Kyokushin is known as the "most feared" karate in the world. And since I'm a Kyokushin black belt, I should make people tremble when I walk by.
But let's be real. I'm a middle-aged mother who teaches preschoolers. My fighting days are far behind me as I've got a handful of injuries that will plague me for the rest of my life. I'll never be in fighting shape again. Essentially, I'm the opposite of the "most feared".
Yet, being the most feared is not what Kyokushin means to me. It's not how amazing our fighters are or how dangerous our current World Champion may be. It's not even about how strong Mas Oyama was when he founded our style and he fought bulls bare-handed (yes, we can all agree that practice was horrible).
For me, Kyokushin is the mindset that reaches outside the dojo and has helped me battle life's challenges for the past 20 years. Sure, I've learned discipline, control and focus. But the biggest lesson Kyokushin taught me was incredibly simple:
Always get back up.
Every black belt has his or her story of their black belt journey. I've broken my foot, wrist, toes and a few ribs (thanks to my son, Alex). I've been yelled at and given a zero in a competition. I've had disagreements with how our organization is run and I've had to deal with chauvinistic behavior from my fellow black belts. I've probably failed more times than I've succeeded. I've been tired, hurt, stressed and angry and kept going. Because that's what we do.
My story is not unique or even special. Everyone who earns a black belt has sacrificed to achieve their goals. And it's precisely that journey that has helped me survive what life's thrown at me. Everyone gets knocked down, but not everyone gets up and asks for more.
Kyokushin black belts get back up.
Here's how my friend Nell describes Kyokushin:
Life's journey isn't easy for any of us. Yet, the strength gained through the martial arts is like no other. It's the mindset that doesn't allow me to quit, even when life throws a sucker punch when you least expect it.
We've been audited by the IRS and had every penny taken because of a crooked accountant.
Big deal. So we ate Ramen Noodles for a while.
We've had poverty, addiction, disease, and mental illnesses drag our family down.
Really? Is that the best you've got?
We've dealt with drug dealers, runaways and stalkers.
Bring. It. On.
We lost a beloved son.
Okay. We're still climbing back from that one.
It's not easy surviving life, even without the challenges I've faced. Life is incredibly hard. There are days when I want to give up and run away. There are days I'd like to scream at the world. There are days I just want to crawl back into bed and pretend I'm anyone else. Anywhere else.
But I won't stop fighting until the day I die. And there are a few people I'd like to haunt, so death may not be strong enough to stop me.
Being Kyokushin isn't about how tough my physical body is today, or how many fights I've won. It's not about how many stripes are on my belt, or how many students I teach. Being Kyokushin means I know I have the strength to survive anything that life throws at me.
I know life's next challenge is right around the corner. I know I'm going to be knocked out cold, laid out flat on the floor. It's inevitable. It's only a matter of time. It's just how life works.
I may be bruised, bleeding, and a little broken. It may not be pretty, but I'm going to get right back up every single time.
Because I am Kyokushin.