I grew up to the smell of heat and sweat. Sometimes these smells were contained in a medium-sized building and sometimes they weren’t. Along with the heat and the sweat it smelled like dust and dirt. Always dust and dirt.

Growing up in Texas I played a lot of team sports but none stand out as much as basketball and softball. The memories I have playing on different basketball and softball teams and the gyms and the fields I played on are more vivid than those memories I have of playing soccer or volleyball.

I rarely sat on the sideline growing up. That’s not meant to be taken as bragging but rather it is just a fact. I was good at these sports so I played more often than not. And when I was made to sit on the sideline, whether it was because I was hurt, had too many fouls, needed to let someone else gain more experience, or whatever the reason was, I did not like it. Most of the time I’d get antsy and impatient (although I didn’t show it that often; I’m introverted with my emotions in sports).

I wanted to get up, to return to the court or the field and take control of the game or my position in the game.  But I played on a team, I played a team sport, so that involved playing with others to win a game.

Up until my senior year of high school, I played organized team sports. Following high school I played intramural sports in undergraduate and one year in graduate school. However, around the end of my second year of graduate school I sort of stopped. I moved about 30 minutes from my college’s gym and thus didn’t really have the time (because I worked full time and went to school full time) or the means to travel the 30 minutes in hopes that I might find a basketball pick-up game (gas ain’t cheap).

So for the next year and a half I probably played a total of four pick-up games and shot around every once in awhile at an outdoor basketball court near my house. That lack of playing with others created an odd feeling in me. Not once since I moved to LA have I played a pick-up game of basketball or even shot around anywhere. There isn’t a basketball court that I can access close to me. I have to choose between saving gas money or driving to another suburb or into Los Angles to find a public basketball court and even then I’m not sure where to start.

For awhile, I felt as if I abandoned something and maybe I did.

But rather than sit on the sideline any longer I decided to get up and do something. Yet, that “something” might not be what would be expected. Growing up I always played team sports and I never really had a lot of experience with  individual sports like golf or tennis except when I ran cross country in high school.

But I’ve always been interested in trying out one particular individual sport. I’ve never been a big fan of Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal, or any karate movie for that matter but I’ve always been interested in the art of fighting. I’ve often wondered if I’m fascinated by it because I’ve never been in an actual fight.

Regardless, I can recall my interest growing in high school and continuing from there. I’d picture fights between myself and some unknown attacker or have dreams where I had to defend myself from an assailant. I obsessively read about ancient female warriors and was always attracted to fictional novels with battles and warriors. You might call me old school, but learning to defend oneself with only your body has always seemed more skillful and brave than those who have trained to become experts in firing a gun.

So I got off the sideline and found a place to learn karate:  the IKA, the International Karate Association. Surprisingly, the headquarters (for the entire world) happen to be located in the city that I live in. It’s been almost a month and I’m in love with my dojo.

You see, I am not being trained by just anyone. I’m learning karate from one of the best in the world: Soke Kubota, a Grand Master and inventor of the Gosoku-ryu fighting style. Soke has trained actors in films with martial arts elements, police departments, and military personnel. People come from all over the world to train with him and he has been all over the world training others for many decades.

Not only am I getting direct assistance and instruction from one of the most knowledgeable karate persons in the world, but the men and women that I train with are some of the most amazing and helpful individuals that I could have hoped for in my first real experience with karate.

Surprisingly there is more to karate that I love besides my teacher and those that I train with. I love that karate is an individual sport. This learning involves only me and my body and my mind. This is an art of learning how to move every single part of one’s body in the correct position for defense or attack. Off by one inch could mean defeat.

My feet must begin and end correctly. My arms and hands must block and protect simultaneously. My body has to be relaxed and stiff at the same time. Katas, a set series of karate moves, is a synchronized dance with the class that I am absolutely fascinated by. It takes memorization and crisp, clean moves to excel at kata.

I don’t know how else to say it except to say that karate is beautiful and breathtaking. It gives me strength and control of my body. It calms my mind and puts it in a quiet place. For once, the success of this sport relies only on me; a new feeling that I have not felt in a sport before.

More importantly, karate reflects the strength that I feel inside myself that perhaps others don’t ever see or I’ve never been able to show. If past lives exist, as I sometimes tend to think, then I believe I  was a warrior in a past life. I felt something open inside of me after my first day at karate. Something that had been waiting for so long to be let free.

Karate has been something I’ve always wanted to do, so I did it. And I’m glad that I did it regardless of how long it took. Some people don’t ever do the thing they’ve always wanted to do and they waste years of opportunity by putting it off. Saying that I do hope that I can get involved with basketball or softball again one day. Maybe I will sooner than I think: I signed up as a free agent for the LA womens basketball league so I’m just waiting for a call.

My “moment” in life is always now. At this particular moment I’m going out and learning karate and I am taking control of my life and not allowing it to slip by me. I’m fighting to no longer remain on the sidelines by not doing what I want to do. Karate is only one of the many things I will do in the coming future. It brings a powerfully peaceful feeling of completion–a feeling that can only be obtained from standing up and walking away from the sidelines.

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