“Yes Shihan” I said under my breath in response to a question at my first private lesson in the Tiger dojo. “I can see you’re already learning” Shihan said in return.
It was 2020. My younger brother, Grayson, was a member of The Dojo and was having outdoor classes at Cashman Park due to the COVID pandemic. Not only did students have to wear masks in the dojo, but they weren’t allowed to touch each other, which is quite a challenge at karate classes. I would join Grayson at some of his karate classes during COVID and, being Grayson’s sister, Shihan Kendall allowed me to make contact with him. Shihan complimented me on my natural ability to “do my best in every way and help others do the same.” I was hooked.
Originally I was hooked on the enjoyment and the fun of the sport. As a junior white belt, I could grunt and yell. I learned to kiai and defend myself if someone tried to “steal my milk money.” I played avalanche, circle of doom, and crab soccer. When COVID went through my family, my living room became my dojo. I logged in remotely to Shihan Henry’s and Sensei Zach’s lessons on one and two pinon, and how to be courteous to my friends and family, in person or online.
As the colors of my belts changed so did the expectations. As I tied my high blue belt around my waist, I knew there was no longer an excuse to be late to class, my kiais had to be louder, and my punches had to be more accurate. I was developing my self-control. As the weight of COVID lifted, I was back at The Dojo multiple times a week. I prepared for my first tournament with my best friend, Claire. Together, we persevered through many mistakes until we mastered the two pinon form.
Despite all the preparation, when I arrived at the tournament in Windham, NH, Shihan Kendall challenged me to also perform two pinon solo. As nervous as I was, I knew I could accomplish this, so I accepted the challenge. After my routine, I jumped off the scalding mat on that humid June day and had a new sense of confidence as a first place medal was hung around my neck.
As I threw my high green belt towards the ceiling, and wrapped my stiff brown belt around my waist, I had moved onto a new journey. Instead of just being a student, I was also becoming a leader. I was invited to assist at a session for the Newburyport Youth Services. I started to help out in classees with the Dragons and Panthers. As a leader I started to model modesty and integrity. For years people had complemented me as a leader, but this was the first time I was noticing it myself.
Last year I injured my back and had to miss several classes. My first time back in the dojo was Red Man day. Even though my back still hurt, I had never been more fierce. My kiai alone scared the heck out of Red Man and the rest of the dojo.
As much as I love karate there have been some challenging times when my black belt felt unreachable. Boot Camp has been the toughest journey so far. Getting up early, a difficult run, and having the feeling that my skills weren’t good enough, all made me worry that I wouldn’t make it through.
As I reflect upon my journey at 141 Bridge Road and knowing I only have three Boot Camps left, November 11th is right around the corner. I know I’ll survive Boot Camp, but there is more work to be done. Karate has taught me that I can always be better and there is always more learning to be done. There is always another belt waiting and with indomitable spirit, anything is possible. Yes Shihan, I’m ready
Black Belt Essay
By Myra Taffel