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On Valentine’s Day when I was 4 years old, I took my first karate class. I would like to think that I started karate because my favorite tv show at the time was SpongeBob and I thought that Sandy Cheeks was so cool when she practiced karate. In reality, it was most likely because my mom wanted her daughter to be able to defend herself.

After my first class, in typical Valentine’s Day fashion, I fell madly in love. I was completely obsessed with the sport and I wanted to continue going back. In the beginning, there was that warm “honeymoon phase” feeling where everything felt perfect. I wanted to devote most of my time to practicing it. Because I practiced so much, I was able to learn a lot quite quickly. When I was 6, there was a small tournament that took place in Boston. I was so excited because it was my chance to be able to show off my new favorite activity. 

I brought my mom and my grandparents to see me fight. It was nerve wracking because there is that vulnerability of sharing something you love so much with the people you love so much and hoping that they love it too, hoping that they are proud of you. 

While I was warming up before the tournament that day, another coach with 2 boys approached me and my teacher. The coach walked up and started to make small talk. A couple of exchanges later, he commented, “you brought a little girl in to fight?” I think this comment took both of us aback, each for different reasons. My teacher was shocked that another adult would make such a blunt remark about a student, about a child. What shocked me more was when I looked around, and saw there were no other females who were due to compete. 

I had never taken notice of gender before that date. I realized that I mostly worked with other boys, but I never thought it was significant. There was that ignorance of childhood. It was my first experience like that, but I never once doubted that this is what I wanted to be doing, and that was the most important thing. I could not let other people comment on and dictate my relationship with what I loved because it is my relationship: it's mine to learn from and to grow with. It left me with the idea that people will constantly try to underestimate me because of who I am. I left with a deeper understanding of what it means to be a girl, specifically a girl in a very male dominated field. My mom taught me that people can say what they want about you. They can tell you that you are unskilled, untalented, unable. So, show them that you aren’t. Show them that you belong there and do not give them a reason to say those things about you. 

I also learned that you need to work on your relationships and that they constantly change. While studying martial arts, I learned to train to my advantages, and focus on what I was good at. I understood that I was never going to be as tall or strong as some of the boys, but I was quick and had great control over my movement so I trained with those in mind. My teacher, Craig, really supported me through everything. He helped train me in my individual skills and believed in me. His support as my instructor changed the game. To have the person who is teaching you work around you and for you and to advocate for you is so important.

Today, I teach classes in martial arts to little kids. I take what I learned in my own experience with the sport and aspire to help other young children find their connection with the sport as well. While I am most definitely not giving relationship advice, I can use these important lessons as I learn to work on my other relationships and as I continue doing what I love, which is martial arts.

© Candace Chan. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.