This is Mary, AKA Fo-Sho. Mary is an original Urban Kempo junkie that enrolled under me years back when I was a burgeoning instructor in Alexandria:

Hailing from Kentucky, the 5’5 librarian weighing in around a buck o’five is the oldest of 7 children. She is a wife and a mother who holds a passion for cooking (especially tacos), as well as baking for anyone with a sweet tooth. Upon first glance our Fo-Sho strikes one as being somewhat of a textbook Suzy homemaker right?

Mary, or Fo-Sho as we like to call her, is one of the most no-nonsense individuals that I’ve ever met. One of the hardest workers in the room, and equipped with a rare mixture of technique, power and speed, she takes her martial arts seriously and is incredibly focused when sporting her 2nd degree brown belt. She is loyal to the bone–whether to her beloved Wildcats, her husband Tim or to her dojo. And she will be one of the highest caliber black belts that Urban Kempo will probably ever produce.

One of the 5 Shaolin Principles is Self Control. A black belt should develop speed and precision, always striking with as much or as little power as intended. Here is Mary demonstrating her control. At Urban Kempo we take our time in awarding Black Belts, mainly because of the emphasis that we place on this one principle.

When I met Mary roughly 4 years ago she told me candidly that she was scoping out a number of schools in the area and wanted to make the right decision. She then pulled out a pen and a pad and proceeded with a series of interrogating questions about my dojo. At the time, I thought to myself that this woman needed to take a chill pill. But in retrospect, her behavior makes a lot of sense as I’ve learned over the years that Mary has a unique sense of dedication and loyalty, and she holds herself to very high standards in these regards. To commit herself to something and have to retract would be painstakingly hard for her.

A few years ago when Urban Kempo was a simple vision with no address and no bank account, and when most people thought it would never materialize, Mary called me up and asked if there was anything she could do to help, even offering to invest financially. This made a huge impression on me, as I was aware that Mary and her husband Tim lived on government salaries (Tim works for the DEA) and held aspirations to start a family. Fortunately I was able to obtain the funds without having to take her up on the offer, but it is certainly the intention that counts here.

I’ve learned in life that gallant displays of character are shown when people are willing to give and/or act, knowing that they potentially stand to lose something. Keep in mind that at the time Mary reached out to me, it was unlikely that Urban Kempo was going to succeed. Most of the adult students who had been previously training under me, while vocal in their support of Urban Kempo, decided to remain with what was the more stable entity at the time. Indeed, finding real estate was almost impossible for the inexperienced entrepreneur that I was, and Clarendon landlords aren’t typically compelled to rent prime real estate to martial artists. Compounding these issues was the fact that I didn’t have a trainer during this period, further contributing to notions of instability and risk. But these obstacles didn’t deter Mary.

People like Mary do the things that they do because the value of their self respect as it applies to doing what they feel is the right thing to do outweighs the fear of losing something, or contrarily, not gaining something desirable. Subsequently, these people have to pass up opportunities at times and suffer losses more than the next person as a result of their tendency to act on principle rather than self interest. In a world that thrives on the principle of self interest, why would anyone choose to live their lives like this?

Having been hospitalized and suffered permanent injuries for saving a person from a violent beating, and having been fired for standing up for fellow employees, I can attest that the people we stick our necks out for rarely reciprocate in the same fashion. But we don’t risk ourselves in this respect expecting something in return. We take these actions because we have a strong sense of right and wrong and a well-cultivated instinct that compels us to act in alignment with it. People who tend to risk their own wellbeing–whether financial, physical or emotional– invariably carry a unique burden specific to that lifestyle. But what they ultimately gain is so much more valuable.

The quality of the community that grows around you, no matter how big or small, grows in conjunction with your willingness to sacrifice. If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there for people, then the quality of your community will reflect that. I’m not talking about doing favors for people (I find that most people who do ‘favors’ take inventory of them). I’m talking about taking risks and/or making sacrifices for other people that aren’t easy to make. Even when the person that you’re making the sacrifice for doesn’t respond positively, other people recognize you as someone that is special. And slowly but surely you’ll notice that a cadre of loyal and similarly principled people have gravitated towards you out of both admiration and identification–birds of a feather do flock together.

From day one and throughout Urban Kempo’s first year when we were holding lessons in parks, Mary was the most consistent adult showing up for the Iwo Jima workouts. When we finally landed our Clarendon address, Mary and Tim competed in my circuit training sessions, racing around the building, jumping rope in the dojo and doing burpees on dusty and nail spattered floors. Here again, she could have decided that it was a poor investment of her time and energy to meet up at parks and in backyards to practice a curriculum that was changing constantly and was potentially deadened, but she remained committed.

In 2013 Mary became pregnant with her son Max and continued working out with us until she was 8 months pregnant. At some point we agreed that the time had come for her to stop wearing her belt as the little girl from Kentucky had been showing for some time and the belt began to look like a ribbon! She persevered through our workouts, and learned how to execute the challenging movements and pivots in the midst of full-blown pregnancy. We missed her that August as month 9 arrived and as she geared up for her new life as a mother. After a short hiatus, she was back in action in October without having missed a beat. Needless to say the dojo was elated upon her return.

Fo-Sho is a staple of the Urban Kempo dojo. A time-efficient woman who arrives just prior to her workouts (her very first nickname was ‘Fo-Till’, referring to the time as she tended to arrive four minutes prior to workouts), she exercises hard, and departs quickly to get back to her family life. You may want to catch a few seconds of her time if you’re fortunate enough share a workout with her. A woman who genuinely enjoys helping others, she’ll go out of her way to help you in any way she can.

True to the Urban Kempo dogma of prioritizing the experience over the belt, when I asked Mary what rank she was after having been without gi’s for our first year in the parks, she’d forgotten her rank—it wasn’t important to her. Like most of us at Urban Kempo, she’s here for the experience and is perfectly content with that.

I always had a very good relationship with Mary, but when she offered to invest in Urban Kempo during our most challenging hour, I saw that she was ready to risk something special of hers for the betterment of something that she believed in. I saw that rare person that only comes along once in a while if your lucky. And she has done nothing but strengthen that persona ever since.

So thank you Mary, AKA Fo-Sho AKA Fo-Till AKA Fo-Shizzle AKA Fo-Sho-No-Sho for being who you are and for blessing our dojo community with so many real life examples of what Kempo means to so many of us! Indeed, one of the many Urban goers that sacrificed in efforts to make the Urban Kempo project a success, our community owes you a big thank you. And if you ever need someone to get your back, you know where to go! We got you at 3000 North Washington Boulevard, STE C!

Till next time,