April 25, 2018

What an evening it was. An amazing performance, shock, tears of joy, and a heartfelt speech. Cindy had earned her black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Actually, Cindy had earned it over 18 years of dedicated training. I happened to answer the phone all those years ago when Cindy first called to inquire about classes. I said, “JKD Unlimited, Burton speaking, how can I help you? The hesitant voice on the other end responded, “You’re Burton?” I replied, “Yes”. “The one in the magazines?” “Yes.” There was a little pause, then “Oh.” We had a nice chat and arranged for Cindy to try out our next class. I thought it would be great to have a female other than my wife Sarah training.

The room was already full of athletic, experienced martial artists when Cindy arrived. My first thought on seeing the diminutive woman was concern. I remember thinking, sadly, “This isn’t going to be for her.” Our training was just too rigorous. I didn’t assume she would have a problem with the portions that were mentally challenging, but I figured that the grueling physicality would be too much for her. Did she ever prove me wrong!

Cindy has been the exemplary student, literally. I often use her as an example in class and in seminars. Because she is always the smallest in class, she often asks the most pertinent questions about dealing with a larger, stronger attacker in a street situation. She has contributed so much to our classes. When we would have a person try class who had a questionable attitude, I would often pair him with Cindy to see how he reacted. Before standing open hand sparring, I would often see a subtle sneer on the newcomer’s face, almost insulted that he had to play with this small woman. And then it would happen. He would step in to land a strike, only to find that Cindy had ducked it and gotten to his back! She has humbled many a young man.

When Cindy started, I was a blue belt and jiu-jitsu was a moderate part of our training. As I progressed, so did the teaching method and the techniques. Cindy trained and trained. But she could only practice in class two nights per week. But even with that limitation, her progress was steady. She would come before class (she still does) to roll with Shelton and Scott. Then she would do class with all the kickboxing, clinching, and ground sparring with the group. And of course, her technique got better and better. And it affected her outside life as well.

Cindy has the confidence to travel the world. She walks into jiu-jitsu schools wherever she goes and does class. No problem. She also developed the courage to change her career path several years ago which has raised the quality of her life. Instead of working a safe but mind-numbing government desk job, she quit and became an outstanding school teacher, helping at-risk kids daily.

On August 15th, 2017, Cindy was scheduled to take her test for the 4th stripe on her brown belt. As usual, she was nervous before the test. She explained and demonstrated the chosen techniques very well. I decided to be the one to roll with her. She displayed extraordinary technique. Beautiful guard, inverting to set up traps, and hunting for her deadly guillotine. It was clear that she passed easily and she was very pleased to have the exam behind her. But I had told her ahead of time that I wanted her to teach how to tie the belt in the traditional way. As I was applying the 4th stripe to her belt, I said that I had forgotten about the tying technique. I asked her to remove her belt and show it. That’s when the magic happened.

As she removed her belt to demonstrate, I said, “No, not with that one. With this one.” I produced the black belt that I had hidden in my gi jacket and handed it to her. First she was shocked, and then overcome with emotion. It was a beautiful moment, brought on by almost two decades of consistent, intelligent training.

Cindy is an inspiration to us all. She is an amazing practitioner we all can learn from. Do your best, have fun, and keep at it. You too can be like Cindy.

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