“Wow, a black belt. I’d better watch out!” I’ve long avoided going in stores wearing a karate uniform, because every cashier makes the same comment, apparently under the impression that it’s clever.

People who know me well also seem amused that I’ve done karate for 10 years; their idea of “beating things up” for fun doesn’t fit with my reserved, non-confrontational personality.

Maybe it would have been more characteristic to stick with ballet, an activity I endured from ages 4-6. However, I was fed up with it after only one class; it’s amazing how quickly a bad teacher can prejudice a kid against an activity. When I went to a Kovar’s “buddy day” with my friend and found that the instructors were actually nice to the students, I nagged my mom until she let me quit ballet and start karate.

Since taking classes was a little kid’s whim and not the result of any deep enthusiasm for the sport, it makes sense that karate is a little incongruous with my other interests and traits.

However, good teachers and stubbornness kept me from ever seriously wanting to quit. For the most part, I was enthusiastic. The classes were fun, with games mixed in to distract from the frustration of memorizing forms. I appreciated that I’d found a sport that didn’t involve teammates; the last thing I wanted was to be yelled at because my lack of hand-eye coordination was ruining someone else’s day.

When it came to karate, I wasn’t exceptionally good or especially dedicated, but I practiced consistently enough to become thoroughly decent.

And I was lucky in that my adequacy opened a lot of doors for me.

Karate went from being an enjoyable activity to something I really cared about when I joined the junior demo team in middle school. I started to learn a performance-oriented style of martial arts that mixed aspects of karate, gymnastics, and even dance. When I did a cartwheel for the first time, I felt hugely accomplished. A couple months later, I could easily cartwheel with one hand, not to mention do a variety of jumping and spinning kicks that had looked impossibly difficult to me when I was younger.

But when I reached the next step, the more advanced demo team that regularly wins statewide competitions, I was out of my league. It required many more hours of practice; in fact, I seemed to be the only person whose entire life didn’t revolve around karate.

So at the beginning of high school, I moved away from performance-martial arts and instead began to supplement my regular karate classes by helping teach beginners. Not only is teaching class fun, but going to classes on how to teach has been a great experience. In addition to doing activities that simulated working with kids and learning more advanced variations on familiar forms, the classes have involved everything from learning improvisation to seminars on writing a resume.

Karate has allowed me to have such a wide variety of experiences that I find it laughable when people see it just as an outlandish sport in which people learn to punch each other. Over the years, my experience with karate has evolved to fit my interests and the adaptability and diversity are the reasons I’ve kept it up since second grade.

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