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When I started training in Eizan Ryu Jujitsu, I had no talent for it. I was extremely flexible and had decent coordination, the result of years of dance training. But I weighed 110 pounds, was not at all strong or even quick for a person my size, had never done any sports or been an athletic kid. And I was timid. Man, was I timid. I was afraid of getting hit, afraid of injury, afraid of looking like an idiot, afraid of pretty much everything that happens in a dojo.

The dojo was full of other beginners, as it had only been open for about a year. Many of them, however, had previous martial arts training. Some had trained in Eizan Ryu in the original dojo, others had trained in karate or judo. And even those without prior training were more promising beginners than I was. They had played sports, or had gotten in fights, and all of them were larger and stronger and braver than I was.

I really wanted to train though. Watching my instructor, Shihan Felix Berrios, work, I felt like I absolutely had to learn to do that, because it was the coolest stuff I had ever seen. At first, I planned to take a class or two a week, for a little while, but within three months, I was hooked. I started going to the dojo regularly, and even stopped taking dance classes so as to have more time for dojo.

But I struggled. There was the fact that I was one of the least promising students in class most of the time, as well as the problem of trying to make techniques work on people who were larger and stronger than me. Yes, it should be purely a matter of technique, not about strength, but realistically speaking, technique does not start making up for size and strength discrepancy until one has had a significant amount of training. So the big guys could pick me up off my feet and drop me on the mat, and that was just not possible for me to do to them.

Eventually, I took my first promotion test, for yellow belt. It wasn’t bad, because I had worked hard to make sure that I had the form of the various techniques more or less correct, but I was painfully aware that I was still not as good as the other yellow belts, and that in fact many of the white belts were more effective in executing techniques than I was.

I spoke to my sensei privately, and said that I loved training but was really frustrated that I was not very good, and that the big guys and the people who were braver just seemed to have an easier time making stuff work. And he didn’t say the easy thing, didn’t just give me empty reassurance. Instead, he gave me the most important advice about the martial arts that I have ever heard. He said “Well, yeah, that is true. So you just have to work harder and train more.”

I took him at his word. I started going to every class. I started practicing after class and at home, in the park and at my job. I took up a second martial art, and when that dojo closed, found a third one. I made a point of trying to work with senior students and with larger, stronger people as much as possible.

And it worked. It’s been a long journey – forty one years of training in jujitsu at this point, and thirty three years of karate. I am not that awkward, frightened person any more. I run a dojo, hold the rank one would expect, and know that my skills are appropriate to that rank. It just took trusting my sensei and approaching the task with the correct attitude : Train. Do the work. Trust the work.

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