Becoming a champion of your own

There are many different directions one may choose in their martial arts journey towards being a champion.

Some may prefer the course of self-realization while others may be driven by the desire of a title, accolade or accumulation of medals. There are many avenues along the journey that one may choose and the beautiful part about it is that each journey is going to be different. The challenging part about it is ensuring that throughout the way, someone truly benefits from the arts.

Maybe that journey is short for some: a new student who sets the goal of simply obtaining their blue belt so that if ever the case, they feel confident enough to defend themselves. Perhaps your journey is to transcend the younger version of you.  Maybe your journey is incredibly unique: you want to one day open up your own academy, support those who have throughout numerous years supported you and you hold yourself, and only yourself, to an extremely rigorous set of standards (that at times you can get rather bogged down with).  The variables are endless but again, this is what makes each individual journey special.

Something that can deter personal progression or affect a team oriented feel is the order of martial arts meaning the organizational structure and even further along that, the hierarchy. Hierarchy in martial arts, in society, is the elephant in the room. It bothers people tremendously and understandably so. One persons struggles (upward) is another persons cross to bear. Why is that?

Perhaps its that most people throughout their lives have experienced a misuse of power. Its entirely normal to be precautious of power and concerned with fairness. What becomes abnormal is excessive concern about fairness.

Now, when I look down at my waist as a black belt I don’t think, ” Oh yes, I’ve done it!  I now can have people eating out of the palm of my hand!” as this never really crosses my mind.  I think of how communal the belt is yet how the journey was challenging. Wearing this belt is humbling and at times, uncomfortable. It makes me sometimes want to wear some no gi attire so I blend in a little better. I consider the obligation I have to grow the art each time I tie the belt around my waist. I also consider my role as the teacher and standards I may set for each individual student’s journey in hopes that I understand them well enough to optimize their growth.

The question I ask myself daily is whether this journey is making me a better person or is it making me worse? Along the way, most of all, I want truth and a strengthening of character.

I’m trying to comfortably say that at this point martial arts has made me better. It has strengthened my relationships with those who matter most. It gave me courage to do things I never could have imagined as a child. It taught me most importantly that when things get tough, not to walk away. It allows me patience to see things through (to quote the ever philosophical Diaz bros, theres different types of black belts). My hope is to become a black belt at life, but I think that quest is truly unobtainable without some serious sacrifices.

Courage is a funny thing. Some people measure courage with specific examples of someone elses life: He fought that guy behind the school, stood his ground, and was a lion. She heard that cage door slam, and at that point she knew she was no longer a wimp.  He spent 17 hours in a tattoo parlor getting two birds and scroll on his lower back.  As you mature, you hopefully learn that courage is most evident in those who have nothing to do with the youthful quests (rites of passage) we all at some point wanted to pursue.  It is often (along with wisdom) most present in the elderly who have accepted, after years of work, the things they can’t change, which in itself is a form of courage. Courage when we’re young is standing strong against adversity. Courage when we’re older is much deeper. Courage is doing what’s hard. Courage is listening to your conscience and doing what you don’t want to do, but you do it anyway. Courage can even be understanding where other people are coming from and supporting them despite it not serving your best interests. Courage is a daily struggle for us all.

If you’re a Buffalonian, I’m sure you have seen the quote, “The greatest things in life are on the other side of fear.” That is not an easy mantra to embrace. (I have to fight many times daily to win this internal struggle.)

The fight is within you; not directly at others. Surprisingly when you truly take on this fight, openly and honestly, you’d be pleasantly surprised to see how supportive others may be. You’ll be rewarded too in some bizarre, cosmic sense.  I hope you all get to experience that feeling often.  (*By no means am I saying I have mastered this daily challenge to apply courage all the time throughout every aspect of life.) Everyone expresses courage differently but everyone has it and is entirely capable than a heck of a lot more than they think.


“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. ”- CS Lewis

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The next time you tie your (and its not really just yours remember. Cue Rocky 4 where Rocky wins when he fights for the people and Drago loses when he fights for himself) belt around your waist, with meaning, ask yourself what you hoped to get out of this practice, this journey. Ask yourself if its helping you and if not, see what you can do in adjusting how it can again. Arrive early, take a breath and allow yourself to let your thoughts wander. Do not lose sight of the aim, which ultimately isn’t a photo, material possession or fleeting place in the hierarchy. Embrace the guardrails that are set up in your martial arts journey, or in your career or in your life, but do not lose sight of your destinations.

-Michael Katilus

PS this is a great quote and can work its way into the theme of the article

“‘Happiness’ is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilization began.”- Jordan B. Peterson



For more check out Ephesians 6:12 for more on who we fight



Smiling faces of kids and coaches standing in a circle