The Girl and the Dojo

| by Shadae Herrera |

As I heard the sound of the bodies hitting the rough dojo mats, the fear struck me. I was the only six year old girl in a class filled with nothing by exuberant boys performing martial arts. My dad always treated me more like a son rather than a daughter, him signing me up for Judo was a perfect example. It was extremely difficult for me the first couple of years learning the art. I was always uncomfortable and embarrassed to be corrected in front of all the boys. I remember sparring against the boys and them teasing me because I was never able to beat them. I never felt good enough in that dojo. During breaks, I would cry to my dad and the boys would tease and make fun of me. My dad always told me just because you’re a girl does not mean you aren’t capable of what they are, so get back out there and try harder.

Every night I went home an laid in my bed while the taunting voices of my classmate ran through my mind. So, I had no choice but to tell myself you are no longer a six year old girl. You are grown, it has been four years and you are completely capable of performing the way the boys do or even better. The next day at class my teacher paired the class up and told us to spar. There my opponent went charging at me, jerking me, pushing me around like his own personal rag doll. I couldn’t take it anymore and I exploded with anger and techniques, grabbing him by his uniform and throwing him to the ground. I had him in a solid pin with his face pushed up against the mat. The pride I felt in myself that moment was unexplainable. I got up, looked down at him and did nothing by smile and walk away.

After that day, I was unstoppable. Over the years in that dojo, I did nothing more than improve and soon the boys were the ones scared to spar me. I had turned the tables. My dad constantly took me to matches and every time I competed I won first or second place. Before I knew it, I was a blue belt, two belts away from black. I had the highest belt rank out of all my peers. The teacher had me help teach the smaller kids in the class. I was looked up to, I was a leader. It wasn’t just about being a blue belt, it was the experience and traits Judo gave me. Everyday at practice, I developed persistence, discipline and mental strength. To this day, I look back and thank the boys in my class who doubted me because they helped me realize how easy it is to be just as capable as a man. My experience in Judo helped me grow into the strong woman I am today. The sound of bodies hitting the rough mats as I entered the dojo, I was ready to fight.

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