25 to Life

Today, January 6th, marks the 25th anniversary of when I first joined the dojo. Twenty five years ago, I was a shy, awkward teenager who was afraid to kiai too loud and thought taking a sparring class was akin to climbing Mt. Everest. 

I do not have your typical "why I joined a karate school" story. Actually, when I was 13 I was still a competitive gymnast, although I was nearing the end of my flipping and twisting career. Olympians do gymnastics at age 13. The rest of us, well, we do high school. And although I did spend all 3 years of high school as an official member of the La Guardia gymnastics team, I stopped competing in my junior year, after tearing my ACL. (Here is a bit of advice for all you Mary Lou's out there. If you fall off the balance beam, do not land on one leg, hyper-extend that knee, and then get back up and continue prancing around.) 

I LOVED gymnastics and for years, the YMCA gym was the place I ran to after school. It was a somewhat dingy place, with peeling paint, one of each piece of gymnastics equipment, and a corner room that seemed to always be leaking. But it was our gym and we loved it in that obsessive fierce way that only tween girls and small puppies can muster. 

u:\My Pictures\Chelsea Piers\op_adultgymnastics.jpg

That up there is the gymnastics facilities at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. That is NOT my gym. See all those balance beams? We had one. See that bouncy thing. It is called a tumble track. We did not have one. See that multicolored box that looks like confetti? It is a foam pit. Need I go on? Chelsea Piers is clearly where champions with eating disorders are made. My gym was where parents brought their little girls after school so they could grab a cup of coffee in peace. But my coach was awesome and my teammates were pretty cool and I wanted nothing more than to hang upside down from a bar all day.

Seriously. I would still do it if I could.

When I was 13, my entire family was doing karate. That is not hyperbole. I mean my entire family was doing karate. My little brother, my mother, and my father. I was the only one not punching and kicking in my pajamas. I felt left out. So I joined the dojo with a friend of mine whose brother and mother also trained. I guess we figured there was safety in numbers.

None of them train anymore. Well, actually my friend moved to another state, got married, and had some beautiful blue eyed babies, so for all I know she could still be doing karate. But my parents eventually moved on to tai chi and my brother to whatever it is boys do in high school. For some reason, I stuck with it. I stuck with it through years of Friday night fight classes where I was one of two women in a sea of giant, sweaty men. I stuck with it through the closing of one school, and the opening of a new one 4 blocks away. I stuck with it through getting my black belt, and then my second degree black belt, and then my third and my fourth. I met a nice man (actually he was a teenager at the time!) who also liked to punch and kick, who eventually became my boyfriend and then, my husband, and then the father of my child, and then, when our teacher died suddenly in 2004, the person I would run a karate business with. 

I even stuck with this silly karate thing after discovering jiu-jitsu 3 years ago and realizing that in addition to all those karate moves, I could also learn how to choke someone with their own clothing!

There is no magic here. There was no dramatic moment where I suddenly knew that I had found my life's calling. There was no point of no return where it was clear that I was now too far in to ever quit. No, I just went to class. And then the next day, I went to class. And then maybe I got a little distracted by friends and college life and missed a few weeks. But eventually I found myself dragging my bag up those rickety steps again. I went to class and it was a year, then five years, then ten, twenty, and there I was just going to class again, and now it is 25 years and I think I'll go to class today.

I would be lying if I said that I wake up every morning chomping at the bit to practice karate. The enthusiasm for throwing punches at the air comes and goes. In fact, the reason I started BJJ to begin with was a desire for something new. 

But I can tell you this. There is nothing more comforting to me than my bare feet on a hardwood floor. Some days performing kata, the same kata I have done for 20 plus years, is as natural and beautiful to me as walking alongside the ocean. I love my white gi and my beat up tattered black belt more than anything else I own. And although running a dojo is not always easy, and some days there is just not enough coffee in the world,  I love teaching those little guys karate. 

I can still do a cartwheel, by the way. And sometimes I still have dreams where I am flipping across that bright blue mat in my gaudy blue and purple leotard.  But I am a proud karate kid now. 

Now, and forever. 

This is my YMCA gymnastics team. Yes I had bangs. And braces.
Hey, it was the 80's!
I used to work at Chelsea Piers by the way. And that gym is pretty damn awesome!