The Night That Changed My Life

karate Kenpo martial arts

In the Beginning

When I got to Jordan, I was in the worst shape of my life, which meant horribly underweight, scrawny, and weak. I could run, but that was about it.

That might be hard for people who know me now to imagine, so let me elaborate. I was weak in every sense of the word, except for my ability to push myself. At 6'2", I weighed 140lbs and was as easy to bowl over mentally as I was physically. My ex-girlfriend beat me up the last week of classes. I couldn't go all the way down in a pushup, and pullups consisted of me hanging from a bar...period. An empty barbell was too much weight for me to handle in a squat, which didn't matter because I didn't have the balance or the flexibility to squat without falling over. Perhaps worse than anything else, I believed I was weak physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and in every other area of my life.

Why I started doing pushups in the mornings in Jordan I have no idea. One day, I woke up and just decided I was tired of being weak. Day after day, I did my pushups, then I added some sit-ups. Soon, I had signed up for a one month gym membership, where I did my Swiss ball exercises. Among the bodybuilding-minded gym goers of the Middle East, I got some sideways glances.

Inexplicably, I went to the gym day after day, right after classes, no matter how hot it was (100 F was the average that summer). I think a lot of it had to do with the need to exercise control over something in my life at a time when I was away from things that were familiar.

I made some decent progress, but once I got back to the states, it all fell apart. After a month in the comfort of my home, I was back to my totally sedentary lifestyle again.

A Dream is Born

One night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I was feeling bored and lost, so I turned on the TV. The Karate Kid was playing. The only Karate Kid movie I had seen was The Next Karate Kid, which we all know just wasn't as good as the original. I decided to take this opportunity to rectify the gaping hole in my cultural experience and finally understand what people meant when they chanted "wax on, wax off."

I watched the movie, alone in the sleeping house, late into the night. As I saw Daniel get beaten down and then find guidance and hope through martial arts training, something deep inside me awoke. I watched the epic training montage, completely enthralled. Daniel was training his body and his mind. He was on a quest to master himself. He didn't need to be a monstrously strong bodybuilder or a ferocious MMA fighter. If he could master his inner demons, he would be able to accomplish anything that mattered.

I wanted that. Not the black belt or the ass-kicking fighting. Not even the athleticism. I wanted the balance, the focus, the inner calm and courage that makes any challenge surmountable, whether it's physical or mental. Perhaps physical training was one path to get there, but it wasn't the end itself.

Okay, maybe I missed the boat on this one. I know the movie came out a loooong time ago, and I was probably past due to be inspired, but it hooked me. Even though it was well past midnight, I stayed up to continue the marathon and watch The Karate Kid 2, when Daniel goes to Okinawa with Mr. Miyagi and learns even deeper secrets of the martial arts.

And then, I started doing something very weird. I started doing pushups and situps during the commercial breaks. "I am going to change myself," I thought. "No more putting it off. No more excuses! No more waiting for the right moment! I'm going to overcome my weakness, starting now!" Here I was, at 2am watching The Karate Kid all alone, doing pushups and situps. I'm glad nobody woke up and caught me because the embarrassment might have killed my inspiration right there. Looking back, it seems even stranger, but I know it made sense at the time.

Maybe it wasn't the way to address my emotional weaknesses, but all I had right then were the pushups and the sit-ups. The rest would come. I knew the reality wasn't as romantic as the movie, but I knew I had to return to the martial arts. The first thing I did when I got back to college was join a martial arts club.

The rest is history. In my quest for truly comprehensive physical training, I found CrossFit, and that took me on a whole new journey, but I've since returned to my roots as a wannabe ninja warrior. I recently earned my brown belt in American Kenpo and am studying Krav Maga while I'm away in Korea.

That was the turning point for me. That lonely night spent watching a Karate Kid marathon is what took me from the scared, scrawny whelp of a boy I was in high school and the beginning of college to the start of my journey to owning my body and mastering my self.

- (**