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Where is my win?

Where is the line between advocating and complaining? This is a question that people in many marginalized groups ask. If they don’t ask, perhaps they should. Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes a difficult one.

The question that is probably better asked is the following. Where is my win? Often times we examine a situation, and we don’t like it. Perhaps we don’t like it because we perceive an imbalance of opportunity. Maybe we perceive unfair preferential treatment toward members of a group to which we do not belong. Where is our win?

In martial arts, especially in Guardian Kempo, the art with which I have the most familiarity, there exists a principle of effective movement. I can more reliably and effectively move myself, more than I can reliably and effectively move someone else. I can influence someone to move the way I want them to. (Wristlocks and pressure points can be used to this effect.) Ultimately, I cannot make choices for my attacker. I can only limit their options. Where is my win?

My goal, with regard to self-defense, is to go home and have dinner with my family. If someone intends me harm, and I can defuse the situation by talking them down, I can still go home and have dinner with my family. If someone is persistent, and I need to respond with physical, even lethal, force, I can still go home and have dinner with my family. Where is my win?

Sometimes our options are limited. If we are attacked, and we improperly throw a punch, we could injure our hand. We then have one less tool available to us as we respond to our assailant. We could spend our mental energy and time bemoaning the fact that we cannot as effectively use our hand, or we could use all of the other tools available to us. Where is our win?

Problems have solutions. Circumstances with no solutions are facts of life. My blindness is not a problem because I cannot wish myself able to see. My response to my visual impairment is my problem because that is where the solution is found. Where is my win?

My problem is not that people are mean. My problem is not that people have prejudices. My problem is not that people are unfair. My problem isn’t even that I can’t do many of the things my sighted colleagues take for granted. My problem is “What do I need to do in order to better my life and increase my opportunity for success?” Where is my win?

It is possible litigation may be necessary to gain equal opportunity as people with disabilities. It is possible that laws we have relied on for decades may be eroded because some misused them. It is possible that our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness will be pushed back by others. Where is our win?

Regardless of what others do, even those who misuse the trust or power we give them, we can still win. There is one thing that can never be taken from us, no matter what level of adversity or injustice we face. Nobody can take away our ability to choose. Even with limited options, there is still a way to win. There is still victory.

Knock me down 7 times; I’ll get back up 8. Kill me, and my spirit will live on forever. You can control my body, manipulate my mind, or prey upon my emotions, and yet there is something that you can never control. My will is mine. Nobody can make me surrender my spirit. I will always find a way. I will always find my win.

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Where do I go from here?

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.