I recently had a pinned tweet asking my followers if they had any questions about martial arts and self-defense training. I got quite a few responses from several followers, and I hope to answer as many as possible on my Martial Arts Practitioner blog page.
A number of followers asked me what martial arts style I practice and about my experiences. No better way to start this blog than to share a little bit about me and the art I practice!
Welcome to my origin story.
I was first introduced to martial arts classes when I was in first grade. My parents wanted me to learn self-defense because they were worried about the world I would have to face as a young woman. Unfortunately, being female and being Asian American makes me a target.
My parents took me to a few places in the area that offered kids lessons, but they all seemed too showy or expensive. Fortunately, there was an after-school karate program (at the private school I was attending) that was offered in the gym/cafeteria area every Wednesday.
So, at the age of six, I began my journey as an Okinawan Karatedo GōJū Ryu student.
As a white belt, I learned some of the basics: stances, blocks, punches, kicks. It all seemed pretty easy and fun to do. I remember feeling invincible because I finally knew how to throw a proper punch and kick.
It was around this time I was introduced to the 1984 film The Karate Kid, starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. I fantasized often about being a real-life karate kid and felt like I would have my black belt in no time.
At the end of the school year, I received my yellow belt and the feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming, like I was ready to be rewarded ninja status or something.
That same day, I was invited by the master of the karate school to come and train with him and his other students at the dojo. That was when my real training began.
The dojo. The challenge. The work.
The dojo was a place of intensity that I had not experienced before. And I had so much more to learn.
I had to memorize the school’s lineage and the virtues. I had to bow to show respect to the dojo, the instructors, my classmates and the masters. I had more punches, kicks, blocks, stances and combinations to learn. It was not an easy journey. I had to work for my ranks.
My instructors would drill all the new techniques into my mind and body, practicing over and over and over again. Many times, I was exhausted. And with school, sports and other activities, there were times I wanted to quit. I would even argue with my parents about it.
It got to a point where my parents made a bargain with me: “When you achieve your black belt, you will have the choice to quit or continue your training. But until then, you will practice martial arts.” Of course, as a teenager (who would rather hang out at the mall on Saturdays than go to karate class), this was annoying.
Eventually, through my dedication and determination to achieve my black belt, I earned my ranks one by one.
Every time I achieved a new level, my instructors would smile and say, “You have one week to bask (in glory) and then next week, [insert dramatic pause] it’s back to blood, sweat and tears!” That was quite intimidating as a kid. But now, as an adult (and an instructor), it is pretty comical.
When the student becomes a sensei.
When I was a second level brown belt, the master of the karate school, Ferrillo Shihan (may he rest in peace) promoted me to sensei. He invited me to help him with the after-school kids, the same program where my journey began all those years ago.
Becoming an instructor added a whole new aspect to my training that I did not anticipate.
The ability to teach martial arts is not an easy task, especially when it has to be taught to children. The students I taught always had questions. (What is it with kids and questions?)
As an instructor, I thought I was supposed to know everything, have all the answers and know all the things an instructor should know. It was humbling to realize that, even as an instructor, I still had much to learn.
Being an instructor does not mean I know everything. I do not claim to know everything. I am, and always will remain, a student. And in each class, I look forward to learning and adapting my art, whether I’m teaching or taking a lesson.
Black belt and beyond.
After eleven years of practice, dedication and “blood, sweat and tears,” I finally tested and received my shodan (初段 – literally translates to “beginning degree”). Earning my black belt was a humbling experience.
Ferrillo Shihan was proud to promote me. Not many students stick around to achieve their black belt (or after the fact); whether it is because they gave up and quit or life got in the way and they were unable to commit the time to practice anymore.
While attending community college, I continued my training. Juggling college courses, extracurriculars, work and quality time with friends and family, I managed to make it to karate class twice a week. Of course, I had missed a few sessions here and there, either because I wanted to sleep in from a long night of studying or I had prior engagements. But overall, I managed and made time for my training.
I am grateful that my parents pushed me to stay and continue practicing martial arts. I’m not sure who I would be or what I would be doing without martial arts in my life.
Now as a nidan (二段 – “second degree”), I still have a lot to learn. From new katas to improving techniques, I am crafting my martial art skills to fit my style, suit my needs and pursue the degrees that follow.
Recently, I have been experimenting with other styles of martial arts and self-defense training. And even though I do not have the money or the time to attend another school or take another class, I do have access to books, the internet and other resources to help me learn new techniques.
The martial arts school where I study also invites instructors from other dojos to give seminars. The school, overall, wants to create partnerships in hopes of increasing interest in the art and building awareness of other styles and techniques that can be applied to students’ practices.
Practicing multiple art forms helps students keep a well rounded understanding of the arts, improve their techniques and introduce new knowledge that can be incorporated into their training. Through learning other styles, my goal is to improve and build upon my art to become a great martial artist.
Thank you to everyone who asked questions! I have been wanting to write this blog for a while but could not find a good starting point. With your questions and feedback, I now have an idea of what to work on and how to approach this subject.
Shout out to the following for the questions in this blog:
Stay tuned for more blog posts! I hope to continue this series and answer most (if not all) questions that were asked.
Have a question about martial arts/self-defense training? Ask in the comments or at me on Twitter!