It's been almost 18 years since I first set foot into Ben Kiker's United Karate Studio in Dalton, Georgia. My dad decided to enroll my three brothers and one sister because I was being bullied in school, and there's no way he could send one child without having the other four ask questions. My younger sister was not even two-years-old, at the time, and too young to join.
I remember the defining episode that compelled my dad to equip us with a way to defend ourselves. A bully at school had spilled chocolate milk all over me in the cafeteria. I remember my dad coming to school and wrap his arms around me, as all I could do was sob uncontrollably. I could only imagine the feeling of helplessness my dad felt. He had to do something, and he did.
Mr. Kiker welcomed my family with open arms, and though we couldn't afford his services, he told my dad to never remove us from his studio. No matter what, he would teach us. And that he did. We trained under his wings and started competing in local tournaments. But Mr. Kiker wanted to push us further, wanting us to compete at a higher level. My dad started driving us to bigger tournaments, but when he couldn't, Mr. Kiker would take us personally. I remember Mr. Kiker warning my siblings and I, "If you don't come back with some serious hardware [1st place trophies], you're going to be walking home." We took his warning to heart, and we won. Over the years, we accumulated over 1000 first-place trophies, and competed close to the highest level.
Looking back at the almost two decades of physical, psychological and spiritual instruction, I can synthesize his philosophy in one statement: Do good, for no reason other than to be good. That's what he did. That's what he lived by. That's a big reason why I'm an attorney.
I will fight for as long as my body will allow me, both in karate and in court. This past Saturday, I competed in my final martial arts tournament in the 18-29 age division. I remember the first time fighting in this division, because I got beat up pretty bad. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn. I certainly learned a lot. I am fortunate, however, that I was able to bring back a first-place trophy, putting a nice bow at the end of a 12-year-span, in what many would say is the most grueling division.
A few days ago, about 125 blackbelts celebrated Mr. Kiker's 70th Birthday. He has taught probably thousands of blackbelts, and each and every one of them has been impacted in an unfathomable way due to Mr. Kiker's generosity, kindness, and love. True love.
Recently, I heard a rabbi explain that we oftentimes use the word love incorrectly, e.g., I love fish. No. You like how the fish tastes to you; otherwise you wouldn't kill it and eat it. That's not love. True love is not about receiving. It's about giving. Mr. Kiker has dedicated his life giving his students his time, knowledge, wisdom, and love.
In December of 2011, at my wedding, I presented Mr. Kiker with a trophy: First Place Gentleman. There's nothing that I or any member of my entire family could do to repay Mr. Kiker for the impact that he made on our lives, but it felt good to do it for him.
I don't remember Mr. Kiker asking me to do anything for him, but on Monday, during his surprise party, he did ask one thing: Don't stop competing. Keep showing up and keep fighting. And in all facets of life, I certainly will.
After all these years, one thing is for sure. I don't get bullied anymore. For that alone, I cannot thank you enough Mr. Kiker, but thank you.