Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
People start Martial Arts for many reasons and under many circumstances. Generally, I wonít do personal stories on this channel but I thought readers might be interested in understanding how I landed in Martial Arts. Iím hoping through sharing this story with you, that if you had dismissed the idea of Martial Arts because of fear of combat or not considering it as an activity for fitness, this will help to illustrate the possibilities from a first-hand experience.
My journey through Martial Arts began the summer of 1996. As a recent graduate, I had just landed my first career as a process engineer in a manufacturing plant. One of the many requirements they had to working onsite was to be certified to wear a facemask in the event of a chemical release. Obviously, this isnít something you wish or hope would ever happen, but as standards dictate, it is a good requirement.
Part of the requirements to wear a facemask is a pulmonary test. Now, Iíve known for years that my breathing was horrendous. Iíve dealt with many years of severe allergies which made me feel like hacking up a lung at least 10 out of 12 months a year. Thus, I wasnít surprised when my pulmonary test returned that my breathing was below par and unacceptable for wearing a mask. What I wasnít prepared for was to hear that because of this, I could lose my amazing new career that I had looked forward to all graduation.
I was given a short period of time to improve and then would be tested again. If I failed again, I would have to be placed into another position that didnít involve being near the plant. Since we didnít have any offsite facilities at this location, it would probably mean I wouldnít have a job.
Since I was little, Iíve known about the benefits of Tai Chi and Qi Gong to improve breathing. I immediately went home and opened up a phonebook to locate schools in the area which taught this Art. Sadly, in 1996, the dominate styles were Japanese and combat in nature. Whereas I didnít mind a Japanese style, I certainly wasnít into the combat aspect. In my whole life, Iíve only gotten into one ďfist fightĒ, and even calling it that is generous.
I happened upon two that seemed to teach Tai Chi and went to investigate both. One school I felt more at comfort with and signed up immediately. My school, Chinese Kung Fu Academy of Archbald, PA, had only just begun to teach Tai Chi and so our classes were very small and personal. Each of us had come to Tai Chi for different reasons and all with the same desire to focus more on our health rather than combat.
Having a class where we all started at about the same level made it easier to not feel disappointed in my own progress. Still, it was hard to quiet the competitive side of my personality and constantly sit in class comparing how I was doing to the other students. With that competitiveness came some levels of disappointment when I couldnít kick as high or sustain as long as someone else. Some of this competitiveness was good, it drove me to work harder. However, some of it held me back and it wasnít until I accepted me for me and stopped comparing myself to others that I truly started to accelerate my understanding and learning of the Art.
When we reached the point to receive our first rank testing, I recall feeling awkward, perhaps even annoyed. I wasnít in Martial Arts for some title or belt. I wasnít doing this to prove to anyone that I could do this, that, or the other form. I was doing this for me and for my health. In retrospect, a lot of my awkwardness was fear Ė fear of failing on the ďtestĒ and being told I wasnít doing things right. Surprisingly, they passed me. And the many tests after that to first level Black sash, I learned more and more and gained confidence in myself. Since then, Iíve had so many more experiences and have gained skills that are applicable even beyond the Martial Arts world. Iíve learned skills that help me deal with changing environments in work and life. Iíve developed ways to reduce anxiety that I might feel in stressful situations. And Iíve learned to share and to teach and to open myself up to be taught by all factors of life.
So, what started as a simple activity I signed up for to keep my job ended up becoming a life altering experience. Oh and if youíre curious, yes I did pass my next and many other pulmonary tests required for me to stay in my position.
Do you have a personal story as to how or why you joined Martial Arts? Please come share it with me in the Martial Arts forums. Iíd love to hear from you.