I am not the same woman I was four years ago, before beginning my journey as a martial artist. Today, I wouldn’t even recognize that woman. She was insecure, impatient, lost, and had come to believe she must have done something in another life to have cursed herself with bad karma; she viewed the world through negative, pessimistic eyes. It was always the universe is out to get me, or no matter what I do I can’t win – and always the same question: why me?

The seed of transformation was planted while staring down the barrel of a gun. (If you want to know the full story, please feel free to read my bio.) They say that near-death experiences cause your life to flash before your eyes; well whoever “they” are, they were right – because mine did. However, it did so slowly over a period of six months or so. Therapy. Reflection. Introspection. If I had died that night, what was it that I was leaving behind? Had I much to show for myself from my 30 years on this earth? The inherent human fear of leaving no legacy behind was screaming at me like a drill sergeant, “get your sorry ass in gear!”

And I did.

Fast forward to today. I am only in my early thirties, but for all the shit I’ve gone through you could say I’ve experienced enough life for two lifetimes. On the opposite side of the coin, in the four years I’ve been practicing martial arts I’ve undergone enough change for at least one lifetime. Becoming a martial artist – and then becoming an instructor – are perhaps some of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s difficult to gather into one little box all of the changes that have occurred – but some of the biggest shifts and revelations can be abridged.

#1 – Patience.

I used to be the most impatient person – with everything. Kids. Adults. Inanimate objects. I would cuss out stop lights for taking too long to turn green. (Okay, I still do that sometimes, but seriously? Some lights are ridiculously long!) Four years ago, I would have never seen myself teaching children for a living. Not that I’ve ever disliked children, it was that my patience was way too thin to deal with a room full of them, much less one. At times they can be annoying little creatures that suck the sanity right out of you… At least, that was how I viewed them then.

Somewhere along the way, all that changed. I can’t pinpoint exactly when the pivotal moment was when the shift occurred, but I can tell you this: I am definitely not the same person anymore. I interact with and teach anywhere up to 200 kids per day at my martial arts studio, and while some may be a pain sometimes, it doesn’t phase me and I absolutely love it. Knowing that I am making a huge positive impact on those kids is an indescribable feeling.

And the exponential growth of patience doesn’t just apply to teaching children all day – it is prevalent now in pretty much all areas of my life. I’ve learned that if something is going to happen, it’s going to do so eventually and you’ll go on living life just the same – so it’s pointless to be impatient. What’s the big deal? Kids will be kids. Humans will be humans. Traffic lights will change, and the world will keep spinning. Time is relative, so we might as well make the most of it while we’re here and make it pass favorably.

#2 – What We Can and Can’t Control.

Stress, stress, and more stress. Bills. Relationships. Work. School. I was constantly worrying about things that hadn’t even happened yet, coming up with worst case scenarios and stressing about how things could go wrong; about how the universe was out to get me.

Until recently, I hadn’t realized that a lot of my stress and negative thought processes were rooted in the basis of having control. Looking back on it, the fact is I almost never stressed or worried about things that I had control over the outcome. Anything that I didn’t have control over loomed over my head like a scythe on a pendulum. What if it rains the day I want to go to the beach? What if I get sick and can’t go to work, so then I can’t pay my bills? What if. Or there was my luck will be I’ll get all the way there [store, restaurant, etc] and they won’t have what I want/need.

Hand in hand with patience, I’ve learned to accept that there are just some things that I cannot control, no matter how hard I try or how badly I want to. After having experienced so many misfortunes and now seeing where I have ended up – if it weren’t for the assault that night, I might never have begun martial arts and ended up becoming an instructor, for instance – I’ve become a huge believer in “everything happens for a reason.” I may be going through something shitty for a short while, but something better always ends up happening, most times as a direct result of that something shitty. The ripple effect.

#3 – Higher Confidence & Self-Esteem.

I’ve always been the type to be extremely hard on myself. If I didn’t succeed at something after the first few tries, in my mind I was a failure. I guess this comes from having been bullied all throughout middle school and junior high; being made to feel like a failure, to feel ugly, stupid, worthless… (And the list goes on.) Those scars go deep as they were inflicted during one of the most important developmental stages of the brain; once you’ve made an impression into wet cement, when it dries that impression will always be there.

As a freshman in high school, I received my first ever compliment – from a boy, nonetheless – and had absolutely no clue whatsoever how to respond. From then on, no matter how many compliments I received, no matter what reassurance I got from the outside world that I wasn’t ugly, or stupid, or worthless, I never really accepted any of it as reality.

Now, I see myself for who I truly am – not a failure, not ugly, not stupid or worthless – and I am comfortable being that person. I am able to get up in front of hundreds of children and parents on a daily basis and teach something that I genuinely know I am good at. I’m not as hard on myself when I make mistakes – I laugh it off, poke a little fun at myself, and keep going. At my black belt testing, I messed up a few times – I knew all the material backwards and forwards, inside and out. In the past I would have been completely pissed off at myself knowing I could have done much better – now I just laugh at myself because I know I am capable of doing much better and that’s all that matters. To me, that speaks volumes of my change in confidence.

#4 – There’s No Such Thing as Perfect.

So many people these days are obsessed with the idea of being perfect. After all, society tells us we have to strive for perfection; buy that makeup, wear those clothes, sport the latest and greatest everything. Plastic surgeons aren’t experiencing a shortage in patients, nor are cosmetic companies experiencing a shortage in consumers. Everyone has this idea in their head of what perfection is, and no matter how hard they try they will never reach it. It’s the proverbial carrot dangling in front of the horse: always just out of reach.

The truth is, perfection is a relative concept, and there is no single definition or set of prerequisites to be considered as such. The only universally perceived requirement for perfection is an absence of flaws, by society standards. No stretch marks. No wrinkles. No cellulite. For the price of $999.99 and your dignity, you too could have a perfect ________!

Stop. Just… stop. Just like that horse will never reach that carrot, you will never be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. Why not? Because society’s perception of perfection is constantly in flux. You can never reach a destination that is endlessly changing its location on the map…

Does having a black belt mean that you’re perfect? Absolutely not. It means you recognize the fact that you will be constantly learning, constantly improving, constantly changing, and that the real journey has just begun – and never truly ends.

“The tree has reached maturity and overcome the darkness… It must now plant seeds for the future.”

– Black Belt Mantra, American Tae Kwon Do Association

#5 – Positive Begets Positive.

Negative Thoughts - Sarah KlarenForget everything you learned in grade school, because two negatives in fact do not create a positive. Okay, mathematically and scientifically speaking, they do. Psychologically speaking, on the other hand, negative thoughts create more negative thoughts create more negative thoughts… they’re like gremlins when you feed them after midnight.

This is one of those things that is definitely easier said than done. Once your brain has been wired to focus on nothing but the negative, it can be quite difficult to reverse the polarity. You have to make a decided effort to be aware of your thoughts at all times, and as soon as that negative thought creeps in, respond by thinking the exact opposite. Eliminate the words can’t and never when referring to yourself:

  • “I will never be able to ________.”
  • “I can’tcan accomplish ________.”
  • “They will never accept/like/notice me.”
  • “I could never be so lucky.”
  • “I can’t win.”

This has been my biggest struggle of all, and my Master instructors were always on me about it – I can remember many emotional discussions with them on the subject. This change almost directly correlates with my confidence and self-esteem. Over the past four years, the more confident I became the more positive my thought processes became. The more I learned about myself and the more time I spent in introspect and retrospect, the more I was able to recognize and be grateful for the positive in a lot of things that happened to me over the years (like the assault leading to where/who I am today). I didn’t quite realize that in doing so, I was actually rewiring my brain to see the positive presently and prospectively. It wasn’t until very recently that I discovered my way of thinking had been transformed. Pessimist to optimist. Positive begets positive.

Directly inspired ⇒ “Why Perfect is Just a Pipe-Dream

Do you have a transformation story you would like to share? Questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below or message me privately.