Yes, You Can

This past weekend, I spent three days in Lyndonville, Vermont attending my dojo’s annual Martial Arts Camp. Six Kempo sessions of two and a half hours each, spread out over the long weekend. This schedule was just for the “gen pop,” those of us who were there for the experience. For those brave souls testing at more advanced levels, the weekend’s intensity doubled.

I went into this weekend equal parts excited and terrified. This was my first camp, and everyone spoke highly of it. It was always so much fun. Of course, the black belts loved to regale us with crazy stories of their own Tests, which terrified us lower ranks. I didn’t know what to expect. There was no official itinerary. Just “bring your Kempo.”

Um, okay. I know it’s around here somewhere.

It was an intense weekend, but everyone was in amazing spirits. We all worked hard, determined to get the absolute most out of our experience. I’m not going to lie; I worried that I was too out of shape to make it through this weekend without incident. I feared the pace would be too much, too hard, too fast.

For those of us in Gen Pop, it wasn’t. It was intense, but the instructors never made unreasonable demands.  Because of the heat and oppressive humidity, they remained concerned that we stayed hydrated and, well, upright, through the weekend.

On the final day and the final session, those of us in Gen Pop tested (notice the little “t”) for rank promotions. It felt almost anti-climatic. It wasn’t until later when I realized that on some level, we’d been tested all weekend. The instructors saw our progress, saw our work, saw how we took correction and refined our techniques with each session. That all went into their decision process. We all passed before we even tested.

First Degree Green Belt. Next stop…Brown Belt.


I came out of this weekend happy, exhausted, and covered in bruises. One of the senseis called bruises “portals of knowledge.” I have so many portals, you guys.

But on the other end of this experience, I have some lessons which can definitely be applied to life in general:

  1. Always travel with earplugs and an eye mask. Because doors slam, toilets flush, people party, and lights are always on. And 12 hours of Kempo (or anything else) is really hard on three hour’s sleep.
  2. Bring more socks than you think you need, and all of your underwear. Because you’ll need it, especially if you don’t bring it. But maybe leave that third outfit at home, because you probably won’t.
  3. Do the thing, take the risk. Yeah, it’s scary as all get-out and success is not guaranteed, but it’s probably closer than you think.
  4. You get out what you put in. I pushed myself this weekend, but I also paced myself. I took stock and when I needed a moment, I took it. When I needed to dig deeper and go a little further, I did it. I could have been lazy and half-assed it, but I wouldn’t have had any fun and I wouldn’t have come out on the other end even more determined and inspired. So, if it matters, put in the effort (but pace yourself with it).
  5. It’s okay to be afraid. Do it anyway. Odds are pretty good that it’s worse in your mind than it is in reality. The one sensei I was really nervous to work with ended up being a really cool guy with a lot of great information to share. It’s okay to be intimidated, but don’t let it stop you from learning and growing. If you’re doing your best, you’re succeeding.

Am I going to go next year? Hell yeah. Is it going to be even scarier? OH YEAH. If I go next year, odds are good I’ll be Testing, not testing. But… I have a year. And a plan.

I am going to do the thing, and win or lose, it will be further than I’ve ever pushed myself before and more than I’ve ever accomplished physically in my life. And that’s a success, no matter how you cut it.