The end of the beginning

The following essay was a prerequisite before testing for my black belt in Shaolin Kempo. I am proud to say I achieved that milestone on the 20th of May, 2017.

Standing with Sensei Gary (left) and Master Santillo (right). Image credit: Cascades Photography.

Looking back on my Kempo journey so far, I can proudly say that Kempo has changed my life. Truly. If you had told me before I started Kempo that a few years later I would be doing 204 burpees in 30 minutes for charity, and preparing to test for my black belt, I would have called you crazy. It’s remarkable what you can achieve when you are able to focus to achieve your goals.

When I wrote my first Kempo essay as a white belt, I stated that my goal was to achieve a “happier and healthier life.”

On assessment, I can honestly say I achieved that goal. I am in much better physical shape than I was back then. In fact, I honestly feel like I have never been in better shape. For starters, I have a net loss of 30lbs in weight. That helps me on a daily basis, as I manage my chronic illness: Ankylosing Spondylitis. My core is strong(er) and my flexibility is remarkably improved. These all help me deal with my daily pain levels and symptoms. So much so, that my dependency on pharmaceuticals to manage my disease is now down to a bare minimum.

Putting on my belt for the first time. Image credit: Cascades Photography

I am in pain every day. That is the nature of my disease. But Kempo has helped me to condition my body for the daily stress it endures. This means that my body has become more resilient to the pain and my symptoms. My newfound ability to dig deep and push through in times of hardship has helped me achieve things I never thought possible. This mental resilience helps me to endure the ‘bad days’, when my pain and symptoms are high. Knowing I can get through the ‘bad days’ and come out the other side with grace and dignity is life changing. That triumph in adversity is confidence inspiring and self-gratifying.

Kempo is no longer something I just do. Kempo now is something that helps to define me. I practice Kempo daily. And I don’t mean I physically practice my forms daily, or sit in a horse stance all the time (although I probably should). What I mean is that I apply parts of my training to my daily life, whether that’s by meditating to de-stress and focus in a moment of chaos, or by taking the stairs to the 8th floor instead of the elevator. Kempo has helped me improve my focus and ability to adapt to new (and often uncomfortable) situations. These combined have helped me to gain more confidence in myself, enabling me to learn new skills that I might not have before, even to the point of helping me focus on a new career path. My training affects my life in every aspect, and for that I’m thankful.

Reaching black belt is certainly a note-worthy milestone. I am humbled daily by the respect and gratitude I receive from my instructors and fellow students. Each day, as I’ve done from day one of my Kempo journey, I strive to be a better version of myself than I was before. This can only come with lifelong learning, and the understanding that black belt is just the end of the beginning.

My hope for the future is to continue being a better version of myself each and every day, as I know this will not only help me become a better martial artist, but also be a better husband, father, and teacher.

Receiving my Black Belt from my Head Master. Image credit: Cascades Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *