I started doing martial arts back in 2010 when I was 9 years old. My dad was running a race in Colorado and I was dying of boredom, so innately, my 9-year-old self decided that I was going to try to re-enact some “Kung-Fu Panda” moves on my brother.

Let’s just say that probably wasn’t my best idea (only because I got in trouble), but it did lead to my interest in signing up for karate.

Previously, I had done basically every sport in the book, from swimming to volleyball. But I got bored so quickly and never stayed in a sport for more than one season. I think my mom was really excited when I said I wanted to learn karate because within a week of returning from Colorado, I had my introductory lesson.

I was a very shy kid. That being said, I was slightly nervous after my first karate lesson because the instructors really wanted me to “kiai” loud, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

However, every instructor I’ve ever had has shown continuous patience with me and let me build up confidence gradually. I truly believe that is why I am still doing karate eight years later.

• Confidence booster

Without martial arts, I know without a doubt that I would be an entirely different person. My self-confidence has grown immensely; I went from a quiet, self-conscious girl to an independent, confident woman.

But that took a lot of time; it didn’t just magically happen the day I signed up for karate.

It took my karate instructor years to get me to even kiai, or do that short shout when performing moves. I still don’t know why it was so difficult for me, but it was the hardest thing about karate for me.

I was probably a green belt (which is the sixth belt out of nine) when I started kiai-ing with confidence. My karate instructors convinced me to start doing karate tournaments, which I really got into when I was in junior high. I started competing with double nunchucks (yes, like Michelangelo from the Ninja Turtles) and in traditional forms and loved it.

I ended up loving the competitive spirit and constantly strived to better my routines. One of my favorite memories from my martial arts career is winning first place at a national tournament in Washington. I remember that winning that title made me realize I had finally broken out of that shell I felt stuck in.

Competitions aside, win or lose, the experiences and trials I faced while competing fostered the confidence that I have now. I stopped competing to train for my black belt the summer of 2016.

• Earning black belt 

Training for your black belt is a challenge both physically and mentally. The test begins with a 5-mile run, which in August was like 45 minutes of running through fire. Immediately afterward, you do all of the things you’ve learned since white belt. From weapons, including the sword, to doing every self-defense drill on a person, the test is very extensive.

I spent every day that summer at the dojo training alongside the other black-belt candidates. Despite the dedication we all had, the test was still very stressful. You have to push yourself mentally and tell yourself that you can do it.

The last thing you do at the test is break a brick. Most people don’t believe me when I say that I’ve broken a brick, but every black belt at my studio has broken one.

We all have grown confidence in ourselves, which is arguably the best part of doing martial arts and why I encourage everyone to enroll.

After becoming a certified first-degree black belt, I started teaching at Evolutionary Martial Arts in Layton and Syracuse. I teach people of all ages how to defend themselves and also grow the same confidence I have. Knowing that I know how to defend myself brings me a lot of peace, especially after hearing about crime rates on the news.

A lot of people I talk to feel like they’re “too old” to start doing karate, and every time I disagree. Self-defense is an extremely valuable thing for everyone to know, and the confidence that is fostered in yourself through martial arts is irreplaceable.

Some people take karate to learn how to defend themselves, others are looking for a way to exercise, some are interested in competing and some purely want to earn a black belt.

If you’ve ever considered taking karate, or if you have children you’re thinking about enrolling, do it. There are so many longterm benefits in learning martial arts.

Jessica Wojciechowski is a junior at Clearfield High School. She is a black belt and is involved in many clubs. Email her at Jessica.wojo22@gmail.com.

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