** Editors Note: Thank you Carol-Le for sharing your story with us. You are an inspiration. It’s admirable that you set your mind to do something, you stuck to it and now the end result is celebrated with your second stripe. I have no doubt that you’ll continue on your path and excel in achieving the goals you set in front of you. Two more to go…. Congratulations!!! Andree
September 17, 2015
I was never one of those who was enamored with the martial arts from a young age, I didn’t grow up wanting to be Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan; in fact karate was probably the last thing I would have expected myself to fall in love with. I began my Kenpo journey at age 18 on July 21, 2008. My father had accepted a job transfer so my family and I moved to Missouri from my home state of North Carolina literally the day after I graduated high school. It was July so school wasn’t in session yet and was looking for something for my younger brother to do. I took him to try a free lesson at this karate school that I had heard of and out of sheer boredom I ended up taking a free class as well. Clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt standing in the worst Horse Stance imaginable I began to fall completely in love with Kenpo. I will be forever grateful that the under belts line up in the back; in my very first lesson we were working on Side Kicks to 12 o’clock with the rear leg, I immediately fell on my butt with the very first kick. I started Kenpo with both a bruised tailbone and a bruised ego. My first instructor took me from White to 3rd Brown in a little under three years; no that’s not something I’m proud of anymore but it is a part of my story.
I remember in April of 2011 being overwhelmingly excited to receive my 3rd Brown a week before a seminar that was being held in Oklahoma because this seminar was divided into colored belt classes and Brown/Black belts. I was able to participate with the higher ranks and I felt on top of the world. I was a 5-day-old Brown Belt but it didn’t matter to me, until the seminar. The seminar that broke me was taught by Mr. Rich Hale, and one of the things that he had highlighted was Kenpo’s utilization of the principles. Now I’m an avid note taker especially during seminars, I’m often scribbling furiously trying to preserve every bit of new knowledge that I can glean while on the mat with those who have so much to share. As I found myself writing Mr. Hale’s words of “Kenpo is much more than just a kick, a punch, or a chop. It has principles, that’s what makes Kenpo so different.” I felt ill, I didn’t know what he meant completely. How could I not know what he was talking about if I was a 3rd Brown Belt? I’d heard of Marriage of Gravity, but there’s about where my list stopped on principles that I was familiar with. That was the hardest lesson that I had to learn, the fact that I knew very little indeed. The emphasis on principles that Mr. Hale was talking about had not been a part of my training, which meant that I was not truly learning Kenpo. I knew that weekend that it would be a long time before I saw 2nd Brown, but I had no idea it’d be nearly 4 ½ years.
On September 26, 2011 my fiancé Gene Braden and I opened our first school together in Saint Joseph, Missouri, Scholar and Warrior Kenpo Academy (SWKA) and Gene also became my instructor. Here begins the second hardest lesson that I had to learn, how to deal with your significant other transitioning from your classmate to your instructor. I am stubborn, and argumentative, and fiery which are all terrible things to be when you’re in the position that I was. It took me a long time (far too long of a time) to develop enough respect for my instructor to really be able to receive his teachings. Again this is not something I’m proud of, but turning my attitude around is also a part of my story. He never gave up on me, and that’s something I am truly indebted to him for, because for a couple of years I was not a quality student.
When Gene became my instructor I asked him to take me back through the entire system; starting with Delayed Sword, but this time I wanted principles. I wanted to shake this guilt that I felt every time I put on my belt. I wish I could say that it was a wonderful experience, but honestly it was so frustrating, humiliating, and painful. Having to extensively relearn things hurt, and with every lesson I felt myself becoming more and more devastated. I contemplated quitting, talked about quitting, wished I would just quit, thankfully that never happened. I started teaching a lot more and when you’re an owner and an instructor of a school, your own training time is often easily the first that is sacrificed. Especially when your school is brand new, but that sacrifice is never something that I’ve regretted. In fact for a time it’s what kept me anchored to Kenpo. SWKA still remains the best thing I’ve done with my life, I may never again be a part of something so rewarding. I started volunteering to work with the under belts almost every class and Gene eventually began to catch on, I was hiding down in Yellow and Orange. I didn’t want to work on my own material with Gene, I didn’t want another class where I felt like a failure.
My weight is something that I have always struggled with as an adult, but especially from about 2010-2014. Last July I realized that I could hardly wear my gi pants anymore and in that moment as I stood in the dressing room considering just quitting (again) so I wouldn’t even have to wear my gi it occurred to me that I was being ridiculous. It took me a little over a year, but I lost 65lbs, and 2 gi sizes. The more weight I lost the more I realized I was absolutely loving Kenpo again. These principles that I had been working on and trying to learn for the past few years under Gene were starting to click. I was able to start making my body do what my mind was learning. I felt that flame bubble up inside my chest again and I began to really start wanting and working towards my 2nd Brown Belt. I finally had that burning love for Kenpo returning after so many years of thinking perhaps I had lost it.
Every year in September we host a seminar with Senior Professor Rich Hale, and it’s always a great weekend filled with new knowledge and a chance to fix some things that need cleaning up. The last thing I expected Gene to say to me after Mr. Hale’s seminar on Saturday was that they wanted to promote me to 2nd Brown. I was blindsided, I begged him no. I didn’t feel ready, I didn’t feel deserving, and I hadn’t even tested! The test was the biggest factor, it was extremely important to me. My biggest fear in becoming Gene’s student was that people would think I was given my rank because we are a couple. I would rather be a 3rd Brown for 10 years than let that happen, but I also didn’t want to lose this opportunity. If Mr. Hale thought that I deserved 2nd Brown then that would bring me full circle from where I was 4 ½ years prior where it was in his seminar that I realized I didn’t deserve to be a 3rd Brown. So the next morning I was tested and that was the fastest two hours I’ve ever experienced. That was the most stressful test of my life, I had no time to prepare mentally for that amount of pressure, but I passed.
I’ve never been more proud of a rank than this one, as of September 13, 2015 I have earned my 2nd Brown Belt after 4 ½ years. In reality this is probably the first belt rank that I’ve ever really earned by utilizing Kenpo, not by just memorizing movement and regurgitating it. I continued to trudge towards 2nd Brown even when all I wanted to do was throw in the towel and walk away and I’m proud that I didn’t; you don’t develop tenacity, self-confidence, and skill by giving up. You get out of this Art exactly what you put into it and while Kenpo has helped mold me into the person that I am now, and I know that we’re not done. I have plenty of more work to do on both myself and my Kenpo but I’ve never been happier overall than I am in this particular moment of my life. Orange Belt has always been my favorite rank, so much so that I even had one of the sayings for that rank tattooed on my shoulder; “Condition and guts take over where knowledge and skill end.” I had to build some condition and guts before I could build my Kenpo. Here’s to many more opportunities to build condition, guts, knowledge, and skill!