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Black Belt Essay by Ananya Venkatachalam

The year in which I tested for and earned my senior black belt was a very tumultuous one, at best. I had just made the transition from elementary school to middle school; it’s not a very easy change for anyone involved (including the parents of those hormonal, pre-pubescent teenagers). It was, actually, just a little bit harder for me. I had just lost my best friend of four years. I was alone in a new, huge-seeming school, with nobody to talk to or ‘hang out with’, as we used to say, inside or outside of this large school. All I did was sit in my room, study, and go to karate at Amerikick North Penn twice (or thrice) a week. The only thing, really, that I looked forward to for that entire year was continuing the journey that I had set myself upon seven years ago, in 2009, by getting my next black belt.
Just a couple of months after I tied my senior black belt around my waist, I was approached by one of my senseis.
“Would you like to volunteer on Saturdays to help us with the Little Dragons and Tiny Tigers?”
At first, I was apprehensive. The newfound shyness and perpetual shadow of doubt in my head I had gained from the abandonment of my friend made me think that I couldn’t possibly do this. But a tiny voice belonging to a tiny person crouching in a tiny corner of my mind told me that maybe, just maybe, I could do it. On August 5th, I came to my first teaching class. As soon as I bowed in and entered the mat, I felt the eyes of the kids slowly focusing on me, the new person suddenly on the mat during their class. Oh no, I nervously thought. I can’t do this. I was right. I awkwardly stood by the edge of the mat and looked in on what my karate friends, who were also volunteers, were doing. As soon as the class was over, I vowed to come back the next week and try again. I came. I watched. I did.
From this experience of overcoming my fears and helping my senseis with two classes per week, I learned how to escape the barriers that I set for myself. I also found out that I think way too much about things before doing them, and, in the process, don’t really live in the moment. Now, whenever I am approached with amazing opportunities, I try to never turn them down. I discovered that this determination I had within myself never disappeared with my friend; a spark of it turned into a beautiful flame after I began to teach.
When I go to karate, to teach and to learn, I’m still pretty quiet — that’s just my personality. But inside my soul, there’s a huge ball of fire that comes with no extinguisher. Earning my senior black belt and starting to help as an assistant made me realize that when I am determined and fearless, nothing can bring me down.