I remember it like it was yesterday. 1986. I was about 7 or 8 years old and my parents were dragging me to a local High School in our community to watch my brother at a Karate tournament. I think at the time my brother was a purple belt. I had no idea what the belt colors symbolized but I thought it sounded pretty cool. At first, I recall pleading with my parents to just let me stay home with the kids in the neighborhood so we could ride bikes and just play. I had no idea that going to that karate tournament that day would have such an impact on my life for over 25+ years.
Here's WHERE IT ALL STARTED. Toward the end of the tournament there was this demonstration of the Black Belts. There was one demo that stood out to me. This man who stood out from everyone else, tall, Strong, long hair and a mustache who I remember wearing a white Gi (Uniform) and a Black Belt around his waist with line markings on it. Again, having no idea what the meaning of the Black Belt and the lines on it and what they stood for got up in the middle of the gymnasium and broke these concrete blocks with a powerful hand strike. I'm not sure how many of the blocks were stacked on there but I know the crowd went crazy! I was mesmerized with what I just witnessed. As soon as this ended I ran out on the court and grabbed a broken piece to keep so I could always remember this day.
Fast forward to the summer of 1993. I was playing AAU Basketball and our coach set up a training appointment for us to go to a local weight-lifting gym to begin weight training to get us stronger on the court so we could compete. Our Coach understood the importance of getting stronger, quicker and faster.
We arrive at the location. Bodyworks Gym and Karate. The man who walked over to greet us in his Gi I recognized as the same man from 7 years prior at the karate tournament demonstration. He introduced himself as Mr. Hardy. He was in his GI (Uniform) and Belt. This time I notice his belt has additional stripes/markings and it is much more worn and beat up. We (our team) instantly knew that there was no messing around and he meant business. His objective was to now get us stronger, quicker and faster on the court so we could compete nationally. He told our group of 5-8 of us to hang tight for a few mins while he finished up teaching class next door. He walked into the other room, The DOJO and i noticed he entered in the room by bowing in. Its a sign of respect and humility.
The two rooms were separated with a small glass for viewing. For the 10-15 minutes that we waited to begin our session I watched in amazement! I couldn't take my eyes off what the students were doing. Learning how to kick, punch, block and it was beautiful to watch. To be honest, I didn't want it to stop. The class was mostly made up of White and Orange Belts. A few Black Belts were mixed in I had no idea in the world what they were doing but I thought to myself it was amazing and my new goal at that moment was to get my Black Belt someday. I had no idea what that path would be but I wanted to earn that Black Belt and be doing what they were doing.
Mr. Hardy came over after he was done teaching and worked with us. We did stuff that I had never done before. Teaching us to use barbells and dumbbells appropriately. This class was to go on for the summer. However, as much as I enjoyed the weight room and learning what we did I knew my bigger interest and vision was on the other side.
After leaving that training session that day. I went home and told my dad that I wanted to try classes. I signed up for Karate the next week. I think he initially signed me up for like three months to try it out and see what my interest would be. Maybe it would fade. Who knew.
My first intro class was with an amazing instructor, Ms. Kim. She was tough as nails. I would soon go on to train in her Kung Fu Class. Amazing memories were made. To this day she would probably still kick my ass!
My very first Karate Test would be a progression of White Belt to Orange Belt and It took place in October of 1993. After this test, I remember thinking that this will be a part of me forever. I will never quit in life or as a Martial Arts Practitioner. There is a saying in the Martial Arts world that goes " A Black Belt is a White Belt that never quit."
In the summer of 2000 about 7+ years from my initial first belt test I reached my Black Belt. I soon realized that getting to Back Belt was just the start of the journey... It was truly an incredible weekend because not only did I confirm my Black Belt in Combined Kenpo Karate I also confirmed my Black Sash in Kung Fu that same weekend. Not an easy thing to do. I think only two of us in the schools history have ever done that.
Now as a 5th degree Black Belt and 27 years later from that first initial class and test (and outside of a few 6 months breaks during my heart surgeries) from when I first stepped into Bodyworks Gym and Karate I have still continued to have martial arts a part of my life every single day. It truly has changed my life. I can't imagine my life without it. The instructors, the students, the tests, the training sessions, the blood, seat, tears, the crooked nose from getting hiy too many times, the knockouts (being knocked out lol) THE FIELD experience, everything is a gift. As I get older and realize how precious life is, I also know that If we had never gone to that karate tournament and years later taken this weight training class my life would have a missing part and empty in some ways.
The martial arts WARRIOR mindset has been what has got me through HEART FAILURE, two major heart operations, some really dark days, the finish line of the IRONMAN Triathlon, many races and it will pull me across the finish line of my 6th Boston Marathon in September 2020 with Tedy's Team!
One of my very first jobs was cleaning the gym side at Bodyworks when I was a freshman and sophmore in HS. Years later, I would open up my own gym. CRAZY!
Thank you Mr. Hardy for always believing in me and giving me this gift of finding my passion and what drives me....Looking forward to BUNKAI'ING many more forms and to the many more sessions ahead... OOS-
I still have that piece concrete block from 1986 as a good luck charm and a reminder of the moment I knew Martial Arts would be with me forever.