Student Voices: Why I Train
I began my training with a self defense class in 1994. Learning to physically defend myself was intriguing, and I came back the next year to start karate. I had never even thought of studying a martial art, but I loved the focus and challenge of each class. After gaining some experience with the martial skills, I became more interested in the application of self-defense in my every day life. The idea of respect for self and others, and expressing these through assertive communication, was a revelation. I found that I could easily practice saying no in class, but real life would usually catch me off guard. I was often shy and uncertain when faced with inappropriate behavior. I would review an uncomfortable exchange afterward, wondering why I hadn’t stood up for myself (yet again). This tension was frustrating, but I did get an occasional glimpse of the assertiveness I was after. Once, while I was out dancing with some friends, I danced with a stranger, which I would not have minded except that he kept stepping on my feet. When he came back to ask for a second dance, I decided not to make up an excuse, but just said “No, thank you.” It worked! Just like I had practiced in class, I was clear, direct, and unapologetic, and everything was fine. This experience changed the way I looked at the world: I could speak my mind, without faltering, and I just might be heard and understood. This was reassuring in many ways. For one thing, I love to dance, and I wanted to be able to enjoy myself on an evening out. And of course it was an excellent example of what was possible in all kinds of situations in which I might be called up to voice an opinion.
I have been practicing this assertiveness in my everyday life for many years, and I am still pleased with myself when I get it right. It is not yet a completely automatic habit, but it is easier and more comfortable. Then there are the times I get it wrong. Although I have set this important goal, I have also had to practice being gentle with myself when I miss it.
I remind my students to “strive with patience,” and I love the dual message in these words. It is honorable to do your best, and that is what counts. At the same time, it is important to be as kind and patient with yourself as you would with anyone else. When I recognized that this journey is about daily decisions, that I will never be finished, it was a relief. Though I cannot change the mistakes I make, I will have another chance to do my best, and I can continue to become a more courageous, calm, compassionate person.
As all of us do, I have dozens of reasons why I train, but I’ll start with this one: I’ve always preferred to think my way out of problems. I’m good at thinking – no confrontations, no potential rejection, no one has to know if it doesn’t work. The perfect crime. The thing about thinking, though, is there’s only so far it will take you. You can’t think yourself into physical strength or out of threatening situations beyond your control. I was never able to think of a good argument when my father would ask my brother, not me, to help him with the tough jobs around the house; thinking doesn’t make me feel safer walking alone at night. On the occasions when I decide to stop thinking and just act, it always feels like a pretty risky business, one that I may or may not see through to any sort of logical conclusion. Starting at Sun Dragon was one such leap of faith. I began my training prompted by mild curiosity, the nebulous conviction that it would probably, somehow, be good for me, and the knowledge that I would be training with other women. Surely at least some of them had fathers who always asked their brothers to do the heavy lifting.
So I started karate as a hobby, always half-anticipating that it wouldn’t work out, smiling to myself at the made-up future in which I was a black belt – the implication being that naturally, that would never happen. And then came the day when I finally stopped short and asked myself, Well, why not? Why on earth not? Don’t I want to become a black belt? Admittedly, yes. So what is there to possibly stand in my way, except for myself? No one’s going to blow their whistle and sit me on the bench, or tell me that I’ve made a good run of it but maybe I should think about quitting after I get my yellow belt. All I have to do is do it. Not think, not doubt – just do. Maybe some people come to this realization at their first class. It took me months. In fact, I’m still digesting the enormity of this logic: if I can do that, what else might I be capable of?
When I came to Sun Dragon, my primary reason was to learn a few practical self-defense skills, a goal I had put off for a long time. I had a general idea that I wanted to feel more confident in my ability to face confrontation, but beyond that I had not given much thought to the challenges or benefits of learning a martial art. Over a year later, I continue to be amazed at the both physical and mental rewards that training provides me.
I’ve found that training in karate has been much more rewarding for me than going to a gym. The instruction and feedback from Sensei and my Senpai provides an invaluable learning experience, and the collaborative spirit of the class always encourages my best individual effort. Unlike the gym, where my fitness goals were centered around weight loss, I focus with greater satisfaction on strength, flexibility, balance, and speed. In addition to being both healthier and stronger, I feel that as a result of challenges in the dojo, I am more prepared to meet challenges outside the dojo with less fear or anxiety. I am finding I have a better ability to put problems in perspective and have greater mental clarity for addressing them. This in itself is reason enough for me to train.
Considering why I train brings to mind a quote by Zora Neale Hurston, whose writing I much admire; she wrote referring to photographs of herself, “I love myself when I’m laughing…and again when I’m looking mean and impressive”. I understand this as I see my fellow karateka step into a fighting stance and prepare to train. Training, also, enables me to love myself not only when I’m smiling, but when I’m feeling fierce and focused, too!
The reasons why I train in karate and the reasons why I train at Sun Dragon are inextricably intertwined. This is not to say that I would no longer train in karate if I could no longer train at Sun Dragon; but I don’t think I would still be training in karate if I had not begun my training at Sun Dragon. The Sun Dragon community is one of the most supportive that I have ever known. This support has helped me to develop a level of comfort with my body and a sense of confidence that I had never known before and that I will take with me wherever I go in the future. Sun Dragon is a place I come to be challenged as well as a place to find peace—a place where I exercise my body and my mind in tandem. I train to improve myself. I train at Sun Dragon because its community provides a unique environment in which to improve myself, but also because it is a community where my contribution to the whole is valued and encouraged. I train because I have something to learn from each and every person with whom I train.
I train because some day I could save myself and my mom started too, and I am determined! Below is part of my admission letter to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders:
“I [also] like playing sports, especially karate, tennis and volleyball. I have been training in karate at Sun Dragon Martial Arts for 3 years. In February, I will test for my brown belt. I have learned a lot about leadership and wellness through karate. Leadership is one of the most important things we learn about in our karate school. As a senior student, I have a lot of responsibility. I help new students participate in demonstrations and our annual fundraising kickathon, and help to lead the bows. We help one another call the bows to start class. It means we respect the world first. Also, we teach girls self-defense and how to take care of their bodies and be kind to themselves. We also teach people who are blind, people who do not have money to train with us, and children who are adopted and might experience bullying. As a senior student, I have helped teach these classes.
In our karate school, we have a code of ethics: love, respect, responsibility, courage, and strong spirit. I have used this code of ethics in my schoolwork. The sentence for strong spirit is “A karateka maintains strong spirit and gives one hundred percent effort in all situations.”
Sometimes there are cliques in schools who don’t let you play because they are just for girls or for boys. There are also students who bully people because they think they are not smart or are too smart. Rosa Parks inspires me to want to help people in school move on, or help them get into a group, or start our own group where everyone can play together.
Rosalinda Marchione Jones”
I started training at Sun Dragon in June 2007. After a long hiatus from martial arts in particular and exercise in general, I knew that I needed a new challenge in order to get myself back into shape. I wanted to explore a martial art with a more diverse range of actions than the kendo I had previously studied, as well as self-defense training that wouldn’t entail toting a large wooden stick everywhere. The choice to join Sun Dragon is one of the best decisions I’ve made.
I suspected that karate would not come easily to me, and it has not. I have all the natural flexibility of a brick, the balance of an egg and the catlike reflexes of Garfield. I immediately appreciated the supportive atmosphere of Sun Dragon, where the acceptance that I felt inspired me to work patiently toward building the qualities that I lacked. Considering my original reason for joining-to get off the couch-the benefits of training have been enormous. I have gotten to know amazing people, felt my discipline grow with the effort of attending regular classes and learned the patience needed to work steadily toward a difficult and distant goal. In my work with college students, some of whom struggle mightily as they attempt to make their way in the world, this last quality has been invaluable. I train now because it makes me a better person than I was before.
I train because to not train is to deny myself needs
that are as primal as hunger,
natural as breathing,
innate as a heartbeat.
My body needs movement.
I move it though kata, kihons,
I move it against bags and ukes.
I move it through kumite.
My mind needs puzzles;
to sort through the intricacies of
a combination or a kata
keeps me sharp and ready.
My soul needs community.
Walking into the dojo is to
walk into a friend’s embrace
irrespective of the quality
of your mood,
irrespective of what you are
able to give that day.
To train is to meet the requirements of my soul’s dynamism.
I am blessed to do that at Sun Dragon.
I train in karate because I can have a rare talent to defend myself and to learn about something that is not the easiest thing. There are many different types of karate and more martial arts. There are tons of basics and kata and techniques using your own self. This may one day save your life. You can learn where to use it. Unlike boxing you only use karate when you are in trouble. There are over 800 styles. You can do it for fun, too.
I train because at the time I needed it most, Sun Dragon found me and welcomed me with open arms.
When I stepped foot into Sun Dragon that Saturday morning a couple years ago, I was on a stress leave from work – unable to cope with my ongoing anxiety problems and the self-inflicted limitations of my physical health. I was at my wit’s end and unforgiving of myself, and needed to find an outlet to regain control of my body, my psyche, and my life. I had trained in Tae Kwon Do for years as a teenager, and remember being skilled (albeit timid), so I thought that perhaps this was the answer.
In my time at Sun Dragon I’ve gained valuable, difficult to learn skills in karate and in my own life. I’ve learned to see physical fitness and discipline as a reward rather than a punishment, and I’ve learned to see balance as achievable rather than a fantasy. I’ve learned to set emotional and physical boundaries (the lack of which were causing unending amounts of stress). And most importantly, I’ve learned that there are things that I’m good at, and I’m not the inept burden my mind was telling me I was.
I’m good at training. I’m good at focusing. I’m good at maintaining determination, and I’m good at helping my peers see the same things in themselves. I’m good at enjoying the journey while looking forward to the destination, and I’m good at picking myself back up when I land on my back.
I’ve learned that I am in control of myself, my body, and my life, and that I do have power over the things that I’ve told myself hold me back. I’ve learned that there is a community of like-minded people, all of us strange and different and wonderful, brought together with a single purpose that we all share.
I train because after years of squandering in the uncertainty and aimlessness of young adulthood, I’ve finally found my family and my purpose.