I was 16 years old when I took my first karate class.
I had just learned to drive, but my mom insisted on taking my two younger brothers and me to karate classes each week. She'd sit in the small metal chair in the back of the viewing area while we kicked, punched, and yelled our way through class. Over time, my brothers chose ice hockey over the late evening karate practices, but I stayed through, loving the power, strength, and fierceness that came with spin kicks, hammer fists, and flying side kicks. I spent evenings in class - often going to more classes than I needed. I was 16, so Jean Claude Van Damme was all the rage, and I spent hours watching television in a full split, aiming one day to do his amazing (and terrifying!) split between two chairs. I had real goals back then, y'all. Real goals.
I remember being in the zone when I was in karate. I was lightening fast, even winning a "fastest number of kicks in 60 seconds" contest we had in our studio. I joined all of the extra activities that had to do with karate. I even had a warm up jacket - a bright white, half-zip pull over, with an outline of a person in a jump side kick outlined in red, white, and blue. I was killin' it in full karate fashion.
After a little over a year of studying and believing that, one day, I would grow to be a karate instructor, I earned my green belt, a mark of being about 1/3 of the way through formal black belt training. But, I then went off to college.
Still committed to being both a doctor (back then, a different kind than I am now) AND a full on karate master, I switched karate styles. I started from the bottom and, two years later, made my way up to a green belt. Again, a marker of being about 1/3 of the way. Once I ditched my medical school dreams (did I mention I'd rather be a karate instructor than an oncologist?), I began to take more classes and try more daring activities. In one demonstration on the campus quad (where my now husband had seen me perform for the first time), I did some sort of wild flying jump spin and hammer fisted into a number of wooden boards. A little too eager at that time, I ended up in the emergency room with a wrist the size of a large grapefruit. Didn't hurt - I was too high from the fact that the boards still broke even though I did the move wrong!
As you know, time passes.
Graduation from college. Graduate school. Teaching career. Administration. Marriage. One kid. Cancer. Then another kid. Then another kid. More cancer drama. Doctoral program. Career changes.
And, all of those karate memories were a distant past.
In 2012, though, I knew my two older children would really benefit from karate. Our lives were going through major transition at home, and having an activity that would keep the two older children focused would be helpful. So, we enrolled them in karate - the same school I had attended back in 1995.
Just like my own mother, I sat in the chair in the viewing area and watched as my children discovered the strength within them. I watched them learn self-defense take downs, push their bodies to the edge of possibilities, and see the steel-concentration in their eyes when they tapped into their reserves. Every time, I watched them do a form or learn a new kick, memories came flooding back of my own training. And, I yearned for that experienced again. But, mid-doctoral program, three children, and lots of changes at home put my own needs last.
As I watched the two older children progress, and earn, their black belts, I knew it was time. I knew that if I continued to just sit on the sidelines, I'd find that there was never a "perfect time" for me to start.
So, at age 41, physically obese, and filled with excitement, I signed up for karate.
At first, the fire within me carried me through the workouts. But, I wasn't a teenager anymore. I was about 80 lbs heavier since the last time I had put on the white uniform, and soon those workouts reminded me just how out-of-shape I had let myself become. While my heart never wanted to quit, my body always questioned whether or not someone like me -- obese at 41 -- could do this.
And, 8 months later, my body would remind me just how different things were going to be.
In September 2017, vertigo kicked in.
I swear, I had never been so miserable in my life (and, remember folks, I've had a mastectomy, oophorectomy, and host of radical surgeries). Vertigo sucks. And, it has stayed with me even a year after the first onset.
When vertigo first showed up as an unwelcome guest in my head, I was completely sidelined for over 2 months. And, in karate, two months can be a whole belt advancement. I sat watching people who had started after me begin to catch up and, eventually, surpass me in belt rank. I felt defeated. I felt angry. I felt like I was destined to never go further than this. I was ready to give up.
But, I couldn't do it. I couldn't give up. I had wanted this for so long (passion). I had put in time on the floor and outside of class (practice). And, I had my eyes set on achieving what my own children had achieved; for being a role model for others who wanted to be stronger; and proving to myself that I could do this (persistence).
Two months later, I returned back on the floor, more out of shape than when I had started. I couldn't do sit ups or anything that would cause my head to make sudden movements. I had trouble doing throws (when you literally throw someone - or get thrown! - onto the floor) because the change in position triggered dizziness. And, forget my favorite moves - spinning sidekicks. That was like inviting dizziness over for a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
I'm stubborn, though (really?).
And, one workout, I decided to try sit ups, floor stretches where I was laying down, and spin kicks.
(insert judge-y size eyes here)
I was dizzy for a week.
Passion. Practice. Persistence.
But, I'm back in class again. While I'm now in class modifying lots of the workout -- and, some days, I'm so embarrassed that I'm modifying -- I still show up. I'm not the strongest or the fastest or the most precise one on that floor. Not by a long shot. But, I'm here. And, after 1 1/2 years, I just surpassed the highest rank that I had achieved my other two times around. On August 24, I earned my advanced green belt.
It may not seem like much, but this milestone means everything to me.
It means I wanted it (passion). It means I earned enough classes and time on the floor (practice). And it means I didn't give up (persistence).
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION. When I travel the country talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I often remind people that this work takes passion, practice, and persistence. You have to want to do better (passion). You have to practice doing better, and that practice often means getting it wrong a whole bunch of times. Practice also means not fitting in with others, seeing just how clumsy you are, and being open to getting it all wrong. And, you have to keep going even when you feel like things aren't getting better (persistence).
THANK YOU, PBK! I'm so grateful for the amazing people at Personal Best Karate. For Master Chris Rappold who met me when I was 16 years old and who mentored me along the way. For Masters Dana and Eileen Rappold who built my three children into confident, fierce, and prepared human beings AND who continue to role model and encourage me along my own karate journey. And, for their amazing group of instructors who, despite being young enough to be my own children, never treat me like the old, clumsy lady that I feel like on most days.
Peace, passion, practice, and persistence,