It’s been a long journey, longer than I had ever imagined my martial arts journey would be. I remember my first class with you; I didn’t know what to expect. I looked at everyone else who was there, standing beside me in our ill-fitting gis and belts. You asked me if it was my first time and I nodded yes, I didn’t know if my answer meant that you would give me special attention or make it harder for me. I told myself that I would try and survive the class and not bother you as much as possible.
When you saw me running with my belt falling down, you helped me fix my belt and taught me how to knot it properly. When you saw me hesitating before attempting a forward roll, you taught me how to tuck my head in and hit the mats with my hands after. It was a scary technique, but after a few tries, it felt ok to dive in headfirst onto the mats.
Learning techniques didn’t come easily for me. I was uncoordinated, and I couldn’t tell my left hand from my right. But you came over and guided me, step by step. You showed me how to do things over and over again, even if you had other students who needed your help as well. I wondered if you were secretly frustrated with me, or with all of us new students, but you always had a smile on your face every time you tried to correct us. You explained the technique and why it worked. It didn’t make sense to me at first, but when it did, many months later, I knew it would be a technique that I would use over and over again.
When you decided that it was time for me to start sparring, I was nervous. I had to put everything you had taught me to the test, and it was something that I had never done in my life. You told me that I would be OK and that I was ready. When I asked you if you could take a picture with me, to commemorate that third stripe, you willingly obliged. You even made a funny face in one of our pictures and called the rest of the class to celebrate with me. But of course, celebrating was one thing and actually sparring was another. You partnered me with someone near my size, but a belt above me. I didn’t know what to expect – I thought that I would find myself tapping out after 10 seconds. But you coached me through that spar, and you told me to do my favorite techniques. I lasted longer without tapping than I thought I would, and it was all because of you.
The months rolled into years, and several years later, I find myself on the mats, anxiously waiting for you to start the class. Nowadays you expect even more from me. You want me to use the techniques you’ve taught me, that you’ve asked me to drill, the techniques that I’ve asked you to clarify over and over again. You ask me to the lead the class during warm-ups, and I know that even if you’re checking our attendance, you’re still watching me. You partner me with the lower belts because you want to see if I’m able to teach the techniques you’ve taught me to others – a true test of knowledge. You’re always testing me because you want me to the best student I can be – you believe in my potential.
I’ve always wondered if I was exceptionally talented or the complete opposite. Could it be the reason you were helping me so much? But then I realized that you were doing the same for other students. Because of your help and encouragement, you became a big part of the reason why I kept training. You taught me how to push through the toughest training days, which helped me get through the toughest days of my life. You taught me that I could do anything I wanted, as long as I worked hard and trained for it. You taught me the importance of learning from my mistakes and how this would make me a better student.
If I haven’t said it before, I’d like to say thank you, professor. For all the valuable lessons you’ve taught me. You made me believe in myself when I was full of doubt. Most importantly, you’ve changed my life by giving me a new reason for waking up every morning and for choosing to head to the gym instead of switching on the TV or going for drinks. Because of you, I’ve found something I can do the rest of my life – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.