Throughout the years, I’ve had many friends and associates ask me how I manage to control my Diabetes and still do martial arts to the extent that I do. I’ve been studying for so long at this point that it basically feels like second nature to me, but I’ve had friends who have come to watch karate classes to see what all the hype is, only to be blown away by the physical exertion, sweat and effort that goes into traditional karate. Given my age, I would be lying if I said that my flexibility and ability to push as hard and as long as say, twenty years ago still existed.
Although I’ve had an interest in the martial arts since a very young age, it wasn’t until my Diabetes complications started to overtake my ability to fight them that I tied on a karate gi and stepped into a dojo for the first time. The rest would be a lifetime story that continues to play out to this day. The martial arts has given me so much, and I think that the average person fails to understand just how many benefits there are to proper, traditional training.
When I say “proper, traditional training,” I don’t mean a commercialized martial arts club where there are hundreds of students, you basically fend for yourself and hardly ever have any one-on-one coaching. I mean the little bare floor dojo down a side street or back alley; the one that has a dozen students at most and push themselves to the point where the floor is literally soaking up blood, sweat and tears… The kind of place where you learn, not only to defend yourself but a definite lifestyle that you keep with you until your end of days. THAT’s the kind of training I was blessed to have throughout my childhood and into adulthood.
Now, I could go into one of my “fun” little bullet lists about all the benefits that martial arts can provide for someone who really dives into it and gives it their all. But instead, I’d like to bring up a very special martial artist that I read about years ago. I found a photo of this little guy while researching something else, and it reminded me of the importance of believing you can achieve your goals, no matter what. I’m talking about an inspirational young lad named Shoham Das.
Shoham Das was a young boy from San Jose, who was born with a rare heart condition in which he is missing his right ventricle and in effect only has half a heart. The condition is so rare that it’s thought to afflict only 1 in 10,000 kids. Das has had three open heart surgeries at three days old, six months old and four years old, respectively. This means his endurance tends to be low and he often requires more rest than a counterpart of the same age without this condition.
Despite this condition, Das has been studying Tae Kwon Do and mixed martial arts since the age of 7, and during a weekend in early May of 2014, Das tested and successfully graduated his first-degree black belt at the age of 11. The testing, which required two hours of combined skill in various areas of the art he studies, required Das to have his oxygen levels monitored by his mother throughout, but he was successful and continues to train.
Now if you do the math in your head (and hopefully you don’t actually have to), this means that he graduated his first black belt in only four years, and prior to maturity. Although I’m not a fan of this practice, which seems to be the norm in many modern-day dojos, you can’t argue with the focus and will required to reach this level given the specific ailments Das has been diagnosed with.
In fact, some of Das’ doctors have indicated their belief that all the physical activity and structured study involved in the martial arts has made Das’ muscles and heart tissues stronger, allowing him a better quality of life and to be able to do more without getting tired so easily.
Although Das has a lower endurance than a counterpart without his condition, he’s been blessed to study at a dojo that focuses on the skill rather than the endurance. An aspect in which Das has in abundance. Although many dojos turned him away due to his condition, Das eventually found an instructor who took him in. He kept at it and by last year Das is said to have achieved a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and continues to train.
Last month, at the age of 16, Das is looking towards the future and is considering a potential career in medicine. You can read about what he’s been up to here: https://healthier.stanfordchildrens.org/en/half-a-heart-and-a-whole-lot-of-spirit/
In the above link, Das has shown to be humble, attributing his health and continued life to his doctors and specialists. It stands to reason that he wouldn’t have gotten this far without them, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the increased strength, discipline and skill he got from training in the martial arts all those years have definitely played a key role.
If you look at this impressive young man’s life and see how much he’s accomplished DESPITE his condition, it may lead you to ask what the hell some people’s problem is. Anything is always more than nothing, and amidst anything else happening in your life, it’ll always be up to you to take yourself in hand and ensure your continued health, whether you have a medical condition or not.
I look back at my life and I have a clear understanding that in order to survive given my personal complications, I couldn’t just sit back and depend on others. I had to stand up and make things happen for myself. Just like Shoham Das. Although he may only physically have half a heart, he’s got more heart than most. ☯