After 25 years of learning, practicing, and teaching karate; sharing martial arts skills to adults and children; helping students; refreshing my own katas; finding new sources from which to learn; and helping students tie their belts, I’m still nowhere near being a karate champion.
I’ve learned and taught martial arts from my young adulthood all the way through middle age, yet I’ve never been in a tournament or been judged on my karate skills except in my tests. I’ve never advanced past my 2nd degree. After 25 years of martial arts, while others have achieved 10th dan, have multiple black belts, or are even famous in movies, I’m still just…an everyday martial artist.
Who am I? I am the one on whom you can depend. I am the one who shows up to every class no matter what, who greets students’ parents with a smile and a few words, who strives to teach with enthusiasm and truth, and who has no problem paying a compliment when a skill is beautifully executed. I’m the one who sends out the Facebook posts of students performing their skills so their parents can see them and be proud. I send out the e-mail reminders of upcoming events. I bellow the encouraging words “Good Class!” at the end of each class as everyone exits the dojo. I am the one who knows that the small, quiet tasks that are not readily seen by others are the ones that sustain an enthusiastic and caring environment. With all of these years of effort and hard work, I have to ask myself, does it matter that I will never be a karate champion?
The Untold Story
It is so easy these days, to get caught up in hype and wonder why we are not rich or famous or even recognizable. On YouTube there are instant sensations in the making. Magazines remind us how stars live so perfectly. The Olympics display the unbelievable physical talents of athletes. Trends on the Internet make others famous in a blink. How do people get to be such impeccable champions?
They get that way from years of hard work, effort, and dedication. We don’t often hear the “untold story” of how these overnight sensations struggled with self-image, defeat, or hour after hour of brutal practice. We don’t realize that the Olympian worked as a janitor on the night shift so he could practice his Olympic sport during the day. Who would have guessed? We may not be able to live up to the lives of these high-achievers, but we should consider how we can create our own legacy. This is about how we make a difference in the world through our own effort, passion, and experiences. I think we need to be reminded that who we are involves a lot more than our occupation or the work we do to make a living. We are much more than people ever get to see.
I always wonder why, when we meet someone for the first time, the conversation usually revolves around what we do for a living. We never ask instead, what are your passions? What is important to you? What are your goals? Don’t these things define us more the hours we sit in an office somewhere? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we actually cared about who we are instead of what we are? I am still working on just being a good martial artist, never mind a champion. Earning my black belt is one of those untold stories that no one knows. Someone may think, “what she did to earn a black belt?” Well, it was not easy. It was a path riddled with worrisome life altering challenges.
My opportunity finally came after years of karate classes and belt tests, student teaching and practice when I was several months pregnant with my first child. I was really into fitness and with the doctor’s blessing I had permission to continue my training and modify when necessary. Just a year earlier I had actually been pregnant but had a miscarriage, a loss that was difficult to understand and accept. During my black belt test I carried worry in the back of my mind even though I was assured I was healthy. At thirty years of age and several months pregnant, I stood up in my exam facing an audience and my instructors, fellow students and my husband, and was awarded my black belt.
That day I felt like I was a champion. I overcame fear and worry and simultaneously accomplished a goal reserved for those with fierce dedication. Four children later with a black belt still proudly displayed around my waist, I have something even more important than a gold medal. I’ve been awarded a very blessed life.
Living a blessed life and living the life of a champion are two different things, though. I bet real champions are organic, well-oiled machines who make every moment count. I bet they are health conscious and conscientious about how they live. They probably only eat the best and healthiest of foods, guzzle water, steam organic vegetables and cook only the leanest of meats. Before training they may load up on carbs. Desserts are out of the question and soda is a no-no. Artificial sweeteners would never touch their lips and chips are for the grocery store shelves, not the cupboard at home.
When I came home a few nights ago, I ate two handfuls of tortilla chips, worked out for an hour, and followed up with a bowl of cheerios and a small piece of cake. I think this confirms my chances of ever being a champion are pretty slim.
I try to live my life in moderation. It means I can do and eat whatever I want as long as it is not something I do all the time. On occasion, crunching a few chips or swigging a glass of soda is okay, but not all the time. When I live my life in moderation, there is room for chips, cake and soda, just a little, here and there, as long as it doesn’t become a habit. I’m not in training for anything other than living a good life. Some will argue with me, that a martial artist should never eat this stuff; or that truly healthy people have more will power. Some might say that even having these things in moderation is still unhealthy. I say, most of us are going to indulge, so if that’s the case, moderation is better than complete indulgence.
A little here and there is my motto. I exercise not too much, not too little. My weight is not questioned by the doctor. I don’t obsess about wrinkles, but I’m not happy about them either. I wish I was younger, yet I love the freedom of knowing who I am. I can accept myself with moderation. I can find good at every corner where something not so good dwells. Maybe moderation has kept me from being a true champion, but on the other hand, moderation has saved me from being overweight, sad, or arrogant. It has kept me healthy, fit, and smart. Moderation has helped me write articles, be a mother, and a good teacher. When I’m leaning one way or the other, too much or too little of anything, I choose the road in between, the one of moderation and that is where I find the most success.
Maybe I can do without the cheerios, chips and cake. Next time, I’ll try to make a better choice. If I fail, or have to take the moderation route, that is what I will do.
The background of each individual tells a story that contains champion-like qualities. There are definite times in my life when I did extraordinary things. I faced obstacles like pregnancy issues and financial problems, and found ways to overcome. Every single challenge in my life opened a new door for me. It’s not unlike being a fighter in the ring who has only a quick second to figure out how to make a change that will benefit him. If he is getting beat down, you can be sure his discomfort will prompt him to try one approach and yet another until he finds a better way. In the end he either wins or loses. The fighter who wins is the one who figured out how to make a strategically better choice before it was too late. If we don’t feel a pinch somewhere or some discomfort, we just stay where we are, and fail to ever step outside the box and utilize our talents. We can’t win the match if we don’t make some immediate changes.
In my personal struggles, creativity flowed and helped to eliminate some very real problems. I’ve always been a writer at heart, but not until these life issues jolted me, did I even consider writing about the very topics that I love and that inspire me. Not only has writing helped me explore my life in new ways, it is an outreach to others who face similar struggles and issues.
Martial arts, like writing, are another piece of who I am. There is no pomp and circumstance, no bragging, no explanation. My work is done on the back end; the work no one sees that brings the finished product to light. The untold story is that so much of what I do is wrapped around martial arts; the way I think, how I think, how and what I feel. All the effort that I put in to learning and teaching along with my love for kids and desire to help them is the championship quality that dwells inside of me. A champion must hone his craft, work all his life toward one focused goal. He must strive to be the best in his field, sacrifice time with family and friends, and work hour after hour relentlessly. Of all the black belts, karate instructors, Tai Chi masters, and dojo owners that I know, very few have ever achieved the status of a champion.
Being a champion doesn’t matter much to me. What I really want to do is make each moment a small championship in itself. What is important is the untold story and the behind the scenes truth. Maybe in twenty-five more years I’ll have another stripe or two on my belt or a completely different black belt in a couple of other styles. With all of that said, I think I can answer that question now, about if it really matters to me that I will never be a karate champion.
No, it doesn’t matter. I may not be a champion, but every day I am a champion in the making.
Live your life like a champion.