In our series of essays, “On Living the Martial Artist’s Creed”, we present One Man’s Journey. Dr. Sebastien Gros, PhD, reflects on pursuing goodness, holding fast to your values, your family, your education, and building on personal strengths through a lifetime of Martial Arts Practice. Dr. Sebastien was promoted to 1st Dan Black Belt at the onset of the recent pandemic, and is now pursuing 2nd Dan through continued study, despite the obstacles and demands of work, an online dojhang, and parenting young children. We hope you enjoy his reflection!
Building Personal Strength through Lifetime of Martial Arts
“The challenges brought by the current pandemic are trials that most of us have never faced before. Some of us lost employment, while others got busier at work. Schools closed, creating a headache for most working parents. We needed to start to protect ourselves and hide from a microscopic and invisible opponent, while trying to adapt to a way of life that was supposed to be temporary, but without knowing when we would be going back to the normal “before”. Some of us had to part with loved ones and friends, sometimes even without the possibility to say goodbye. The pandemic created amounts of distress in communities that were unimaginable a year ago and living through this challenging time has caused significant stress on a personal level. I wanted to write about how practicing Martial Arts has helped me through difficult times in the past, and how my practice currently helps me.
Mental Strength of Martial Arts Contributed to PhD
As a 19 year old off to study abroad for the first time (in England), I was caught by surprise by the latent racism and shocked by the sight of excessive drinking causing people to fight in the streets at the end of the night. I have always avoided any violent situation, but it became clear that I may one day have to defend myself. So, I was first drawn to martial arts by the need to learn self-defense. Besides learning to defend myself, I gained the discipline and self confidence that allowed me to overcome the challenge of studying in a different language and in a completely different country. Since then, Martial Arts have always been there in challenging times. I drew the mental strength from Martial Arts and my Martial Arts Family in Liverpool to carry on and finish my PhD when, during the last and most difficult months, I was tempted to give up, pack everything, and return home.
Starting Over in a New Career
About 11 years ago, I decided to switch careers and start from zero in a whole different field. That choice would keep me in California while my wife had to move back to Chicago. This experience turned out to be quite different than what I had expected. In the same period, I had to stop practicing Martial Arts due to a bad injury so I was left ruminating and regretting the career change, thinking I could have
taken other opportunities leading me back home to France, or back to Chicago. However, I joined a Martial Arts studio as soon as I could and found, there, positivity and the resilience and motivation to carry on and focus on completing the residency training.
COVID-19 and Online Classes
When Covid-19 hit, with social gatherings being banned, gyms and the dojhang closing, I made a point to try to continue training and practicing Martial Arts. Early on, my work schedule did not allow for me to continue online classes, and I decided to take private lessons with Sr. GrandMaster Yu. I thought that it would help to limit the erosion of all the hard work I had accomplished since I enrolled at Master S.H. Yu Martial Arts. I was in for a surprise, more like a shock! In the 9 months since I started private lessons, I made a lot of progress. Really, I am amazed and so delighted. GrandMasterYu has been pin-pointing specific areas to improve my basics: stances, kicks, punches, blocks. He has been teaching me to correct and perfect my forms. I have also had the opportunity to learn new self-defense techniques and new forms leading to progressing to two upper belt levels. Through these personal (online) lessons, I also gain a much deeper understanding of Martial Arts and the important place it has in my life. I constantly look forward to the next lesson and to the challenges that GrandMaster Yu will give me. I love all the challenges!
Supporting Each Other in a Challenging Time
Personally, the most important aspect of continuing training is the stress-relieving and relaxing effect. Also, it is during these lessons and the few times I can find to practice my forms, self-defense, and sparring techniques that I can fully relax my mind and let go of stressful thoughts. Indirectly, it helps me face the Covid-19 pandemic with clarity, make the safest choices for my family, and think about the safety of our community as a whole. I do miss classes at the dojhang and practice with other students very much. I also look forward to taking my son back to the kids’ class, and for my daughter to start her own martial arts journey. However, we must be patient, think of others before ourselves, support each other, and keep in mind that these are challenging times for everyone.”
Sebastien Gros, PhD
First Dan Black Belt