When I was a teenager, I never wanted to join martial arts. My parents kind of tricked me into it. First, it was my younger brother who joined. It was great for him. He needed to do something and it seemed to help with his confidence. Six months later my youngest brother joined. ‘Great’ — I told myself. Meanwhile my parents put the pressure on me to jump in with my two brothers. I wasn’t having it. From my perspective, martial arts was a weird world where Americans pretended to be from Asia.
There was no way you were going to get me to join. Martial arts was for dorks who didn’t get picked on the football team.
Admitting you wanted to do martial arts meant admitting failure on your personal character. It meant you either lacked self confidence, you were being bullied (aka ‘you weren’t cool’), or you weren’t good enough for other sports and that’s all there was left.
Nothing about the martial arts to me seemed appealing. Then again, I was just a 13 year old stubborn kid who just so happened to actually be a little awkward, and not that athletic… but that’s not something I could admit. I’m still stubborn, a little weird and non-athletic by the way; martial arts really didn’t change me in those ways.
One full year after my 1st brother joined, my parents came home with uniforms, for themselves. I was shocked to see my parents with their white gis still in the packaging. The big smiles on their faces and their excessive enthusiasm and my complete surprise and irritation now knowing my entire family was taking karate.
Of my family of five, I was completely out numbered. I still remember walking from the kitchen down the hall and trying to escape up to my room, hiding from the pressure my entire family was putting on me to ‘just give it a try’.
Finally my dad started making some bold offers. Particularly, he offered to custom build me, by hand, a bedroom in the unfurnished half of our home’s basement. Granted, I already had my own bedroom, but the thought of having my own bedroom in the basement meant I would have my own floor of the house. And all I had to do was go through the ‘one month trial offer’. I almost didn’t agree, again due to stubbornness, but the thought of having a bedroom on the same floor as where our new PS2 was hooked up to our ‘big’ screen TV… one month seemed like a no brainer. I agreed.
Fast forward about 5 years later and I’m a black belt. My parents are black belts. My brothers are black belts. And I’m the head instructor of a karate school.
… and there was no bedroom in the basement.
It turns out, martial arts was exactly what I needed in life. Perhaps even more importantly, martial arts was the outlet I needed in life. Let’s be real — my stubborn personality made me think I was right, and competitive. And when I decided to not be right about martial arts (just this once), I switched my mentality over from ‘martial arts is wrong’ to ‘martial arts is right’. This pressed me to go full steam into training, or at least as far as I could see at that time. I didn’t have to be the most athletic kid to win a national title, I just had to be the best at the techniques. I did come across weird people in karate, but I also came across heroes and role models… I realized martial arts is for everyone, regardless of your level of social awkwardness or physical fitness. It fueled the fire I had already inside me to be a leader and a role model. This made me turn down doing as many stupid things than the typical high school kids were doing, or at least consumed my time so I didn’t have as many opportunities to make poor decisions. I finished my teenage years with more personal wins and a personal drive to excel that most people never achieve in their whole lives. I realized that the me who made that deal with my parents for the custom bedroom was wrong about how dorky karate was — and I’ve made it a mission in my life to flip the script on the stories martial arts schools perpetuate to gain more students. Martial Arts isn’t just a place to bring your kid who needs discipline, confidence, or some other fill in the blank problem that needs to be fixed. Martial Arts is a way of life. It’s a way to grow and find yourself. Martial Arts is a perfect compliment for your life and it’s something that really ought to be the norm. It fulfills social, physical, mental, spiritual and community-building needs… Sweat, make friends, grow into the person you’re supposed to be. That’s martial arts, and even though I was tricked into it, I love it.
Sometimes, parents know best for their kids better than the kids do. I’m grateful my parents figured out a way to get me in those doors and so that I could discover how to start kicking ass. It’s made all the difference in my life.
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Jacob Wolfman is a Martial Arts Photographer, Videographer and Storyteller. Hire Jacob Wolfman to help you tell your story as a martial arts school owner, athlete, or anything in-between.