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Karate Killed the Monster Inside Me
Robin Chan

I was fed up. From the time I was 4 years old, I was teased and pushed around by bullies on my way home from school because I was short and frail-looking. My family and I also got harassed by racist punks because we were the only Asian people living in a white neighborhood.

These incidents grew the hate monster inside of me. Most days, I would come home from elementary school either angry or crying. My family and friends tried to comfort me, but I had been storing up the loads of anger inside me for too long. I thought I was going to explode.

When I was about 9, I found the answer to my problems. I decided to learn karate so I could break the faces of all the people on my “hit list” (anyone who had ever bullied me or my family).

I started nagging my parents about learning karate. They agreed because they wanted me to build up my self-esteem, learn some discipline, and have more self-confidence. All I wanted was to learn the quickest way to break someone’s neck, but I didn’t tell that to my parents.

I was about 10 years old when I finally got my chance. My first dojo (that’s what martial arts students call the place where they study and practice) was small, musky, and smelled lightly of sweat. The instructor, Mr. Sloan, was as strict as an army drill sergeant.

Mr. Sloan taught us how to do strange abdominal exercises that were like upside down sit-ups and really difficult to do. He wouldn’t allow any slacking off from people who got tired. It was only the first day, what did he want from us? I quickly discovered that I was really out of shape. Before the first lesson was over, I was already thinking about dropping out.

By the end of the second lesson, however, I had decided to stick with it. Mr. Sloan was teaching us cool techniques for breaking out of arm and wrist locks and that got me interested.

Mr. Sloan was a good instructor. Within a few months, my class of beginners went from learning the basic punch, block, and kick, to learning a flying jump kick. He also taught us effective techniques for breaking out of headlocks and strangleholds. We enhanced our skills by sparring with each other and practicing at home.

Although the dojo had limited resources (there were no boards to break, no martial arts weapons, and no fighting gear), I still learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I became more flexible from the rigorous exercises. In addition to practicing our karate moves, we did push-ups, sit-ups, and leg, arm, torso, and back stretches to limber up.

We also meditated together. Near the end of class, Mr. Sloan would “guide” us through the meditation by telling us to clear our minds. One time, he told us to picture ourselves breaking free of a barrier or knocking a barrel or a wall to pieces. He said that whenever we had problems or faced challenges that got us frustrated, we should go to a quiet place, relax, and close our eyes. In our minds, we should picture ourselves knocking over that problem or challenge. Mr. Sloan said that doing this should make us feel better. After meditating on “killing” the problem, he said, our minds would be clear and we’d be more determined to solve it.

Mr. Sloan also made it clear that he was teaching us karate not just so we’d be able to kick someone’s ass real good, but so each of us could become a role model. A role model, he explained, was someone with a good conscience, good morals, self-respect, and respect for others.

We worked on developing these qualities in class by bowing to the instructor, addressing him as “sir” or “sensai,” treating fellow students with respect, and listening to our sensai’s lectures, which taught us about respect, discipline, manners, and so on. We were taught to exercise these qualities not only in the dojo, but outside as well.

image by William Pope

The goal of becoming a role model was a major factor in my wanting to continue to study karate. I no longer saw the martial arts as a way to get back at people who hurt me. I knew from experience that there were enough menacing and evil people in this world. I didn’t want to become one of them.

After a few months, I was much more self-confident and disciplined. I knew that I was now capable of protecting myself against enemies. Whether or not I chose to fight someone who bullied me was beside the point; I knew that I could knock them out. Just knowing that made me feel good about myself, so why fight when you’re already ahead? Besides, not fighting would save my knuckles from a lot of pain.

The insults and slurs I encountered did not bother me as much anymore. As a matter of fact, the discipline and basic philosophy I learned from karate held back the punches I was tempted to throw when people tried to provoke me to fight.

For example, one day when I was walking home from school, two teenaged guys walked into me. One of them said, “Watch it, ch-nk” and shoved me. They started pushing me but I just blocked their pathetic pushes. They weren’t getting enough thrills from just shoving me, so they started cursing and spitting at me too.

I started getting really aggravated. Then I remembered something Mr. Sloan had told me when I asked him what to do when someone bothers you. “Low-lifes like these do not deserve the time and energy you put into punching them out,” he said. “Just walk away and splash some cold water on your face.”

I cooled down and started walking away. The two guys saw that I was not affected by their stupid remarks. I heard one of them say, “Forget that ch-nk, man.”

It was ironic how I wanted to learn karate so that I could beat up people like these, and then, when I got the chance, I didn’t go through with it. What karate taught me was that fighting isn’t the right way to solve a problem. It just turns you into one of those low-lifes who don’t have the conscience, respect, manners, or education to know how to handle their problems any other way.

I was good enough at karate by that point that it wouldn’t have been a fair fight. But if I had given in to the temptation to beat those guys up, I would have felt ashamed and guilty. I would have disappointed Mr. Sloan, who taught me that the most important rule of karate is not to fight unless it’s necessary for self-defense; my parents, who told me never to fight with anyone even if they are wrong; and myself, because I feel that it is wrong to take advantage of a situation.

The time and effort I was putting into karate was getting me worthwhile results. I used to be wild when I was with my friends, but I had become more reserved and well-behaved. I also used to slack off in school but not anymore. I really started gearing up and hitting the books. My teachers and parents noticed the difference and were happy with what they saw.

I was even becoming a role model for some of my friends. They told me that they had never seen me work so hard before, and they admired the high grades I was earning in school. They decided to follow my example and started pulling their acts together and improving their own grades.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sloan’s class ran for only a year and when time was up, all of us were really upset. But our instructor had a new class of misfits to turn into the fine role models we had become.

Studying karate was a wonderful experience. I’m thankful to my extraordinary and deserving instructor, Mr. Sloan, and to my great family who let me go to the dojo and have supported me always. Together, Mr. Sloan and my parents have made me realize that I should always try my best and put a sincere effort into whatever I do. They have geared me up, morally and spiritually, to reach for the stars.

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