, sweat proudly dripping from their bodies. For me it was more mental and emotional. I had entered the class as a teacher and left it as a student. I’d learned so much but still had so much yet to learn.


Mine is not the normal story. Mine is not the normal journey to Shodan. It began a long time ago, took many turns, and even some side journeys before I was back on the path to Shodan.

Getting back on the road and toiling towards the goal that always seem so allusive was difficult. I had aged. My body had aged. But my spirit was still the same. Determined. Anxious. Obsessed.

There are no regrets for those things that diverted my path. They were perhaps a necessary adventure that brought me back to my Shodan quest, even more determined to achieve the final goal.

Friday night I felt my feet firmly planted on the path of my choosing. The moment my hands wrapped around the new belt and I heard through the haze of disbelief that my next test was for black belt my soul soared with joy and just as quickly lurched back, free falling towards the ground…black belt. Would I be worthy? Would I have what it took to make the final sprint towards the finish line and be deserving of the title of black belt when I got there?

I remember breathing deeply, grinning ear-to-ear with my new belt in hand and heading to ring the bell (a tradition in our dojo) realizing I was just taking the first step towards a new journey…a journey that was just beginning at Shodan…it wasn’t the destination…merely a starting point.