This article was written by Stuart Elkin, who is a 3rd Dan karate sensei based here in the United Kingdom. I first met Stuart at a couple of seminars I taught in London and I found him to be a very able and amiable martial artist. Stuart's article is one of the most inspirational pieces of writing I've read in quite sometime. I'm very grateful to Stuart for sharing this article with members and visitors to this site. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece and I'm certain that you'll all find it as inspiring as I have.
All the best,
Selling Myself Short?
By Stuart Elkin
Around Christmas 2003 I read an article in Iain Abernethy's newsletter about New Year's resolutions and not to "sell yourself short" , to set your sights a little higher because if you believe in something and put the effort in, you can achieve anything.
I was quite moved by his advice because I could draw a parallel with my own life. I sent an e-mail to Iain telling him why his newsletter had moved me so and he suggested that I write an article and he would help me get it published.
Like most of us, I took the "I'll do it later" attitude and months went by with me doing nothing! Towards the end of March I received my regular newsletter from self-defence expert, Geoff Thompson. This echoed some of the comments made by Iain earlier in the year but with more emphasis placed on the "make it happen!" and how we are all capable of great things if we really put our minds to it and apply some effort.
Quite frankly I felt a little embarrassed inside. Embarrassed, because although I agreed heartily with the advice given by these two experts, I had in fact acted like so many of us do, I had put it off! I have wanted to tell this story for so long but thought, "no one will be that interested" but the simple truth is this, maybe no one will be interested, maybe it's not even that good a story, but it is something I want to do for my own satisfaction if nothing else, something that is easily achievable, so why put it off!
The fact is I do have a story to tell that may be inspirational to some and certainly fits into the categories of which Iain and Geoff speak of. So here goes.....!
I was born with a congenital deformity that left me with one leg 2inches longer than the other and 2 toes missing on my right foot, basically, it was just half a foot! The calf muscle on my right leg never fully formed, in fact from the knee down my leg was a bit of a mess really, bit of bummer as I favour my right side!
As you can imagine, my school years were a nightmare, I was subjected to ridicule and the butt of so many jokes and put downs. Swimming lessons were the worse, everybody staring, pointing, laughing, I hated it. My shoes had to be specially made, but the difference was quite noticeable. (Nowadays I have to buy 2 pairs of shoes, to get one pair to wear). Parents and doctors always seemed to be talking about operations to correct the leg lengths but nothing was ever done, in fact I took it upon myself in adulthood to get something done but not till my early 30's when I had an operation to remove approximately 2inches of bone from my left leg. When the bone had been removed, muscles, tendons etc were left as they were, (2" longer than my leg), as my body would take care of the adjustments for the internal stuff. This was quite an amusing time because I could at this point put my leg behind my head because of the extra length in the muscles etc, during a visit by one of my former instructors; he said he was going to book himself in for the same operation because it would really help his kicking ability!
I had already had taste of martial arts by this time. I had become interested at about 18, when like so many of the older karate-ka, I had been to see a "Bruce Lee" movie and that was that, I was going to be the next martial arts wizard! I joined a Wing-Chun club and started training, hard. This is when my old restrictions came back to haunt me. I couldn't show a decent technique with my right foot due to there being some missing and I couldn't show it on my left side because I had no balance on my right! I tried a few different styles to see if the techniques might suit me better and finally settled in Shotokan. It was quite a competitive club and although I did enter a number of events, I was always extremely aware that my malformed foot was in full view and apart from feeling self conscious and uncomfortable, it did cross my mind that I may get marked differently because the judges felt a bit sorry for me and not because of my abilities.
By this time I had developed a real love for the art so I persevered, but never really feeling right, I had to work within my physical limitations and found this to be a severe restriction...or so I thought.
I started to think.... I could swim, play football, squash in fact I didn't seem to have trouble with anything. It has never knowing affected my relationships or work and when normally clothed, apart from a slight limp, few people would really notice. It started to dawn on me, it me that was holding myself back! It was me!..., worrying about what people might think or say if they realised I had this deformity. It was me!.....thinking that people would point and laugh. It was me., giving in to what I thought were real restrictions.
Although I would never be able to show a decent foot shape for a Mae-geri on my right side, with sufficient practice, surely I could improve my balance and show this technique on with my left? It took some serious practice, but I can do it now. I can't show a decent Mawashi-geri on my left side because I have no balance on my right, but, because I have relied so heavily on my left side, my balance on my left is really pretty good, so, I can show a decent mawashigeri with my right foot. Working within my physical restrictions is actually no so bad after all!
I started out as a somewhat unlikely candidate for martial arts. I am now a 3rd Dan instructor. I have taught my own classes for the past 10 yrs and I have helped students reach success at international and world class level. I feel my kata is at an acceptable level and my kumite reasonable. I am an EKGB Judge, an association assessor and current squad manager. I have produced 2 Kata booklets and currently making a karate DVD. I can disguise my disability with soft karate shoes and my gi covers my leg, so really my disability does not have to be a restriction and some of us need to educate ourselves to that fact. Don't give in, find a way around it!
When students say to me "I can't do it" my answer is always the same; "we don't have can't in this club.. only not practiced enough yet! I always tell my students that "you will only be as good as you want to be!" I know from experience that a little effort goes along, long way. For too long I allowed myself to be my own worst enemy. My truth is this, believe enough, persevere, apply yourself and try and you will be astounded at just what you can achieve!
So finally I have done something that I have put off for years and you know, it does feel good. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, I did this for me. If anyone is remotely inspired to do something for themselves because of this, then GREAT! Work out what you want to achieve, then like the add says..Just do it!
Martial Arts can be many things to many people, some do it for fitness, some to gain confidence, some want to do well at competition, and some come simply because they want to feel that they are a part of something. For me, I feel I have gained so much from my involvement in Karate. Apart from the many benefits I feel I have gained on a personal level, I have taken pride watching my daughter progress from an average child to Junior British Champion in her early teens, now a 2nd Dan, she continues into adulthood, showing a great sense of confidence and a balanced character which was definitely helped by her karate training. I have seen my son, (also a Dan grade), cope with bullying, confront and overcome his fears and go on to become a very fit and respectful person (and a force to be reckoned with as well!). My wife, painfully shy, has even developed enough confidence to stand in front of the class and take a lesson! I have seen youngsters, many of whom might be considered as "no hopers" go on to prove themselves at International and World level; I have seen the absolute joy and amazement on a students face when he was selected to represent his country with the England Squad. Hearing a student say how much he loves coming to karate because of all the friends he has made... and so the list goes on.
Every time a new student comes through the door and looks at the class with a "I can't do that" look on their face, I remind myself of just how many times I have found myself in that position and take the time to have a little smile, when I remember how many things I have actually accomplished when at first, I thought I never would... I will tell this person; that "we were all white belts once" and that if they are prepared to just "have a go and see" they might not find it as difficult as it looks. Karate can be, whatever you want it to be. Just like life!
Stuart Elkin © Copyright 2004