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Articles by Brian Jackson

On the Martial Arts

14 June 2007

The first karate class I took was on a monday night in an elementary school gymnasium when I was about fourteen years old. I remember distinctly that, in the eighth grade, I was a nervous mass of introverted awkwardness (much like a lot of junior high school students still are).

I had transferred into the public school system after I decided that the students in the private school system had it in for me, and I hoped that the change would mean a new start and another set of first impressions. I bought new clothes, new school supplies, and combed my hair differently in an effort to avoid whatever caused bullies to target me the first time around.

The trouble with first impressions is that even if you don't make any mistakes, you can't change your personality overnight, and it wasn't long until an identical group of juvenile delinquents was hassling me for being skinny, short, pallid, nasal, and a geek.

I tell you all this to explain that when I took that first karate class, I had neither an athletic body nor a strong will, and I'd take whatever abuse that other kids would fling at me. It felt like drowning every day from the time when I was let off in the morning to the second I crossed the street on my way home after classes.

Now, I hate to write a sob story, but I have to bring up a couple more sad details before I can talk about the good that came out of them. In third grade, I played little-league baseball and never scored a single run. I never learned to throw a football until I was in high school. When I picked up a basketball, I cut myself on it. Little Brian Jackson was never athletic; do you understand me?

So, for me, the karate class was a breath of fresh air. I didn't have to compete with another team for points or my own team for position. I was competing against myself, and if I messed up repeatedly, I wouldn't get moved to the outfield or offsides. I never learned anything from a coach, but I could learn a lot from a teacher, and a karate teacher was exactly what I needed.

If I was drowning before, karate wasn't like swimming - it was like learning to breathe underwater.

The kids my age that came to the first class were gone at the end of the spring. They'd show up to heckle me once or twice for taking it seriously, but I wasn't feeling awkward any more. Practicing was miserable agony in the very beginning, but discipline, and not merely bodily discipline, began to form in my mind.

When the summer was over, I came back to the school I left in the first place, and I think I was a little bit taller. The kids who used to be making fun of me eventually becamse friends with me, though, to be perfectly honest I could never ever forget the damage they had done. I did my best to forgive them, and high school turned out easier than I imagined. Every night, I practiced my kata, and the faces of enemies faded.

I can never thank my teachers enough for teaching me, and I can never thank God enough for making the transformation of my character possible. Perhaps this is why I teach karate now. There are students in my class who are forming the kinds of scars I bear from the adolescent years. There will be miserable drudgery at some point for those students. I hope that they continue on until the real payoff comes.

I am still young, and there are dire crises in my future. I was born into a world of dangers and hard questions. There is no question in my mind that when the day comes to face them, the convictions I bear on my back will be strength enough.

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