Amaris first walked through the doors of UPMA nearly four years ago. I immediately noticed how shy she was, that she lost her balance easily and was afraid to try new things. Amaris suffers from regular and sometimes severe seizures. As a result, she can be shaky, often lose her balance, and has a developmental delay.
I remember the first time I asked her to punch a focus mit. She said to me, “But my hand is shaking”. I assured her that it was alright and encouraged her to punch it anyway. She was also very concerned about doing rolls because she sometimes becomes dizzy. Again, I assured her that we all get dizzy occasionally, but the trick is to just wait until you aren’t anymore. I offered the same guidance when she would frequently lose her balance. What do you do when you lose your balance? You stop and you catch it of course. Then, you continue with what you were doing. You see, these were all obstacles that she never knew she could overcome. When she was provided with the opportunities to prove to herself just how much she was capable of, the flood gates blew wide open and it was absolutely amazing to witness.
Today, you would almost not recognize Amaris. Her self-confidence has grown tremendously. She wants to try everything! Aggressive takedowns, bring it on! Spar with the boys, let’s do it!! compete in her first ever Jiu Jitsu competition, can’t wait!!!. Just this past April, Amaris competed in the Grappler’s Heart Tournament. She fought a very tough opponent and despite giving a valiant effort, she lost. However, that didn’t stop her from having the time of her life. After her first match, she jumped up with a smile on her face, ready to go again. And she did. After each match, she ran off the mats with a big smile on her face and with arms wide open ready to hug her coaches. She even stuck around for an amazing seminar after the tournament. I am confident that when the next opportunity rolls around, she will be the first to sign up.
In addition to her gains in confidence, Amaris has achieved enormous growth physically and mentally as well. Her balance has improved by leaps and bounds. She can perform back to back multi directional kicks without falling over. Those limbs that she was so afraid to use because they were shaking, have since increased in stability and coordination. Her mother tells me that before participating in martial arts, she had trouble with depth perception, something that has also improved. Even her memorization skills have increased, surpassing all expectations. In addition to all of that, she has also gotten much stronger physically (nothing brings a smile to her face like seeing her coaches wince when she hits those pads).
Students like Amaris are the reason that UPMA exists. She has not only gained skills that should benefit her the rest of her life, she has also had the chance to experience things she never dreamed to be possible. The smile on her face coupled with that exuberant giggle of hers, are things that I will cherish forever.