It’s funny how as adults we tell our children they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. We encourage and cultivate their want to be doctors, engineers, even space cowboys, but at what point do we stop having that same belief in ourselves? At what age do we wake up and decide that we are probably all we are ever going to be: No excitement for trying something new, no long-term goals outside of work, no dreams of trying to be something that we never thought we could be? When do we resign ourselves to, this is what life is?

At age thirty-one, that’s where I was. I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I probably was exactly what and who I was going to be. After all I had three kids, 8, 6, and 4 and a busy life. Well that is was what I told myself. Who has time for anything else? I was also very over weight and pretty self-conscious. I had always been an active person, even when I was heavy, but life had gotten away from me and there I was: not liking what I looked like in the mirror, not wanting to buy clothes, not really living life the way I wanted to. I wanted to stay there under the covers of being a mom where it was safe and where I had an excuse. After all, how could I possibly have time to change my life when so many others depended on me?

In September of 2011, I decided to take my children in for an introductory appointment at a National Karate School. As I sat there listening to all the benefits that Martial Arts would offer my children, something inside me clicked and I decided to sign up as well. Martial Arts had always been something I wanted to try so I thought “why not?” I was 5’4” and over 230 pounds, but I thought “what have I got to lose?” I don’t think that I told my instructors this, but the pants that came with my first uniform were too small. I was embarrassed to tell them that they were too tight for me to move in: so I ordered another pair online and hoped no one would be the wiser.

When I came into my first day class, I remember being terrified! I had no idea what I would be asked to do or if I could even do it. I was so relieved when another mom showed up for class. She had only been to about five classes before that day, so there we were starting this journey together. I had no idea the bond that woman and I would create. She would be my rock, my biggest supporter and one of my very best friends going forward. The two of us were so excited to be doing something for us, something that other moms weren’t doing, something that would change both our lives forever. We would become a team, a force: “The Woodbury Girls.”

Early classes were rough and the padded floors hurt my feet beyond words. Muscles ached that I had obviously never used in my entire life! A lot of times my lungs burned, and the workouts were a struggle. For months I would only go to day classes where it was just me, my new best friend and our instructor: that was it. The idea of going to a class at night, where there would be other people, was not something I was even willing to consider because I didn’t want people to hear me breath. I thought that if I was breathing heavy, they would know how out of shape I was and I didn’t want to feel like I was on display. Now I think if they can hear my breathing over their own that they aren’t working hard enough. I didn’t want to believe that I was incapable of being vulnerable; so about six months in, I took my first evening class, after which I thought “well I am never doing that again!” It was hard and I was not yet physically ready.

Even though I had completely fallen in love with Martial Arts I was still out of shape as I had only been going to classes two days a week. At about the same time that I attended that first evening class, I met with my instructor to discuss the black belt club. I remember questioning him about whether he thought I could make it to black belt. My instructor asked me “are you a quitter?” I said “no,” but I had watched black belt classes and I knew what was going to be expected of me; and more importantly, I knew what I wanted to look like as a black belt. I wanted to be able to show my skill in the best possible way. I wanted to make my instructors proud and share their legacy. So, I asked him, “what if I just can’t do it? What if my body won’t let me do it?” He said, “nah, we’ve had elderly people, blind people, handicapped people, get their black belts.” To which I thought, “I am thirty-two and he just compared me to an elderly, handicapped, and blind person?” Although he would laugh now and deny that he ever said that, I can still hear it—clear as day. I decided, in that moment, that I was going to change my life. I was going to become the person that I wanted to be; the person that I envisioned becoming, when they would tie that black belt on me.

I started eating right, working out six days a week, and started attending evening classes. In fact, as the weight came off, I started attending most every class: sometimes multiple classes a day. I started running (well walking at first and then running) and lifting weights; and because I didn’t care if people watched me do Karate anymore, I started competing at tournaments. Everything about me (inside and out) started to change. I was becoming the person that I had envisioned I could become. It required no surgery and no magic pill, just hard work and dedication. In eight and a half months I had lost ninety pounds and went from a size 20 jeans to a size 6. More importantly than the ninety pounds is that for the first time in my adult life: I was healthy, I was fit, I was setting goals and I was a good roll model for my kids.

I started running in competitive races in 2013. At first, I was just happy to finish the race. Then I started realizing I was built to run and started finishing in the top 2% at races. I’ve ran Warrior Dashes, Tough Mudders, half marathons, triathlons and duathlons. I’ve even done race challenges, including the Doopey Challenge and I have run in over sixty competitive races to date. Many times, I would run a half marathon in the morning and go straight to class for padstrikes and sparring. That’s something I never thought that I could do!

By 2014, I was running, sparring and competing and I was becoming a martial artist and an athlete. That December I tested for my first-degree black belt (three years and three months after starting) while I was simultaneously training for my first marathon. I felt so powerful and self-actualized as I realized that I looked exactly the way I had envisioned looking during that meeting with my instructor years earlier. The excitement and the accomplishment of that day was everything that I had hoped it would be. It was the culmination of everything that I had worked for; I had transformed to the athlete I had dreamed of becoming. For the week following my black belt exam, I refused to do anything I didn’t want to do. “Do the dishes? Umm excuse me I am a black belt.”

Physically, I didn’t have time to bask in the glow of my new belt. The day after I received my black belt, I did an eightteen mile training run. I had a full marathon to run in exactly one month and I needed to pound the pavement. I ran my first full marathon in Jan of 2015. After that race I set a new goal. Ten marathons in five years. Everyone said “that’s too hard on your body, it won’t happen. Nobody can run that much, do Karate and stay healthy.” I ran my second marathon that fall. Followed by three full marathons the next year and five full marathons (including an ultra-marathon) the year after that. Finishing my goal of ten full marathons in five years, in less than 34 months.

I received my second-degree black belt in Aug of 2016, while I was simultaneously training for the New York City Marathon. Something I swore I would never do again, after doing that with my first degree black belt. I have started training for my third-degree black belt, for which I will test for this summer. I’m not training for any marathons right now, but I’ve got plenty of time to change my mind.

I am an active competitor. I compete on a regular basis in sparring, empty hand form and weapons. Both at local tournaments and nationally: taking grand champion several times. I finished last year’s NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association) season in the World Top Ten for sparring, traditional weapons, creative weapons and empty hand form. I have been number one for NCKA, in weapons in my division for four years running. I have been in the top three for both empty hand and sparring the last three years. And last year I took number one in sparring for the first time in my division. That’s not too shabby for a girl who’s still fairly new to the Martial Arts world. I have been featured as Tough Mudders’ transformation story and made it to the third round nationally of the Ms. Health and Fitness competition for Muscle Magazine in 2018.

It has been seven and a half years since I walked into the National Karate Academy of Martial Arts, and six years since I have met and maintained my weight loss goal. My instructors would often say “when the student is ready the master will appear.” And after many attempts to change my life-style and my eating habits, I was finally ready: and the masters did appear. The amount of gratitude that I have for my instructors is immeasurable. When I came in that National Karate door, they could have seen me as an overweight mom, or just another person that might try and give up. But they didn’t. Never once did they treat me any differently than any other student. Never once did they allow me to feel like I couldn’t do it. They saw something in me, long before I saw it in myself and that’s was what they focused on. Even when I didn’t see how I could do or give more effort, they encouraged me to push myself, to never give up. What a credit to their compassion and vision as instructors, and to the incredible mentors they are.

Not only did Karate change my life physically, it changed it professionally as well. I decided that I wanted to give back and to help others meet their fitness goals. In March of 2014 I earned my personal training certification: followed by becoming a registered yoga instructor, certified specialist in sports nutrition, certified specialist in strength and conditioning for athletes. And I am currently working on a certification in exercise therapy. I started assisting in Karate classes in 2013 and eventually became an instructor. I opened my own personal training studio in 2015 and took the position as head instructor of the Bloomington National Karate in June of 2018.

I could not have imagined the impact that National Karate would have on my life. It has been a wild and wonderful ride, and I’ve grown from my experience with National Karate every step of the way. It took me from the unfulfilled and overweight mom, to the person who’s always envisioning her next goal, someone who’s not afraid to ask “What’s my next challenge?” I have decided that I will never again box myself into a predetermined destiny: I will keep building my Martial Arts skills, I will keep competing, I will keep running (I think I have a 50 miler in me) and I will keep improving on the person I was yesterday. I don’t believe that any of us have to be the person we were yesterday, or know who we will be tomorrow. All we have to do, is take that first step and—just like we tell our children—believe that we can be anything we want to be. Who knows, maybe being a space cowboy isn’t out of reach!

Samantha Barron
3rd Degree Instructor
Director and Head Instructor
Bloomington National Karate Institute of Martial Arts

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