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I was thirteen, chubby, and small. It was late and it was raining, and I needed to run to the grocery store to get some oven cleaner so my dad could surprise my mom when she came home. I was stopped from completing my honorable task by a guy on a bike and his girlfriend. He wanted my umbrella. Well, I needed the umbrella too, so I just ran into the store. He remained outside, and I knew I was dead if I left that store. I ended up making my escape through the back of the store, walking nonchalantly out of the next-door Laundromat. I ran home swept in fear, chagrined to the core: I let some no-good punk scare me to death, make me jump a fence in the back of a store, and lose my umbrella in the midst of it all.
I joined the closest karate school the next day. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. At first I only wanted to learn self-defense, so I wouldn’t have to subjugate myself to such demeaning treatment ever again. But my studies of martial arts over the next four and a half years led to so much more than that. I was introduced to a great set of people, and made friendships that spanned beyond the kinship of karate. As I rose through the ranks, my confidence rose, too. I became secure not only in my ability to defend myself, but also in my own value.
The dojo became my second home. Every school day, I looked forward to heading there in the evening. And on Saturday mornings, I couldn’t imagine a better way to start off the day. This became my passion, and seeing the people who shared my passion only fueled it further. After attaining my blue belt, I started helping my karate master teach junior classes, myself being in the adult class. I was at first intimidated by having 15 kids look to me for guidance for sixty minutes every day. Yet I soon got to know them, to know their strengths and their weaknesses. I enjoyed helping impart the discipline of karate upon them. And the kids imparted something on me in return, and that was the self-discovery of leadership, the last trait I took pride in prior to my experience as sempai, the master’s assistant.
Upon earning my black belt in December of 2007, I started teaching adult classes. This transition to a sensei, a black-belt instructor, was another milestone in my internal search for leadership. By this time I was certainly more confident in my knowledge of karate, more comfortable in the setting, and not an utter neophyte to teaching as I had been when I was a blue belt. However, there still were hurdles to jump, such as maintaining control of the class, and having a planned-out routine for every class I would teach. These hurdles get lower with every class, but I still jump them to this day.
The difference is that today I know I will make the jump.
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