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Teenager No Longer

posted Sep 3, 2011, 4:50 PM by Eric Banks

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”




Later this month, October 25th to be precise, I will officially, formally, no longer be a teenager…in the art.  Yep, that’s right, I will be celebrating 20 years of Shotokan training.  Wow…20 years…seems like just yesterday I stepped into the Small Gym at NMSU (now Truman State) for my very first lesson…


I’m sure I’ve written about this many times, but a couple weeks into my freshman year, I found a sign posted in my dorm advertising a new “Shotokan Karate Club” that would be forming soon.  Though I loved martial arts movies, owned a few instructional books, cool posters, and magazines, I had never even heard of this thing called “Shotokan”.  In fact, when I showed the flyer to a guy down the hall who was a practitioner of Pilipino martial arts, I asked him, “Ever heard of Show-tow-ken?”  He grinned and nodded and replied, “Oh, you mean Shotokan.  Yeah, it’s good stuff; lots of kicking and punching.”   “Cool,” I said nonchalantly, feeling a little bit like a noob for the mispronunciation.


A few days later, I attended the first organizational meeting and met the suave instructor who was currently teaching karate as part of the physical education curriculum.  He, Dr. Lewis B. Hershey, was also a professor in the economics department, and he explained that a very skilled Shotokan nidan, a new professor in the psychology or mathematics department, would be part of the teaching team.  Also there, sitting in the crowd of college students, was a young woman who had been studying the art most of her life; she too would be training with us and teaching the group on occasion.  I recall some discussion took place on which organization to align with (JKA, SKA, ISKF, or ITKF) and at the time, it didn’t mean all that much, or really anything, to me, but in the end, the group chose to go with JKA-ITKF Shotokan.


The first class on October 25th took place in the musty, but unbeatable and often used, Small Gym.  I quickly became fond of the fragrant, unforgettable, pungent aromatic-combo of new deodorant, old gym equipment, aged wood, and rolled up wrestling mats, and I can still feel the electricity that surged through me at finally, after forever wanting to train, getting to learn from real karate instructors.  There must have been 40 or 50 eager students there, many of us just beginning our study of karate.  I was the last person in the very last row, all the way at the back of the room.  The first lesson consisted of basic blocking and punching, and as Dr. Robert delMas taught, Dr. Hershey walked around correcting our form.  When Sensei Hershey came to me, he kind of half-frowned and half-smiled and asked, “Have you done this before?”  I don’t remember my reply, but I’m pretty sure I refrained from telling him I’d been studying karate books and martial arts magazines and movies very closely for years and years.


Well, the months went by and we trained hard and loved it, and in May of 1991 they decided it was time to test us for our first colored belt.  By then, there were just five of us left, the handful of dedicated that remained.  I trained with that club both years I attended NMSU and since I knew going into it that I would be transferring to UMR (now Missouri University of Science and Technology), I had planned on switching to tae-kwon-do once I moved.  But, that didn’t happen…there was just something about this art, about the three instructors, about me, that all seemed to fit, and so, I continued training on my own, remembering what they taught me, and yes, studying JKA books and videos, until I was able to find another good Shotokan instructor a few years later.


Weeks after I transferred to Rolla, I learned that Sensei delMas had moved back to Minneapolis.  A year after that, Sensei Hershey left too. Everything that happens, the when, the where, and the how long, happens at a specific and purposeful time, for a specific purpose.  Though I was at NMSU for a short time, I know I was there at just the right time and in just the right place in time, and I still look back on those early training days, and my college experience as a whole, with joy. 


No longer being a “teenager” is a good thing, but man…I do miss those days of yesteryear…  And while twenty years of training sounds like a lot, it’s really not; I still have much to learn and to assimilate, but I definitely still have a strong, maybe even stronger, desire to learn, and grow, and share the art with others.


I’m thankful for my “teen” years and looking forward to good training and incredible growth in my “twenties”…


As always, train smart so you can fight hard and be hard to fight.