In second grade, I began taking Tang Soo Do martial arts classes. I stopped taking classes during my sophomore year of high school due to an over-demanding schedule and distance. The eight years of learning this art of self-defense challenged me not only physically, but also mentally. Nevertheless, Tang Soo Do will always hold a special place in my heart as I am thankful for all of the knowledge and my "karate family" I gained over the years. As a female in a male dominated sport I was greatly intimidated by my male counterparts but I never let that stop me. I found an art that I loved then and still do now. Here are some of the important takeaways from my experience as a martial artist.

1. Self-defense

This is the most obvious of the things learned from taking such classes. I learned numerous sparring techniques, hand-to-hand combat maneuvers, and forms.

2. Justice

Personally, I classify this as the ability to know how to decide which fights are worth fighting. It is important to understand the difference between right and wrong and to stick to your morals.

3. Respect

In class, the importance of respecting our instructors and fellow students was drilled into our minds. I am thankful for this as it has spread into other aspects of my life and has trained me to be respectful to all, even if they may not respect me up front.

4. Responsibility

If you showed up late to class, forgot a piece of uniform, or misbehaved we were given longer workouts at the start of class (typically we had to do a certain number of push-ups). This was very good at teaching me to also make sure that I have my stuff together ahead of time. Just as I was the one responsible for making sure I had all of my things, I was responsible for my actions. Being responsible is a significant character trait and my experience in martial arts classes has pushed me to really accept that I am the only person who is responsible for my decisions.

5. Self-discipline

This coincides with justice, respect, and responsibility in that I have learned to refrain myself from picking certain battles and to "bite my tongue" in certain situations. It is important to not let your emotions get the best of you in certain circumstances. However, self-discipline also comes with knowing when you should stand up for yourself and where to draw the line in how you choose to do so.

6. Don't be afraid to test your limits

If there is a new move that you can learn, go for it. Don't be scared of trying new things that are outside of your comfort zone. I wouldn't have been able to earn my first degree black belt if I wouldn't have pushed myself to go beyond my comfort zone.

7. Know your limits, understand them 

This one may seem contradictory to not being afraid to test your limits, but it is important to not push yourself too far, to understand any physically limitations that may be standing in your way. There is nothing wrong with testing your limits, but make sure to do so in a healthy way. Don't be too hard on yourself if you have to take things a little slower than others or if you have to practice more to get something right.

8. "Harmony, Speed, Grace"

This last takeaway is one of the closest to my heart as we ended every class with these three words - "Harmony. Speed. Grace. Tang Soo Do." Live in harmony with others, do not pick arguments where they are needed. Know when it is okay to move fast and how to think quickly on your feet, but also give yourself time to take things slow and think through certain decisions. Be graceful in your actions, never lose touch with what makes you who you are.

I will forever be thankful for all that my instructor and everyone else who was a member of my "karate family" has taught me, how they have helped me grow, how they have inspired me to do great things, and how they have shaped me into a well rounded young woman. It has been several years since I have stepped foot into the karate gym, but I will always hold it close to me. There are times when I picture myself going through the motions in my head, every move and technique vivid and clear.