When I was about six years old my mom enrolled me in a ballet class at the local YMCA. I attended class there for a good bit but dreaded every minute of it. I was not a dancer, I did not fit in with the other little girls. I hated the color pink because I hated what I thought pink stood for. The stereotype that every little girl was supposed to love pink, talk quietly and act like a lady. I was a loud-mouthed, purple loving, aggressive child. I loved to run around and laugh and honestly, I loved showing off. So, when my mom would pull my hair back into the bun and dress me in tights and a leotard I just did not feel like myself.

One day I peered into a window on the way to class. I saw a bunch of boys dressed in white shirts and black pants with different colored belts around their waists punching the air. I looked at my mom and said I want to do that. Now my mom doesn't believe in the whole gender roles thing, she has always encouraged me to do what I want to do, no matter what anyone says. She pulled me out of ballet class immediately and enrolled me in MATI. A martial arts training institute owned by our good family friend Sheriff Irwin Carmichael. I instantly fell in love with the class.

I was taught discipline, awareness of my surroundings, memory techniques and most importantly how to defend myself. I remember being one of the only girls in the class. Every time we graduated to a new belt, we would have a demonstration and competition in front of the parents. One graduation stands out to me in particular. I was one of three girls in the class. The two other girls were sisters that I knew from school and encouraged to start taking classes with me. They paired up to grapple and I had to grapple a boy. Which I was totally fine with, I liked showing the boys up. But the boy that was left to grapple was the biggest boy in the class. We squared off and everyone got quiet.

I remember at first he was just trying to get me into an easy pin and just finish the match. So, he got on top of my back and just put all his weight on me. He was so heavy and I remember him saying how easily he was going to pin me. At this point, the whole crowd got riled up, especially the women. And my brother just starts yelling, "Get him Kenzie! Get him!"

So I grabbed the back of his Gi, which is the ceremonial shirt we wear, and I pulled him forward over my shoulders and threw him on the ground. Everyone cheered. I never underestimated my power ever again. Sensei Carmichael always encouraged me to never let a man say I couldn't do something because I was a girl. One day we were breaking boards, and I couldn't break the hardest board, but I was the only girl to make it that far. And he told me I couldn't break it because I was a girl and too weak. He knew this would make me angry and I whacked straight through the board and hit the ground below with my fist. All he said was "I knew you could do it, just needed a little encouragement".

I continued my self-defense training for over 12 years. I am a black belt and belong to the master's club and the demo team. Karate was a huge part of my life and I will never let it go. Martial arts is the reason I am still standing today, it has saved my life on multiple occasions. It gave me a confidence like no other, and it has made me smarter in the way I deduce problems. I cannot stress how important it is to learn some type of self-defense, whether that is just learning how to punch correctly so you do not break your hand, or notice a man dwelling too close to your car when you come out of work late at night.

I was 14 the first time I had to defend myself from a man. And I have used martial arts over 6 times after that, that I can recall. Martial arts can save your life, your sister's life, your mother's life. If you are not comfortable with taking a class with men. There are classes offered for only women. I cannot tell you how much I thank my parents for paying for the classes and how much I thank Sensei Carmichael for saving my life. I would not be here today if it wasn't for my training. I gained confidence, self-control, and peace of mind. I would never trade the time I spent in the dojo.