Recently, I was asked to participate in a mentorship program for graduating seniors at a local high school. The program would allow me to mentor an intern for a period of five weeks. When I agreed, I must admit I did not expect to work with someone so passionate and wise beyond her 18 years.
Emily Sorrentino will be attending the College of New Jersey in the fall, majoring in English and Journalism. I am an honored to have the privilege of working with this amazing young woman and am extremely grateful for her help. She will be my guest blogger on this site over the next four weeks. I hope you all enjoy her wisdom as much as I do.
“With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.
Thomas Foxwell Buxton
When I was eight, most girls my age either danced or played a skilled sport. Being without passion for any particular activity, I was in search of a new hobby. Sure, I had danced, but I was never really good and I didn’t feel like my world would end if I gave it up. So, after I inevitably quit, I set off to find something new. I was never like every other girl I knew, so I wanted something unlike what every other girl I knew did. Time and again, my mind landed on karate. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to give it a try. There was a local dojo that seemed credible and fairly priced. I begged my mom for weeks to let me give it a try. I can still remember her making a deal with me. She would say “I’ll let you try it, but you can’t quit. You have to stick with it”. And that was ten years ago.
Yes, it has been ten entire years since I started studying Isshinryu karate. It turned out to be a completely different experience than I anticipated. I expected the stereotypical showy art of jumping really high and kicking boards. I figured I would be taught by a chiseled, burly creature of a man whose muscles looked like overinflated balloons.
But I remember my first class quite clearly, and I remember meeting my teacher for the first time. I remember the warm greeting and smile that I received when I walked in the door. I remember being clueless but feeling secure and welcomed. My teacher, despite having a full class of kids, guided me through the early learning process and helped me to feel comfortable in a room full of strangers. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be that safe and caring environment he created that would encourage me to dedicate my time and energy to improve and work hard at everything I did.
Most people think that karate, and martial arts in general, is about beating people up and breaking wooden boards and flashy kicks. Well, I’ll admit that I can break boards and I could hold my own in a physical fight, but that’s not what’s important. While my technique has improved over the years, so has my ability to retain information and think critically and ask intelligent questions. I know more about how the body works and the history of karate than I ever thought I would. Karate is about stamina and subtlety. I could be flashy if I wanted to, but I know better. I know that crazy punches and kicks look cool, but they are not as effective. I know that the body works in a certain way and, if I wanted to, I could manipulate it to my advantage. There was a sign hanging by the door of the dojo when I first started. It said “this dojo instills self-confidence, self-control, and self- discipline all while learning self-defense.” (A dojo is a place where one studies karate). I’ll always remember that because sure, I can defend myself, but it is the other three traits that I see in myself every day. They help me be the kind of person I like to be.
Today, my teacher and I have a great relationship and I have been deeply involved in helping and learning at my dojo. I met some of my best friends in my ten years there, and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to go to college and say goodbye for a while. Luckily, I will always carry with me the confidence, strength, and intuition that studying karate has given me. Everything I’ve learned is not just important while I’m at karate; it is applicable in every aspect of my life. I am a better student, teacher, friend, and overall person because of my experiences at my dojo. I can even say that my years at karate got me into my dream college. I wrote my essay about karate, it was an important part of my resume, and my teacher wrote a personal and positive letter of recommendation. To simply say that karate is a big part of my life would be a colossal understatement. I see traits in myself that I love, that others around me don’t have, and I feel grateful for the choices I’ve made. I wish everyone could feel about themselves the way I feel about myself.
That’s not to say that everyone out there should get up and join karate. I got lucky; I found a one in-a-million dojo. I was in a very special environment and, unless everyone plans to move to Madison, New Jersey to take some karate classes, I don’t think anyone could replicate my karate experience. That’s not the point I’m promoting. I hope that everyone can someday find their “karate”. Everyone deserves to have something that they will always remember and that brings them to lifelong friends and that changes them for the better. Though it could be found just by chance, like it did with me, I encourage everyone to go out and look for it. Explore your options and explore the world until you find your passion. Once you find it, if you’re that lucky, let it change you. Work hard and commit to loving whatever it is you do. Commit to loving yourself, and then, you will find, life gets easier. Because in finding your passion, you’ll find you!