When I was 6, my mother took me to a little *dojo on Farmers Boulevard with no awning. Prior to it being a dojo, it was a hair salon. As soon as I walked through the door I felt at home. It’s amazing, the things from your childhood you can remember. My Sensei was a lean man but not “skinny.” I remember him peering over me. He leaned down in front of me. He opened his palm and there was a quarter in his hand. He said, “If you can get this quarter out of my hand, you can keep it.” I said, “That’s it?” He smiled and opened his palm. I tried 3 times to get the quarter and I couldn’t. I was embarrassed and I tugged at my mother’s hand to give her the hint that this wasn’t the right place for me. Back to dancing school it would be. Sensei rubbed his hand over his bald head and smiled that big white smile again. He said, “Shaun, is it?” I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “Try it again. If you get it, you do not have to start in my beginner’s class. You can start in Intermediate and catch up with the big kids.” I lit up! Determined now, with the stakes a little higher, I tried again. On the first shot I grabbed that quarter. Now I had the big smile. He said, “See you in class.”
Eavesdropping, I heard him telling my mom that I have “it.” He said martial art is a matter of will more than skill. He gave my mom a *gi in my size and he told her that I would get a little “banged up” but he saw a fighter in my eyes. I loved that stinky, smelly, sweaty dojo. Sensei eventually had to switch to another location in Valley Stream. It was definitely an upgrade. Later, my 10 month old sister died and I took a break. I couldn’t focus anymore. It seemed as though the fighter in my eyes died with her. When I was 9, my uncle opened his own self defense studio. I followed my uncle and joined the “Common Sense School of Self Defense.” My friends from the block went there. It was mixed martial arts. We called it the “gumbo” of martial arts because we learned everything. I hated meditation. It was too quiet. There were too many thoughts in my head for me to be alone with them. I would wait patiently for the end of class when we would bring out the mats and *spar. I suited up, put my mouth piece in and I would fight like my life depended on it. My uncle would match you up by skill not gender or even weight class. I would often be paired up with my next door neighbor, Kiyanna. She was a good match. There was never a winner. We knew one another well and we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We played tennis and rode bikes and went skating together too. We were friends. I preferred to be paired with the guys because I loved to win. I had a point to prove. You could be easy on me if you wanted to because I’m a girl but after you got popped in the face a couple of times with my roundhouse kick, you’d start fighting. They started to treat me like an equal. They would begin to ask to fight me. I had the will to win and I often did.
One day when I was 13, I got too cocky and my uncle was doing some padded drills with me. He punched me right in the face because I kept dropping my hands. I felt my nose sting and my eyes begin to water. The glove split my lip. I was pissed. More than pissed, I was embarrassed. I quit (for about two weeks but it felt longer to me.) Once again, my will was diminished.
I’m 30 now. I always revisited Martial Arts. Progressive Martial Arts in Fresh Meadows in high school and then I went to Extreme in Valley Stream a few years back but I don’t train anymore. I started working out again a few months ago. I joined a popular gym that has childcare. I always get into this groove and then I get bored and irritated running stationary, biking stationary, and lifting stationary. I get tired of not going anywhere. Today when I went to the gym, I brought my gloves. I pounded that bag and I let out all the shit that piles up inside of me. I sweat out the venom that you bite others with unintentionally when you have no outlet. I felt good and I physically reminded myself that I am a fighter and I have been since I grabbed that quarter when I was 6. Life is about will. Something (or in some cases someone) has to motivate you to be better than average. You have to WANT to fight or you will just crumble and lay on the mat being pummeled. Get up and learn something new, focus on what makes you happy, or you will always be stationary and docile. Fight!
“When someone breaks your skin, you break their bones.”
By: Shaun Nickens
*A Dojo is a place for training and learning. It is a Japanese term. You may also hear it referred to as a Temple.
*Gi= Karate uniform
*Spar=fight in short sessions