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Ultimate Quest for a Black Belt

Sara Gadson was diagnosed six months after she started training in the martial arts style of Shorin Ryu Shorinkan Okinawan Karatedo, a form of karate. She has a kimochi all her own.

Sara Gadson does Karate with multiple sclerosis


As multiple sclerosis patients, we all know how important a positive attitude is when it comes to fighting our invisible opponent. In Japanese, attitude is called kimochi.

I started my martial arts training in December 2006 and six months later I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  My first symptom: double vision. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office with parents and my husband terrified of what my future may hold. I was 23 and in severe denial. How could someone so fit, so careful with her diet, and no family history possibly have MS? I decided that the doctor was wrong, that it must be misdiagnosed Lyme disease or some other freak thing.

My neurologist assured me that I could still have children and live a long and healthy life. Then I asked about my karate training. He waffled a little—not really knowing much about the training—before telling me I was okay to continue… but under NO circumstances was I to fight. He did not want to chance a hit to the head. I understood that.

Still, my kimochi is forward.

As you can imagine practicing martial arts with multiple sclerosis has its unique challenges. I have had to excuse myself and walk out of the dojo barefoot into the winter night to cool down in the middle of a difficult workout in order to bring my sight back to normal. It is often difficult (and slightly dangerous) for my peers when I’m practicing weapons with numb or tingling fingers. On more than one occasion my atypical coordination and lack of balance would have indicated that I should be at an AA meeting instead of karate class. Though with patience, diligence, and attention to my own body I have kept my kimochi forward-looking, penetrating through my invisible attacker.


“Perseverance” and “indomitable spirit” are two virtues that martial artists strive to attain. We are a self-disciplined bunch and some would argue slightly insane. I’m not sure I would disagree. These two virtues carry extra meaning for me. Few if any of my dojo peers will ever understand what it is like to persevere through debilitating fatigue to force oneself to go to class. I’m also certain none of them can understand the emotional and psychological havoc that I have gone through. It is just not fair to feel healthy and normal and then be slapped in the face with an MRI that was worse than the last one despite medication. Still, my kimochi is forward.

I train in martial arts because it is an excellent way to “transcend one’s self." I refuse to sit down and give in—that just isn’t in my DNA. I will fight and persevere. After all I have MS it DOES NOT have me. I look forward to dominating my invisible opponent in the future. I know there will be battles lost but I will not lose the war. I am a fighter and if I have learned one thing from my training it is not to strike back with only one technique but many. Confuse your opponent, end the fight, and YOU be the one to go home or, in the case of MS, be the one to WALK home.

Where is your kimochi?


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