Rolling with the Punches

“It ain’t about how hard you hit: it’s about how hard you can get hit. And keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take. And keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” -Rocky Balboa

Life is about learning to roll with the punches. When I was nine years old, my sister and I enrolled at a TaeKwonDo Academy. At the beginning of each class, we would bow in and recite the tenets of TaeKwonDo; Honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, community, strength, humility, and knowledge. In my first week of training we learned about perseverance and talked about setting goals. Most importantly, we learned that perseverance would be the key to achieving any goal that we wished to accomplish. Many of the white belts in my class set a goal to break their first board or just wished to pass the first testing to get their yellow belts. The very first goal that I made in TaeKwonDo was to one day become a 3rd degree black belt- the same rank as my instructor.

At age eleven, I became the first black belt in the Duncan family. I will never forget seeing my belt for the first time. There is no better feeling than running your fingers over the belt with your name embroidered in gold thread; vindication that I could be a successful female martial artist after so many kids told me that I wasn’t good enough.

About seven years into my training, I became seriously ill. As time passed, my health continued to spiral out of control. It was very difficult for me to attend school, much less TaeKwonDo. I was ranked as a 2nd degree black belt and couldn’t bear to think about losing reach of a goal that I set when I was nine years old, so I fought. Eight years into my training, at the age of seventeen, I passed the rigorous testing and earned the rank of 3rd degree black belt. I reached the goal that changed my life forever.

The lessons that I learned in my eight years of martial arts training made a bigger impact on my life than any of the lessons that I was taught at public school. Had I not been involved in TaeKwonDo, I honestly don’t know how I would have made it this far in life while being haunted by a chronic illness. TaeKwonDo taught me so much more than how to fight off an attacker; it taught me how to live. I earned my black belt by living by the tenets of TaeKwonDo. In all reality, being a black belt is nothing more than a state of mind.

For ten years now, I have had a poem by Master Karen Eden plastered on my wall as a constant reminder to myself that I am not (nor will I ever be) the average woman. I am a martial artist.

“I Am a Martial Artist”

I am a martial artist.

I see through different eyes.

I see a bigger picture

when others see grey skies.

Though many can’t conceive it,

I stand… facing the wind.

My bravery, not from fighting,

but from my strength within.

I am a martial artist.

I’ll walk the extra mile.

Not because I have to,

but because it is worth my while.

I know that I am different,

when I stand on a crowded street.

I know the fullness of winning,

I’ve tasted the cup of defeat.

I am a martial artist.

They say I walk with ease.

Though trained for bodily harm,

my intentions are for peace.

The world may come and go,

but a different path I’ll choose.

A path I will not stray from,

no matter win or lose.

-Karen Eden

Master Eden’s words still describe my life now just as much as they did before I had to stop actively training in TaeKwonDo. I strongly believe that this is because my martial arts training shaped me into the person I am today. I will be forever grateful to each and every instructor who has taught me along the way. Because of you, I have learned how to roll with the punches that life throws at me.

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