My Safe Space, My Therapy, My Escape

Close up of woman wearing martial arts robe with black belt in karate

I recently achieved my Black Belt In Shotokan Karate and as part of our Black Belt test we are asked to write an essay detailing what Martial Arts means to us – this is mine. I am sharing it because for me the dojo is so much more than a place I go to do “kick kick punch punch” – it is my safe space, my therapy, my escape, the place where it is 100% ok to make a mistake, to not be perfect – it is also NOT my comfort zone even though I am comfortable there. I am also sharing so that anyone else who may be struggling to find a light in the dark on their way up the mountain can know that they are not alone.

What does Martial Arts mean to me?

On April 24, 2010 Sensei Raj tied on my white belt – my Martial Arts journey had begun. I was excited and nervous at the thought of this journey from white belt to black belt. My climb up the mountain of life had just become a whole lot more interesting.

But what did Martial Arts mean to me?

My goal is to become the best person I can be. To me, Martial Arts is a life-long commitment of continued self-improvement. What I have learned – about myself – over the last eight years inside the dojo has become a large part of who I am becoming outside of the dojo in my endeavour to improve myself. While the colour of my belt has never been the most important piece of my journey, it is an important symbol of my progress; more importantly – earning my black belt means that I didn’t give up on myself. My growth, both inside the dojo, in martial skills and techniques, and outside the dojo as a person, wife, mother and friend are what are most important and valuable to me on this journey.

I will train, I will succeed. I strongly believe that in life, as in Martial Arts you always have room to improve yourself and there is always more to learn. Success is not just magically found or handed to you at the end of the trail at the top of the mountain, it is earned and achieved on the climb as you work your way up the mountain. Every step forward is a success; every new lesson learned is a success; each new skill mastered is a success. I succeed by being open to the knowledge available to me and being willing to accept and ask for the guidance, support and training of those around me. I succeed by continuing to choose to learn about myself, through each new challenge faced, each new accomplishment. I succeeded by discovering that I am capable of far more than I ever thought I was.

Through patience, I achieve all that I desire. Martial Arts is teaching me patience in a way I was incapable of learning before I ever set foot in a Dojo. Through Martial Arts, I am learning that patience is not about waiting so much as it is about not giving up – pushing through instead of pushing back, learning when to let go in trust and when to hang on in faith. Patience is also about putting in the work – accepting and then working to overcome the challenges in front of me and celebrating each victory along the way – continuing to motivate and improve myself as both a Martial Artist and as a person.

I respect myself, now I can respect others. To me, respect is earned in action and deed and is based in acceptance more than through thought and intention. Every action and choice I make towards becoming better than I was begins with accepting myself as I am in that moment and earning my own self-respect through my actions to improve. In learning to accept myself as I am, flaws and all, and through treating myself with respect, I am learning to accept others as they are, and to respect them and the choices they make. I show respect for myself in the choices I make regarding my health – both mental and physical and in my continued desire to become the best person I can be – choosing healthy foods and activities, continually seeking knowledge about my passions and working to become a better person in all aspects of my life. I accept my imperfections so that I may continue to improve myself. I accept that others are imperfect and will make choices different from my own and that each of us is on our own unique journey up the mountain.

I have confidence in my ability. Self-confidence is an ongoing struggle for me – both in and out of the Dojo. As someone living with depression and anxiety, I spend a significant amount of time engaged in a battle inside my own head, not by choice and most of it is doubting myself and my abilities. Along with the confidence I gain as I improve my ability with each new technique or kata that I learn, I am learning – slowly – but I am learning and gaining the confidence that I am capable of far more than the negative voices in my head want me to believe that I am. Beyond my comfort zone waits the adventure of a lifetime – it is time to go exploring.

I believe in me. When the voices in your head are constantly and quite cheerfully chanting that you can’t, it can be almost insurmountable to believe that you can. Unless you have battled depression and anxiety, it can be very difficult to grasp the concept of believing you are going to fail while you are in fact in the process of succeeding. No matter how far I have come, no matter what I have accomplished, those voices never stop their incessant litany of YOU WILL FAIL. Martial Arts has given me the ability to shine a light in the darkness; to change the commentary of my life from negative to positive. In a head that for so long has been filled with nothing but voices saying I CAN’T, Martial Arts has given me a gift in a voice that says I CAN.

So, after all this time, what does Martial Arts mean to me?

To me – Martial Arts means that I am on a continuous journey of accepting myself as I am, acknowledging my flaws, choosing to continue learning and improving myself in order to accomplish my goal of becoming the best person I can be and to be confident enough to share my story with others in the hope of helping those who might still be struggling to find their own light source in the dark on their own climb up the mountain.


— Elizabeth Hall



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