Holiday Closure: All Easton Schools Closed Dec.14 & morning classes cancelled Dec.15

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May 3, 2024

How I Came to Martial Arts: Tale of A Disgruntled Athlete

Westly Owings

How I Came to Martial Arts: Tale of A Disgruntled Athlete

As a teenager, I was very active with sports — specifically football, with a little training in boxing. During that time, I developed a fair amount of physical fitness. I had a lot of success by most people’s standards. However, that success came with a price. Over the span of 5 years, I had 6 surgical operations to repair injuries I’d sustained: knees, shoulders, you name it.

As you may well imagine, it took a toll — not just physically, but mentally as well.As my teen years ended, I walked away from sports struggling to make sense of my physical well-being. I had a few significant injuries that made intense or even moderate training difficult.

I didn’t have an identity as an athlete anymore and truth be told, I’d developed some not-so-subtle resentment towards that part of my life. Athletes were meatheads. Coaches were selfish old men who wanted to sell young vulnerable athletes’ souls for a few wins. And the worst were the fans. People who wanted to spend their Sundays on the couch investing in athletes that didn’t even know they existed.

This was the better part of my twenties. I believed in physical health but resisted the idea of physical excellence. Another word I may have used to describe that “excellence” was excess. Perhaps ego.

But as the years rolled by, I did what every young man does: mature. Slowly, I started to let go of my bitterness and see the world in shades of gray instead of black and white. My injuries gradually healed, and I returned to training.

Nothing extreme or fancy, wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on supplements or 30 hours in the gym each week. But I was doing something very significant. I was digging myself out of rock bottom. As my momentum built, so did my confidence. My mood, sleep, and diet all began improving.

I was on an upward trajectory, and it felt really good. As I traveled in this positive direction, I began looking back on my past as an athlete with a little more grace. I was able to acknowledge some of the good things I had achieved from sports such as discipline and respect.

I was also able to access a reservoir of information I’d collected about the specifics of training such as lifting, stretching, cardio, and so on. All this experience was available to me now that I stopped trying to run away from it all.

But what else was there to explore? I had done a little boxing back in the day but never competed.

Ehh I dunno, I thought to myself, I’ve just had all this recovery. Do I really want to step back into a fight gym and get knocked out by some dude? 

Isn’t that what toxic masculinity is all about? Isn’t that the thing I spent my whole twenties running from? Would there be any real benefit in learning how to fight or is it just ego? …I suppose it could be good for self-defense.

Nah. Too risky. The guys in those gyms don’t know how to control themselves. I’ve seen the clips on social media. I’m good. I’m making real progress. 

Plus, the best form of self-defense is avoidance. I’m not going to put myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m too smart for that. 

That’s where I stayed for a while. I had some good gains with very little pain or injury and was content with a very solid output in the gym. Until suddenly, I wasn’t.

[There Is No Right Time to Begin Your Martial Arts Journey] 

Coming back to center 

I’m at a café downtown enjoying a Sunday afternoon with my wife when I see some unsavory characters walk by. For a moment, my instincts tell me these people are dangerous and unstable. I shun that feeling because I have a kind heart. They’re people too, and I shouldn’t be so judgmental.

A few moments later, I hear yelling some 20 yards away. Something bad has happened. I see the men running away shouting some inaudible sounds. A crowd gathers and my wife and I go to investigate. In the center of the crowd, a man lays unconscious on the ground covered in his own blood. This man is the victim of a random act of violence.

I don’t know what became of that man. I hope he recovered, although he very well may not have. From that day on, I was aware of what people were capable of: violence and chaos. I cannot eradicate these things, but I can prepare for when they come.

Being good enough is not good enough. I was strong enough, smart enough, and lucky enough to avoid these encounters thus far. But it may not be enough. I had to prepare. I had to acknowledge — not fear — that nefarious forces exist. Danger exists.

How do I take action and not be a victim on the street? No hyperbole, no dramatic allegory, but real consequential action.

Then it hit me — I’ve known this whole time. I start training martial arts. I stop making excuses for why I can’t learn how to fight, and I get my ass on a mat somewhere. I go into a class insecure, rusty, carrying with me all my experiences, fears and failures, and I train.

I prepare for the moment when life seeks to cause me harm so that when that moment comes, I confront it. I confront that moment a little bit each day surrounded by good people who care about my success. People who have standards for themselves and those around them. I will immerse myself in a community that learns how to work with violence so as to avoid it at all costs.

Images: Collin Perryman.

Today I’ve done that. I have found an academy in Easton of like-minded people who share the same values I do of personal growth, accountability, and discipline. As I consider the growth I have had throughout the last few years in my fitness and martial arts journey, I’m grateful for the all circumstances that’ve brought me to this point.

I can also look forward to the future and imagine the growth I have yet to achieve. When I see these kids practicing Jiu Jitsu, talking about respect with their coaches, I imagine the future they’ll be equipped for.

For each individual as well as the community, martial arts spans so much more than physicality. It teaches us that while darkness and violence exist in the world, we don’t have to let it consume us. Some apathy and insecurity lies inside every one of us, but it doesn’t have to define our lives.

If we confront these antagonistic forces, we create a better version of ourselves, a better community for our children, and a better world for us all.

Image: Collin Perryman.


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