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Casey Dark - Sonya The Brave

By Created: August, 2017 - Modified: February, 2018

I believe that martial arts are more than just self-defense, that they can improve one's health, build self-esteem and heal deep emotional trauma. My name is Casey Dark, and I am the creator and founder of a therapeutic martial arts program called Zen 360 Martial Arts. I teach at a residential treatment center for kids who have early childhood trauma. While I have taught martial arts to dozens of children over the years, one student stands out as living proof that martial arts can truly change someone's life. This is the story of Sonya.

Sonya was adopted at birth as her biological mother was only 17 and her biological father was in prison. Sonya's adoptive mother reports that the adoption agency was corrupt, paying woman to have babies. Sonya was born with a cleft pallet and had 5 surgeries before the age of 12. Sonya's adoptive mother and father were separated and, if all that wasn't enough, Sonya's adoptive father died of cancer last year.

When I first met Sonya, she could not even look me in the eyes. She sat slumped over in her chair and seemed uncomfortable in her own skin. Sonya was overweight, her hair was disheveled, her general hygiene was poor and her insecurity about the scar on her upper lip was magnified by an overwhelming lack of self-confidence.

I'll never forget the first time she joined a Martial Arts group. The words, ''I can't'' echoed through the room as she defeated herself before even setting foot on the mats. We began with some warm ups, push-ups, sit ups etc. When we began to hold a deep horse stance Sonya again uttered the ''C'' word.

I looked at her and said, ''You are not allowed to say that word in this class.''

She looked back at me bewildered, confused and somewhat hopeless and said, ''So what do I do?''

''Just do it. Don't think about it. Just do it,'' I responded. From this point on we had an understanding that I would have hope for her until she was strong enough to have it for herself.

Over the last two years in our program, Sonya seemed to fall in love with martial arts. She was always excited to train. One day, Sonya discovered her strength as I handed out sets of escrima sticks to students. I could see that apprehensive look on her face which I greeted as usual with a grin reminding her to step outside of her comfort zone to again surprise herself with what she was capable of.

I began teaching a partner drill with sticks known as sinawali. Sonya was hooked at the first crack of the sticks and learned the patterns faster than any student I had ever worked with. Sonya was a natural!

Last month I invited several students from the center to participate in a martial arts demonstration. Sonya and I did a double stick drill that provoked cheering and applause from the crowd. The people who witnessed Sonya's performance would never believe me if I had told them that Sonya used to lack confidence. Just recently Sonya participated in an anti-bullying Seminar put on by Zen 360 Martial Arts. At the end of the seminar she was interviewed.

Me: Why do you like martial arts?
Sonya: Martial arts make me feel strong and remind me that I am more than just what I look like on the outside.

Me: Have you ever been bullied?
Sonya: I used to get bullied all the time about my cleft pallet and weight.

Me: How has martial arts helped you deal with bullying?
Sonya: I feel confident and know how to stand up for myself. I notice that just being okay with myself and accepting myself, I don't get bullied and I have more friends.

This young lady has inspired me beyond my expectations. Sonya intends to continue training martial arts throughout her life, and I couldn't be prouder to share her incredible journey. As I build my school and grow my student base I look forward to helping many more amazing young people just like Sonya.

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Casey Dark
Zen 360 Martial Arts
Rio Rancho NM 87124