Saying Farewell to a Friend

My MMA instructor has been more than my teacher. He’s been a mentor and a friend for the last few years. He has a great life story that I’ll share with you someday, with his permission of course. He’s a great guy. He retired recently, and I’m happy for him, but I’m also sad to see him go.

I met Don several years ago when I first attended a community group for moms. I was a new mother and feeling a lot like I had lost control of life. He came to give us all a few quick pointers in self-defense, and in general talk about how to be safer as we cart our kids all over town. I was skeptical at first. After all, I knew the basic rules of self-defense already, what could he really add to that in the span of the ninety minutes he was given? It turned out, a lot.

At the end of that meeting, I was amazed at some of the things he taught me. I could do it. I could throw a grown man to the ground without breaking a sweat. It was empowering. It was also a little embarrassing because during the demonstration he had me demonstrate a strike and I ended up punching him square in the chest. He ended up smiling at me and talking to me about joining his class. I’m glad I did. Even back then, his particular brand of catharsis broke through even my post-partum new baby haze.

Over the next few years, Don taught me concepts and moves from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Krav Maga, Kung Fu, and several others. But it wasn’t just the moves I loved, it was what they meant to me.

My biological mother was killed when I was a small child. Murder. When I was only eleven years old, a stranger propositioned me outside of my local grocery store and I had to retreat into the store where I found a friend’s mother in order to escape him. It was not the last time it happened. It was also not the worst. I learned at a very young age that safety is an illusion.

But in Don’s class, I learned something new. I’m powerful. My short and admittedly stocky body can take down men twice my size. I have the sparring record to prove it. He empowered me with his teachings. I grew more confident in myself because I became aware of what I could do–what I was capable of.

Eventually, Don began inviting me to assistant teach his all-female youth classes. He wanted an adult female present in the class for obvious reasons, but he also wanted them to see that strength and power comes in all shapes and sizes. I helped him finish up a class less than a week before my second child was born. He was sure to be careful with what he had me doing and teaching, but it was great to be able to show the students that even at nine months pregnant, I could kick butt.

He also often had his daughter come to classes to help out. She’s a teenager and has been training with him since she was four. Believe me when I say that girl has a future as a superhero. She is legit. The two of them have also helped get my oldest child started training.

I’m happy for Don, that he is taking a step back and spending more time with his family. He has worked hard all his life. He still has two other jobs, actually. The man doesn’t know how to sit still. I’m glad he is able, though, to take more time to be at home. I will still miss him.

Oh, I have his number and he has invited me to call him up to arrange gym days now and again. But it won’t be our constant schedule anymore. It won’t be the same.

I haven’t found a new instructor or class yet. I have trouble believing I will find one that I’ll relish quite as much. And it won’t be the same. But time marches on, and so must I. I suppose after the holiday, I’ll begin checking out new options. It’s time to start fresh and bid the old adieu.

It is a bittersweet farewell.


It’s Never Too Late to Start

I thoroughly enjoy learning self-defense through mixed martial arts. Teaching it to newer students is even more fun. I’m both student and teacher, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I was a child, my father taught me the very basic concepts for self-defense. He worried. Rightly so, since his wife, my biological mother, had died and he was a single father–which he would remain until I was a teenager. I was the youngest of four children. He knew he couldn’t follow us around to keep us safe, so he taught us what he could about protecting ourselves.

With a beginning like that, you probably expect me to say that I started karate classes at eight and have my belts proudly displayed in my home today. But that didn’t happen. In fact, it would be years before I learned anything beyond the basic lessons my father taught me.

When I was in middle school a family down the street owned a kickboxing studio in town. They were the first step in my journey. They had a son one year my junior and a daughter one year my senior. Waiting for the school bus in the morning, we would goof around and I began to learn from them. It didn’t take long for me to want to learn more.

Unfortunately, we moved before I got to high school. It would be a number of years before I cared to pursue anything of that nature again. In fact, it wasn’t until after my eldest son was born that I got really involved in mixed martial arts. I attended a special moms group to try to meet other mothers in my area. I loved it and still attend it to this day. A few months in, we had a guest speaker come talk to us about some simple self-defense techniques that could help keep us, and by extension our children, safer. The speaker offered to start a class for those of us who wanted to know more.

So here we are, four years later and that speaker is now my mentor. Though, we both laugh that we’re more like family now. I still take his class every week. And when he teaches classes to newer, especially younger (and yes, that is a distinction), students, I help teach as well. We work together to teach my children, too.

I don’t know everything there is to know. I don’t know every technique. But I love learning. And I love teaching others. There is something about MMA that I didn’t get with other sports. I played basketball, ran track, and eventually played soccer. But when I spar and have to be aware of what my body is capable of with every move toward my opponent, it’s empowering in a way that nothing else has been.

Truthfully, if you were to look at me as I walked down the street you would never guess that my main hobby is MMA. I’ll be honest that my body type wouldn’t give that away. And yet, if you see me on the mats in class, you might not want to spar with me. I don’t say that to be arrogant, but more to point out that you don’t have to be shaped like a superhero to start training.

I had lessons here and there, but my training began as an adult. Moreover, my training began while I was desperately trying (and, honestly, failing) to lose the baby weight after giving birth. I trained, with caution, all through my second pregnancy. In fact, I was helping teach a kids’ class less than a week before I went into labor. There are students in class with me who joined in their 40s or 50s. My mentor’s teenaged daughter is also in class with us. She began her training at 4. Yes, she’s better than me. A lot better. I’m in no way ashamed to admit that.

The point is, it’s never too late to start. You don’t have to wait until you’re in shape. You don’t have to wait until you’ve established a gym routine (it’s a workout on its own, I assure you). And you didn’t miss your window because you aren’t a teenager anymore.

You can start any time. You should. It’s fun and empowering. It’s cathartic, too. How many other hobbies let you take out your frustrations by punching a training dummy in the face repeatedly? I highly recommend it.