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I still can’t believe that when faced with the certainty of a punch in the stomach from a two hundred-pound black belt, I found myself thinking, “I hope he hits me hard.” This may seem a little surprising — masochistic, even — but it was only part of the fateful three hour black belt test that transformed me from Ashley, regular citizen, to Ashley, karate god. My black belt test changed my life and gave me the confidence to stand up for myself and my beliefs with a newfound self-assurance, giving me strength and courage I did not know I possessed. All that and I also got the bragging rights that go along with busting out the whopping two hundred and fourteen pushups that it took to pass my test.
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Before I began martial arts, I was hands down the most perpetually frightened kid on the face of the planet. I’m not talking “frightened,” like I was a little skittish when wandering through dark alleys by myself. No, I mean frightened as in I couldn’t sit in the dentist’s office for five minutes with a couple of strangers, all in the kindly, over seventy set, without hyperventilating because I was sure one of them was about to kidnap me. Irrational, maybe, but this kind of “worrying” nevertheless took up a lot of my time. It got to the point that if a bespectacled bag-boy at the local Target appeared to be pushing carts towards me in an unusually menacing way, I would either hurl myself bodily through the window of my mom’s car (and sometimes those windows weren’t open) or opt for the full scale panic attack, complete with me grabbing whatever object happened to be handy (garage door opener, anyone?) and waving it about in what I hoped was an intimidating fashion. Thankfully, my parents became a little concerned by my somewhat odd behavior, and they decided to enroll me in karate classes at a local martial arts school.
The day I started karate, my outlook on life began to change. I spent about three hours a week in class, at first just practicing how to keep my eyes open when someone was throwing a punch at me, then gradually learning dozens of ways to defend myself in various situations. Soon I was swaggering about town with the bravado of those high- kickin’, justice-protecting Power Rangers. After four years of bruises and failed attempts to jazz up my karate uniform with sequins, I was ready to test for my black belt. Granted, I could have probably bought a taser or mastered the art of Jedi mind control and been just as safe meandering through dimly lit streets at night, but getting my black belt meant more to me than just being able to defend myself. Martial arts was the first thing I really followed through to a successful completion. After quitting gymnastics, basketball, horseback riding and violin (even though that last one was more for the good of the rest of the world), sticking with karate showed me that perseverance and dedication to something I was passionate about could actually produce a worthwhile accomplishment. The self-determination and drive that it took for me to pass my black belt test are traits that I now apply to obstacles that I face each day; without that one real success in my long list of foregone activities, I probably would have halfheartedly attempted about nine and a half more meaningless extracurricular activities before quitting each one and joining the circus (cringe — and that would not have gone well either.) Passing my black belt test gave me self-confidence that I have carried with me every day since. Sure, tossing a one hundred ninety-pound ex-cage fighter over my head isn’t a daily occurrence in my life, but standing up for my opinions and beliefs sometimes requires the same kind of composure and Zen-like inner strength.
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