Giving Back

Today was an amazing day in the dojo. I just loved all the new students that turned out to participate in the various events. You could feel the energy charging through the room. The enthusiasm was contagious and the best part was that everyone was having fun while they were learning something really important. It was absolutely amazing.

We held a fundraiser for Japan – raising money to send to send to Sendai, the sister city of our neighbors in Riverside. How wonderful to watch the kids come out and give of themselves when they could have been at home playing, watching television or glued to their video games. It was heartwarming to see how excited they were. We were treated to a great nunchaku lesson by an awesome instructor – of course I’m unbiased, even if it was my husband. Our son was his assistant and did a fabulous job of inspiring the other kids, many of them his age, to keep on practicing.

The highlight were the board breaks. There were some nervous students sitting there on the mats, but they gave it a focused serious try. Each and every one of them was successful and left with a board signed by Shihan Taylor.

I loved today. It was definitely a day for giving back. Giving to those in need in Japan. And personally by giving back to the kids in the dojo some of the help training that I received along the way. Each of us should do that. You just can’t imagine the feeling you’ll get until you give it a try. My heart is happy knowing that there are so many martial arts with hearts two sizes too big for their gis. And I’m happier still that they took the time to learn how to make themselves stronger while helping those who need a hand right now. Congrats to all who came and helped today at the dojo. You are truly awesome.

An Interesting Week

This has been quite an interesting week at karate so far. There’s been this mental adjustment I’ve had to make that has been kind of strange. I equate it to hearing someone saying ma’am in the parking lot and not turning around. Surely they don’t mean me. That’s what its been like when someone has addressed me as Sensei. I’m finding it a little strange to be the one answering to that.

Its also been rather embarrassing to have public acknowledgement about my new belt in almost every class. The kids have been fabulous, cheering and very happy for me. Its making me blush. It also makes me happy to see how much they all support each other – me included. A great team kind of attitude.

What I’ve liked the best about this week has been the message though. If I’m going to blush up to my eyebrows I’m thankful that there is a message and lesson for the kids and adults there. If I can do it anyone can do it. I’m just an ordinary woman and mom, nothing spectacular about me. I just have an attitude that believes I can do anything and a drive to get to the finish line. Lots of people have that. I have especially liked that the girls see someone like them that has done it. What a great thing if we can inspire girls to take control of their lives, get stronger and stay safer. I even know of one mom who has started training. Now if I could just get the rest off of the seats and on the mats, what a happy black belt I would be!

Thank You

Thank you. Two little words that just don’t say enough. They certainly don’t explain the feeling in my heart for each and every person who has coached, encouraged, nudged, prodded, pushed, pulled, cheered, goaded, inspired, and just been there for me as I have made my journey on the path to black belt. Thank you to each of you who beat me up, making me stronger, who challenged me, and helped me focus.

I have been so fortunate, so lucky, to have each and everyone of you in my life – I certainly couldn’t have done it without you.

So, thank you. I hope that I can give back as much to each of you and karate as it has given me. It’s been a wonderful adventure even when it got hard. The bumps in the road are what helped to strengthen me into the person that I hope I am today. Never give up. You might find a detour takes your journey in a different direction for a little while, I know that I certainly did – it was called the responsiblities of life – but that was a temporary diversion, nothing could keep me from reaching my goal. I have a wonderful karate family of which you are all a part. How amazing that is!

I am deeply indebted especially to Shihan Taylor who has worked with a very difficult student, never giving up on me, pushing me to new heights and helping me to do things that sometimes I wasn’t sure I could. I also owe an amazing thank you to Senseis Taylor, Young and Logan for their help, words of encouragement and helping to make me believe I could really do this. Last, and definitely not least my amazing family who has put up with very long hours training, never grumbling when I said “I’m going to the dojo,” and being the best cheerleaders that anyone could ask for.

Thank you. Thank you one and all. To quote Shihan Taylor, “maybe I should say it in Japanese.” THANK YOU! (Arigato!)

Nervous…

The oddest thing has happened to me today. I’m really getting nervous to tie on my belt tomorrow and walk out on to the mats. My exam is over, I worked hard but I’m not sure if I’m ready for the reaction from everyone that wasn’t there at the exam. I think it’s going to feel so weird to be a black belt ‘all of a sudden’. Never mind that I have toiled away for years just trying to reach this level. All of a sudden I have the belt in my hand and all of the responsibilities that go with it. I’m almost overwhelmed.

Now don’t get me wrong, part of me is very excited to let everyone see my belt. Interestingly my son can’t wait for us to go in and train so that, in his words, “everyone will congratulate him” on my promotion. I find that sweet and endearing and I’m anxious to get his report at the end of the evening as to how it feels to be the son of a black belt. He’s definitely enjoying this, I can tell.

I wrote an open letter today to post in the dojo, offering my thanks to all who have helped me along the way. Perhaps I’ll post it here after I give put it in the dojo. There are so many people who have helped me along the way. I wish that I could thank them all.

I almost feel like a brand new white belt, I’m so nervous. I guess that makes a lot of sense though – I’m just beginning this amazing journey. The door to real growth just opened. I want to sprint down the path but I know I have to take baby steps to really get to where I’m headed. Aren’t life and karate such exciting journeys?

The Morning After

It’s all so very surreal. Yesterday was such a stressful day anticipating the exam and the exam itself went so quickly that today it just doesn’t feel real. Okay, the fact that I really did sleep with my belt last night – I wasn’t letting it go – holding it clutched tight in my hand and seeing it first thing this morning did help to solidify that the whole thing wasn’t a dream. But it still doesn’t feel quite real. I don’t feel any different today than I did yesterday, or a week ago. It really is very odd. And not odd at all. I believe it all goes back to my original premise that reaching black belt is just the beginning of the journey.

I am so excited to take my first few steps on that path now. The magnitude of what I have to learn is just amazing. I can’t believe that anyone looks to me to teach when I realize how much I have to learn, but I am very happy to impart what I have learned so far.

What I was most unprepared for last night were the emotions that coursed through me, not during the exam but afterwards. I was so focused on what I could have done better, what I would change if I could do it again and the disbelief that I had finally attained my goal. I was really unprepared for the amount of tears that I shed. I shed them before I got my belt, standing waiting for the presentation, while I was shaking Shihan’s hand and while I fumbled with tying my new belt. I really shed them when I got home. I think it was probably fifteen years ago that I first put my gi on – I took a long break to work and have my son and returned – but to want something for that long and finally get it, I suppose I should have expected to feel emotional.

It was amazingly awesome to receive such support from those around me. Family and friends have been a wonderful part of my journey, always encouraging me each step along the way. I owe a very very special debt of gratitude and thanks to my extraordinary husband and son who never complained about the long hours away spent in the dojo as I trained and to my instructors, especially Shihan Taylor who nudged, prodded, and beat me up along the way to make myself a better student. There are no words to express how I feel this morning or to really thank them for what an amazing gift they have given me.

I’ve watched numerous black belts through the years get their belt and quit training. I must admit, this morning I’m even more puzzled by that than I ever have been before. I absolutely cannot wait to get in the dojo and train again. Wearing the belt makes me want to train even more. If I can get to this point, what can I do if I train even harder? Maybe I just have karate coursing through my veins, I don’t know. But what I do know is one day – in the very distant future – if I my vision of the future is true I’m going to be that old woman out on the mats that can still kick up to her head, do an impressive spinning back kick and hold my own against the young kids in the dojo. And I hope that I’ll be able to give back to karate as much as its given me so far.

I still can’t believe I did it.

Today is the day…

I didn’t need to rip the page off of my calendar to realize what today was. I knew the second I woke up. I hadn’t even opened my eyes yet and I was already reciting my answer to how do you defend/protect yourself. The words rolled over and over again in my mind. “You recognize the situation. You evaluate what is going on, checking your distance and looking for escape routes. Then you react by increasing your distance and using your voice. After that you defend yourself by making a preemptive strike or a defense strike.” Those words have been repeated in my mind so often, I hope that they roll off my tongue easily tonight.

I’m doing kata in my mind, repeating moves, developing strategies about sparring. My brain is in karate overload. I just can’t believe that the day I’ve dreamed about, fantasized about has finally arrived. Its surreal. I’m strangely calm on the inside as I run through everything over and over again. I think part of it might be years and years of training, knowing that some of this will just be second nature and come to me. Not over thinking it, perhaps some of it not thinking much at all, just letting the muscle memory take over and letting my body do what it knows to do. The other reason I think I’m calm is that I still don’t truly believe that its real. It can’t be. I have so much more to learn.

When I have my hand on that belt tonight, tears streaming down my face I think I’ll be looking ahead to my next training session, to improve on what I did tonight and to reach a new rung on the ladder. There might be a new black belt standing in our dojo tonight but she is definitely going to feel like a novice student, eager to crack open the books and learn all that there is to learn. Tonight I plan to take my first real step along the shodan path.

Reality is starting to set in

One of the little girls in the dojo asked me today if after my test I will be a Sensei. That was such a weird feeling – to hear that question. My first thought of course was no, that title belongs to someone else and has for as long as I have known him. I am now and will forever be a student of karate. And I’m happy to be that. So many things all jumbled around in my head that I’ve never thought about it that way.

Yes, I’ve been in training to teach for quite some time now but to be a real instructor, that’s just so hard to fathom. I have so much to learn and learning is a lifelong task. I watch myself in the mirror when I train and see things to work on, things to improve, things I want to do better.

And you know what? I am so glad that I do. Becoming lazy and complacent, not growing as a karate student, those are the things that would make me sad. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. Just staying on the path towards a goal can be hard enough but I realize how hard I’ve had to work (hey, let’s face it I’m not 16 or 21 anymore) and the changes that karate has made in me and I’m even happier. I didn’t give up when it got tough. I had to quit for a long while due to work and family but I never gave up – I always knew I’d go back and become a black belt.

That moment when I finally ring the bell after my dan exam is going to be one of the sweetest moments. I just know that I’m going to ring it with tears streaming down my face. Not sure I even care right now if I don’t look ‘tough’. Is it okay for a black belt to cry? I hope so because I know one that is going to be shedding some real tears of joy as she thanks her family for always supporting her and her instructors for pushing her to become someone she only dreamed that she could be one day.

I plan on making sure that this Friday is the day that a certain tear-stained mom of five is ringing that bell like it has never been rung before.

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