Getting into Karate

Growing up was very hard for me, though my family life was great, school was a total nightmare with all the fights I had to go through.  People would gang up and attack me, and when asked why, it was always “because my friend was doing it”.  Most of the years I would not even attempt to hit back. I hated pain and it would go through my head, if I hate it why cause others to be in pain?  So instead, I would drop down and let them beat me up.  Most superheroes taught you that you needed superpowers or gadgets to be able to defend yourself.  So the idea of fighting back for defense did not come to me till I became a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For me, fighting back started when I read the novel of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  In there, we see Casey Jones who was originally without a weapon, get confronted by a large amount of the Foot.  He gets into the fight with their lead warrior and wins the fight with the gang watching him.  After he wins the fight, one of the boys yell “What are we standing here for?  Let’s get him!” but before anyone could move, Casey points at the boy and says “Do you want to be next?”  at that moment the fight was over.

In this lesson, I learned if you take out the leader the fight is over.  So I started to focus on the leaders and this worked.  The fighting kept going, but I was hurt a lot less.  Though what I really wanted was for the fights to end completely.  For sixth grade, my mom switched me to another school and the fighting did end.  This was the best school year of my life, where I had that awesome school birthday party.  (will link to that post here).  But seventh grade I merged back with the kids that use to beat me up.  The fighting started back up and my mom decided enough was enough.

My mother found a local dojo here in Ferndale.  It was for Tang Soo Doo and the classes were cheap.  They took me in for $50 for every 6 months.   My first few days I trained in normal clothes to see if this was it for me.  I learned fast that I don’t like push  ups.  Though I loved learning kicks, the front kick was the first kick I learned.  I found myself falling right into place with Tang Soo Doo.  So we went into full swing.  Getting me a  gi and any other gear I needed.  I was training twice a week and still training at home.  At school, as soon as they learned I was in karate, the fighting came to a standstill.

I worked hard at karate and really thought I was doing a good job at it.  In this school the belts went white, white with stripe, yellow, green, green with first stripe, green with second stripe, green with third stripe, blue, brown, brown with stripe, and black.  I figured I was going to work as hard as I could to go through the ranks to get my black belt.  This dojo also did their own local TV show on the local cable channel, which they wanted to pull me in to.  Since I loved acting, this all sounded great.  I trusted them.

When testing came around I passed to my stripe really easy.  The next testing though came as a great surprise to me as they gave me my green belt.  Totally skipping over the yellow belt.  Feeling I must have earned this, I was proud of my belt.  I kept working hard and even started to train with weapons.  I wanted to start off with the nunchucks though my sensei decided that I should use the bo staff.  So that’s where my weapon training begone.  Since I was a fan of Thundercats before Ninja Turtles, I had some history with the bo staff.  When playing Thundercats with the other kids on the street I was always stuck as Cheetara because I was the older female in the group and her weapon was the bo staff.  When I started collecting TMNT comics, I got the training book with Donatello teaching how to use the bo staff, which was my favorite of the training books.  So I picked up fast on how to do each of the moves they taught me.  My sensei taught me a form that he made up as we went along.

Soon he had me going to a tournament, a chance to see if my skills would match up to other schools.  I was nervous when going there.  Once there we were split up by belts and ages.  There was forms, weapons, and sparring.  I was not ready with my bo staff yet, so I went for only forms and sparring.  In forms, I didn’t do anything, though sparring that was different for me.  I didn’t really get to spar people too much at the dojo.  I knew the gist of it but was never taught to hold back and my fighting stance was a horse stance.

I got into the ring for my first match.  There was this boy much taller than me.  I was so scared they had us bow to the judges, bow to each other, and go into our fighting stance.  The fight started.  I wasted no time, going in throwing a back leg roundhouse kick with my right leg.  The kick landed, much harder than I ever intended, as I sent this boy flying out of the ring onto a cement floor.  I felt so bad, they had me go and kneel in a corner until the boy was up.  We got back into the ring, I didn’t try nearly as hard as I was not in this to hurt anyone.  I lost the fight, but felt I owed it to him for not having control in that first kick.   I left the tournament with my first and tallest karate trophy which was as for third place in sparring, feeling I was on the right road and even matched up with people of my belt rank from other dojos and styles.

I went back to training at the school and other students joined, two of which were my age, so we had a class together, no more private lessons.  Though I was the highest rank, they started to catch up fast.  Now one of them I totally agreed with, he was great!  He had skill.  His kicks were strong and mean, his blocks and punches were amazing.  I really knew he belonged in karate and did a great job at what he was doing.  The other boy though, I did not feel as strongly about.  Every time the sensei turned his back he would joke around and goof off.  As I watched him go through the ranks, it troubled me as I knew his skills were not as good, yet he was not far behind us.

The next tournament rolled around and I went again, this time ready to enter weapons as I brought my bo staff.  Though when I got there, I realized we did not have a name for the form I would perform.  So I went around and asked for help as I could not find my sensei to ask him.  A black belt I met there told me to just call it “Bo Staff Form 1”.  So I got into each of the areas this time.  In forms, I did nothing again, not knowing what I was doing wrong.  In sparring, I did not place at all, not finding that my strong point.  Though in weapons I went right through and came out with first place.  A much smaller trophy, but meant a lot more to me.

Going back to the dojo there was no question in my mind that I was in the right belt.  Though now the other two were in their green belts.  I had green with 3 stripes, so I was still ahead of them.  With them in the intermediate area now, we could work on other things like break falls and throwing.  The two of us that I felt belonged in these belts were doing great, though the other one was trouble.  He was still a joker and at the wrong times.  One time the sensei left us while we were doing throws and he was joking while throwing me.  He threw me the wrong way and I landed hard on my upper back.  He could've hurt me by not paying attention to what he was doing.  I felt he should still be in his yellow belt, and I felt strongly about that.

When testing came around the other kid jumped up to my rank as we both earned our blue belts.  I was cool with that, he was doing so great with his training.  I knew he was going to pass me up in rank.  During that testing we got to break boards.  I remember the first board I broke was with the palm strike.  Next we did an elbow strike and again broke the board.  The last move they had us try was a roundhouse kick with our insteps.  This move did not break the board and if anything is bruised my foot.  I remember laughing a lot and having fun, though this was the last time I tested at Tang Soo Doo for a belt.

Now one of the things we knew here was testing was always done as a group.  We’d test together, we get our belts together.  We all knew where each other were in class.  It seemed like a good program.  Our sensei was the one to test us with the Grandmaster there to watch.  So when I came in one day and saw that the one boy now in a blue belt, with no testing.  I felt sick.  He rubbed it in my face that he was the same rank as me.  I remember being so broken inside, knowing his skill was not where it needed to be.  I went through this class feeling dead inside, barely trying, wondering how and why he had his next belt and how he could be compared to the two of us in blue belt.  After class I put on my shoes, said good bye to my sensei and Grandmaster and walked out to the car.

I sat into my mom’s car and broke down crying.  I told my mom I quit and that I am not returning to this school.  My mom asked why and I told her, the boy was placed at the same belt as I, she also agreed he was traveling through his belts too fast.  So she went in to ask what was going on.  The Grandmaster was the person she talked to.  Here is her conversation.

Mom: Michele is wondering why **** got a belt without testing?
Grandmaster: His parents are going through a divorce, we don’t want him to quit.
Mom: That’s not the reason to give him the next rank.
Grandmaster: How does Michele think she got her Green belt?
Mom: She’s never coming back here, she quits.
Grandmaster: She’ll be back, she’s a girl.  I know girls.

With that, my mom walked out, came to the car and got in.  She told me the full conversation as I sat there in shock.  I did not earn my green belt?  I was not in the rank that they had me believing I was in?  They sent me to tournaments against people who were in these belts, who really earned their ranks?!  I was hurt!  I was angry! And I was done with this school.

I was never thinking about quitting and would of been happy to go through the ranks at a normal pace.  There was never a need to give me a rank to encourage me to stay.  Learning that is what they did, I got wary of dojos.  Though I wanted to get back into karate.  I was in Tang Soo Doo for one year and I felt it was one year wasted at a school that was doing this all for the wrong reasons.  It is not about the belt.  It was never about the belt.  It’s about the skills, the knowledge, the defense, and being true to yourself.

It took me a year of searching different dojos before I found one to join after this.  I found a school where things were much better and I spent the rest of my time in karate training at that school.  Though that’s a different story for another time.

Have you taken karate?  If so what style?  What belt did you get too?  Please feel free to share your story here.  All comments and questions are welcomed.

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