Thursday, February 16, 2017

"I Just Want to Teach Karate."

My karate instructor, the late, great Shihan William Oliver, used to joke about how everyone always wanted to tell him their troubles.  He would listen to these confessions daily as if he were a priest, or perhaps a free therapist, offering up snippets of advice that, if we are being honest, he was no more qualified to give than anyone else in the room. But he was a karate master, therefore it was assumed he knew everything about everything, had some magic key that could transform your miserable life into something glorious. "I need to install a couch," he would say. And then ultimately, "I just want to teach karate."

I just want to do heel hooks.

Listen, I get that this is complicated for you. I get that you need to fit me into a little martial arts box somewhere. Am I one of the super competitive ones? Am I just training for fun? Am I on the team that believes in one teacher for life or the one that feels the need to travel to a different open mat every weekend?

Neither. Both. Does it matter?

Let me make it simple for you. I train at UWS BJJ. I have always trained here, since the day my husband first lay down the red mats and decided it was time to include jiu-jitsu in the list of classes he was teaching. I own the dojo so the monthly tuition rate works really well for me. The teacher is my husband, but don't let that fool you, our program is the real deal and he is as well. 

Those UWS BJJ students are my friends and my family. No matter where else I go for class, I will always be on the mats with them on Tuesdays and Saturdays. But I live in Brooklyn. Our dojo is on 106th street and Columbus. We do not have any BJJ classes on weekday mornings and I, due to the nature of my job as a builder of tiny warriors (aka karate kids),  have all my mornings free. Because of this I have also always trained somewhere else.

For over five years it was at a place in Manhattan. But ultimately, for many reasons that I will not go into here, that place stopped working for me. So about a year and a half ago, I started training at a small school out in Brooklyn owned by a former training partner of mine. It is a truly wonderful place but they do not offer many daytime BJJ classes either and although I tried to attend some of the nighttime ones, I mostly had to settle for coming only once a week.

Meanwhile, for the past eight years my husband Matthew has been training at Brooklyn BJJ.  I have spent a lot of time with his instructors and training partners and they are all wonderful people. They train hard, respect each other, and have a philosophy of collaboration and positivity that I have always admired. For years people have been asking me why I don't just train where he trains.

But BBJJ never had daytime classes either. Until recently.

So now I train there. Matthew trains there. I train with Matthew. The association between the two places makes things a whole lot easier. 

I don't know what you think about me right now. Hopefully, you don't think much about me at all, but if you do, you think "Good for her, she is happy."  She is training hard. She is getting better at jiu-jitsu. I do not plan on bouncing from one random school to another, although I may hit the occasional women's open mat because the more women who can do this wonderful martial art the better! But I have never been, and never will be, a dojo hopper.  I loved my old Brooklyn school. If things were different I probably would have stayed there a long time. But I also love BBJJ. Matthew's teacher has always made me feel welcome and treated me like family. Different things are needed at different times in life, and right now, I need mat time. 

There is no drama here. All I want is to do BJJ, as much as possible, as many days as possible, in a place where I will learn and grow, be respected and be happy. That is all. 

It is all I want for you as well. 

A bunch of my UWS training partners got new belts yesterday. They are amazing. Lets talk about them instead. 

Much respect to ALL my BJJ people. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hello Old Friend

You know when you have been friends with someone for awhile and one day while you are just sitting around thinking about them you suddenly remember first meeting them? And then you have that weird moment where you realize that that person you met years ago and that person who is your good buddy now are actually the same? And your brain goes, whoa, really? That is Jim? But he is so different now!

Jiu jitsu and I have had a very long, very rocky relationship. There was the first six months, where I really could only attend class once a week and did not learn a single thing other than how to not suffocate while someone was sitting on my chest. Then there were the months and months where all I did was tap. Stuck on the bottom again, tap. Whoops, got triangled, tap. What in the world is this guy doing with my lapel....oh, tap, tap, tap! And so on. All new BJJ students get very comfortable with slamming their hand against the mat over and over again in defeat, but I was particularly skilled at it. I am not exaggerating when I say I did not get my first submission on anyone for at least a year. I liked to blame it on my size but it is possible I was just really bad at jiu-jitsu. Even for a white belt.

When I finally got my blue belt, I remember feeling like things were starting to come together. I could remember a couple of the drills. I had a few transitions down. I could occasionally catch a brand new white belt (usually a child) with some kind of chokey thingy. I was finally getting jiu-jitsu!

I had no clue what I was talking about.

I was a blue belt for a long time, over 31/2 years. Those years were a constant back and forth between "Hey, I just figured something out!" and "What in the world is this guy doing with my lapel....tap, tap, tap!" There was a lot of "Wow, I really suck at this, maybe I should quit." There was a neck issue and a rib problem. Some days I rolled hard. Most days I tried to be slow and technical and instead got smashed by some new white belt guy who had no idea what slow and technical was. I tried really hard to "learn stuff." I took a lot of Advil. Eventually I decided that I was just one of those people who didn't really "get" jiu-jitsu but that that was ok because at least I was having fun. Except I wasn't. Not really.

Then I found a new school that I loved and also started training more at my own dojo. The new place was smaller, friendlier, more focused on movement. My husband's classes were smart and well structured.  The combo of these two schools made me excited about BJJ again. During a seminar at our dojo run by my husband's teacher, I was awarded my purple belt, a complete surprise. The chokey-thingy now worked on a few adults too and I suddenly realized that I could combo moves together. I was finally getting jiu-jitsu!

I still had no clue what I was talking about.

Over the past few months, I have started working out with some of our BJJ students who are interested in competing. In addition to taking class, we often stay after and work on stuff together. What, and how, we work will remain a secret, but lets just say I have a BJJ notebook now just like Matthew. Since I have also recently joined his school out in Brooklyn, suddenly I am training 5 days a week, sometimes twice a day. I am always, always thinking about jiu-jitsu. (Much to my daughter's dismay.) Our car conversations (when they are not about Donald Trump) consist of  stuff like "I had trouble getting the underhook with __ but I then thought maybe I should move my hips out a little and that worked but then he went for the darce and then I had to bail and so I recovered butterfly guard but then I was not sure where to go from there...."  (Again, my daughter is thrilled.) For the first time ever, I recently used You Tube for something other than watching animals fart.

The blue belt me who thought she was starting to understand things would hardly recognize this recent person. For the first time ever, while driving home from the dojo the other day, I had the thought that I might actually become good at this someday. That at the very least, I was on the right path. The difference is that I am now aware that I still probably have no clue what I am talking about. Not that I won't ultimately become a skilled BJJ practitioner, but that the current feeling that I am starting to "get it" is nothing compared to how I will feel a year from now, or two, or six. That the scope of the things I need to learn, the things that I GET to learn, is so big that it could take a lifetime. This awareness simultaneously fills me with joy and absolute terror.

What if I die before I learn it all???

I guess the point of all of this is that if I had quit BJJ during any of the many, many times I wanted to over the past seven years, I never would have gotten to know this person. I never would have realized that I could BE this person. And if I quit now, or next month, or next year, I will never get to meet the black belt me, a person who I am sure will think she finally, finally gets it, and will still be wrong.

To be honest, there have been so many ups and downs over the years that I can't promise that I will make it that far. I have had one too many "Ah ha, finally!" moments that then turned sour. It is going to take a little while to fully trust this new me. But I promise to try.

So to sum up, this BJJ stuff is really, really hard sometimes. It really can suck and you will want to quit a million times. Stick with it anyway. Even if it means changing what you eat, or the color of your gi, or even where you train. Find what works for you and then stick with it.

You never know what you might discover about yourself.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Not a Fighter

In a desperate desire to increase my BJJ training time, I have recently organized some midday workouts with a few friends and training partners. The good news is that I am now getting a lot of extra work in. The bad news is that it never seems to be enough. There are just too many things I am not perfect at yet (read: everything), too many ideas and moves and drills and concepts that I want to improve at.

Lately I have also been tossing around the idea of competing in BJJ for the first time. So over the weekend I decided to watch a few videos of someone who was the kind of competitor who would be in my division. (In other words, another very tiny purple belt.) This particular girl happens to also be an amateur MMA fighter, so what I watched was tape of her in a cage somewhere in Long Island attempting to pummel another tiny girl to death. 

She was decent, this MMA girl. A good double leg takedown. A sharp front kick. A nice arm bar. She is 23. I hope she makes it.

With the exception of some of the larger IBJJF tournaments, most events do not have an old people division for women. The men often have "Masters" or "Executive" or some other euphemism for "not 19". But because there is a much smaller pool of women who want to roll around on sweaty mats on a Saturday for fun, most tournaments combine all women of similar size and rank together. Most of these women are not 41 year old married moms who run karate schools. 

While watching MMA girl's You Tube fight I had two simultaneous thoughts. The first one was "I should probably learn some takedown defense." The second was "But I don't want to be a fighter anymore."

When I was younger I competed a bunch, in kata, point fighting, and a style of contact karate similar to kickboxing. To prep for these tournaments I did a lot of sparring, pad work, pushups. I walked around with rap music playing in my headphones to "pump me up". While riding the subway I daydreamed about low kicks and wrapping my hands with duct tape. I was young and cocky and absolutely considered myself a "fighter". (Thank goodness the man I ultimately fell in love with was cut from the same cloth. No one else would ever have tolerated me.)

But when I started jiu-jitsu, I was long past this time in my life.  After twenty plus years of karate, I was now simply looking to try something new, to be a white belt again. My BJJ gym had plenty of competitors in it, but the last thing I ever wanted to do was feel the nausea and terror that accompanies competitive fighting again. 

Recently, however, I have become curious. I have never competed on the BJJ mat. Perhaps it would be a fun challenge, a chance to see what that world is like. Perhaps competition would be less scary if there were no longer roundhouse kicks coming at my head. 

The thing is, I don't want to be like MMA girl. I don't want to smash anyone's face in. I don't want to be all aggro and angry. I just want to slowly and methodically climb onto some chick's back and choke her until she taps. I want to out think everyone. I don't want to be bigger or stronger or faster; I just want my plan to be better than her plan. I want to out BJJ her. With wisdom. You know, like an old person would.

I guess I want to prove (to myself mostly) that someone like me can succeed on the competition mats. Not by being more aggressive or athletic, but by being smarter. I want to have a perfect game plan and execute my game plan from start to finish on all the 20 year olds. Then I want to smile at them and shake their hands and sneak them a beer when their moms aren't looking. 

The truth is, I am not even all that competitive anymore. I just really, really like jiu-jitsu.

Of course everyone I know who competes is at least 15 years younger than me. Every Saturday, after our regular BJJ class, a group of us stay after and work on stuff. It is a cool group and I learn a lot in these sessions. We have even started jokingly referring to us as a "squad", mainly because it drives my husband crazy. (He hates that word.) Among the people in this weekly training session (SQUAD!) are a lovely female Columbia University student who is very tall and has a mean triangle choke, and a smart, soccer-playing blue belt guy who won his division at the last NAGA here in Brooklyn. He is 16 and a junior in high school.

So yeah, sometimes I wonder what the hell I am doing there.

I know what society says. I am 41. I am a wife and a mother. I am supposed to be starting my slow miserable slide towards old age and death. My 401K should be growing while my body falls apart. But fuck that! I would rather drill kimuras. 

That's it, that's why I want to compete someday. Because fuck you, 401K! Fuck you house in suburbia. Fuck you bad knees and long commutes and Power Point presentations and slow sips of whiskey on the couch after the kids are asleep. 

I don't want to be the next Ronda Rousey. Let that nice purple belt from Long Island do that. I just want to be me. 

A me that has an unstoppable bow and arrow choke.

Watch out MMA girl, I'm coming for you!

(Maybe. Maybe I'm coming for you.)
(I'm old, don't hurt me.)
(Wanna just grab a beer instead?)

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Door is Open

On the Friday evening, right after September 11, 2001, business owners all up and down Broadway were putting candles out in front of their stores. Other Upper Westside residents were putting them outside their apartment buildings, or on their windowsills, or in a makeshift alter on a random street corner. I remember walking up West End Avenue, amidst this sea of twinkling lights, and feeling at the same time both completely lost, and eternally grateful for the place I was walking towards.

Since it was Friday night at the UWS dojo, we had sparring class. We wrapped up our hands, stuck them into our old, faded boxing gloves, and punched and kicked each other for an hour while out on Broadway the candles burned their way down to tiny nubs.

This is not like that.

I would never claim that the inauguration of a new president, no matter how repugnant and scary he may be, is comparable to the thousands of lives lost to those two airplanes. But it is Friday. And once again, I feel the same combination of loss and gratitude.

Our instructor, Shuseki-Shihan William Oliver, passed away on a Saturday morning, November 20, 2004. That following Monday, we unlocked the dojo and sat there for hours while people came in and out to express their shock, their condolences, and their grief.  Some people just came in and sat there, like us, not quite sure why, just knowing that they were supposed to be in the dojo. To be honest, a lot of those few days afterwards are a blur to me, a product of shock and sleep deprivation, but I do remember thinking "Just open the dojo."

I guess at least one of us had a key.

This is not like that either. Nobody has died, suddenly, unexpectedly, in their sleep like the start of a bad mystery movie. Yet this morning I woke up with a heaviness in my chest and a deep weariness that has nothing to do with how much sleep I got last night.

I will admit that I did not pay much attention to politics over the past 8 years. I really only noticed the big stuff, the stories that flooded my friend's News Feeds, the jokes made on The Daily Show. (Where every person under the age of 45 gets their news.) My own ignorance only contributes to the feeling now that I missed something, that I didn't understand, that I didn't realize exactly what we had until it was gone.

President Barack Obama was not a perfect leader. But his very existence represents a belief that our country has been moving forward, that the things that make us human; our compassion, our intellect, our tolerance, our willingness to learn from each other, that these things are alive and well.

This afternoon we will swear in a man to the office of the President of the United States of America who said that he likes to simply grab women by the pussy. Among his brand new cabinet members are people who still believe that climate change is imaginary, those who want to get rid of public education, and those who do not respect a woman's right to choose what she does with her own body. And of course, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

After 8 years of eloquent speeches that represented hope and change and love, I now need to watch a man take the Oath of Office who is reminiscent of the boy who takes your lunch money in the schoolyard. A man who seems to be against everything that I am fighting to become.

Since November I have tried, and will continue to try, to remain optimistic. And in truth, the melancholy cloud I feel is more about what we are losing at noon today, than what we have to gain or lose over the next four years. The future of our country, of course, still remains to be seen.

But it is Friday. There are keys to a dojo in my backpack. Therefore, I will do what we always have done. I will unlock the door.

See you tonight.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Healthy and Scared

When I was younger, I used to get a lot of stomach issues; heartburn, pains, bloating. I also had pretty bad health anxiety. These two things are not a good combination. Over the course of a couple of years I took every kind of antacid known to man, messed around with my diet and sat in multiple doctor's offices convinced that it was only a matter of time before they diagnosed a severe bleeding ulcer.

There was nothing really wrong with me.

About three summers ago I had a sinus infection. After a few days of antibiotics, I decided to sleep propped up on a stack of pillows in order to alleviate some of the sinus pressure and woke up with terrible neck and shoulder pain. This led to weeks of heating pads and ice packs and massages, along with a very panicky day where I swore I had meningitis. (I didn't. Health anxiety can be very convincing.) The shoulder/neck problems continued on and off for months, which eventually led to an MRI, which led to a diagnosis of herniated discs, which led to months of physical therapy combined with a horrible and completely unwarranted fear of instant paralysis. (Not physically possible. Again, anxiety is a bitch.) Eventually my shoulder got better.

There was nothing really wrong with me then either.

If you know me well you probably have heard me talk about Dr. Sarno and TMS. You have also heard me talk about my belief in psychosomatic illness and the power that fear and anger can have on our physical health. If not, that will be for another blog post.

But, a person who struggles with anxiety has stomach pains? No shock there. A person who puts a lot of pressure on herself to be perfect has neck tension? No s$%t Sherlock.  A person who gets a cough and sees tuberculosis should not be too surprised that fear and health are all wrapped up together like a burrito. 

Some people dread public speaking. I fear cancer, car crashes, any debilitating illness or injury that will take away this life that I love. That will make me unable to be a good mother, a great karate teacher, a loving wife. I fear anything that will mess with my constant desire to be working on arm bars.

It turns out that all that fear can make you sick. Its a lovely Catch 22.

I am a lot better now. I do not mean that I am physically better, although I am lucky to be very healthy right now. But more importantly, I mean that I am mentally better. I am more in touch with my feelings (and less afraid to connect with them). I can usually tell when a sore muscle is a sore muscle (all that arm barring hurts!) and not a cancerous tumor. I can also tell when a sore muscle really means that I am just furious about Donald Trump. 

I have banned myself from using Web MD to diagnose anything, ever. 

Most importantly, I have re-learned to trust my body. Turns out that it is much more durable than I thought it was. It can still work really, really hard and then it can go home and magically fix itself. (Most of the time, anyway.)

I am 41 years old and I am thinking of competing in Jiu-jitsu this year for the first time. So that should tell you something. (That I am either really confident or a total masochist. You be the judge.) 

Of course I am still terrified of the unexpected. Cancer, car crashes, some asshole tearing out my knee in rolling. Every time someone I know gets sick or hurt I feel a knot in the middle of my belly that no amount of Prilosec can get rid of. But I have learned to not let my fear stop me from doing all of the things that I want to do. 

I do not go the doctor very often anymore. Thankfully, I have been lucky in the past year to have not needed to. But I still have pretty good health insurance, just in case.. Because of what I do every day (i.e. the punching, the kicking, the choking). Since I own my own business,  I purchase this insurance myself. My "job" does not provide it for me. Yes it is overpriced. But thankfully the Affordable Care Act provided my family with some money every month to help with this expense, making this choice more affordable.

Since I am fortunate to be in pretty good shape,  that makes me one of those healthy people who currently "help pay for the sick ones " I am fine with that because I also have the peace of mind to know that if the tables ever turn I will have decent medical care that I can afford. For now.

The Republicans just voted to get rid of all of Obamacare but it seems they do not yet have a plan for what's next. 

Meanwhile, I teach very small children every day, children who come to class with coughs and sneezes and then smother me with hugs. Meanwhile, I train karate or BJJ almost every day. I climb rock walls. I do these things despite the fear that sometimes resurfaces. They are what I love. They make me happy. They make me a better wife and a better mother. They also keep me healthy. For now.

Meanwhile those who are not as fortunate as me have used their ACA insurance to treat cancer. They have used it to treat their children's asthma attacks. They have used it to save their own lives, and the lives of their family members.

No Obamacare was not perfect. But it was a start, and it allowed millions of people to live healthier, happier lives. 

I will try to be hopeful. But it is hard when it seems more and more that the people in charge of taking care of our country are like children, just trying to win a game. A game where none of the stakes effect them. 

Meanwhile, us real people are trying to live a life, one with joy and risk,  passion and hard work, and most importantly, one with less fear. 

Stop fucking with it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


There was this guy who used to spar with us on Fridays, many, many years ago. Lets call him Bob. Bob was a black belt. He was very fast and super strong and I used to watch him knock the other students around the floor, terrified of when it would be my turn to fight him.

When I finally faced off in front of him, I was pretty pathetic. I basically stood there with my hands up, afraid to throw anything for fear of getting killed. After about 30 seconds of this, Bob gave me a look of utter disgust and said, ''I am not going to hurt you." Apparently the idea that he, a big, male karate black belt, would attempt to kill me, a five foot two, relatively inexperienced lady, was incredibly insulting to him. "Just throw. Move around. It will be fine."

It was fine. Ironically, Bob ultimately ended up being one of my favorite people to spar with. That was later, when I switched from being timid and sloppy to being that tiny aggressive girl who really loved the hard rounds. Bob was great for pushing you, for making you exhausted. He had super fast punches and a spin kick that had knocked many a competitor unconscious. So yeah, it was fun. In a weird, masochistic kind of way.

But as I got older, and more experienced, I became less interested in all that aggression. I wasn't afraid, I just wanted something different out of sparring. I wanted to learn. I wanted to work on strategy.

I wanted to be able to walk the next day.

I thought of Bob again when I started taking jiu-jitsu. There was this new white belt guy, we'll call him not-Bob. Not-Bob was typical for a new white belt. He rolled fast and hard and spazzy. His limbs often seemed to have minds of their own, flailing out in awkward ways. There were head butts, elbows to the nose, a way too fast transition that crushed your windpipe. He, like many newbie's who have not be taught otherwise, assumed that there was only one way to grapple: hard. Not-Bob seemed to forget that his partners were actually human beings, ones who were there to also work on jiu-jitsu. He had no idea how to roll light and he had no idea how to roll with a tiny woman like myself.

I had been wrong in my assessment of Bob back on those scary Friday nights. But I was not wrong about this white belt dude. When I stepped on the mat in front of him I was absolutely, one hundred percent without a doubt going to get hurt. The question was just how badly.

I have been doing karate for 28 years. I have only been doing jiu-jitsu for a little over 6. But yes I am often the smallest person on the mats/ sparring floor (other than the children) and I am often one of only a few women. And while most of the men I train with now are wonderful, there certainly have been a few bad eggs over the years. There was "stand there with his hands down and his chest wide open and tell women to just hit him" dude. There was "whisper something inappropriate and suggestive in your ear whenever he gets close to you" guy. There was "my ego truly cannot handle being tapped out by a woman so I am going to give you unnecessary advice for how to complete the submission instead" guy. And then there was of course, not-Bob, the guy who doesn't care that you are smaller, or a woman, or more experienced, because he isn't really paying attention to you anyway. He is too busy trying to rip your arm off as fast and as aggressively as possible.

Sometimes new women can be super aggro too, but it is mostly the dudes. I guess I can't really blame them too much though. Maybe they just never learned any differently. Maybe they had a bad teacher, or at least one who decided that controlling the pace of the room was not necessary. (AKA, a bad teacher.) Maybe they just needed someone to tell them how to do this with women. Someone like me.

So lately I have tried to become somewhat of a "white belt whisperer." I am the gal who teaches all the newbies how to relax. Ok now, breathe, move, keep moving, you are supposed to flow, you know, like water, breathe, slow down, no really, slow down, see how slow I am going, its like molasses, good, now breathe, I said breathe, great, really great, now get off my face. 

Most of the time it works.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, all of the teachers I am fortunate enough to train with now are perfectly willing and capable of keeping their room under control.

Also, in case you were wondering, my roll with not-Bob hurt my rib cartilage. I was out of training for a couple of weeks and after that I made sure to be nowhere near him when partners were being chosen.

That was at least two years ago. I am sure he knows better by now...

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Story of Justin

In November of 2004, about a week after the unexpected death of our karate instructor, my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I held a meeting of parents at the old dojo. We sat with a small group of shell-shocked moms and dads to discuss the future of the kids classes, while their children had slippery sock races across the smooth wooden floor. We couldn't really stay in that space for long, we told them. The landlord wanted us out. We'd basically be squatting there until they locked the door or we found a new place.  But yes, we suppose we can have classes again if you want us to. I mean if you don't mind your kids taking karate with us instead of their real teacher who is dead now. Taking classes in the room where their teacher passed away. You know, if that isn't weird. (Don't worry, we didn't actually say all that. Not out loud anyway.)

Yes, they said. Please have class. Can we have it tomorrow?

Then two tween-aged junior black belt girls offered us the money in their piggy banks to help pay the rent.
Seriously, that happened.

I had a full time job at the time, as an after school coordinator, but I got my boss' permission to leave work early so I could teach a 6:00pm kids class. It wasn't my first time teaching karate to kids; I had been assisting my teacher for awhile and had also taught at a kids gym out in Brooklyn. But this felt different, bigger. Of course I had no illusions of taking my teacher's place in their hearts and minds, I just wanted the kids to have fun.

But before I could do that, there was Justin to deal with. It was 4:30. Justin was in my office because of a fight on the basketball court. Apparently his buddy had pushed him trying to get the ball. So he pushed back, and then in the way of 9 year old boys, the pushing turned into more pushing which turned into harder pushing and then mediocre wrestling and then their counselor pulled them apart. The other boy stopped and walked away. But Justin, still furious, tried to get back at the kid, punching and flailing and yelling until the after school counselor had no choice but to bring him to me.

I should tell you that Justin was often furious. That he sat on the chair in my office, fists clenched, face scrunched up and called his friend names that no 9 year old should say. That he tried to run out the door twice. That eventually he burst into tears and I hugged him and told him that it was going to be ok.

That was a long time ago. I don't remember any of the other details of Justin's life. I don't remember what his dad said when he came to pick up his exhausted son that afternoon. I don't remember if he had a diagnosis of some kind, or was on medication, or was simply a very frustrated 9 year old boy who really hated to lose. But I do remember feeling grateful, that an hour and a half before leading my first karate class to the students of the now dead Shihan William Oliver, I got to hold Justin's angry trembling body and tell him it was going to be ok.

The class that night was fine. Whenever I was unsure what to tell the kids, I just made them kiai really really loudly. Yelling always works. I am pretty sure they had fun. Its possible they even learned some karate.

My husband will tell you that the minute before we lined up that kids class was one of the top five scariest of his life. And he has climbed up cliff faces and sparred with champions.

We squatted in that location until early January, when two things happened on the same day: we found a room in a yoga studio down the street to rent and the landlord stuck an eviction notice up on the door.

Three years later we moved to our current dojo on 106th and Columbus.

2018 will mark the end of our ten year lease on this current space. We are hopeful that we will be able to sign a new one.

Its funny how time passes. Of course, none of the kids in that first class train with us anymore. A couple of their parents are my Facebook friends. One of the junior black belt girls who offered us her allowance has a younger brother who comes to sparring sometimes. His name is Kei and is a killer.

Hundreds of kids have come in and out of my life since then. So many different personalities, I could probably write a blog post about each and every one of them. I am thankful for all of them, even the ones who take extra work.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Justin. In truth, he was just one angry kid in a sea of frustration, memorable more for what else what going on in my life at the time then for anything he actually did. He was neither the first, nor the last angry 9 year old boy in my office. But I remember him because he is symbolic of that day, that first class, the beginning of this wonderful life that I have now.

So here's to another year of little ones; of messy hair, sticky fingers and slippery socks. We are going to work our butts off in 2017!

Don't worry, if you aren't sure what to do just kiai really, really loud. It works every time.