You know, looking back before my first mammogram and before any of this even started it’s so interesting to think about how God prepares you…..without you even knowing. In March of 2013 my husband Aaron made me go to a dojo to take a soryu karate class from Sensei Jeff Bonugli. I honestly had no interest in going and really just did not want to go. We had a samurai sword company at the time and we had supplied them with the mats, boxing ring and gis for the students. We had met the Sensei briefly before as his grandkids and our kids went to the same Christian school.
So, as a good business owner, I thought, surely I can show some respect for him doing business with me and go. It was March break, so the only people in there were Sensei Jeff, my 7 year old son Daniel and me. My husband was still working offshore at the time and he left that day to go back to work. Thanks a lot Aaron! (is what I thought in my head) When I walked in I saw bible scripture hanging on the wall and that threw me off as it was a dojo, guys got all “macho” here, I was shocked that God was such a focus in what I thought was such an aggressive mean sport. I would learn again how wrong it is to judge without fully knowing all there is to know about things. A lesson that is priceless.
My son and I spent that Tuesday and Wednesday with Sensei Jeff teaching us the basics and catching us up. They had just opened a few months before so they were rather new and we were not that far behind. By the end of the first day, I must admit, I LOVED it! I was hooked! It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be, not at all.
He taught us strength and belief in ourselves. He taught us strength and belief in God. He taught us that we could do it all, we could have it all and we could persevere through anything by putting God first and believing. He taught us that it was all about mind, body and spirit all coming together. I didn’t know it at the time, but Sensei Jeff was preparing me for the whole journey that was ahead, my fight with cancer.
The next week, the other students came back and there I was, definitely one of the oldest in the class and definitely only one of two girls. (the other girl stopped after a few weeks and just watched her kids and cheered me on from the seats!) So there I was, the ONLY girl in a sport that is tough. Where the spar at 50% while you are a white belt and let me tell you, be prepared with your mouthguard! Sensei Jeff is very serious about his passion and he would not even test you for the next belt until you understood what that meant and that you had control and you were a great leader.
I loved being there and I was nick named Den Mom as I would find out the kids birthdays and we would sing to them and I would help in any way I could. This dojo, the Green Ghost Academy, was not only where I learned my inner strength, it’s also where I learned grace and giving back. This was a free dojo to anyone wanting to come and really learn and grow themselves. So here I was at a Christian dojo, that was free with the best Sensei in the most amazing style of karate….soryu. I know God had a lot to do with that!
I had to learn many lessons at that dojo being the only girl and being older then most of them. The ages in the adult class ranged from sixteen to late twenties for most of them. Then there were three of us in our forties……..me being the only girl. I felt I had to work harder as I was not a natural. I felt I had to push myself harder because I had to earn respect of young “spider monkeys” that were full of energy and determination. I felt that I had to practice twice as hard so that I could keep up and make Sensei proud.
Before class, when I warmed up at first no one really talked to me. All the guys would gather in a circle and talk and warm up and practice kicks and there I would be alone. It didn’t matter as I would keep a smile on my face and know that I wasn’t there for them but because I really loved learning about Soryu Karate and I wanted to impress my Sensei, not the other students. It sure did not make it any less lonely, I’m not going to lie, but it taught me lessons on strength and kindness and when a new person came in that dojo, I was sure to greet them, smile and welcome them in. Might I add, that finally, after a LONG time, I believe I was accepted by all the guys in the class. I think they saw that I was serious, I didn’t want different treatment, I just wanted to learn like them and do MY best. They became like my family and to this day it’s like a piece is gone from my heart because we are no longer going there since we moved up to the Houston area.
There was also a cage in the back as Sensei trained fighters for MMA. Who got in the cage? I DID! Training for the cage was usually after adult class so when I could I stayed to do some extra training with the guys and see what it was like. I have to admit, being in the cage was FREAKING AWESOME! Never thought I would EVER say that, but it was. Sensei had me in gear so I wouldn’t get hurt, but it’s just the shear thrill of being in there that I will never forget. Watching them and being able to go in there and do light sparring with them, was really one of the highlights. They always told me I didn’t have to participate, but I really wanted to experience it for myself and I’m so thankful that I did.
Sensei told me once that if I was fifteen or twenty years younger he would have me fight for him. That was one of the proudest days of my life knowing that he saw the drive and commitment from me and that he believed in me. If I was younger, there’s a really good chance I would have fought for him and let me tell you, with his training, I would have been a darn great MMA fighter!
We go down and support them when they fight in MMA tournaments in the valley and I love watching them, cheering for them and knowing that I did get to spar with them and I did get into a cage with some of those spider monkeys and that perseverance pays off. When I look back at just that small memory, it shows me that God put me there to build up my faith, my strength and my belief. God put all those students in my life and the greatest teacher Sensei Jeff in my life so that I could be prepared mind, body and spirit for what was to come.