There's a recurring theme in the martial arts world: Life gets in the way.
If you start as a child and persist through the high school years, BAM. Along comes school sports, social life, increased responsibilities, maybe a job. Sometimes you make it through to college age, but then you have to make a choice: stay in town and train whenever possible despite attending college, or put your training on hold with every intention of returning someday, as you say goodbye and jet off to another city or state.
As instructors, we've seen this so many times. We lament such raw, young talent leaving our schools. How can we get them to stay? To put a priority on their training? Fortunately, they have years to reconnect.
We can't force them to stay, though. We can just hope we've created a passion for something they know they can return to, or continue on their own, even. Pick up a new style. Something. Anything. Because we know that the longer you're away from your martial arts training, the harder it is mentally, and physically, to jump back in.
There's another demographic in the martial arts world who can have as difficult a time gaining traction and being consistent. Some of us start as adults, possibly even while raising our families. Work, children – all of it demands much of our time and energy. Some people travel, work odd shifts, etc., making the struggle real.
Women in particular tend to put their training aside once we start having children. It's exhausting sometimes. I know; I have six of them. It's not so different from any full-time job; not so different from men's experiences. The biggest mistake we ALL make is not paying ourselves first.
Hussey sparring in a tournament.
Let me repeat. We. Don't. Pay. Ourselves. First.
Of course we don't. Our children and families always come first… until we look back, years later, and wonder why we couldn't find a couple hours a week for self-care. It's a trap. Don't fall into it. Moms, my story can be your story as well!
Board-breaking at an outdoor event.
I started at a Kempo school in Huntersville, NC, when my third child was three months old. My oldest was a student, so I sat in the waiting area twice a week, then packed up my nursling and took them home. It's not like I wasn't in shape – I was actually in excellent physical shape. Competitive bodybuilding and powerlifting before children definitely helped me through the first five years of motherhood!
The adult students would come in and ask when I was joining (I do this to the parents in our school now!). I waffled. Then I joined. Best decision I ever made. They were very accommodating of a nursing mom stepping off the mats to feed an infant. Of course, a couple years later I was pregnant again. Through the morning sickness, the exhaustion of being a stay-at-home, pregnant, homeschooling mom, I rarely missed class. This was MINE. At eight and a half months along, I was ridiculous, but I kept coming.
I returned six weeks postpartum, same drill, new baby. Then I dealt with a miscarriage. Fast forward two years later... with a cross-country move looming, three months pregnant with child number five, amidst packing, more morning sickness, back pain, etc., I forced myself to go to class. I tested for brown belt two weeks before moving to Connecticut.
This is where it got tough. I found a new school, and continued through the rest of the pregnancy: bulbous belly, sore, and determined to keep advancing. Through that and another miscarriage, I trained, rarely missing a class. I continued into my sixth pregnancy and graded for first dan at four months along.
A nunchaku demonstration!
I was 40 years old and I was exhausted. My body and my brain needed a rest, so I stopped. My kids needed all of my attention. No one can blame you, moms, for setting your own activities aside and devoting your time to family, but in the end, it's unfair to yourself. I set my passion aside and settled for driving my kids to yet another karate school, this time Goju-Ryu. I even took a year of classes, but it wasn't a good fit.
I didn't want to look back on my life someday and say, "Hey, I used to do karate." I wanted to have that goal to reach, something just for me. I trying to be what you'd call "Supermom:" the crafty, cooking, sewing-all-of-the-clothes, gardening, farmy, homeschooling Supermom. But it wasn't as fulfilling as the rush I got from going all out and pushing myself to my limits physically. Powerlifting injuries made that type of activity difficult, but karate... that I could do. I felt GOOD moving and I LOVED to spar!
So I packed up five of the kids and drove to Danielson Martial Arts Academy, and joined their family class. I knew I was home when I walked in the door.
That was almost 10 years ago. Danielson is really a family. Students come and go, but there is always that core group you come to love. I was able to start their first homeschool class as an apprentice black belt. My previous experience gave me the confidence, and the trust of the chief instructor made me sure I could succeed. It's been a total success.
Next I started a toddler class. We'll call that trial by fire. I felt I could do it, so I did. There's a saying among moms: "I'm not afraid of you. I have kids." Raising six kids and homeschooling them teaches you to think on your feet.
Overseeing a Tae Kwon Tot.
Had I let myself feel like I didn't deserve to do this for me, I feel I would have forever regretted it. It was a tremendous struggle sometimes. Really, for anyone, when the pull of life and responsibility divides your physical and mental resources, not just for moms. Many parents wait until kids are grown to train, and then they can even enjoy training alongside older kids. Kudos, I say! It's been an amazing part of raising my kids, to be able to train with, spar against, and watch them succeed. Now I am instructor to my youngest.
Hussey and two of her daughters, both second-dans as well.
I have no intention of slowing down. I devour any new knowledge I can glean from others, and am constantly try new training methods, drills, workouts. I am a still lowly second dan, but with a lifetime of experiences, and enough knowledge to pass on my passion for martial arts to many, many others. I am so blessed to be able to attend the Martial Arts Super Show this year. I'll be like a kid in a candy shop, learning more, and will get to meet so many of the incredible people I've come to be familiar with in the Century group. I'm especially excited to hopefully meet Chuck Norris. He trained with my Grandmaster Robert Cheezic in Korea!
My sincere hope is that I can inspire other moms not to put themselves aside with the hope of maybe, someday, getting back to what gives them joy. As an instructor, as a mom, as a woman, I cannot stress enough that you are worth it. Pay yourself first!