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A way of defense and a way of life

With the crazy world that we live in, people take many different precautions to stay safe. For instance, there are many kids and teens who are learning karate or another form of martial arts. They learn martial arts for many different reasons but mainly for protection.

Martial arts are systems of combat and self-defense developed mainly in Japan, Korea and China. For those who take it seriously, karate is not just training at a martial arts school a couple of times a week, it is a way of life. Karate affects every aspect of life, and those who do it must find time to practice.

In some Asian countries, the people who study martial arts start at a very young age and are trained to put everything they have into it. Imagine practicing any physical activity for at least two hours each day, eating good meals and cutting out everything unhealthy in your diet. You would definitely lose weight and whatever you were practicing would become second nature. In karate you have to be disciplined -- meaning your mind and body have to be trained to work as a unit. The key to a sound mind is focus. When you have focus, you are able to accomplish anything. In karate, focus is everything. It can be a matter of life or death.

Sparring is a match between two individuals who use various moves they have learned on each other. When you are focused, you know when the other person is going to hit you and you have enough time to block the strike. If you don't block, you will be hurt. In sparring, when your mind is focused, your body can be a lethal weapon to someone who is attacking.

When you have enough training, you learn to carry whatever fear you have inside. When you carry your fear visibly, your opponent knows and they will use your fear as a weapon against you. Self-defense gives you confidence to protect yourself.

You always have your hands and feet, so why not learn how to use them to protect yourself? Martial arts teaches combinations of punches, strikes and kicks that can be done at the same time or one right after the other. You learn to do things you never thought possible.

Another thing students of martial arts learn is balance. Balance is something we use every day whether we realize it or not, like when we catch ourselves from falling over something in our living room. In karate you don't just need balance to execute kicks and strikes, but also for your stance. A stance is a locked position your body must be in in order to administer a punch or strike. It is balancing while standing still.

I like karate because it is mentally challenging and physically exciting. When an instructor asks you to do 50 push-ups, sometimes you think, 'I can't do that' or 'I'm not strong enough' but you learn to push through it. When I'm sparring, grappling or practicing kicks and I'm tired I try to put that much more effort into it. Because I always think that if I'm ever attacked my enemy won't let up on me just because I'm tired.

Karate has helped my mind in many different ways, too. It has improved my outlook on life. For example, I'm normally a pessimist, but karate has made me think like an optimist sometimes. Karate also has made me want to eat healthier and be a better influence to those around me.

Desiree Nagel is a home-schooled freshman from Forestville.

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