I’ve been doing some thinking. This is a dangerous thing. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated and inspired by stories of knights battling dragons. The Jedi, He-Man, Bruce Lee, and mutated turtles trained in the ways of the ninja fueled my imagination, providing me hope for what kind of life I could have, given the right circumstances.
For much of my life, the idea of walking a warrior’s path was largely hypothetical. Due to my particular eye condition, I was not allowed to study any kind of martial art. Kung fu, karate, judo, wrestling, boxing, fencing, Muay Thai, kendo, ninjutsu, jujutsu, and aikido were all unavailable to me. I satisfied myself with reading as much as I could about each of the aforementioned arts. Sadly, the information available to me was severely limited.
My earnest research began when I was in my middle school years. At the time, I was living in a small rural town in northeast Ohio called Garrettsville. This was in the early 1990s, and the internet wasn’t really a thing yet. I had to survive with Grolier’s Encyclopedia on CD ROM and the handful of books on martial arts our very small library had. (I’m not using hyperbole. I found no more than 5 books on martial arts in the entire library.)
I was a nerdy non-athletic kid. I was socially awkward, and, by all perception, I had an extremely unrealistic view of the world. By a very well-meaning family member, I was told the following. “Josh, you’ll never get your black belt. The guys who get that good put years of daily training in to reach that level. You’re living in a fantasy, if you think someone like you could get there.”
Those words stuck with me, and I believed them to be true. I couldn’t see well enough to play basketball, unless it was half court one on one. I had been in several schoolyard fights, but I got beat most of the time, and the only times I came out ok were because I got lucky. To put it bluntly, I was awful at fighting, and I expected to stay that way.
When I was 14, I moved from Ohio back to California. A little less than 2 years later, I was completely blind. At first, I was upset and scared, like most would expect I would be. Then, I realized I didn’t have to worry about losing my eyesight, and the idea of legitimately training in martial arts seemed much more possible.
When I was 16, I spent a little less than a year studying kung fu. I mostly learned some basics, some self-defense, and a handful of Chinese forms. The only kung fu I remember from this dabbling is how to bow (left hand over right fist) and how to do a “crane beak” strike.
I later dabbled a bit in ninjutsu and some more kung fu, but I never took my training very seriously. It wouldn’t be until August of 2005 that I would do so.
After over a decade of training, 11 years and 2 days to be exact, I would take the radical step of pursuing martial arts full-time. At first, I did this for myself. I did it because I wanted to pursue adventure, and I wanted to get good enough to compete. I still do, but pursuing martial arts for me isn’t enough.
Martial arts saved my life. It has given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning. My fitness is continuing to improve. My sensory awareness is much more developed. Jiu jitsu and judo have especially helped me improve my kinesthetic sense and ability to think under pressure. I am fascinated and continue to derive tremendous benefit from multiple styles and areas of martial arts. I love both the practical and the esoteric. Self-defense, martial arts philosophy, and the competitive aspects of training all have value to me. There is one facet of martial arts that still is even dearer to my heart, and it is this facet which guides my path now.
Martial arts training has the power to heal broken hearts. The empowerment which comes from consistent investment by a teacher who cares for their students is a treasure indeed. I have taught martial arts before, but I don’t think I did so with the proper mindset.
I will train just as consistently… Just as hard. My focus in competition will still be just as fierce. That being said, my drive doesn’t come from what I can accomplish, but what kind of life I can provide for others because I am on this path. My goal is to learn to be a sensei, a title that I was given almost 8 years ago, when I received my very first black belt.
Sensei means “One who has walked the path and can show others the way”. I must walk the path, but I do not do so for myself. I do so, so I can bring hope and help to those in need. I do so for my blind brothers and sisters, and for anyone who needs light in this too often dark world. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I am still glad to share what wisdom I find during my journey.