Friday, June 3, 2011

An Incredible Adventure

My New Black Belt
On May 14, 2011, I earned my Black Belt in Okinawan Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do. It has been an incredible adventure and I am very proud of this accomplishment.  This style of karate is hard and strong and there are few women who achieve the rank of black belt in this style. I have been instructed by incredible teachers along the way, starting with my first Sensei, Kiyoshi Alan Dollar and my current Sensei (and husband) Chris and two other black belt instructors, Terry Schaeffer (who was my test partner) and Ricky Sommers. This was a test of knowledge and skill and yes...even fear! I had to overcome my fears and completely step out of my comfort zone. At one point I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to, but I kept praying and God was with me every step of the way!

Kiyoshi Dollar informed me that I would be giving a speech about my path to black belt, so the following is my speech and a few pictures of my day.  Enjoy!

 My Black Belt Adventure
"My path to Black Belt has been a long, yet incredible adventure. I started my karate training in September 1993 at Alan Dollar's School of Okinawan Karate. I was a single mother of a 6-year old son who loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and wanted to "do" karate.

Testing my Sanchin Kata

Seisan Bunkai with Terry
The day that I signed up David for class, Sensei Dollar asked if I was also going to sign up and I said "No. Karate wasn't for me."  He said that the dojo was running a special and that I should enroll, so I signed agreements for both of us. I am not a confrontational person and I don't like pain and I wasn't sure that I really wanted to do this at all. In fact, I hyperventilated during my yellow belt test. David and I enjoyed our training and we met a lot of nice people. Most of you in this room know that Chris and I met at Alan's dojo and the story behind it. Chris and his sons, Christopher and Timothy and David and I soon became a family.

Defending an attack
   We trained hard, participated in in-house dojo tournaments and tournaments outside of the dojo. We advanced belt ranks and our lives pretty much revolved around the dojo. I even helped Sensei Dollar by proofreading his book "The Secrets of Uechi Ryu Karate and the Mysteries of Okinawa" and learned an amazing amout of Uechi and Shinjo family history.

Groin Shot!
Taking Terry Down!

We met wonderful people from all over the world - some of whom are still good friends. In 1996 we became the American sponsor for a student from Sensei Shinjo's dojo in Okinawa. Yoichiro Kuniyoshi came to live with us for one year. He was 15 years old, spoke very broken English and we spoke no Japanese. I remember the day that Sensei Dollar asked for a sponsor. It was an advanced class night. Chris was working in Las Vegas and no one raised their hand in the dojo - except me. I went home and called Chris and told him that I thought we should take this incredible opportunity. We did and not only did we have the time of our lives with Yo, but we added another son to our family. We communicate with Yo on a regular basis and his family and our family are forever connected. He calls us Mom and Dad and our sons are his brothers. We created a special, unbreakable bond between Antioch and Okinawa, our dojo and Sensei Shinjo's dojo. We have been treated with honor and respect by the Okinawans because we took this once quiet young man into our home and treated him as our own son. Yoichiro has grown into a fine man with a beautiful wife and 3 amazing children. Last September we visited Okinawa and it was wonderful to see him and meet his wife and children. And also to watch him win the title of Champion at the 50th Kenyukai Anniversary Tournament.

Under Sensei Dollar's teaching, Chris achieved the rank of Nidan and Chris and Timothy both Black Belts. David and I made it to the last rank before our black belt tests and then ended our training. The boys got older, Chris was traveling with work, life got busy and we left the dojo in 1998 - and I was still a brown belt and thought my black belt journey was over.

In August 2005 Chris and I visited Alan and Alice and they invited us to a Sunday service at Hillside Church. We went and fell in love immediately with Hillside, the Pastor and the people. It is a warm, family atmosphere and we've made some incredible friends. In September 2006 we had accepted Jesus as our Savior and were baptized in Alan and Alice's swimming pool - an event that has such special meaning in more ways than one. Not only are Alan and Alice our karate friends, our Sensei, our Church friends and our camping buddies, but we are bound by the spirit of baptism. I love you both very much.

Sensei Dollar had been training Terry and Ricky after church on Sundays and invited Chris to join them. In the Spring of 2007, Alan officially re-retired and passed the Uechi-Ryu dojo lineage to Chris and named the school: Hillside Karate Kai. Alan, Chris, Ricky, Terry and I traveled to Austin, Texas for Koshukai - a worldwide karate event. I did not train during that trip, but watched and took pictures and felt the "karate bug" getting back into my blood. Chris tested for his 3rd degree black belt and Sensei certificates in Austin in anticipation of being the new Sensei of Hillside Karate Kai.
Presentation of Certificate

Chris presenting me my belt
In July 2007, my 2nd journey to black belt adventure began. I became a student of Hillside Karate Kai and Sensei Chris Whittle. The dojo is a ministry to promote Christian fellowship through traditional Okinawan karate and the worship to our LORD Jesus Christ.
I had to start at white belt again. I have to say - I did not like putting on a white belt. But I did like training again and the kata and 2-person drills material came back quickly. The dojo has, once again, become a large part of our life. Chris teaches 4 days a week and last summer started the Hillside Karate Kids and there are now 25 students enrolled. Pastor David allowed the fellowship hall to become a dojo and Karate Kai replaced the carpet with this wonderful flooring. Last November, Rick and Terry achieved the rank of 2nd degree black belt and Chris 4th degree black belt and Jr. Master Instructor - Jun Shihan. Sensei Dollar can't stay away and teaches the advanced students on Tuesday evenings.

Hillside Karate Kai Black Belts
Last September Chris and I were fortunate to become part of Uechi-Ryu karate history and traveled to Okinawa to participate in the festivities of the 50th anniversary of the teaching of Seiyu Shinjo and the Kenyukai karate lineage. There were Senseis and black belts from America and other parts of the world - including Morocco, France and Germany. We trained at Sensei Shinjo's dojo almost every day for 2 weeks. We were included in the festivities and performed in three group katas for the tournament visitors. I was the only colored belt included in the performance and it is a wonderful memory and a great honor. We met new friends and visited and laughed with old ones. The training and karate spirit of everyone there was completely out of this world. It was an emotional experience of a lifetime and one that I will never forget. The history of our style of karate is unmatched and I hope that we will travel to the home of karate again.
Me and Alice

My karate training has made me strong of body, mind and Holy Spirit and it has helped me in facing daily conflicts and given me self confidence and that Jesus is with me in all that I do. I have challenged myself and learned the three take-downs that you saw today - that at one time absolutely terrified me. I have made friendships with people all over the United States and the world that will last forever.

Thank you Sensei Alan Dollar for encouraging me to sign that agreement 17 years ago, for being my Sensei then and now, but mostly for being my friend.

Thank you Alice for being my friend and encouraging me to continue my karate training in a "man's world" so I could become part of an elite group of Uechi Black Belt women.

Thank you Ricky and Terry for being my friends and making fun of me on a regular basis.

Thank you especially to Terry for being my test partner today; for listening to me complain, make excuses and dealing with my tears. You made me shine today.

Thank you to my family, Hillside Karate Kai family, Hillside Church family and friends for being here on this special occasion.

Thank you to my three wonderful, amazing sons. I am proud of you and I love you with my heart and soul.

And last but not least, thank you to my husband Chris. You are my Sensei - and I'm not always a good student. Thank you for being patient with me, for believing in me and teaching me what I needed to succeed. The last 17 years have been an amazing, wild ride and I love you more than you'll ever know.

Who would have thought that four green Ninja turtles could change my life forever."

My Adventure Pin
I also earned my official "Adventure Pin" from my friend Regena. This is the same pin that Ellie gave Carl in the Disney movie "UP" and was the inspriation for my blog
"My Whittle Adventures."

My wonderful friend Regena!

Sensei and Husband
Student and Wife


  1. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh
    You were fierce!!!! I loved the board break and the look on Chris' face when you got your belt.
    congrats my friend.
    ps......take that dang hug picture off....bad black belt, bbbaaaddddd black belt!

  2. What an amazing journey! I admire you so much for seeing it through. Truely amazing!

  3. Congratulations on getting your blackbelt! What a great story! I have to say I like the Ellie badge the best, it sounds like you've earned it!!!