When Brianne moved to Washington after college, she decided to accompany a friend at a kempo class. The first thing she learned is just how out of shape she was. The second thing she learned – when she continued going to classes – is that there wasn’t going to be an easy out.
“I’d never been part of something that was such a shared experience with so many people,” she says. “I was embarrassed because I was so out of shape, but people would say, ‘We were all there at some point!’ And they would say, ‘See you Monday!’ If I wasn’t there, they would say, ‘We missed you Monday!’ And that’s what keeps me going back.”
Even in the early days, when Brianne was grasping for something positive about the grueling workouts—which pushed her to her limits and left her in a state of sheer exhaustion–she says the other students were a sliver of light and encouragement. It was clear from the get-go that they were there to help; she was taken aback by their kindness.
“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life, but everyone was so nice. They would say, ‘You’re new around here. Let me introduce myself.’” And in no time, this group of strangers became an integral part of Brianne’s life – her friends, workout partners and motivators.
Although Brianne, 28, has never considered herself an athlete, she swam in college, and her first job was teaching kids to swim. Still, when she began working out at the dojo four years ago, she never expected kempo to take on a leading role in her life.
“What I like about it is that it’s what you make out of it,” she says. At first, she would try to avoid classes on days that she knew would be extra challenging – like when sparring was part of the agenda. But now, even when she is exhausted or doesn’t feel energized for a workout, she shows up. She puts herself in situations outside her comfort zone and knows that she’ll be surrounded by people who will push her to a new level.
After Brianne earned her purple belt she was eligible for a volunteer teaching position at the Academy. She felt nervous about being an instructor, but she went into the training and found that she enjoys the role – especially teaching kids.
“I try to make it fun, but I’m really tough on them,” she says. “Sometimes you can see these 8-year-olds roll their eyes. I’ll say, ‘OK, if we can get done with the important stuff, then we can do something fun like play ninja ball.’” At her first tournament as an instructor, some of her students won events for the first time. One of them came up to her later and said, ‘I’ve never won at tournament before, and I know it’s because of all the things you made us practice 1,000 times.’ I started tearing up. You live to hear something like that.”
These days, Brianne works out six days a week, five of which are at the dojo. She is preparing to test for her black belt in China this summer. In addition, she runs and swims and is training with some of her kempo friends for a half marathon in the spring and a Tough Mudder race in June. Every Saturday, she meets a few of them at the dojo an hour before class to work out, and every Saturday after she wakes up, she thinks she must be crazy. She wonders why she has committed to do this on one of her few days away from a stressful government job… But when she gets there, she remembers why. “It’s my Zen moment, my one window of not thinking about work,” she says. “I can go and blow off steam and forget all the other stuff I have going on.”
Since Brianne began her training, she has lost 20 pounds. When she started, she couldn’t run a mile, and now running a half marathon is just another day of training. She’s eating better, and her confidence and patience have soared. “I was not a patient person before,” she admits. “I was a very emotional person. This has given me the tools to think things through. I feel like I have my head screwed on better now.”
And perhaps best of all, she has built friendships that endure beyond workouts. After class, she often has coffee or makes grocery shopping runs “with the girls.” Brianne appreciates that this is a group of people she might never have crossed paths with, but now she sees them all the time – and they have become like family.
After class Friday, a small crew might go out for sushi in the neighborhood. “It’s nice to go out with them, because in this group, everyone understands that you have to go to bed at a reasonable time,” she laughs, “because you all have committed to getting up early the next day and working out before class.”Please follow us on. . . . . . thank you!