Why I’m Saying Goodbye to Martial Arts
Pain has been my constant companion for the last six years.
It all started somewhere in 2009, with a headache. It crept up on me so slowly I wasn't sure when it started, but soon the pain was constant – a dull, throbbing ache at the base of my skull that would never end.
Some days it was worse than others, but the fact that it was always there was truly draining to me, both body and mind. It's hard enough to concentrate with the various distractions we already have in our fast-paced, high-tech world, but constant pain brings things to a whole new level.
After years of this, I sought help from a chiropractor. Basically he told me that it was due to my horrendous posture – my neck was tilted too far forward, putting unnecessary strain on my spine. He recommended adjustments, and I saw him once a week because in the midst of a recession that was all I could afford. It helped a little, but then I got into a car accident and things got a lot worse. Even though I had the support from an Auto Accident Lawyer, I still suffer from serious pain.
What does this have to do with martial arts? Hang tight, young padawan, and I will tell you.
My chiro did another exam and discovered I'd suffered double whiplash and had pushed my hip out of alignment. I'm glad he checked again because untreated whiplash can have a major long-term impact on your ability to walk, and could have resulted in my becoming paralysed! The other driver's insurance company covered my treatment, so I was able to get extensive adjustments for over a year, which did help things some. But my chiropractor pointed out that things would never really be normal for me until I got into a regular exercise regimen and began strengthening my core.
I've struggled with fitness for my entire life. Traditional gym workouts really aren't my thing – I get so bored and the resulting soreness makes it hard for me to face the next day. The times when I was really were when I was doing a group activity, such as volleyball or baseball, and I knew that if I was going to get fit I would need to find something similar?
One day, I was walking back to my apartment when I noticed that there was a martial arts place in the shopping center right across the street. It was called Karate One, and it seemed to be open. I'd grown up watching Dragonball Z and other martial arts-related anime as a child, and karate had always seemed like something cool to do, so I thought I'd check it out. Did you know there are Martial Arts schools all over the world even in Italy – see Arte marziale.
Turns out the place was run by a 60-something year old man called Ray Barrera, who had won several world karate championships and was the scariest, fittest old man I'd ever met in my life. He taught Swan-da, a defensive style of martial art geared toward helping individuals overcome larger, stronger opponents. Mr. Barrera gave me a free lesson, and I was amazed at how much progress I managed to make in one short hour, so I decided to give it a go.
It was the best decision I ever made.
Over the next year, I not only strengthened my body, but I connected with a new community of people and had new experiences. My pain, while not completely gone, became more manageable. I earned two belts that year and was close to gaining my third. I participated in a tournament and won several medals in my class. I went to a training camp and got a crash course in kendo, jujitsu, and how to disable people with pressure points, amongst other things. I was happier and more confident than I'd ever been.
But life has a way of changing things up on you.
My marriage fell apart towards the end of the year. It was something that had been coming almost since the moment it started, and when it finally hit I didn't know what to do. I sat in the broken pieces and for awhile there I couldn't see the future. I was living in Albuquerque at the time and unlike my ex-husband I had no family to turn to for comfort or advice.
Thankfully, my karate family helped me get my life back together. They were there for me when I needed a shoulder to lean on, giving me the strength and courage to do what needed to be done. I filled out divorce papers. I moved into a new place. I enrolled in classes for the new semester in college. I reorganized my karate classes so that they wouldn't coincide with my ex's since we were going to the same dojo. Things seemed good.
Unfortunately, a career opportunity opened up for me in California. It was something that I'd always wanted to do, and it was close to where my parents lived. Leaving my karate family was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do… but I wasn't going to get another shot if I didn't take the opportunity now, and so I sold all my stuff, said goodbye to my friends, and then left.
The career opportunity started off promisingly enough. But after a year, things bombed out and I had to say goodbye. Starting over fresh again and with a lot of time on my hands, I decided to start over again, and I sought out a new dojo.
One of my friends from my old dojo told me that a friend of my old sensei was starting up a new dojo right in Los Angeles called Pacific Martial Arts. So I went to check it out, and met the teacher, Mr. Jason Knight. His style, Washin Ryu, was similar in many ways to Swan-da, and though he was even more traditional and rigid in his teaching style than Mr. Barrera, I decided to give it a shot.
During my year of training with Mr. Knight I learned a lot about discipline. By nature I'm not very good at taking direction or listening to authority, so my boundaries were pushed on more than one occasion. I went to a training camp in the woods where for two days we did nothing but train and eat, and my limits were sorely tested by some very bossy brown belts who I'd never met before. I had to do a lot of penance push ups for opening my mouth. But again, I advanced by two belt levels, and was on my way to belt #3.
And then I had to leave again.
Somewhere during that year, I got a new boyfriend… and man, has our journey together been a whirlwind. We've had some ups and downs, but overall he's made my life so much better and has helped me grow by leaps and bounds as a writer. And I'd like to say I've done the same for him. But when we decided to move in together and consolidate things between us, we ended up having to move about an hour away from Los Angeles. Which meant that I wasn't going to be able to continue studying under Mr. Knight anymore.
A few months later, I decided to try and find another dojo. I checked around on Yelp, looked at a few places. Then finally I stumbled upon Botto's Kickboxing, which had classes for Sanda (Chinese Boxing), Kickboxing, and Kung Fu.
Wait, kung fu?
As someone who'd been a karate-ka for the past few years, moving to kung fu was hard for me. Karate as a general rule is a bit more rigid, while kung fu is flowing and some forms are often quite showy and ostentatious for me (though it depends on style). But after the very rigid environment from Mr. Knight's dojo, I wanted something a little more informal, and Chris Botto was the perfect combination of traditional and practical.
There was only one problem.
He was a total basket case.
Now, I'm not saying that Chris was nuts. Or that he was a bad teacher, because he wasn't. In fact, when he was at the dojo teaching class, he was completely professional, and in fact an amazing teacher. I learned a lot more about sparring from him than I have from anyone else because of his mixture of traditional martial arts and boxing. He's an absolute gem as an instructor and I will miss him dearly.
But he is a TERRIBLE businessman.
At least once a week, I would show up to his studio for class and he would not be there. In the beginning he would give notice on his FB page and leave a note on his door because he was mid-shooting a film and some nights he couldn't be there. Now, keep in mind this is my third martial arts studio, and I have never, EVER encountered this kind of thing before. And when I attended Mr. Knight's dojo he was a start-up just like Botto's Kickboxing was, and he didn't have anyone to rely on to fill in.
But as the months went on and he stopped filming, the excuses became something else. Usually sickness. He had pneumonia. He had a cold. He was in a car accident. Over and over, these things would keep happening, and he would close the studio for multiple days at a time. For someone like me who is used to coming in on a regular schedule, this was VERY disconcerting for me because I couldn't totally count on him to be there when I wanted to show up.
And then in July, he posted the following on his Facebook Page:
“Some BAd News guys We will be closing our doors at the end of the Month I tried. My Back is still a little tweeked from a car wreck on Friday So will not be coming in tonight I need to gather my thoughts and heel this back But I love you guys I wish you guys the best and keep on Kickin – Botto”
Yes, I copied and pasted that directly from his Facebook page. Typos included. :/
Anyway, to say that I didn't see this coming would be a lie. But it didn't mean I wasn't angry – I wasn't devastated. Chris was absolutely one of the best instructors around, and one of the only ones who delivered what I was looking for and had classes open when I was able to take them. What the fuck did he mean he was closing down? Why couldn't he just get his ass to the shop every day and open the doors? Did karma just hate his guts? It was hardly a wonder he wasn't able to pay the bills – any business that doesn't keep its doors open every day that they're supposed to be open is going to lose customers.
I started looking around in earnest for a new place… and the only one I found was half an hour away, on the other side of town, and class was during rush hour. So that pretty much was a bust.
And then a miracle happened.
Chris said he wasn't closing after all.
Sure, he didn't tell me about it. Didn't send me a message or call me even though I was a paying customer. But apparently one of his customers helped him out by paying the rent, and he was able to keep his doors open. Hallelujah! So I started coming back to class again, putting in double time, thinking that he was going to take this second chance seriously. And for awhile, he did.
And then he started lapsing back into the normal routine. Getting sick (or whatever it was), closing down shop, sometimes not even saying a word. He would open back up again, of course, but in the back of my mind I was shaking my head again, wondering how long he was going to keep this up.
And then one day he just disappeared.
No note on his Facebook page like last time. No phone call or text message from him. Nothing. He was just gone. My boyfriend went by the studio to see what was up, and the place was completely cleared out. He'd abandoned me, and everyone else who depended on him as an instructor. And he didn't even have the decency to tell us goodbye.
The sad thing is, Chris could have succeeded. He was a great instructor, and his students WANTED to come to class. But for whatever reason, he couldn't get his shit together and show up every day to make sure his classes were being delivered. And as a result he lost his business.
I'm sure that he's hiding out somewhere, probably drinking himself into a stupor and curled up in a ball feeling utterly ashamed of himself. After all, he failed. He's in the worst possible place he could be right now. I hope that he picks himself back up and figures things out for himself.
But in the meanwhile, I'm still furious about it. And despondent. I've got nowhere else to turn to. No one to guide me along my martial arts path.
Okay, that's not entirely true. I could go and take Krav Maga, which is technically a martial art. Or try out jujitsu, which I've always wanted to do.
But the truth is that I'm tired of bouncing around between different schools. I'm tired of having to re-learn a new martial art every time things change in my life. I've been studying for four years now, and I should have had a black belt by now if I'd been able to stick to one school, but I haven't, and the truth is it's because my life is still pretty up-and-down as it is. I'm not even planning on staying in LA forever. I've moved from New York to New Mexico to Los Angeles, and I will move again. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed living in these places, especially in New York as I got to stay in somewhere similar to these apartments for rent and it was probably the nicest apartment that I had. But I just can't stay in one place for long, so I definitely wouldn't be surprised if I decided to move again soon.
On top of it, I was born with a problem in my knee, and kung fu seems to have exacerbated it. It's gotten bad enough that I've had to see a physical therapist, who recommends that I give it a break for awhile. So that means I'll have to trade martial arts in for the gym.
I hope that this isn't goodbye forever. One day, I will settle down in a place for at least five or ten years, and actually take the time to study a discipline until I've mastered it. But until that day, I'm saying goodbye to martial arts, or at least my participation in it.
It's been real, yo.