Martial arts, it seems, runs in my blood.
From a young age, I was always fascinated by it. It was influenced in no small part by my father. A stoic man who trained to a mid-level rank in Shotokan Karate — and if the second- and third-hand stories are to be believed — a talented fighter who performed well above what you would expect for his training and rank. I have fond memories sitting with my father watching countless Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris movies at a very young age. Only to be told to go to bed as soon as the movie in question had finished, which was also promptly followed by my mother yelling “stop fighting with your brother” as we tried our best to act out the devastating moves we had just witnessed.
Growing up as a short, ginger-haired kid, with oversized ears, made me somewhat of an easy target for school bullies. My self-esteem was low, I was quiet and withdrawn, and I’m sure my parents noticed it. One day I was sent with a pocket full of change to the corner store to buy bread (it might have been milk), which was conveniently at the end of our street. I didn’t make it to the store. When I was questioned why I had returned empty-handed, I explained how the two brothers down the street wouldn’t let me past and chased me away. They were both younger than me.
I don’t recall how many times I returned empty-handed over the next few weeks or months, but it happened enough that my father took it as a sign that karate would do me some good. I was 7 years old.
I remember the night that dad took me to the watch and speak with the karate club that he had once attended (although the instructors he’d trained with had moved on) very vividly. I was nervous, I was scared, and I just didn’t want to fight. Despite not being all that vocal about these things normally, I felt that in this instance I told him as much. When my father spoke to the lead instructor, he was informed that they did not accept students below the age of 8 years old. I felt relieved.
But my dad knew just how martial arts could help me and decided to enroll me in a local Judo class in the interim. I never tested for rank in Judo and quit after just a few weeks. I hated being thrown to the floor. Who doesn’t at that age?
Before long, I turned 8 years old and was enrolled in Shotokan Karate. I spent the next five(ish) years training in Karate. Those 5 years are some of the most important years of my life, and I owe a lot to the lessons I’ve learned to that period of time. Without them, I would be a very different man today, and for that I am eternally grateful to my father putting in the time and effort to make sure I turned up to class, even when I really didn’t want to.
In future articles, I’ll elaborate on these five years more, I’m sure. There are plenty of stories to tell.
I never achieved my black belt, in fact, I didn’t even pass my brown belt test (that’s another story). Instead, I became a teenager, and my attention was taken away from karate with all the usual distractions you would expect. I was no longer a karateka.
Life happened and the years flew by. I met my wife, got married, had kids. And I had a successful career as a registered nurse in England. But an opportunity presented itself and in October of 2014, my family and I up-sticks and moved to my wife’s hometown in the United States of America. I was now no longer the breadwinner in the household. I was now the stay-at-home parent of my two delightful children as we began the next chapter of our lives.
Throughout the events of the next five months, I sacrificed too much for the cause, as I started to lose my health. As someone who had been diagnosed with a chronic, degenerative illness — Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) — in 2010, I knew that ‘looking after’ myself was key in managing my condition. More specifically; maintaining flexibility through rigorous stretching and exercise regimes is paramount, ensuring that my daily pain and overall deterioration is kept to a minimum.
Moving to a new country, leaving your friends and family behind, is difficult. But what is more difficult is making new friends. Being an expatriate can be isolating; especially when you are a stay-at-home parent. Finding a group of people I could socialize with who also shared a common interest was important to me.
I thought a lot about how I could remedy these two problems. I’d done the ‘gym thing’ before. It lasted about 6 months each and every time. I was sure history would repeat itself. Looking around on Google Maps (I still didn’t know the area too well) for inspiration, maybe there was a yoga studio nearby? Or some spin class or something?
And then I saw it — Potomac Kempo Karate. I had no idea what Kempo was, but karate I knew. Two birds one stone! And the rest, as they say, is history.
I have been training ever since. I lost 40 pounds in weight, earned my 2nd-degree black belt, and much much more. But those are all stories for another day.
Returning to the martial arts was likely one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it has transformed my life. And as a stoic, just like my father, I tend not to use such superlatives lightly.
I’m by no means the first kid to be bullied and take up martial arts. And I’m certainly not unique in many areas of my story. But that is what makes martial arts so special. There may be many like me, maybe you’re one of them? But despite all of our commonalities, we all still go on that very personal journey of self-improvement and self-discovery. We all share that experience together.