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Meet Your Fellow Karateka - Maria Vlock

by Nancy Beckerman

An Interview with Maria Vlock, Our 2016 Co-Captain

Q. How old were you when you started with karate at our dojo, and what got you interested in the first place?

A. I was between 9 and 10 years old when I started, which means I've been at the dojo for about 13 years now. To be honest, starting karate was not my idea, it was my younger brother, David's. I had little interest in studying karate, but for the sake of sibling competition, I decided I'd give it a go. Best decision I've ever made, I think. I loved karate from the first lesson—which I still vividly remember!

Q. How did you choose Sensei Takahashi's school for your training?

A. Being that I was only 9 at the time, it was my father who looked into dojos and chose our school. My father and grandfather studied kyokushin karate, judo and jiu-jitsu at very traditional dojos, so my father already had a good impression of what to look for when choosing a school. He settled on our dojo because he could tell Sensei was the real deal. That, and it's also super close to my house…which is very convenient.

Q. What do you like best about the practice of karate? What do you like least?

A. To me, karate is art. I find kata performed with strength and emotion very beautiful. Practicing karate makes me feel like nothing else, though I can't adequately explain what I feel and why it is so satisfying to me. Maybe it's just the feeling of the movements themselves, or giving 100% of effort to training. Maybe it's the balance between body and mind, physical and spiritual that I enjoy. It's probably a combination of these and a hundred other reasons. I hope that answered the question, haha… If I have to choose a favorite thing we do in class, I'd say I like both kata and kumite, but kumite is my favorite, as long as it's not one-on-one point fighting with the whole class watching…

Q. What advice would you give other young people (especially girls) who might be interested in martial arts?

A. Don't be scared to try it! Honestly, the only one holding you back is you. I have a few friends who have said things like, 'Oh, I always wanted to do martial arts but I'm too old now' or 'I'll be so terrible compared to everyone else.' You'll never know what you're missing until you try! We're very much a judgment-free zone here. In fact, we enjoy encouraging one another. The beauty of karate is that anyone can do it, regardless of age, or gender, or physical ability. It's very much a personal journey of growth.

Q. I know you are very interested in Japan and are studying the language. When did you first discover this interest and what drew you to it?

A. Of course my interest in karate was a preliminary factor, but it wasn't until middle school when my group of friends got into reading manga (Japanese comics) and watching anime, that I became very interested in Japanese culture and language. Around that time, I taught myself to write and read hiragana and katakana, then in college, I took Japanese for three years. Growing up in the dojo, where I heard Japanese spoken quite frequently, allowed me to become accustomed to the language and made learning it relatively easy. I also understand Spanish, which is a bit similar in pronunciation to Japanese, and that made it easier for me as well. Going to Japan two years ago, speaking Japanese to the locals there, and realizing that they actually understood what I was saying, was totally awesome. Nowadays, I get to use Japanese surprisingly often, which is really fun for me.

Q. How has the study of karate impacted other areas of your life?

A. Three of the most important things karate has taught me that have impacted other areas of my life are how to be confident, how to be a leader and how to be a teacher. Beyond that though, I've made so many meaningful relationships here that have shaped, and continue to shape, my life. Some of the connections I've made at the dojo have opened doors for me that I could never have imagined. I truly regard the dojo as my second home, and I feel as if you all are my second family.

Q. Do you see yourself practicing karate in the long term?

A. Most definitely. I've come this far, I guess it's too late to turn back now, haha. Seriously though, there's no way I can give up something I love so much, something so engrained in my life. Karate is part of what defines me.