(I never know where my blog postings are going to go. I wanted to write about my brown belt test and instead thoughts of my two divorces pounded out on my keyboard. The idea of having two failed marriages sounds a bit humiliating but you know what, it is a part of my life story and I am ok sharing it. I am definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago when I started karate, fourteen years ago when I got married the first time, or even two years ago when I went back to my martial arts training at Togisala Shorin Ryu.)
December 6, 2015
Today, I passed a test. It wasn’t a test written on paper. It wasn’t a compliance eLearning module from work. And I certainly have no need to take a pregnancy test. The test I passed consisted of challenging physical exercises, open hand kata, weapons kata, and sparring against two dudes at once. At my vintage age of 45, I went through a grueling physical challenge to earn my 2nd kyu rank in Shorin Ryu karate, better known by lay people as a brown belt.
You might ask why an old lady like me would want to train in martial arts. My dojo classmates are between the ages of 6 and 35. I am fairly certain I am the oldest colored belt ranked student on the dojo floor. Even my Sensei is a year younger than me. I started training in my 20s, I worked out diligently for a few years, four days a week. But when birth control failed and I found myself pregnant, I had to stop training. Unfortunately, even though I was about to test for my green belt, Sensei Rabago had me stop at purple because it would be a huge liability for him to test me while I was hapai (pregnant). I still trained four days a week until my belly started to show at four months, just like I played softball with my co-ed work team until I hit five months preggo. They all yelled at me every time I ran the bases because my favorite way to slide was face first. “Run! Don’t slide! Don’t slide! Don’t’ slide!!!” they yelled at me as I turned toward second base. Ha. I still slid feet first for a couple of games.
So why now? Why am I back on the dojo floor after twenty years? Simply put, I love karate. Lessons from my Sensei, the late Richard Rabago, gave me more tips about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar, book, or MBA could have. Unfortunately, despite trying to go back to Rabago Shorin Ryu intermittently, raising my daughter alone and having a demanding career trumped the hobbies in my life. While my daughter was very young, dancing in halau gave both of us a sense of ohana. As she got older and I earned a better salary, I could afford to pay for childcare while I went to outrigger practice. Now, she is almost out of high school and becoming more independent. We both dance hula and I feel comfortable and confident going to the dojo three times a week to train now, without feeling guilty about doing something without my daughter. The best part is, she gets along with the students and parents at the dojo so sometimes she comes to hang out and talk story with everyone while I practice.
Today, I sit in a very different position in life and at work. Personally, I haven’t had much success with personal relationships, as I’m twice divorced. Both relationships were based on strong friendships but not much romance or heat. The first marriage ended when he decided that drinking the boys was more fun than spending time with his wife and stepdaughter. He wasn’t going to stop drinking and I wasn’t ‘going to let him hurt me or my daughter. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him abuse me in any way in front of my daughter. But he left without ever looking back so we both knew the marriage wasn’t meant to be.
In my experience, it is pretty much impossible to have a serious relationship while holding down a demanding corporate job as a single mom. I never had a problem being asked out on a date but having a significant long lasting relationship became an elusive thing for me. Because of the nature of my work, I am on the road about 25% of my time. Planning dates and building a foundation of a relationship takes quality time, face to face. The whole “free time” thing has felt like a luxury to me for most of my life. Dating without a lot of free time doesn’t work out very well. And, most of all, being a mother surpasses anything else in my life.
My second marriage looked perfect on paper. Once we walked down the aisle and signed the actual papers, it all fizzled into complacency and a wonderful roommate situation. He was neat and kept to himself. He even bought his own groceries and laundry detergent separately from us. Has anyone heard of a marriage like that? Sad. We had shared friends, and grew up with a common culture. It should have been an easy relationship to nurture. But he kept himself separate in so many ways, it was easy to say goodbye.
Why do I bring those failed relationships up? I learned after my recent divorce that I needed to focus on my own happiness as an individual. Tying my happiness to someone else or something else wasn’t going to bring lasting contentment or love. And karate is an individual sport. Karate taught me discipline as well as self-defense. In my opinion, karate fueled my independence and nurtured my self-confidence.
When I started training 20 years ago, I worked out four nights a week and would often stay late with Sensei Travis when his friends would come in to spar or work grappling or just do my kata. I am quite certain I was in the best physical condition of my life. I felt great. Karate became the perfect supplement to hula and the values I learned through both reinforced all the lessons I learned from my parents and grandparents. Family first. Be humble. Work hard. Help others. Give back. Your actions represent your family, your halau, your dojo so act accordingly and don’t be a douchebag (ok, maybe I adjusted that last one a bit).
Sharing personal values with the values that I learned on the dojo floor made it very easy for me to train. And, the more I studied and developed as a martial artist, the more I felt an obligation to give back. Quite often, I would train as the only woman on the floor. It was a rare occasion when I saw a female black belt. Today, things are different but 20 years ago, I did not see many as many women at tournaments or teaching.
My rank test for 2nd kyu symbolized much more than just improvement in my training and/or martial arts skills. It brings a large obligation to my life as I learn to be an instructor. Although Sensei Rabago always emphasized that the color of someone’s belt is less important than their integrity and commitment, the average person will make judgments on the basis of what color a karate-ka wears. And, research shows that people base 90% of their judgments on others based on the 10% that they see. So, to gain credibility from one glance, a black belt earns it more quickly than a colored belt.
The rank test I passed on December 6, 2015 symbolizes one tiny step in my training. My physical condition is excellent because I had trained to run 19.3 miles over a weekend for the RunDisney Infinity Gauntlet Challenge. My mental condition stays strong and focused. Much of that must be related to the miles and miles of running that I invested to prepare for both the races and my belt test. But the best part is, my spiritual condition feels grounded and secure. And that means my body is healthy, my heart is at peace and the possibilities ahead of me are endless.