I AM JMAC: Amber
“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Amber began training at JMAC in June 2017 and has earned a green belt in Nihon Jujutsu. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long” she says. “Time flies when you are having fun!”
Amber is a PhD candidate in environmental health sciences at the U of M School of Public Health. Her research revolves around exposures to phthalates, chemicals found in plastics and cosmetics, and adverse birth outcomes. She worked at the CDC for a summer as a Masters student and absolutely loved “being surrounded by so many kind and intelligent people who were so enthusiastic about hearing a young person’s perspective.” Her goal is to return to the CDC for work once she graduates with her doctorate. Although she earns a stipend, Amber supplements this income working as a waitress. “I have a self-inflicted busy schedule” she says, and “must be self-motivated in my work.”
Amber didn’t always want a career in public health. After going through her undergraduate career wanting to become a physician and then failing to reach that goal, she quickly had to reevaluate her path and stumbled upon environmental health. “Public health was a huge accident for me, but I’ve found it’s 100% where I am meant to be. School was always what I was good at so that failure hit my pride really hard, but I’m so much better off now because of it.”
Experiencing that failure for the first time also made Amber realize how much she valued her academic success, and how much her happiness relied on it. “I realized I didn’t have a lot in my life that I was living for besides school. I was taking 17-18 credits every semester, double majoring, and didn’t have the time or desire, or financial resources to do much else.”
“Soon after starting the Master’s program I went through some pretty serious personal issues that made me realize that I had to figure out how to be happy, just me, with how my life was.” She found self-fulfillment in the gym and was able to pull herself out of a funk, which started her down a path of better confidence and self-awareness.
What first got you into martial arts?
“Self-defense was always on my radar, but time and money were always obstacles” she said. She’d had previous conversations with people who had suggested jujutsu for smaller women interested in self-defense. Just one google search lead her to JMAC.
“I remember Suino Sensei asking me what my first impressions were after my first lesson. I told him I felt really great about it, and he says ‘yeah I can already tell you’re going to like this, you’ve had a big geeky smile on your face this whole time’”. Just that one private lesson sealed the deal for Amber. She knew this was going to something she’d enjoy.
“Since then, I have found at JMAC the things that made me happy when I started lifting, but to a much greater extent. In the dojo, I can let go of everything else that’s happening in my life. It takes so much more of my mental focus when I’m there and there’s no room for anything else in my head, and I think that’s so therapeutic. I could be having the worst day balling my eyes out on the way here, compose myself, and walk in and everything is better. The people here are so amazing!”
What are your greatest challenges in martial arts?
“I’m not good at not winning” she said. “I’m very competitive and I’m not used to not being the best at something. When I started I thought that was going to be difficult for me, especially since I was the only white belt in class. It was very intimidating at first and I wondered if it was going to be a deterrent.” As Amber began to train consistently she became more and more comfortable with all the other students in class, the black belts in particular. She noticed the differences between each of their teaching styles and now takes every opportunity she can get to work with the more advanced students and learn from them. “It’s a new experience for me - very humbling. All the more advanced people are so accommodating. Students and instructors all have their own way of communicating and teaching and it makes the experience well rounded. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I miserably fail a technique in front of anyone, and that’s something that makes the training atmosphere at JMAC so incredible.”
“It’s a whole lot of stepping out of my comfort zone and I’ve been pleased with the outcomes every single time. I’ve not been disappointed here, not once.”
What about size differences? You train with some big guys!
“That was definitely intimidating at first! But now it’s just something we joke about in class every time I’m working with a guy who’s a foot taller than me. That’s the beautify of what we do - you don’t have to be big and strong. If you are doing it right you can over power anyone - with the right technique. Amber goes on to talk about the benefits of working with people of different sizes and how she learns so much simply from working with a variety of people in each class. “You practice a technique with a certain body type in class and you know in your head that you would never try that technique with someone of that body type in a real-world situation. That’s a valuable thing to know.”
What unexpected benefits have you experienced as a result of your training?
“The relationships I’ve built with the people here, with the instructors in particular, they’re all amazing. In my life I’ve had a significant lack of good male role models. Having some awesome people to look up to here is really valuable to me.”
How has your training carried over into your professional or personal life?
“Part of me is always in a JMAC mindset. I think about it all the time. I think about how I’m standing in the hallway or waiting for the bus to come by. ‘My knees are locked. My knees shouldn’t be locked.’ It’s continual physical awareness. I used to never think anything of walking down the street with my headphones in and now I think if I was doing that and ran into Gage Sensei or Suino Sensei, they might say, ‘What are you doing? You know better than that!’ This training really forces you to be more present and aware of how you could be vulnerable.”
“More so than anything, my mental health has improved so much by being here. This is my escape, something that allows me to step away from everything so that I can go home better prepared to tackle the next day. I think what it boils down to is that it’s something that makes me happy. There are so many people that fill their lives with things they are unhappy with, and I’m so grateful that I’ve found such happiness with JMAC.”
Do you have ideas/thoughts about the experience of training at JMAC?
“It’s a family. It’s a JMAC Family. It’s not just a gym. We all come from different walks of life. We are all different ages and have different life experiences, but we come here and that all goes away. We’re here together.”
“My big message is that it’s not about the physical benefits I get from JMAC. That’s obviously a benefit. It’s more mental. “It’s one of the most unexpected best decisions I’ve ever made. I feel like part of a family here and I wasn’t expecting to gain anything close to what I’ve found.”