My Journey to Black Belt & Beyond

Today’s post comes from Joanne Jensen

In April of 2007, I was looking for a quality, individual sport for my 10-yr old son with Autism to help with strength, discipline, focus and socialization. So that month, my two younger boys attended karate together at the Dojo Karate in Monticello.

After watching a few of their classes, I decided I wanted to try it because it looked like fun and good exercise. I still remember my first couple classes when 20 jumping jacks would get me huffing and puffing. Even more so, I clearly remember getting my white belt at my third class. It was just me and Mr. Z, the owner/head instructor – a short, handsome, dynamic Hispanic man. He had me punching a couple small shields like a boxer pounds a punching bag; right-left, left-right, right-left, left-right. I found a rhythm and intensely focused on getting faster and hitting harder. Soon, I was in that sacred place athletes aspire to – the Zone. It was just me, my hands, my body and the punching shields. I was vaguely aware of Mr. Z, his eyes seeming to go wide as he watched me.


After presenting me with my white belt, he asked me if I had ever done martial arts before. No, I answered – I was just a dancer in college and sports in high school. Now, I was just an overweight, gray-haired, middle-aged matron who just found an exciting past-time. I’ve called my karate obsession my mid-life crisis. Some folks may start affairs, buy sexy sport cars or have plastic surgery, but I jumped into a body-pounding, intense sport geared for young people.

Many evenings after class, I was so thrilled with learning weapon forms, full contact sparring and brutal defense techniques that I could barely sleep at night. I immediately started competing in tournaments and found I usually placed First in my division and age bracket (not much competition!). Although competing was nerve-wracking, I relished watching the black belts perform high level weapon forms, creative musical forms and lightning quick sparring matches at the tournaments I attended.

In October 2013, I achieved the rank of First Degree Black Belt. On Saturday, September 26, 2015 (at the age of 57), I received my Second Degree Black Belt. In three years, I hope to get my 3rd Degree Black Belt. It has not been easy on my body or my budget.

I’ve exercised myself to the point of exhaustion many times, have a couple injuries and some arthritis in my knees; but I keep going because I can’t disappoint my instructor or myself. I love the challenge, the variety, my classmates and my instructors.

Describe a challenge you found completely captivating.  

34 thoughts on “My Journey to Black Belt & Beyond”

  1. congrats joamme,
    my kids were in karate for a couple years and i thought it was the best sport they were involved in.
    as for challanges that keep megoing the one i am working on now to launch my new business with fundraising for nonprofits is proving to be a lot more than i ever dreamed. it is great but never ending. it will be apprecaited when it is up and running the way i envision

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the s&h’s current academic year might be more of a personal challenge for me than I anticipated.

    I figured taking on everything he wanted to would keep him, as my high algebra teacher used to say, “happy, busy and occupied, or at least busy and occupied”. He’s holding up his end and doing well in everything and only gets irritable every so often.

    What I didn’t realize was the demands of being “support staff” in terms of food, laundry and transport. I find I almost have to get in shape to keep up. It is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Way to fly , Joanne. Indeed.
    Madisoandgirl, my daughter did everything her senior year, so much so that she had no lunch period. She took one of her classes one on one with me after school. She did many other things besides class. She thrived on it. Taught her multi tasking to be a pastor.
    My current challenges are care giving and writing. Right now I am doing a short story collection, which takes more intensity and rewrite and rewrite than novels. But in the moment I am in the flow on a short story that will skeleton other stories, that is, a woman watches people and talks about them, all revealing her story. Then some of the people she watches will be a story, unlike what watching woman thinks.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Rise and Punch Away Baboon!

    Thanks for the post Joanne–this is so interesting. And congratulations on the black belt.

    I have said it before–running a business has been my captivating challenge. I never thought I would do such a thing, yet here I am. Now I am preparing to get out of it all.

    OT–we are here in Philly. The challenge is to figure out their Public transportation, get to our Independence Hall tour, and find the Magic Garden today.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Good work. Congratulations, Joanne. So, did your son with autism take up karate as well?

    For a lot of years, tennis was my passion. After my divorce, I played virtually every single day for hours on end. Then a knee injury – torn meniscus – put an end to that. Husband is trying to get me to join him and some other old fogies playing pickle ball twice a week at the Y. We shall see. Heaven only knows I could use the exercise, so perhaps it’s time to invest in a pair of good sneakers and a paddle.

    Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are daily pastimes. I like to think that they help to keep my brain from atrophying.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Absolutely. Both of my younger boys are 2nd degree black belts as well. Ben (my middle boy) is going to college at the U of MN – Minneapolis, so he is not active at the time, but he was a teacher when he was a brown belt — an excellent teacher at that. Lucas received his 2nd degree about a year ago and is definitely still active as he comes with me. He was also my attacker for parts of the curriculum at graduation. My oldest son went into the Marines at the time we started, so he has not been in martial arts yet.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Love this story, Joanne. Have you had that same teacher all along that you had in the beginning? So cool that you found this. My step-son Mario was probably saved from juvenile delinquency by Capoeira, a martial art originating in Brazil… hmmm – I might have to write about this some time.

    Physically I’m challenged by many of the folk dances we do on “Advanced International” night. I can’t keep up for quite as long as I used to, but I love the mental challenge, the music that goes with the dance, and the camaraderie that comes from everyone in the line doing the same steps (or close).

    At this point, I am also challenged by mowing the lawn, raking, you name it – the body tells me just how long I can do this – often have to break it into short spurts.


    1. Yes, we’ve had the same main teacher for the past 8 years; and he’s still amazing. Of course, there are several other instructors and helpers, but I love Mr. Z. He knows me well, what I’m capable of doing, my limitations, how far to push me, etc. Everybody loves Z.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. OT – I’m a Facebook friend of Lisa’s youngest son, Tim. Tim is in his early thirties and has a broad range of interests. I’ve met him a couple of times in person. Tim’s interpersonal skills are a bit of a struggle when you meet him face to face, in writing he expresses himself very well. His posts on FB reflect his interests, and are always interesting.

    Last night – out of the blue – Tim posted this: “I love my mother Lisa Sinclair, she is the best mother I could ever have. I love to spend time with her and love that she loves me.” If that wouldn’t make a mother’s heart sing, I don’t know what would. Lisa, you’ve done good to raise such a loving young man.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, my heart did sing.

      I remember when I first read about Joanne’s son with autism taking up martial arts. Tim is on the spectrum, too, so I really identified with what a gift and a challenge that must have been. I am so impressed that he (Lucas?) made it to black belt.
      My Tim is a very special guy but I think that lack of physical coordination would have kept him from getting very far with that discipline.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Luckily, my sons are reasonably athletic (like me), but don’t let a lack of coordination stop Tim from trying out martial arts. Most dojos are very open to working with Special Needs people and offer a short term (month or so) to try it out and see if it’s a good fit. There’s another special needs young man who achieved 1st and 2nd degree along with me, who’s in his early 20’s I think. When he started, he was very heavy and somewhat uncoordinated. But he loved it and worked very hard at it with the loving and patient guidance of his teachers. He’s lost 100 lbs, has gained huge self-confidence and a bit of swagger to his step, you could say. He’s even competed and done very well at tournaments. His mom is VERY proud.

        Liked by 5 people

  8. Morning all. Taking on the mantle of “single mother” was and is my big challenge – although the particulars of that challenge have changed over the years. Right now Young Adult struggles with wanting to be independent but being unable to afford it yet; this struggle dumps on me every now and then!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Good morning. I thing the one thing that captivated me the most was developing an appreciation for music. This interest in music started out with rock and roll as a teenager and evolved into developing an interest in folk music, blues, and jazz. When I was younger I followed jazz closely and collected many of the best jazz records available. Currently I enjoy almost all kinds of music although I don’t have a very big interest in classical music. I especially enjoy attending the wide range of live music performances available in the Twin Cities.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Well done, Joanne. I’m impressed.

    It seems that most of my challenges are thrust upon me rather than chosen by me (and I don’t feel like talking about them right now). Other than those, I would say simplifying my life especially in terms of possessions. And school… at my advanced age, it’s not easy. And I better say no more and get to work on my homework. I’ve got a lot to do over the next four days and I better get cracking.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. you mean you don’t go back and read all my comments in detail, Lisa, so you won’t miss anything? 😉

        I’m studying Photography & Digital Imaging. Taking it one semester at a time at this point.


  11. My son does Hapkido and tae kwon do. He is a very tall (6′ 5″) and substantial guy, and it is pretty amazing to see all 250 lbs rolling, jumping and kicking away. He was always extremely thin and frail in childhood and early adolescence, and the marial arts have done a lot for his strength and confidence. He tells me he is working on breaking bricks with his head. I have yet to see that.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I suppose that trying to delve into individual and family functioning as I do in my job is a challenge I find captivating. It is like trying to fix a complex motor without a schematic and with tools that may or may not work. I think if the time comes when it becomes a chore it will be time to retire. Right now I continue to find it compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I can’t remember when I wasn’t drawn to the nineteenth century. But about 20 years ago, I decided I wanted to try to understand the nineteenth century as a web of connections, rather than a collection of isolated facts. I wanted to know who knew who and how they related to each other and which notable events led to other notable events. Imagine it as a game of “six degrees of separation” in the nineteenth century, although in that less populous time it seldom requires six degrees to make a connection.
    Since that decision two decades ago, a large percentage of my reading has been directed toward nineteenth century subjects- principally in areas of popular culture. I’m less interested in politics and military history, but those topics are not altogether escapable. Is abolition political? Is John Brown military?
    I can tell I have partially succeeded when I read material written in the nineteenth century and I understand most of the references to people and events. Of course my goal is entirely open ended. I can never hope to encompass an entire century in my lifetime but I gain a lot of satisfaction from the attempt.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. My most fun challenge was learning to ride Dressage and over jumps, but the biggest challenge as an adult probably was managing to save my farm and animals after my marriage broke up and I was left with the debts after not working off the farm for 10 years. I did it with some good luck and a good job….

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I bet, though, cynthia, that you now get a lot of satisfaction from having pulled yourself out of a financial quagmire and probably an emotional mess as well. Good for you. I hope to some day visit your farm. Passed by a couple of weekends ago (on the way to Duluth), but didn’t make an attempt to find you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PJ, you are always welcome. Hope you have time to stop (I’m only 3 miles off the I35 Mahtowa exit) some future trip.

        I must add my congratulations to Joanne in Big Lake. Good job, well done, woman!


  15. I mostly shy away from challenges; they bring stress and anxiety. Like PJ, I like Sudoku and crossword puzzles. There is a correct answer and an end in sight.

    My hat’s off to you, Joanne, for your accomplishment!

    Liked by 1 person

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