In my 20+ years of teaching, I’ve obviously had students come and go for various reasons. Some stay for a month, most stay for years. For many of those students I’ve had the privilege to see them grow from a child to an adult. I see them eventually move away for college or a career, get married, and have kids of their own. I’ve even taught the children of students who I taught when they were children themselves (which makes me feel old, but that’s for another entry).

What I love most about that process is when a student who had been with me for years comes back to visit and thank me. They don’t thank me for the belt, or the trophy they won, or for the fun they had in class, but rather the lessons they learned.

A couple months ago, I had a student, Billy Wilson, thank me like this. He started with me when he was about eight, and was always the “class clown” and while he was a great martial artist (he earned his black belt with us!), he was always a bit of a goofball for lack of a better phrase. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it had always been a great part of his character, one of the five principles we teach at USSD. I happened to be at my desk when I saw a man walk across the parking lot in his US Army Class A uniform. I didn’t think much beyond that until I suddenly realized, “THAT’S BILLY!” He was on leave from his first assignment in South Korea, and wanted to visit. It was at that moment I suddenly realized, this isn’t the little boy I knew, this is a man.

When he walked into the dojo, I stood up, and he immediately approached me, arm stretched for a handshake. We sat and chatted for 30 or so minutes, during which he told me of his experiences in boot camp, while on assignment, etc. He then thanked me, not for the black belt or the many trophies he won in tournaments, but for the lessons I taught him, and that if it weren’t for those lessons, he wouldn’t be the man he is today, wouldn’t be enjoying the success he’s experienced in the Army, and wouldn’t enjoy the satisfaction he’s getting out of life (his words, not mine).

I get emotional just typing this, but there are so many other stories just like this one that make me love my job more every day I get to step onto the mats. As of this writing, I’ve promoted 27 people to black belt in my career. Of course, every one of them are great martial artists, but I am so proud to say I’ve also helped shape the lives of those 27 children and adults. That my reader, is the magic of the martial arts we provide at USSD.