• Joanne McGulpin: “You can’t stay away; it just gets to you.”

    Joanne McGulpin

     My passion is traveling, and since I do it quite often alone I decided it would be wise to learn some basic self defense. I also needed it to be enjoyable and make me WANT to exercise.  Even with my small stature I figured there had to be something out there that would fit my needs.
    After coming up with two schools in the area that looked promising, I headed to the free intro class on the first one.  I braced myself and pulled open the glass door that I would end up walking through hundreds of times in the future.  What met my speculative gaze was a mass of sweaty males, all wearing some sort of workout/boxing gear.  Thinking I was in the wrong place, I almost turned around until a kind older gentleman asked me if I was there for boxing or the jiu-jitsu class.

    He directed me to the back of the gym, where guys were on the mats wearing gis. I realized I was the only female there… this should have made me run for the door right then. However, Mario introduced himself and talked about the class some. He told me I could get on the mat and join the class, or just watch.  I am afraid to say I just watched.  That night I also went to the other gym, and only got as far as the parking lot before heading home. 
    So then why am I on here, you ask?  I went back a couple more times to test my comfortability with what I was getting myself into.  Being a single Christian female with very strict standards, I wanted to be doubly sure this was the right place for me.  That first night confirmed the gym was the right option, and I definitely thought Mario was a great instructor. I was impressed by his teaching skills and the respect and admiration the students showed to their instructor.  The other two classes, I confess, were mostly to observe the other students.  I’m only 5’4″ and 110 lbs, not wanting to break anything.  Impressed and comfortable enough to take the intro class, I awakened my inner fighter and I knew I was already ready to start training.
    The first six months taught me so much under Mario’s careful, attentive, and thorough coaching.  Who knew a little girl like me could eventually throw a guy 80 lbs heavier?  Mario was wonderful and looked out for me.  Often being the only girl in class, I tried not to pull the “pink card” – however, I never had to worry.  I can’t say enough how thankful I am for his constant protectiveness, caring about my personal interest in the class, and his exuberant spirit that made me want to push myself harder. I also found I actually enjoyed coming to class and made new friends that I learned to trust

    The changes in my body were noticeable as well. I could do so much more physically, and was amazed at my own strength. Growing up, I was always small for my age and fought for everything, so I was ecstatic when I was the stronger one!  The warm up exercises were a killer workout to start with, and I found that I could hardly walk after my first week of class!  I was so sore and my body was crying for me to quit, but I’m so glad I didn’t because of all the wonderful things I learned. I have a whole new appreciation for my body, and a stronger resolve that I CAN do things I never thought possible.  This has also carried over into my personal life, in decisions and my personal character.
    The only regret I have is quitting after my first six months were up.  Eventually, I went back a few months later for another year of training before I moved out of the country.  Even now I miss being in those four concrete walls, rolling on the mats, while hearing the beating of the bags and watching greatness being born.  Because, as my friend Dan said: “You can’t stay away; it just gets to you.”