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In Their Own Words – Tales from the Black Belts – Rebecca Stauffer

My Pathway to Black Belt

My pathway to black belt was an unexpected one at this point in my life. I am 51 years old, married for 12 years, have two children, and have worked for the same company for 32 years. My pathway to black belt has very much been parallel to my life which its achievements are attributed to hard work, respect, discipline, common sense, and giving back.

I recall the first time I saw Renshi Matt teach the free karate class that the girls started to take as a follow up to a birthday party they attended. I remember saying to my husband Doug, how patient he was with the kids, and how he commanded the respect and attention of them. Sensei Randy too, they both were amazing. I had never seen anything like it before. You can say I was hooked from the beginning.

I never missed a karate class, mind you I was sitting on the bench watching, taking notes so I could help the girls be the best they can be. We would practice karate at home with all the moves they learned in their karate class. We did this for over a year. I wanted so much to get out there and do it with them. One day my wish came true. We were asked if we would be interested in training with our girls in karate. Without hesitation, we answered with an enthusiastic “absolutely”. It was just after that in March of 2017 I put on my Gi for the first time, tied the karate white belt around my waist, and yes, I already knew how to tie my belt since I had been doing it for the girls for a good while at this point.

Now with the whole lobby full of parents, I walked out onto the mat and bowed in for the first time. I knew going in I was not the most fit I have ever been, not even close. I knew that if I let it, I could have been really embarrassed to be winded after doing 20 jumping jacks or the fact that when I bent down I could barely touch my knees never mind my toes. Push-ups and sit-ups never mind…I think you get the picture. But I did not let it deter me from this special opportunity. My physical transformation back to someone I used to know has been an amazing by-product of my training. But most importantly, my courage to step out of my comfort zone, in front of other parents who are watching, has encouraged others to begin their martial arts journey as well. Each time I see a new parent training with their child, it brings a sense of pride that I may have had something to do with motivating them to get out there too.

The most meaningful point in my karate journey has been the opportunity to train with my husband and my girls. Training with my husband as my training partner has truly been the best. To train in martial arts with your spouse I believe takes a special trust which in turn forms an unbreakable bond with each other. We can be honest with one another about what we need to work on, and we have more opportunities to encourage each other which is always good for a strong marriage. The time spent training with my girls has really been one of the highlights of my life. As a mother of girls, you have a natural instinct to protect them and sacrifice your own wants and desires for those of your children which perfectly aligns to the warrior which is one who sacrifices herself for the good of others. I have become more self-aware. I really have focused on giving more than I take and working on listening more than I speak. Through this journey, I feel a personal responsibility for the training and progress of my family. I believe that is why martial arts and the way of the warrior are part of my heart and soul.

Being a parent, one cannot help but compare yourself to other parents to see if you are doing this right. What I have discovered through the teachings of Renshi Matt and Sensei Randy is that I was not messing it all up. I found a kinder spirit in martial arts that reinforced what we were teaching the girls at home even before we walked through the doors of the Dojo. I lived by certain principles in my life not because I had been taught them as a child but because I was determined not to become like the people around me. Many of the principals I lived by and have instilled in the girls you will find in two places, the Bible and our Crabapple Martial Arts Training Manual. Some other principals we teach at home are always arriving 15 minutes early, thinking of others above ourselves, not being afraid to fail… it is all about showing up in the first place, to be the hardest worker in the room but have fun, respect for others, obedience and humbleness are all building blocks to a well-trained black belt. I am grateful for these lessons that are taught in the dojo that have shown my kids that it is not just mommy that is crazy.

Now to my favorite part of my journey, the training in martial arts. From waza to kata and everything in between I genuinely love the interpretation, the performance, and practical applications of each technique I am taught. Renshi Matt, Sensei Randy, Mr. Robert, and all the instructors who have shared their knowledge with me, I thank you sincerely. Martial arts is not just a sport, it is a lifestyle, and its members are not just another person in the dojo training. They are a close family who desires nothing more than to pass on knowledge and encourage you to succeed. I remember, being in the sea of fellow martial artists, all men by the way, at my first away martial arts seminar. I could count the number of women present on one hand and three of them belonged in my family. I must confess that I was a bit intimidated walking in a room to train with all the higher-ranked individuals. I had two goals in mind, to work so hard to show them that I belonged there and to make my Renshi proud. I remember Hanshi Bowles commenting on how focused I was. That made my day. Another highlight of this seminar was when the whole crowd cheered for my daughter Mia who won the big raffle prize at the end of the seminar. There were not many children there and just as myself, the girls showed that they belonged there by being present, trained hard, and in turn made me so proud.

This journey would not be complete without challenges to overcome. The year of our black belt testing, COVID 19 hit. This certainly made training a challenge but with the perseverance of Renshi Matt, Sensei Randy, and Mr. Robert, they made it work virtually. We set up a satellite dojo in our basement and we have been training there for nearly 9 months. I thank you for not giving up and finding a creative way to keep our training going. I think that is why I have taken on the responsibility to ensure the girls and my husband know what they need to know albeit it comes will the title of nag instead of Sempai.

It is one week until my first black belt test. I have put the work in, studied the material, practiced each move what seems like a thousand times and my stomach is still in knots. It is real and it is happening. Never in a million years did I think at the age of 51, I would be embarking on this wonderful journey filled with self-discovery. I think of the Shuri Ryu seal and realize I have experienced the symbolism during my path to black belt. I have experienced our art inside my mind, body, and spirit while I perform the techniques with power speed, and form. I feel my growth and progress as a martial artist but also as a wife, mother, sister, friend, and employee. I have always been strong but now I truly feel I have endurance and longevity. I appreciate the tradition and purity of our art and will stay steadfast in carrying it into the future so it will be everlasting for generations to come. I will continue to lead with the courage to step out of my comfort zone. I will show my girls and all those who are watching that while the pathway to black belt is not an easy one, it is one worth taking. It is also not the final act of earning the black belt that is what is good, it is the journey along the way is what makes it special.

Thank you, Crabapple Martial Arts family, for making this journey so rewarding for me and my family.

by Rebecca Stauffer


alpharetta-karate-black-belt and Crabapple Martial Arts Academy has been selected the nation’s #1 martial arts schools for SIX YEARS IN A ROW by the American Budokai International!

Founded in 2013 by Mr. C. Matthew White a 5th degree Black Belt in Karate and 5th degree Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu, and Master Instructor, Crabapple Martial Arts and Karate lessons for pre-school children ages 4-6 and elementary age kids ages 7 and up are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need – specialized for their age group – for school excellence and later success in life.

Crabapple Martial Arts Adult Karate training is a complete adult fitness and conditioning program for adults who want to lose weight, get (and stay in shape) or learn self-defense in a supportive environment.

Instructors can answer questions or be contacted 24 hours or the day, 7 days a week at or call directly at 770-645-0930. You can also visit our website at

About C. Matthew White, Renshi:  Matt is a fifth degree black belt in a traditional Japanese and Okinawan Martial Arts – Shuri Ryu Karatedo and also a fifth degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu – Shintoyoshin Kai Jiu Jitsu, and is a master instructor with a title of Renshi, which means Scholar in Japanese.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Physiology. He has been training and teaching martial arts for over 27 years and has owned Crabapple Martial Arts Academy since 2013. Renshi White is a motivational speaker and educator and teaches seminars in bullying, business, and martial arts training, around the world.

Crabapple Martial Arts Academy Headquarters is in Alpharetta, Georgia at 12315 Crabapple Road., Suite 124, Alpharetta GA 30004. You can locate the Chief Instructor, Sensei Randy Neese there directly at (770) 645-0930.