I haven’t told you all of this story yet. This is going to be difficult.

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I started karate in my early 40s as a way to handle grief over my mom’s cancer diagnosis. Sometime in that first week at the dojo, I thought: “I have NO idea where this path is going, but I HAVE to be on it.” I had to become a martial artist.

Last year was the hardest year of my life. My divorce got really messy. My ex-husband was going through some stuff, and kicked the kids out. They’re still with me full time. We’re working through it, with help from an awesome therapist. But it did get kinda ugly for awhile.

Then my mom got sicker. Her cancer had been manageable, but she started to get worse, and no one knew what was going on. She got blood transfusion after blood transfusion. Last summer she ended up in Emerg with a stomach rupture. Stage 4 stomach cancer in addition to the multiple myeloma. Months of complaining of stomach pain, and yet no one knew. Medical malpractice? But I chose not to pursue it. Hard as that was for me to sit on that.

I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when the doctor walked into her hospital room. In a few short, tactless sentences she found out she had a second incurable cancer, that she would no longer receive treatment, that she’d never go home again, that she’d probably never walk again, and that she only had a few more weeks. She just looked at me and said, “This is really shitty.”

5 weeks later, she was gone.

We just wanted to grieve. But there was more.

This shady funeral home director had my mom transported to his facility without our authorization. He basically held her remains hostage for almost a week, demanding money. I’ve never been so angry in my life, dealing with him. That was THE darkest week of my life. I’ve never experienced rage like that. Ever. Everything I saw was red.

We got her back. He got in shit. We had the funeral, got a small measure of closure. But there was more.

Through all this, the dojo had been my safe space and my outlet. I worked there. I trained in 3 martial arts there. I was on a tournament team. But then it all went to shit.

Earlier in the summer, one of the dojo members started obsessing over me. I had no idea he had feelings for me, until the day he physically hurt me. I could see it in his eyes while we were sparring. He was angry, and he wanted to hurt me. And he did. He told me later that he had feelings for me, and was jealous of another student at the dojo. A guy who was happily married. Who I wasn’t even with. Not that it mattered.

It spiraled from there into online stalking and harassment. He started reaching out to one person after another after another in our martial arts network. I blocked him everywhere. He kept reaching me wherever he could find me, on various platforms. He just wouldn’t stop.

And of course, I was working at the dojo. Training there all the time. Always there with my kids. And he was always there too.

I’m so grateful to the police. They were so helpful all the way through.

In case it wasn’t clear, this was all happening while my mom was dying. While my kids and I were driving back and forth almost 3 hours a day to visit her on her deathbed. While I was dealing with that awful funeral home director. While we planned her funeral. I was dealing with that while working, while training, online, wherever I went.

That dojo was no longer my outlet or my safe space.

Eventually he got kicked out. He clearly had to go. And he did. But it didn’t stop there.

I’ve still been dealing with it this year. I still have a police file going. It’s been quiet lately, and hopefully it will remain that way. If it starts again though, I will take swift action.

But.. I no longer have my dojo family. I left. The month after he got kicked out, things got weird. Weirder. And my Sensei and I had a falling out. I still don’t really understand it. I was the victim of harassment—but me speaking up about it and voicing my concerns was seen as a problem. I just wanted the dojo to be safe.

I went in to quit the job, in hopes of salvaging the training, the 3 martial arts, the tournament team, my relationship with someone I had trusted and looked up to. Who I had also considered a friend. It did not go well. I had to leave. No matter how much it broke my heart to leave—and it really did—my self-respect had to come first.

That space, that dojo that seemed to be The Thing that got me through everything: I returned my key, grabbed our weapons, and walked out. And that was it.

I don’t see myself as a victim, but I definitely was. But I refuse to act like one.

I am in limbo right now, and I’m not quite sure where I will go from here. I’ve pursued different options, with the hopes of continuing on with the martial arts I have practised thus far, but locally my options are very limited. And I’ve realized that I really need a place that’s close to home, or it just won’t work. Full-time parent, busy, trying to build my Shrimp empire here…. Convenience absolutely matters. Which puts me back at the beginning.

Start a new style of karate? New martial art entirely? Or both? I haven’t decided yet.

For now I am training at home, as I always have and always will. And that’s okay. But I do need a dojo family again. And I will join one again. And I will also one day build my own.

At first, leaving that dojo was nothing short of devastating. In my mind, that was the place that I needed to get through all the tough stuff. But I’ve since realized something important: it wasn’t the dojo that got me through it. It was me.

That dojo provided the environment, but it was me who did the work. I started my martial arts journey. I did the training. I chose to train in 3 martial arts. I chose to compete in tournaments. I chose to start sparring competitively in my 40s, never having been an athlete in my life. I chose to face my fears and step well outside of my comfort zone. I did those things.

So yes, I left that dojo, but it was all me. And I’m still here.

I am a martial artist, but not because I have a particular rank, or am a member of a particular club or association or dojo, or practise any particular martial art, or style of one. I am a martial artist because that is who I am at my core. Perhaps I was always a martial artist, before ever stepping foot inside a dojo. Maybe I was one, and just didn’t know it yet.

And that path, maybe I need it to be a struggle.

This is why I create, after all. Writing and videos. The violence of creation. The pain of that process. I love that. I need that.

I need the violence of martial arts. I need the clash with other fighters. I need bruised shins, and torn nails, and dripping sweat, and eyes that almost bleed from all that adrenaline.

I need all of that.

So, shitty as this past year has been, with loss and harassment, and leaving behind a dojo family, perhaps part of me needs that struggle, in some way. The pain of it. The violence of being created all over again.

I have a lot to think about. But that thought I had when I started this journey—it was true then, and it’s still true now:

I have no idea where this path is going. None. But even so, I know I have to be on it.

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You’re reading I Quit My Dojo, But I’m Still a Martial Artist by Sabrina Bliem, originally posted on The Karate Shrimp. If you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to follow The Karate Shrimp on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!