Why is everyone looking at me?
I was on my back laying on the mat with a circle of heads looking down on me. We were playing a Tohkon game of capture the flag — meaning that I hold onto a rolled up judo belt while my partner uses his ground skills to try and take it from me. I was a rookie yellow belt, my partner a black belt. Apparently, they told me, I had been choked unconscious. They all gathered around to watch me come back to my senses. Being choked out was one of the worst possible outcomes, and it happened to me. But, in reality, it really wasn’t that bad. The unknown fear of being choked unconscious was now gone. I survived. Plus, when I looked down at my hand, it was still holding the belt — I win!
My martial art path was inspired by The Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Batman. I loved watching Daniel LaRusso stand up to the Cobra Kai bullies; the idea that turtles could be ninjas; and that anyone with enough resources and discipline could be Batman. A common theme was that martial arts training turned normal people (and turtles) into badass fighting machines, but these skills were only to be used for good. In a sense, studying martial arts has fulfilled my childhood goal of becoming a superhero.
The purpose of martial arts — and the reason I think everyone should learn one — is to create better people. I am a better version of myself because of it. Coming from a team sports background, the idea of stepping on the mat alone both scared and excited me. There are no teammates to bail me out, and like many aspects of life, my success and improvement is totally up to me. Mental and physical weaknesses are quickly exposed so it’s important to turn those weaknesses into strengths. I am committed to a lifelong journey of self-improvement through martial arts.
Every class is a test. At some point, either drilling or sparring, I will be partnered with someone better than me: someone with better technique, better commitment, better knowledge. There is a good chance this partner could physically dominate me and make my life hell. They could smash my ears and direct incredible pressure onto specific parts of my body. They could make breathing difficult and the experience will be uncomfortable and gas-tank depleting.
So, the questions are: How do I respond? How do I handle myself under these circumstances? Am I calm or do I panic? Am I going to fight to make this situation better or do I accept the present conditions? Am I in pain or just uncomfortable? How much discomfort can I handle? Should I quit? Am I the kind of person that quits when circumstances are difficult? What type of person am I? All these questions may be asked and answered numerous times in the same 5-minute sparring round. And there may be 10 consecutive sparring rounds.
True character is always revealed on the mat and my character is stronger because of it.