I learned 3 life lessons from the dojo that have left an indelible mark on my life.

Rather listen to this?

When I was in my late 20s, the last thing I ever imagined I do is walk through the doors of a dojo and sign on the dotted line to become a karate student. But destiny called me towards those doors and into a place I’d soon come to call my second home. I use the word destiny loosely here because I’m not sure how many people might refer to a close call with a criminal and an alleyway a call to destiny. But I needed confidence and skills, and the dojo appeared when I needed it to appear. To me, that’s the definition of destiny.

My Journey to these Life Lessons

After committing to be a student, I stepped onto the sacred mats of that brightly colored dojo. I sported my new key in my new white belt, carrying both hope and trepidation for what would come.


Mentors come in all forms. Mine just happened to come wearing a fifth degree black belt and a can-do attitude. His posture told me everything was going to be okay. No criminal was ever going to get the best of me again, if I could help it. And I believe my mentor would say the same thing still, to this day.

Here’s the thing about embracing the lessons of a mentor. They can teach us things quicker than we could ever learn them on our own. Because they’ve lived it. They have their finger on the pulse of certain aspects of life. And it’s our jobs as mentees to seek out that which they are willing to share. It’s been my experience that a mentor shows up when the student is ready. Well, I showed up that may afternoon, ready to learn what he was willing to share.

Life Lessons I Learned

Over the course of three years, and a rainbow of colors to add to my belt collection, my mentor sensei Carlos taught me three very important life lessons. I carry them with me to this day, some 20 years later. And I’m able to still carry them because I was open and eager to soak up his knowledge. He was living his life the way I wanted to. He lived with a healthy respect for self control. Everything about his great attitude reminded me how self control can serve us when we find ourselves in perilous situations.

The 1st of Life Lessons from the Dojo

First case in point was the day he taught me that practice doesn’t make perfect because we all need correction. Accepting that we are all in a state of learning and growth means we’re open to adapting. We adapt based on new knowledge we gain as we open to criticism. This concept has helped me throughout my career as a novelist and in my Toastmaster’s International Leadership and Communication journey.

The 2nd of Life Lessons from the Dojo

Second case in point was the day he taught me that relaxation is powerful. Before I met him, I went through life like I was one step away from an anxiety attack. He taught me how to sit still with myself. To use only my breath to root me to that moment at hand. To this day, whenever I feel pressured about life, I stop everything and find a safe place. I close my eyes and breathe. I’ve done this before meetings at work. I breathe before being interviewed. And I breathe like this before logging into my bi-weekly Toastmaster meetings when I have a speech to give.

The 3rd of Life Lessons from the Dojo

Third case in point was the day he reminded me that we’re never too old to start something new. When I took karate, I learned alongside men and women who are grandparents. And I learned along with those who just graduated from high school. Age was not relevant when one entered that sacred dojo. This life lesson he taught me rings especially close to home for me these days. You see, I just started a rigorous graduate program at 51 years of age. It’s been over 25 years since I’ve been to college as a student.

When I first thought about enrolling, I heard his voice in my head. His voice encouraged me to remember that I could be 90 years of age and still enroll in graduate school. It’s important to keep doing new things, and gaining new experiences, especially as we age. It keeps us flexible and dynamic. You can be 100 or 18, and still have incredibly valuable insights to share and gain. Age has very little to do with anything in life when it comes to learning.

I’ll forever be thankful to my mentor sensei Carlos for teaching me these three important life lessons. I’ll never again take for granted valuable criticism, the art of breathing, or my ability to learn new things. No matter how old I am! 

What about you?

What life lessons have you learned that still shape and guide you to this day?