Never Give Up

An Essay By Taylor // 7/31/2007

Mr. Andrews holds his classes in a gym room of roughly forty feet by twenty. Upon entering, you would first notice a tall, wooden compartment standing by the doorway, with an assortment of sticks, bags, short swords, and shoes all shoved into these compartments, or arranged against the left wall with no amount of orderliness. As you face either straight ahead or to the right, a wall of glass stares back at you. A small, knob-less door on the back wall leads to a scary closet that smells of old sweat where Mr. Andrews keeps extra foam gear, and between these four walls lies a broad, empty room floored in shock-absorbent hardwood. The room has no desks, no blackboard, and no visible aisles to speak of—for, as you would quickly realize, this is no ordinary classroom.

While I lived on my family’s farm outside of Winnsboro, I took classes from a martial arts’ instructor by the name of Daniel Smith. He taught Kenpo karate, a Japanese style brought over to the U.S. mainland in the 1950s. By the time I moved to Tyler with my mom after my parents' separation, I had achieved the rank of third degree brown. I had put away my white, gold, yellow, orange, purple, blue, and green belts by then and had mentally rededicated myself to my training. I feared that our move might jeopardize my ability to reach the rank of black belt, and so I renewed my efforts fervently. A year and a half of hard work separated me from my black belt, but after the three years it took me to reach brown, that didn't seem like any time at all.

To someone who hasn't ever entered a martial arts studio before, I have difficulty describing what a black belt represents to the martial artist. At Mr. Smith’s school, and even within the peace-loving community of Winnsboro, a black belt symbolized something very nearly akin to the sacred. A great deal of honor accompanied the ceremony of the giving of black, which itself was a wildly celebrated event. Since I began at Mr. Smith’s, I have attended no fewer than seven black belt tests, and each time, the studio has swelled with a crowd of thirty or forty friends and family, gathered to watch the day’s events. Ten or more senior black belts, most having their own studios in various styles, line the front, watching the test proceed, and whispering to each other mysteriously. After the test has finally ended, and this usually takes over six hours, everyone stays for pizza and cake, and the photographers take out their cameras to take pictures of the new black belt with all the senior instructors. It is truly a memory that lasts a lifetime.

As a boy of thirteen, trying on a white belt for the first time and just starting to wake up from childhood, I secretly hoped that my day would come when I would fight courageously against my opponents and emerge victorious, that a look of pride would come across my instructor's face, that he'd have that firm handshake waiting for me and that silent nod that said, "You did it. I'm very proud of you." I sought this validation from my own father, but he either would not give it, or did not know my need or the desperation with which I sought its fulfillment.

Once we moved to Tyler, though, the hour-long drives to Winnsboro and back twice a week began to weigh heavily on my mom. Soon after, she got a job to supplement the child-support checks coming from my dad, and it became too hard to continue driving back and forth. Needless to say, this devastated me. I tried not to let it show, but the loss had a tragic and profound impact on me. Three years training with my instructor, of opening that creaky old door and walking in, three years of standing in line and stretching, of shaking Mr. Green's hand, of seeing my fellow classmates rising through the ranks, only to end prematurely. Mr. Smith had become more than an instructor to me. He had become my mentor, and in some ways, I think I looked to him as a surrogate father, as a man who could fill my father's shoes and who would bring me up to manhood. As my father and I drifted further apart, I looked more and more to Mr. Smith for guidance. I often confided in him the frustration and uncertainty that my parents’ separation had left me with. I felt that he alone, of all people, could understand me, and this made the loss even harder to bear. Circumstances had not only robbed me of my dream of becoming a black belt, they had also taken the one man I had hoped could help me through the loss of my father.

I pushed open the door and looked up to see a wall of glass staring back at me. My reflection wore no belt, and no smile came across its face. It only walked in, trying not to creak the hardwood floors underneath its sneakers, which it quickly removed. It had no memories of this place. Everything was new. A man of no considerable height, but who wore a black belt bearing three stripes to compensate for the lack, came over to me and offered his hand. “I’m Charles Andrews,” he said confidently. “Welcome to my school of Isshinrhu.” After three years of running towards my goal, practically sprinting, only to trip over an obstacle and land on my face, I felt I’d had the breath knocked out of me. I didn’t want to get back up and keep on running. I didn’t want to start the race over again. I had lost, it was over, and all I wanted to do was grieve. But then I caught myself and realized that a world of opportunities awaited me. I had only to pick myself up and keep on fighting—isn’t that what Mr. Smith would have said?

It took me a minute to master my feelings, but after I had them properly sedated, I grabbed Mr. Andrew’s hand and shook it, mustering a response—“I’m Taylor, a student of Mr. Daniel Smith’s, and I’m glad to be here tonight.” I felt like a traitor to Mr. Smith, walking in there, taking up a different style, but then again, I knew that he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He would have wanted me to keep on training and not to give up. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and get my black belt, but even if I don’t, I’ve got three years of great memories to look back on, many friends I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and a rack full of belts in my closet. The world lies before me, bursting at the seams with opportunities. All I must do is get back up and keep on fighting, and never give up.

Comments

Great Job

Taylor,
Thank you for sharing this story. I really enjoyed reading it.
I think when you're writing about going to the other Karate place was very well done. The description throughout the entire story seemed almost to pull me in to a whole new place, or world.
The ending words had such a bitter beauty to them. It is very well done. Keep writing!
God bless,
~Brianna

Anonymous | Wed, 08/01/2007