A very personal victory

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Pictured: Master Kelly Fiori, East West MMA, and me.

There was an eleven-year period in my life when I was known primarily as a fanatically dedicated martial art student, instructor, and youth mentor.

From the first time I stepped inside the Mission Dolores Gymnasium in San Francisco for my first capoeira class in 1987, I was hooked. I never missed a class in eleven years.

My life consisted of getting up early to go to work in a corporate job, peeling out at five o’clock to run to class, changing from a suit and nylons to capoeira pants and a tank top. Weekends were filled with classes and performances, and in later years, grant writing and administration for the youth program that we built. It was a side hustle before I even knew the term.

Due to the belt system in capoeira, (white, yellow, orange, blue, green, purple, brown and red) it took a long time to graduate levels. My last belt was green.

Then I got tired. Really tired. I needed to make a change for a lot of reasons, so I left behind the art I loved for new adventures.

Eventually, I moved to Arizona, got married, and had kids. There seemed to be no time left over for any kind of physical activity, and I would wistfully look at photographs of my old warrior self. Building my new business with Escape from Cubicle Nation took the place of the dedication I had to capoeira.

Then my son turned 5, and wanted to do martial arts. My friend Carmen Sognonvi of Urban Martial Arts in New York recommended East West MMA, where her husband had gotten help setting up his business with Master Kelly Fiori. She said they had an excellent kids program (which they do).

From the first time I walked in the school, I felt an overwhelming connection, that almost brought me to tears. I suddenly felt how much I missed training, fighting and sweating in a strong school that had a family environment.

So I decided to enroll myself.

The first few months were frankly humiliating. I was out of shape, and totally awkward. All my years of being a leader and an advanced student in martial arts were totally irrelevant, as I started over with a 43-year old post-two children body.

At first, I didn’t care at all about the belts. Just working out was enough, and being back in the martial art environment. So I kept training consistently, and slowly moved through the ranks.

Yesterday, my rank was green, the same color that I had been in my final stages of capoeira. Last night, I passed my test for brown belt. When Mr. Fiori tied my new belt on, I had tears in my eyes.

I reflected on my whole journey as a martial artist.

The pain. The sweat. The tears. The joy. The fear. The growth.

And I became so thankful for everyone around the world who created, developed and practiced all style of martial arts.

The masters in China, Korea, The Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan and all their students.

The original African warriors who brought their arts to Brazil, and used it to help others survive the brutality of slavery.

Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha  for the work they did to grow and spread the art of capoeira in mainstream Brazilian society, and their students who spread it across the entire world.

The Gracies  who helped explode Brazilian Ju-Jitsu throughout the world.

Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and yes, even Steven Seagal for awakening our excitement for martial arts on the silver screen.

Martial arts are about so much more than fighting — they provide a framework, a clear and concrete path to understand yourself.

How you train is how you live

How you train and prepare on the mat is  how you train and prepare for your work off the mat.

Which is probably why my time back in martial arts has inspired so many blog posts.

My brown belt last night does not mean I can’t get my ass whooped by someone bigger or stronger or faster. I am not the same person at 45 that I was at 25.

What it does mean is that I am committed to the warrior’s path. I believe in strength. And honor. And hard work. And mastery.

And if anyone threatens to harm me or my kids, I will open a can of whoopass.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” – Bruce Lee


Thank you so much Mr. Fiori for being such a great and patient teacher. Thank you to my East West MMA family for being such an amazing team and bringing out the very best in me. And thank you Master Preguica and all my capoeira family from Omulu Capoeira for always keeping your art alive in my heart. Axe (blessings, peace and joy).

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24 Responses to “A very personal victory”

  1. LK says:

    Such a great story! Martial arts is a wonderful way to bring balance in all aspects of our lives. Congrats on your brown belt – it is so exciting.

  2. Thats amazing Pam, its people like you that inspire others. I will be using much of your inspiration to my own MMA students

    Thank You 🙂

  3. Well done Pam! Such an inspiring post!

  4. CMOE says:

    Congratulations! Not many people get up the courage to get back into something they used to enjoy because they’re afraid they don’t have what it takes anymore. You’re an inspiration.

  5. Corie says:

    Hooray! So good to find your way back to an old love. I miss kendo, and if I’m ever back in an area where I could find a dojo again, I’d be more than tempted to take it back up.

  6. Shelley West says:

    Congrats Pam! That’s awesome..I’m inspired to start again once I can.

  7. For someone who isn’t very teary … I had tears in my eyes by the time I read “I am committed to the warrior’s path. I believe in strength. And honor. And hard work. And mastery.”

    I’m so proud of you and I’ve never even met you, but my pride in your accomplishment is so real. Congratulations and Well Done!

    I’m inspired by The Warriors Path – I think you’ve touched on something true and strong inside my soul,x

  8. Mel Corrigan says:

    Wow – I am overwhlemed with tears!!! Congratulations on your awesome accomplishment!!! Thank you for sharing your journey with such unadulterated emotion!! Truly inspirational!!!

  9. Denny Robert says:

    That black and white picture is awesome Pam! Congrats on your reunion with a past love.

  10. Okay, this post made me teary. Pam, you are so awesome — congratulations to you on so many levels.

    “And if anyone threatens to harm me or my kids, I will open a can of whoopass.” <— this line slayed me 🙂

  11. Debra Dowdell says:

    Big Congratulations Pam! What an inspiring post! You have seriously helped me re-evaluate my physical goals for the next year…as a 47yr old Mom I’m not where I used to be, but I’m healthier than ever, so it would be great to become stronger and more powerful in all aspects (physically = mentally too)! I LOVED your younger picture (wow) and the picture of you and Josh! Thanks for sharing!

  12. faisal says:

    Many congratulations, truly noteworthy effort. Where there is a will there is way.

  13. Marilyn says:

    So proud of you, sister! You are mighty!

    Big hugs, M

  14. Joan says:

    WAY TO GO from one momma martial artist to another. I will test next month for my red belt in tae kwon do, which will officially put me higher than I was in my before-my-daughter life as a brown belt in tang soo do.

    Black belt in another year or so will mean a lot, of course – but this one will mean something pretty special too. It’ll mean I’m still that person who can do things – a 12-year-old daughter and lots of “life” notwithstanding!

    You rock.

  15. Lisa Alessi says:

    Congratulations Pam — an incredible journey to be savored and celebrated and thanks for inspiring us to be warriors too!

  16. Mike says:

    What a great accomplishment! Congratulations!

  17. Sandi Amorim says:

    This post brought tears to my eyes Pam. Thanks so much for sharing your journey so honestly. You amaze and inspire me.

  18. Jamie says:

    Congratulations, Pam!! I am celebrating the warrior in you. ((hugs))

  19. As someone else older, slower, and less fit than a lot of the hardbodies I train with: ROCK ON. We can do some seriously cool shit.

    One of these days we’re gonna throw down – with hugs. 😉

  20. Congratulations! I can relate to the humility it must have taken to start again. I’m an old team-sports and fitness jock, and took up martial arts for the first time last year at 44. It was quite the challenge not to be immediately good at a physical activity. I love the “old” (younger)-you photo, and I think I love the photo of you and Josh more.

    Have you seen this: http://festival.caamedia.org/30/guide/program/mrs-judo-be-strong-be-gentle-be-beautiful/ — This 98-year-old woman is STILL TEACHING JUDO!! At 10th Dan, she is the highest-ranking woman ever in judo. I’m going to her annual camp later this month.

    And you’ve inspired me another way today. I’ve kept my hand in sports continuously. The magical world I left behind is performing. I MISS performing. So for this afternoon: back to the solo performance piece I’m writing.

  21. Pam, what a wonderful story. And, congratulations to you for committing again to the warrior path.