How has your training made you into the person you are today?
I began training in 1994 at age 48, 2 years after my then 6-year-old son Nicholas began training at the Fitchburg YMCA with Dr. Len. In May 1994, the studio started a “Mother’s Day” program for any studio moms who wanted to try out one 5-week cycle. It looked like a lot of fun, so I jumped at the chance. I entered the Mother’s Day program along with 5-6 other mothers, including Cathy Everbeck, and I was hooked. Nick and I began attending classes together, and we did this together twice a week (at least) until he graduated from high school and left for Army basic training (2003). (To his dismay, he was always one belt behind me after that!) It was deeply satisfying to recite the Student Creed together; that was one of the things that drew us, as Nick’s parents, to this particular program. I discovered some interesting things during that time. The most surprising – and encouraging – was that, as a middle-aged woman (and probably old enough to be grandmother to some of the students I worked out with) – I actually had to give teen-age boys permission to ‘punch’ me. Needless to say, I had no such hesitation with them! But I also learned how to “pull” my punches so as not to hurt my training partners; even though I’m only 4’10”, I was still pretty strong, even surprising to me. Partner courtesy was a big part of the training that I came to really appreciate and apply outside the studio in a variety of ways.
By 2015, Cathy and I were the only ones left from that original mom’s class, and we were both 5th degree black belts. Along the way, I joined the teaching staff for a few years before my work travel schedule made it difficult to maintain my training schedule (I was contracting back at Digital). I still remember practicing Form IV in my hotel room in Rio de Janerio in 1996 while watching the US presidential election returns! Being a teacher was very rewarding and advanced my understanding of “the puzzle.” I filled at least six 3” notebooks over the years with my thoughts and understanding of the 81 techniques and 9 forms that comprise the system. Also along the way, Nick and I committed ourselves to Christ, and I discovered that this opened up a new level of conversation about the puzzle with Dr. Len, as Ed Parker had also been a Christian and his spiritual insights were part of his brilliantly constructed system. I was deeply fascinated and challenged by both the physical and intellectual aspects of the Ed Parker American Kenpo Karate system. As someone who had participated in many “personal growth” programs before beginning karate training with Dr. Len (and before becoming a Christian), I can attest that Dr. Len Brassard is the best teacher I have ever encountered, bar none; his ability to challenge students individually and meet them where they are is exceptional.
Looking back on my training, I can truthfully say that it represented one of the most sustained and most challenging commitments – in many different ways – of my life (up there with my career at Digital, my marriage, and being a Christian). The camaraderie with the other students and teachers, the joy of assisting others to learn, and, most of all, the satisfaction of learning complex moves and understanding how and why they were put together, are memories and experiences I will always cherish. Along the way, I learned patience, respect, and just exactly what it means to have an indomitable spirit. I will always hold the FMAC school in deep respect and appreciation for all I experienced and received there.
Which Black Belt Character helped you the most?
Possessing an Indomitable Spirit is surely required to be able to persevere in the presence of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. During my 21 years of training with Dr. Brassard and an ever-changing studio teaching staff, I experienced numerous difficulties, obstacles and discouragement — some of them in my personal and professional life, occasionally in my karate training. The greatest karate challenge occurred a few months after I committed myself to Christ – 3 years after starting my training, 2 years after joining the teaching staff, and just before my first black belt exam — and that made a huge difference in how I handled this challenge. At times I felt like giving up, but the determination I’d acquired and demonstrated in learning 81+ techniques and 4 forms enabled me to persevere despite my feelings. I continued to find great meaning and satisfaction in the intellectual and physical challenges of the training, as well as in the camaraderie with other students and teachers. I also discovered I could still respect someone who had hurt me and carry on in our mutual enjoyment and appreciation of Ed Parker’s brilliant system and truly enjoy our interactions. So for me personally, I discovered the qualities of perseverance and indomitable spirit within myself over the years without consciously trying to acquire them. The training provided the environment that allowed this personal growth to happen, along with the personal changes I experienced as a new, and eventually a more mature, Christian. All of the qualities represented by the Black Belt Characters are important for anyone – not just those training in karate – to develop in order to become a responsible, productive member of society. But developing an indomitable spirit that perseveres when faced with challenges is probably the most important quality we need for success in life. The Family Martial Arts Center truly provides opportunities for all these qualities to be developed and acquired – often in spite of ourselves.
Carolyn Abbott June 14, 2019