Why I Walk Into the Dojo

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Every Saturday morning I do what I never saw myself doing. I walk into a dojo.

I pull off my sneakers and walk onto the mats for a martial arts-style ladies’ self-defense class. During a pretty intense hour we punch, fall, roll, run, learn various ways to use everyday objects as weapons… I never know quite what to expect, but it’s always good. The class before last, we learned how to use two sizes of umbrellas to nail any attacker, causing enough pain to distract him. We learned how to double him over with groin pain, gag with a jab to the throat, legs collapsing from a blow to the back of the knees – apersonal favorite — or a good whack on a floating rib or two. Great fun to try them out on the instructor, who happens to be my bestie, Ka’en. And we train our minds into new and exciting paths: the way of a woman warrior.

The fact that I even darkened the dojo door in the first place, much less return on a weekly basis, is a bit of a mystery to me. As a kid I was a skinny, fluffy-haired outsider when it came to sports, staring at the ground when kids were picked for gym class games knowing I’d be one of the last three chosen. Chronically afraid of the ball and having a tendency to daydream seldom serves the team in the thick of a game. Joining a sports team? Unthinkable.

I was the kid literally out in left field (by choice) during gym class softball games in middle school, feeling the sun on my face, seeking out four-leaf clovers while the infield game hummed yards away. Once a ball rolled near my feet and some guy way back in the diamond hollered for me to Throw It! To whom??? So I threw it at the kid yelling, and got back to my clover quest. I was the kid staring into the gym rafters (is that a basketball up there?) when the volleyball shot my way and I caught it, stunned. I was the girl who got the basketball for our team and dribbled it with no one grabbing at it, my gym class teammates shouting what I thought was encouragement – and made a basket for the opposing team. I’d had my fill of humiliating stuff like this by the time I was in college. Fitness? I’ll work out by myself, thanks.

So why would I willingly join a group of ladies to literally throw myself on the floor, putting myself in compromising positions, sometimes with a man doing the compromising? What would make me choose to be put into choke holds, pinned to walls, or lay on the floor with some lady or guy on top of me so I could learn how to throw them off and run?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But I keep on coming back. This is what I do know:

  • I am worth protecting. This is a new concept for me. I’m a mother of four; the mama bear instinct is strong in me to protect them. And if you say something against my man or my friends, look out. But me? My go-to? Avoid conflict (run away – run away! Insert Monty Python guards here). It’s slowly seeping into my heart: God made me, so I’m valuable. I am worthy of protecting. So, by the way, are you.
  • I need tools and techniques so if I’m in danger I can use my training to overcome. I refuse to be a victim – but if I just blindly flail in the conflict, attackers will most likely have their way with me.
  • I need to do hard things to train my body and mind regularly so I’m ready for whatever comes. Going to the dojo every Saturday is often inconvenient, but it’s worth it. Heck, it’s becoming almost a compulsion, as I leave exhilarated. Every time.

When Ka’en, who’s been studying Ninpo for a couple of years now, first brandished bruises on her arms and legs I thought she was a little loopy, calling them her “training trophies.” So I smiled and nodded, indulging her — but really, that’s a little nuts, don’t you think?  And then a couple weeks ago I got a skinned elbow from throwing her off when she pinned me to a cement block wall. I found myself delighted – even proud – of my one-inch wound. I guess it’s a warrior thing, because now I love to feel the muscle pain the day after a workout, and scanning my limbs post-class for my own trophies. Another bruise? Yes!

So this scared little girl is finding her grit. In class, when we yell “Get OFF me!” and “No!” — our self-defense kiais — I feel the power surge. You will not violate me. I am worth protecting, and I need to keep disciplining myself to keep doing what seems counter-intuitive. Do the hard things in class behind closed doors, prepare for the unexpected. And keep practicing outside the dojo. Because there’s an enemy out there, and he doesn’t play fair. And I will defeat him if I stay focused and disciplined.

I still take time for daydreaming and chasing butterflies, wandering in fields of peace and joy. Because I carry the Spirit of God in me, I carry a deep well of joy under all the chaos that comes. And each day I prep for unknown, inevitable battles. This messed-up Earth’s a war zone, so it just makes sense.

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Every morning Leoa faces Heavenly Dad, clad in spirit armor. Bowing, I lay my sword at His feet, acknowledging His Lordship, awaiting orders. Often, He draws me in for a hug and some words of encouragement. He urges me to study His word to sharpen the sword I carry with His deep truths. I bask in His smile and hide His words in my heart. Then I lift the sword, sheath it, stride out of the throne room, carrying the King Himself in my soul.

And I face what comes knowing greater is He living in me than anything this world throws at me.

Together, we train.
Together, we fight.
Lion of Judah roars through Leoa’s kiais  —
And the god of this world shakes in his boots.

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I Signed Up For This

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I once again entered that place that can, when managed correctly, serve as a torture chamber: the local Y. And, once again (will I never learn?), took up weights to begin yet another grueling training session with Ka’en. It has become our routine to be there every Wednesday without fail (save for contracting a communicable disease), so mechanically I arrived, ready for whatever my bestie had in mind.

At some point this summer I had willingly entrusted most of my exercise routine to my comrade-in-arms, as left to my own devices I’m a bit of a workout weenie. I was despairingly stuck at the same weight and fitness level and needed another voice telling me to Push Harder! So began partner training some two or three months ago (long enough to ingrain the habit whether I wanted it or not). And there I was again today, allowing her to lead me to a tall, partially-enclosed box hung with all sorts of metal objects waiting to be clamped on and maneuvered. We began our partner workout: I do 10-20 reps on one exercise, she does 10-20 reps on another then we switch. Then go on to the next set of two, and so on till we are quivering blobs of post-workout mess. A good 5 or six standing chest presses in with a seemingly innocuous bar and I’m thinking, This is hard!!! What was I thinking? Did I sign up for this?!

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Immediately a huge, scrolling parchment springs into my mind. Minute handwritten paragraphs fill it; at the bottom stretches a signature line. And I’m standing, quill in hand, scribing my autograph and looking back at me sheepishly.

What is this? What does it mean? Because, often, these quick visions of sorts contain layers of meaning. And I realize the document I’m putting my name to was crafted by none other than my Heavenly Dad, who offered me life for my downward death spiral.

Looking closer I see the paragraphs represent my life’s timeline.  Ah, there’s the first signature line near the top, following a tiny paragraph. I am 4 and my crayon scribble and dancing eyes show I’ve asked Jesus into my heart. The second paragraph is longer and my printed name at 16 shows I rededicated my life to Him after sliding away for a while. The bold grown-up signature at age 19 proves I gave up my long-loved dream of getting married and having a family, a house, a nice yard… and was willing to go anywhere and do anything for Him.

The one that really catches my eye is the one written in painful strokes, the one carved into the page as I sat on my metal bed at Chester County Prison, grasping for hope, realizing if I was going to survive this – or even if I wasn’t – I would grab onto His garment hem and never let go.

As I scan to the end I look at the signature at the bottom again, the one I caught myself writing while pushing out that bar at the Y. And there is me, but wait – it is spirit me, preborn yet fully formed, having risen from the deep talk with Dad where I agreed to all of it without yet seeing any of it. I had looked up at His face and nodded when He asked, “Will you enter the timeline and be born? Will you go wherever I say, do whatever I ask of you? Will you trust me?” I had written my name tall with sweeping, joyful strokes.

I did sign up for this. I signed up to become God’s warrior here on earth. At key points in my life I agreed to trust Him, sight unseen. Pure, blind faith but with eyes that see more and more as my Creator Dad opens my eyes. And, as the inner is often represented by the outward, I give myself to training to my friend who has herself done deep, hard training.

I take a shaking breath, exhale “In Christ.” And Leoa the Lioness pushes through one more rep.