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Middle-aged Karate Mom – Joelle White [Case Study Interview]

Last updated on December 20th, 2016

Joelle White is a middle-aged mother, who works part-time at a community college. She has been training in Karate for two years. Not only is she active in training, but she is also involved in tournaments and aspires to be an instructor one day.

Apart from regular responsibilities, she deals with directional dyslexia and a genetic immune system weakness that had caused her to stop Karate training when she was a teenager.

She has also given advice for those of you interested in joining karate tournaments at the end.

This is her story.

Joelle White’s Case-study Interview – Karate

1. What do you train in and how long have you been training? What’s your vision?

Joelle awarded during tournament
Joelle awarded during tournament

I am training in Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate, typically five or six days per week. I’ve been training for two years and my primary goal is to be a Sensei. A Sensei is a teacher, yes, but really I like the translation, “One who has gone before.”

I enjoy competing, but it’s not the end-all-and-be-all of my karate. I’m planning on going to Nationals next year (2017). For me it will be more about learning how to train my future students for that level of competition than it will be about any shiny medals I might earn.

I’d also like to gain skills in coaching, judging, and refereeing. In class I not only seek to improve myself, but also I keep an eye and an ear out for things I can use in the future. The notebook I have in my gear bag is full of drills and teaching methods I’ve gleaned from classes and seminars. I haven’t counted but I estimate my notebook has drills and teaching methods from 20 black belts. I love it when I see a student respond positively to what I’m teaching and I think it would be fantastic to teach someone from new white belt all the way to Shodan (first degree black) and beyond.

Year round, I walk the dog nearly every morning except when the weather is too bad for him. We live on the side of a steep hill, so I can get plenty of cardio and leg work right in my neighborhood. We have beautiful beaches and forested areas within easy walking distance. Saturdays I often do Zumba.

2. What happens during an average training session?

I train regularly at three sister dojos and, in addition, intermittently at a fourth and fifth. My training is so varied I have no overall average.

I’ll outline the three main dojos during the school year. So here’s what I do most of the year…

Joelle White in action - training at the dojo
Joelle White in action – training at the dojo

College Dojo

Monday and Wednesday during Fall, Winter and Spring quarters, 50 minutes –

This is a physical education class. The majority of the class is composed of new white belts who just take one quarter and are gone. Lately I’ve been doing a good bit of assistant teaching. First quarter, second quarter, and “continuing just for fun” students are all together. Most of the first half of the quarter the class is split into newbies and everyone else. Through the course of the quarter there will be more things everyone can do together. Usually I lead warmups then Sensei splits the class. He’ll either put me in charge of colored belts or new white belts, so I’m gaining boatloads of experience teaching. After class there’s about 10 minutes during which Sensei sometimes helps me with kata.

Home Dojo

Tuesday and Thursday, 60 minutes –

The highest-ranked student (Sempai) and I meet for 30 minutes before class, so really I work out for 90 minutes. Before class, Sempai and I work on kata (forms), bunkai (interpretation of kata), and fiendishly difficult combinations of moving basics. Sensei comes in roughly ten minutes before class and is often free to give Sempai and I a bit of help. The majority of the class is composed of children and teens. I rotate leading warmups with Sensei and Sempai. We spend a good bit of time on moving basics and drills. Often, but not always, we’ll spend the last 20 minutes of class on kata or kumite. A new batch of white belts comes in every two months and I switch off teaching with Sempai on Thursdays for a few weeks (on Tuesdays we have another Sensei to help).

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Affiliate YMCA Dojo

Saturday, 90 minutes –

I usually do the Zumba class before Karate. There are times when I am alone after Zumba, and there are times when one or two others show up, and during tournament season the practice time becomes a class. Most of the karateka who show up on Saturdays are adults who outrank me. We’ll do moving basics as a warmup, then move on. Sometimes we focus on kata (forms) or kumite (sparring) or we do both. We’ll do some calisthenics toward the end of class, then finish up with stretching.

3. What stage in your life are you at and what are your priorities? How do you make training work amid your responsibilities?

I am a middle-aged mother of two teenage daughters. Fortunately they are at a stage in life where they’re a bit independent and can help themselves and each other.

Joelle White at work at the community college office
Joelle White at work at the community college office

My younger daughter cooks for herself, her sister and her father when I’m absent due to training. If there’s a birthday in the family I will skip training. I go on dates with my husband, the “Karate Widower.” I splash around in the YMCA pool with my younger daughter twice per week and I sometimes have lunch dates with my older daughter, who is studying at the college where I work.

I work part-time in the morning at the local community college. I work for the International Student Program as an office assistant/front desk staff, so every once in awhile I will see a student from Karate class in the office! My hours are flexed so that after work I can go to the building next door and help out with the Karate class. I was already involved with the college’s Karate program before I got the job, and I think my dedication to that program helped get me hired because I was already invested in the college’s community. I like it that whenever I run an errand to another building, chances are I’ll see someone who has been in or is now in the Karate class. I think both College Sensei and my office boss like it that I have these connections with the students.

My family comes before my training. Fortunately, I haven’t had to drop much training. Work is third place even though it funds all my karate fun. I always leave work exactly at 11:45 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays no matter how busy the office is so I can get to College Dojo in plenty of time to get ready. If the office is swamped on other days, sure I’ll stay a little while longer and help out. But not on Karate days! This was understood right from my interview, and confirmed when my hours were established.

4. Why did you begin training? Was there a person who influenced you? Did a particular event prod you into action? What’s the story?

Sheer curiosity.

My parents wanted me to find some activity to do before starting 8th grade. They tossed the city’s Parks & Recreation catalog at me and told me I could take a class if I wanted to. I was intrigued by Karate. What the heck did people do in a karate class – break boards, yell, and chop each other?

I decided to find out – I knew I didn’t have to continue if I didn’t like it. I loved it. Six weeks later I ended up going to another dojo that had more classes.

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5. What were some challenges you faced? Were there any that stopped you from training for awhile?

Genetic sickness that prevents her from training with kids
Photo used for illustrative purpose – this is not Joelle

When I was a teenager I did well for a couple of years or so until I started helping with the little kids’ class. I was sick as a dog so frequently that my grades were in jeopardy. My training went downhill and I was discouraged. Instead of bowing out of assisting with the little kids, I dropped Karate altogether. Years later when I had small children of my own, I found out I have a genetic immune system weakness (IgG subclass 2 deficiency). I will never be able to teach small children.

After I quit Karate I threw myself into my schoolwork, went to college, married, and had kids. Life kinda sidetracked any thoughts of Karate.

Some 27 years after I left Karate, my older daughter took the college’s Karate classes and ended up continuing at the YMCA (a sister dojo). I kept finding excuses to watch her. College Sensei and then Home Dojo Sensei persistently asked me when I’d be joining. We had some bills to pay off and I was afraid my fat, weak, old body would let me down. Finally, the last of the bills were paid and I made the decision to try Karate again. I surprised my daughter by showing up to class in a gi the day after her birthday. I about died that first class, but I loved every minute of it. Turns out I’ve outlasted my daughter and am still going full steam ahead.

6. What happens in a week in your life? What are some of the responsibilities that compete for your time? How do you make it work?

Here’s how my week breaks down.

Daily:

  • First Breakfast around 5:45 AM,
  • Walk the dog 6:30 AM, a few calisthenic exercises and stretching after.
  • Second breakfast, social media, a little bit of housework, and get ready for and drive to work (10 minute commute – YAY!)

Mondays and Wednesdays:

  • Work from 8:45-11:45 AM,
  • get ready for Karate, help set up the room (put mats down), done with class at 1:05, take up mats, practice kata, done by 1:30, change out of uniform,
  • drive home, meet younger daughter at bus stop (she has special needs and can’t be a latchkey kid).
  • Social media, household chores.
Joelle headshot
Joelle White

Tuesdays and Thursdays:

  • Work 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Tuesday, 9:00-1:00 Thursday.
  • Sometimes lunch with older daughter (husband works from home these days).
  • Social media, household chores,
  • Karate 5:00 PM -6:40 PM,
  • household chores, social media (yes, I’m addicted).

Fridays:

  • Work from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM.

Race home to meet younger daughter at bus stop (early dismissal).

Most Fridays splash around in YMCA’s pool with younger daughter after I gulp down a substantial snack. Social media, sometimes visit another dojo in the evening.

Saturdays:

  • Grocery shopping 8:00 AM sharp.
  • Zumba 10:30-11:30,
  • Karate 11:30-1:00 (sometimes beyond)

Sundays:

  • Splash around in the YMCA pool with younger daughter and take her to the library.
  • Errands.
  • Rest.
  • Social media (LOL), compose next week’s blog post, do a bit of digital art.
  • Once per month – Board of Directors meeting for Karate fundraising activities.

I’m amazed that somehow everything comes together. My schedule is insane and I make it work by being flexible in my eating habits and by sometimes turning a blind eye to the parts of the house that aren’t quite spic-and-span. I’m very grateful that I work close to home, very near one daughter’s school and on the same campus where my other daughter studies and where College Dojo meets! My husband is content to stay home and hold down the fort, so he’s our anchor. My parents are always there for us in a pinch. I have a lot of support for the time I take for my training, and this includes not only my family but also my boss and co-workers!

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Somehow I also find time to write a blog, keep up with online acquaintances, and keep up with my responsibilities as a dojo representative on the Board of Directors for our Karate organization’s fundraising branch.

7. Do you see yourself still training when you get to the next stage of life, when you have a different set of priorities?

My next stage in life is empty nest. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m guaranteed more freedom.

Empty nest
Empty nest – illustration, obviously Joelle lives in a house 😉

My younger daughter has special needs and might either be in a group home or might still be living at home. My parents might need more from me. I’m just going to have to cross those bridges when I come to them.

Assuming all is well with my family and I do gain the “empty nest” freedom, I can see myself having three jobs to fill my time. I’ll have two jobs at the college – one with International Student Programs and the other as a fully credentialed Karate instructor.

In addition, I will be a Sensei at the YMCA. I will want to continue my own studies with whoever will train me.

8. Three things you’ve gained since you started training?

I’m going to go overboard with this and list three things from each area you’ve named 🙂

Physically: I’ve lost over 22 pounds (roughly 10kg). Is a loss a gain? I’ve know I’ve gained muscle and endurance.

Mentally: I’m gaining skill in teaching, fighting strategy, and overcoming my dyslexia.

Spiritually: I’m starting to be more in control of my emotions. I am more patient with people and situations. I try to pay back what I’ve been given – e.g. I help with white belts and serve on the Board of Directors.

9. What advice would you give someone who wants to join martial art tournaments but is afraid?

Joelle White Karate Tournament sparring
Joelle White Karate Tournament sparring

Trust your training, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for specific help from your mentors and training partners. You are not alone – plenty of us are nervous about tournaments. Talk about it!

Don’t be so focused on the medals that it paralyzes you. I’ve been easily the best, I’ve been definitely the worst, I’ve won by being only a tiny bit better, and I’ve been the dark horse. I’ve learned from every single experience and can definitely say taking home a shiny medal is nice but it’s not everything.

Volunteer to help with setup the night before the tournament – you’ll meet some incredible people who are likely to respond well to the question, “Have you ever been scared before a tournament?”.

I find tournaments to be far more scary than belt tests, so I think of tournaments as fantastic preparation for my next belt test. If you can, get a coach – someone with the credentials to sit ringside and talk you through your fights. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful that is.

Above all, relax. Too many stupid mistakes are made when people are frightened or angry.

More by Joelle White – Editor’s Note

Joelle White
Joelle White

These are some useful resources written or inspired by her:

Joelle also writes regularly at her blog that talks about having the beginner’s mindset in karate, martial arts and life. Follow her on her journey there.

About Logen Lanka 184 Articles

Logen is a the founder and editor of WayOfNinja.com. Before his shoulder injury, he was actively involved in street calisthenics, Aikido and obstacle course racing. He has also served his 2-years conscription with the Singapore Armed Forces as an Armoured Infantry Trooper.

  • Joelle White

    Oh my gosh, thank you so very much! I am honored!!!

  • Hi Joelle and Logen, what a lovely article! Joelle, I feel like I know you ten times better now 🙂 thanks so much; it must have been hard work to pull all this together, including the pictures, but the finished result is definitely worth it 🙂