Reader Question: Go Back Now? Or Wait?

I started karate at a young age and ended up earning my third degree brown belt.I trained in Kensho-Ryu Kenpo Karate (Ju Jitsu) for about eight years. I stopped right before testing for black belt because we had moved too far away from the school and it was too much to travel there daily.

For years I’ve been wanting to go back, but was not able to locate my Sensei. Just recently, I located a Kensho-Ryu school near me, and learned from the owner that my previous instructor had passed away from cancer in 2011.

I was extremely sad and I sat here crying for hours staring at his obituary picture saying over and over again that I was sorry. I’m mad at myself because I know I let him down. He wanted me to get my black belt, he knew I was ready, but I felt that I wasn’t. I never got to say thank you.

The guy at this other school trained with Sensei, and actually has videos of him which I can’t wait to watch. I want to go back and earn my black belt, not only for myself, but as a way to say thank you to my Sensei… even though he will never actually see me earn it.

The thing is, I’m very overweight. At age 16 when I earned my 3rd degree brown belt I was about 190lbs. Today, I’m 24 years old, 5 feet 275lbs and I’m embarrassed. Having an addiction to food combined with thyroid problems is a nightmare.

This man wants me to wear my brown belt because I’ve earned it. Honestly, I’m scared of what the other students will think when a fat girl walks in in a brown belt and needs to start re-learning material from white belt. It’s not my rank and the level I need to learn from that’s truly bothering me, it’s my weight.

I want this more than anything… but I’m scared. I hate being judged… especially because people don’t know me and the real reasons behind my weight issues. Do you have any advice? I’m going to be starting classes the first week in April and I’m thinking about backing out. Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you!!

First, I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t know if boys/men have the same type of relationship with their sensei but, with girls, it’s very much like a father-daughter relationship. To lose him, and not get to say goodbye, must be very painful. Again, I’m sorry.

You’ve been waiting so long to go back to karate. Please, don’t let a little thing like weight stand in your way. I’m not going to lie. You’ll meet some haters along the way. But the martial arts community is mostly close-knit and very supportive. All that matters to us is that you have a passion for your style.

Here’s a favorite video of mine: About halfway through, Joy Nash starts talking about how you shouldn’t wait to lose wait to do stuff you like. I’ve honestly watched this video like a hundred times. It helped when the voices of the haters (or the mean ones in my head) got too loud for me to hear what was in my heart.

Guys, please take a moment to give Heather a few words of encouragement in our comment section. Any advice to help her get over her fears?

  • Noah Legel

    Your weight does not define you–your actions do! From reading that story I think the best action that Heather could possibly take is get back in the dojo and resume her training. Training will help make her healthier, both in body and in spirit!

  • Narda Wakoluk

    Advice?As a matter of respect to the other students, I’d personally wear a white belt until I’d regained the skills/knowledge that I lost. As for being fat, just do it.

    And yes…this post is from another ‘fat karateka’. :)

  • Heather

    My situation was similar. At my largest, I was over 330lbs. I was losing weight, and thought that I’d hold martial arts as a reward for when I finally lost it all. Because, of course, martial arts was no place for an overweight people! Right?

    Then I was invited to a demo class that my dojang held … and I was absolutely shocked by the fact that NO ONE in the entire class looked down on me. There were no snickering, no staring, no whispers, no treating me like I was stupid. This was a first, for me.

    Now, I wasn’t at my full 330 when I started taking TKD – more like 240lbs. But we’ve had people come in that about what I used to be, and no one looks down on any of them.

    I think the key is that it’s a traditional school, which emphasizes values like treating everyone with respect. The instructors show us respect, and students are held to the high standard of treating others with respect, too.

    So what I’m trying to say here, in my typically wordy way, is that if your school is a traditional one – you may be surprised by how little they care about your weight.

    And even if there are people who look down on you? Don’t let them ruin it for you. Part of fighting is psyching out your opponents; if people think that they’re beaten, then they are. It’s the same, here. If you let the snarkiness and meanness of other people psyche you out, until you stop because of what may happen … then you’ll lose the fight.

    Every time you suit up, you’ll be fighting against people’s opinions of you, and showing them that you ARE worth it. You ARE a fighter. Whether it’s on the mats or in life, always go for what you want. I’m not going to say it will never hurt … but it will be worth it.

    And, on a side note, I’m so very glad that I didn’t wait until the weight was off; TKD has helped me like nothing else in fighting against my food issues.

    Oh! And we’ve had a black belt join our dojang after years of not training. She did the same thing, where she had to learn the material from white belt up. She wore her black belt. She’s overweight. NO ONE at my dojang thought any less of her for any of it.

  • Sandy Arvidson Sievers

    I would definitely say go back and wear the belt your instructor tells you to wear. Most likely, once you get training again, you’ll find you’ve remembered more than you’ve forgotten. And don’t let your size ever be an issue. Train because you love it. Do what you can. You may even find yourself doing other exercises to assist your martial training. Last summer I decided I wanted to improve my cardio so I could improve my kajukenbo work. Now I’m jogging 3 miles 4-5 times a week. And I am overweight. If this is something you really want, do it. Do it because you love it, you have a passion for it, it means something to you. You may even find that the other students encourage and admire you for your dedication. And remember, martial arts is about spirit, mind and body. Anyone who thinks poorly of the fat girl with the brown belt is not a true martial artist.

  • Tapetum

    Absolutely Heather should go back. If it’s something she loved, and that meant a lot to her, then waiting until “someday” is only denying herself all those days in-between for no good reason.

  • Heather

    Hello, I’d like to take a few to say thank you to each and every one of you. You have left such beautiful comments and they made me smile. I’ve gone to the school a few times since and have met many people who take classes there. They are all very nice, and to my surprise, there are a lot of overweight people there. Shihan is ordering me a uniform and we are going to have it hemmed so it will be comfortable for when I start classes. Some of the students know the man who I previously trained with and they think its awesome I’m coming back. I’m very excited and am looking forward to taking classes again. Again, thank you! And thank you karate ka for posting this!!

    • K

      Good for you, Heather!! I hemmed my own gi pants, and they look rather absurd. So good idea to have them altered, IMO.

      If it helps anyone else reading, I’m a 41 year-old, 300 pound…… white belt. I also have several health issues. Better 33 years after I wanted to start, then never. :-)

      • Heather

        Wow, good for you!! You will do great :) Martial arts is so rewarding. You’ll see as you progress that you get so much more out of it then just learning how to fight. It builds character, teaches discipline, and makes you stronger both mentally and physically. Good luck!!

  • Alice

    My advice is to go back or you’ll regret it for life ;) Karate schools are like a big family, if you go wearing a big smile and nice attitude they’ll welcome you like an old friend. For sure they don’t judge you by your weight or by your skills, people who truly believe in Karate don’t care of such unimportant things.

    If you are not comfortable with the brown belt tell your Sensei to just wear the white one for the first week or until you feel ready. He will understand for sure.

    I started Shotokan Karate in 2004 and I’m brown belt 1st Kyu. I had to stop in 2011 because they found out I got a lymphoma (they said common in young people). After all the chemoterapy I finally healed :) The thing I wanted more during those hard times was to bring my karate-gi and go back to the dojo! I just re-started last January and trust me in a couple of weeks I got back all my katas and techniques. My Sensei and everyone at the Dojo warmly welcomed me even if I was obiouvsly out of shape and weaker from all the chemical drugs they gave me to heal the cancer. I wore my old brown belt since the first day, as my Sensei told me, but they never laughed or judged me. Now I’m back working on the black belt exam (It’ll be next year hopefully!) with the other people of my grade.

    I’m so sorry about what happened to your Sensei, mine is getting past 70 years old and we are all worried about his health. So I can understand the pain.

    Never back out, you should always go forward with pride!
    I send you a big hug from Italy :)