When I was a kid, I took a kid’s karate class after school. I loved it. I loved Power Rangers, I loved Monks from Final Fantasy Tactics, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I loved martial arts and I stuck with it from second grade all the way through to sixth. I went during the summer as well as during the school year. I kept going for as long as parents would keep driving me, until finally sometime in middle school it was just too much for them to get me there often enough and keep paying for the lessons.
I got to a red belt, which in the system I was in meant I was only one rank off from a full-on black belt. I was often a higher rank than many of the adults who would come to train at the dojo sometimes. But after I went to a couple of local tournaments, I realized something. While almost nobody was my age and rank, the few others who were could *kick my butt* in sparring. I certainly didn’t feel on their level. It was around now that I started to doubt whether I’d really learned enough to feel dangerous, like a black belt should be. I was around the age where some of the boys are really developing an adult male physique, playing sports… and the girls obviously were starting to develop too.
I don’t think this was a coincidence.
I asked my sensei if I could start over again, because I felt like I hadn’t earned the rank I had. She told me that she only gave ranks to people who had earned them, and not to worry.
Maybe I would have become a really dangerous person in time. Probably, in fact. I think I had just been staying in a kids’ program, and was starting to realize that it wasn’t really the same as an adult’s program.
I feel like I’ve learned more in a month of jiu-jitsu twice a week as an adult than my entire time in karate as a child. I get hurt, bruised. My ego doesn’t, because it’s standing happily out of the way. I have no ego in the gym, just a thirst for knowledge. Respect for these people who are ahead of me by so much and so friendly and willing to share.
My posture changes after a session of jiu-jitsu. I get into that low-slung, wide-shouldered stance. Fighting puts me in a positive mindset.
Someone asked me today if I was no longer getting nervous while I was rolling (sparring). I realized that I had never been nervous. I had come in the first time trying to remember to keep breathing, and to tap out if they had me in a submission. I was focusing on not getting injured, and learning what I could. And I have been learning, from watching how the higher belts block me when I try something, seeing what they do to proactively take me down.
I am so very, very glad I decided to go hard back into martial arts. For anyone who watches a wuxia film, or loves playing a Monk in Diablo 3, or thinks Street Fighter characters are super badass… seriously. Go to a fighting gym of some type. The positive feelings are worth every last bruise.