Started training: September 2005
Tested for red belt: December 14, 2010 at age 16
It feels strange to sit down and write this at long last. I remember being a purple belt and wondering if I would ever stand here today and read this to you. But here I am, standing in front of you reading this after years of sweating and bleeding, after hundreds, most likely thousands, of classes and many, many hours spent training. The path to this test has been the most enjoyable experience of my life and it truly does make me sad to see it coming to a close. Obviously, I still have one more. The Big One. The Mountain. But that one is different. It's such a huge step up, the test itself and the training. I mean this when I say it, I'm looking forward to it very, very much.
The training to reach this point has been difficult but I can honestly say I have enjoyed every minute of it. I started training in September 2005. I was ten years old, shorter than Kristina, and had the punching power of an 80 year old woman. I wasn't the one who wanted to do Karate, my parents, literally forced me to join. I had no desire to join and if it was up to me I wouldn't have ever signed up. Another reason to listen to your parents. I had done Shorin-Ryu Karate for a little while, at my cousin’s dojo in Portland, where I lived before I moved to Bend. I enjoyed that but it wasn't exactly my "favorite thing.” So joining the dojo wasn’t exactly something I was very excited to do. I remember my first class at this school very well. Sensei telling me how we bow, doing blocks and punches, and doing self defenses. This was back in the day when Low #1 had a foot sweep. Not the single leg takedown. After that introductory lesson, I had a slight change of heart. I practically begged my parents to take me to class every night. Those classes were like big private lessons due to the low number of students. I don't remember many classes as a white belt but I do remember a tiny bit of my test. I tested at the very first rank test in the dojo and have been the first one to test for each new belt, up until these last two. I remember doing jump front kicks on the mitts with Walker and Brett. And doing the kata with my eyes closed. I received my yellow belt along with ten or so other kids. And then after our test the adults tested. J-Rod, Kristina, Tim, Wendie, and a few others. They all made it through and so began yellow belt.
At my first yellow belt class I realized how different it was from white. I did partner side kicks with Brett, went over our new Japanese, and did the crescent kick line from Heian Sandan. I can't remember any classes after that but I do remember how much I absolutely loved yellow belt. The new katas were exciting and so were the new self defenses. I always thought it was so awesome that we had a knife defense. I went through the belt and it came time to test for blue. I can’t recall much of the test except for two moments. One was doing Japanese Kihons with Kaleb and Zach. They weren't doing so well and I was getting them correct so Sensei told me I could sit down. I remember feeling very proud of myself. The other thing I remember was my first encounter with a certain someone. Someone named Sensei Evan. A short bearded man with what appeared to be no muscle mass. I sure changed that opinion the first time he punched me. I remember sparring him and another student at the same time and thinking how much fun that was. This of course was back when I had a never ending gas tank. I remember getting my blue belt and so began the belt that everyone seems to dread.
I had heard from Sensei that most people quit at blue belt, which just made me twice as motivated to make it through. Blue belt was pretty much a blur but the one class I remember was when we were working on the sidekick/elbow line from Heian Yodan with Trevor. I still have an epic picture that Kristina took of me doing the kick. I also competed at my first tournament that year in Medford. I got a 1st, 2nd, and a 3rd place. I enjoyed that but it didn’t really do it for me. Perhaps my competitive nature hadn’t set in yet. I also remember how much I loved Heian Godan. Still to this day my favorite kata. It’s just one of those forms that makes me feel like a total ninja when I perform it. Blue belt was the most enjoyable belt for me. I loved the katas, self defenses, and hook kick. To this day my favorite and, in my not so humble opinion, most technically sound kick. I don't remember anything whatsoever of the purple belt test. I did pass and was very happy that I wasn't one of those people who didn't make it past the blue belt of death.
Purple belt was interesting. For the first time I had to make up my own self defenses and had my first encounter with Bossai Sho. A kata which still gives me fits. Also that year something very devastating happened. My Sensei's Sensei, Stuart Quan, passed away. I remember I was at class one night and Sensei looked awful. None of us knew what had happened. When we lined up at the end of class Sensei told us. There were gasps of surprise, Sensei broke out in tears, and left to the back room. He didn't come out so Kristina had to teach the remaining classes. I remember feeling so awful for Sensei. I imagine it felt like he had lost his father. And I also felt sad myself that I never got to meet him and he would never be able to watch one of my tests. It was a heartbreaking moment for the entire school and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. So continued the year and soon it was time to test. And once again, I don't remember anything from the purple two test. I don’t exactly know why I don’t remember most of these first few tests. It was probably due to my young age at the time. And even though while writing this I’ve brought a lot of testing memories back, they are so blurred together I wouldn’t be able to tell you which tests it was. But anyway, I passed, and so began purple two.
I remember learning Bossai Dai and Tekki San, and loving random self defense. The freedom in the random attacks was great. Being able to do what ever I wanted to when I was attacked was great and it’s still one of my favorite things to do. Believe it or not, there was a time when I didn’t like sparring. It was mostly due to the fact that I was very afraid of getting hit. That changed in Purple two. I joined the adult class because I was thirteen. I was growing up, getting some muscle, and learning how to take a shot better. So getting hit wasn’t quite as terrible as it used to be. Gradually I became more and more used to getting hit until finally I could actually make it through a sparring class without being terrified the entire time. I enjoyed sparring a lot from then on and to this day it has become my favorite thing to do in class. At purple two not only did the sparring but the entire art of karate started to change for me. It became harder. No longer did I go through classes without breaking a sweat. No longer did it take little effort for me to hold a sidekick up and no longer could I hold stances for what seemed an indefinite amount of time. Karate was getting tougher and rougher but I was getting rougher and tougher with it.
When it came time to test for Brown one, it was just Wendie, Kristina, and me. Prep for the test was the usual working out, practicing kata and so forth. But it definitely had a different vibe. A much more serious one. About a week before the test after a class where my performance had obviously been lackluster, Sensei pulled me aside and told me he didn't think I should test and to just wait a little while for the next one. Hearing that from him disappointed me a lot. But I told him ok, I would wait. I went down the stairs and got in the car and told my dad. Let's just say he wasn't ecstatic about hearing that. I still remember what he said to me but I won't repeat it as there was a pretty excessive amount of profanity. I completely understand why he was so upset. He had done all of this stuff for me to get ready. Driving me to practices, extra classes, etc. But basically he told me pass or fail I was testing. I told Sensei that next class that I was testing, he said okay, and that was that. I don’t think I slept that entire week. That Saturday I walked onto the mats feeling like throwing up. I truly expected to fail based on what Sensei had said. Sitting in the back room with Kristina and Wendie, I remember that still like it had happened last week. I have never felt that nervous in my entire life and I know they felt the same way. We sat in the back and just paced back and forth telling really bad jokes and laughing just out of sheer terror and nervousness in anticipation for what lied ahead. Sensei Brian and, to my dismay, Sensei Evan were in the office having their pre test chat while this was going on. It was the first Brown test of the dojo so I had no idea what to expect. When Sensei told us to line up I think I probably blacked out a little. We did our pre test ritual, stood up and began our test. I recall just about that entire test. I won't go through it all but I'll just say that still, until today perhaps, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. One moment that stood out was doing Bossai Dai. I had messed up several katas before that, something I didn't usually do a lot at tests. I was at the back hand block and I was so tired that I just stopped doing the kata. I straightened up and took a deep breath. And I said exactly this to myself: "Oh well, I guess I fail then.” Sensei stopped me told me to take a deep breath and restart. While doing Bossai Dai, again, I spent most of the form chewing myself out for saying and believing something like that. I was not happy about saying that to myself and promised myself for the rest of the test I would go 110% and even if I failed, or died, I would go out with a bang. The rest of the test was tough but to my pleasure went fairly smoothly. Up until Kristina accidentally head butted me during random self defense. I've never had a headache that bad in my life. I had it the rest of the test and probably the week after. Every time I kiai'd it felt like my heart was in my skull, beating and thumping. It was horrible. Even though it was awful, it probably was for the best. It made me have to be even tougher and I grew from that. Sparring was also horrible due to me being an idiot and instead of attacking I decided I’d rather stay back and catch my breath. Stupid, stupid, stupid. My match with Sensei turned into one of those five minute matches that by the end I wished I had just been aggressive so I would’ve been finished sooner. Another lesson learned. My favorite part of that test I have to say though was the board breaking. It was the first time I had to break a board with a punch and a jump sidekick. Sensei Evan was holding the first board for the punch and behind me Mark was holding one for a spinning hook kick, and finally Sensei Brian was standing on a chair for the jump sidekick. I broke them all on the first try and walking over to the side with a little smile, holding my boards I remember Wendie whispering “dang, wish I could do that.” That made me feel awesome. Both Kristina and Wendie puked during that test and I managed not to do that, barely, but my puke would get revenge on me at the next test. We made it through that test, received our belts, and I think it's the most important test I've had. It taught me that Bushido spirit, the never give up spirit. How to overcome the exhaustion to reach our final goal. It was the first time I had to really dig deep at a test and doing that taught me a lot about myself. And so began brown belt. By far the most important belt in my Karate life and my non-Karate life.
We started learning Jiu-Jitsu, which I now train separately from Karate, and did no gear sparring, takedowns, all that jazz. For a few months it was just three of us in the brown class until a few other people decided to crash the party. Around then the announcement was made: the dojo was moving. No longer would our Wushu staffs strike the ceiling and no longer could we only do three move kihon combinations. I was very excited for the move, and even though it was certainly a bit sad to move, it was the time. Classes were getting too full and the katas too long. The anticipation was great because I had no idea what the new place looked like. I remember the first time seeing it and being just blown away at the size of the place. From our previous school it’s like comparing a 7/11 to a Costco. The first few classes were very exciting; all this open matt space was great. We could actually have more then five people doing Bossai Sho at once. But for a very long time it felt a lot different. We hadn’t created many memories their, so it didn’t quite feel like “home.” But that would change pretty quickly. Karate went on as usual but then I began to slowly notice a pain in my knees. Which I didn’t know at the time but the experiences going through it would prove to be one of the most important of my life.
Gradually the pain in my knees became awful. When I would squat down and then stand back up or hold a stance for more then fifteen seconds, I would almost cry just from the pain. Not only did it feel horrible but it didn’t sound to pretty either. It sounded like old brakes on a car whenever I stood up from what I was doing. I went to the physical therapist, got x-rayed, and was told that there was pretty much nothing separating my knee caps from the bone. I pulled out of Karate temporarily and began physical therapy. For the next few months my life consisted of knee workouts, eating, and sleeping. The knee workouts were to build up muscle between the knee caps and the knee itself to prevent them rubbing together every time I bent my leg. It took a long time for me to see any improvement but after a few months I began to feel better. I’m not sure what happened while I was on my hiatus from the martial arts but somehow I had completely lost the passion and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t find it. I had also gained quite a bit of weight during the whole ordeal. Now, not to make excuses, but I don’t exactly have a fantastic metabolism or great genes. The Newman family simply isn’t built like a bunch of lean gymnasts! I think it was the lack of exercise that caused the weight gain because I hadn’t changed my eating habits yet I had gained a lot of weight. I returned to Karate feeling pretty sick of it. And somehow during a talk with Sensei, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which Sensei Roy Dean now taught at our old dojo, came up. I decided to give it a try.
The first time I pulled guard and slapped on a Kimura I fell in love. I started training at Roy’s academy three or four times a week. Putting in a good 8-10 hours of training a week. I started to eat better, and in three months I had lost 35 lbs. My mom was very jealous of that. To this day, over a year and a half later, I still love BJJ every bit as much as my first class.
I started training Karate more but I didn’t have the same drive. I just didn’t enjoy it like I used too. I was in a rut and wanted out. I can honestly say I was an e-mail away from quitting. I still don’t know why I felt that way, I really don’t. I just did. One day on the way to class sitting in the car I was thinking about all the times I’ve had at the dojo, all the lessons, and years spent achieving brown belt. I thought what would life be like without Karate and it hit me. It would be awful. Horrible. You guys might think I’m exaggerating when I say this but I mean it. I live my life for Jesus and the Martial Arts. Without either I honestly would have no purpose in life. I have never enjoyed school a whole lot, I prefer to exercise my body more then my mind and quitting Karate would just be an impossible thing for me to do. Completely impossible. Like I would get all the way to brown belt and then quit? Yeah right. I felt fantastic that night. I rocked everything with 100% effort and Sensei noticed. A few months later and the talk of my testing was already coming up. I haven’t had any notions about quitting Karate for even a millisecond since that time. After that I also began to be able to teach my own private lessons for some money, which I have most definitely enjoyed. I love teaching and to be able to actually earn a bit of money for doing it is incredibly awesome and I’m very thankful I get to do it.
Three or four months later it was time for the brown two test. Due to the amount of time I had missed I was far off the usual testing pattern. Kristina, Wendie, and a few other were already well into brown two. So, I had a choice to make: Test now in November, by myself, or wait until the end of January. I don’t like waiting. I set up the private test and began training. I was fairly calm leading up to my test, and I even woke up the morning of the test feeling pretty good. I drove to the dojo and got onto the mats, and even then I was feeling good. “Line up Seth.” Still good. “Seiza.” Still good. “Close your eyes.” Still good. “Open them.” Still good. “Stand up.” Not so good. A wave of adrenaline swept through me as I thought “I’m about to do this aren’t I?” After one form I was already dead tired. Major cardiovascular preparation fail on my part. The test was rough, for sure. But all in all I was very happy with my performance, not too many mistakes, and even though I was exhausted I still kept on trucking. I was so tired I was on the verge of puking the entire last third of the test. I had to stop a couple times to go stand over the bucket and swallowed a bit of puke several times. I managed to make it through the forms without spitting my insides out but sparring was next. I had learned some lessons from my last test and this time I came in and got the job done. Sparring went quickly and smoothly but then I had to spar Sensei. Bare knuckled. I was so tired and so pumped up I didn’t feel any of his punches and in fact I enjoyed myself quite a bit. I sure felt those punches the next day though. I saved my puke for after the bare knuckled session where I finally had to let a bit of it loose in the bathroom. I can honestly say I felt pretty good after that. I received my wonderful piece of white tape and so began the belt I’m wearing right now, brown two.
Brown two got off to a great start for me. I had a horrible sickness early on which kept me out for two or three months. I’m pretty sure I had pneumonia but managed to get over it by myself. About a month after that I was at a tournament and the day before it started I violently sprained my ankle. It was so bad that it kept me out for almost two months. Not a great start. By June it was Kristina’s time to test for red belt. The first in the dojo. Her performance that day raised the bar of testing. It was an unbelievable display of skill. She looked like she wasn’t even trying. At one point during random self defense I was being a little pill and wouldn’t let her take me down. Being around 11-12 inches taller and outweighing her by around 70 lbs, I figured she wouldn’t be able to take me down that hard. Wrong. She threw me over her so hard that it knocked the wind out of me longer then it’s ever gone out for. It was a solid 10-15 seconds before I could breathe properly. Even though my back was killing me I couldn’t help but smile about how awesome that was. She passed with flying colors and was the first and only red belt in the dojo. A few months later it was Dylan, my little brother from another mother, Wendie, my second mother, and Devon, the kid who just scares me. Ben, another brother, and Gabi were also testing for brown two. Another rock solid performance by all of them. I remember how impressed I was, with Devon especially. Devon was always a kid who was fairly short, didn’t look too physically imposing, and sure didn’t act like it. That changed for that test. The look he had in his eye was just frightening and he still has that look all the time. Like he’s looking straight into your soul. During sparring I hit him with a roundhouse kick dead in the face, gave him a bloody nose instantly. He didn’t change his expression, didn’t even flinch. That impressed me, a lot.
I thought those tests were worth mentioning, because they are a lot of what motivated me for this test. Also, Dylan being in front of me in line. Not cool. But it was well earned D. When the training gets rough I think about their tests and how I want to perform like them. How I will perform like them. And hopefully I did perform like them today.
My Karate journey has been a rough one, a long one, full of surprises and new challenges to attack. And that’s exactly why I love it. I can honestly say with all my heart that joining this dojo was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I have learned so much from my experiences here. Deeper then just Karate. This dojo isn’t just a Karate school to me. I don’t come to class to just learn how to improve my sidekicks or to learn a new kata. I come to learn about life and all the lessons that it offers. The lessons that this dojo have taught me will live with me forever. My Sensei and his wife have been the most influential people in my life outside of my family and I hope I can grow up to be half the man my Sensei is.
I know now, with no doubt in my mind, that someday after coming down from the mountain, bruised and bloody, I will have my black belt that’s in that glass case put around my waist. And I hope I can be a black belt, and a person, that will make my Sensei Brian and my Sensei Stuart proud.