Below you will find the speech that I gave during the 5 Year Anniversary Celebration and Open House. Upon writing this speech, I had the opportunity to reflect on these past few years, looking back on where we’ve been and where we’ve come, as well as on what we were and what we are now. It is a deeper insight into our journey this far. In addition, there is a lot of gratitude that I wanted to express. These words are not just for those that were present at the open house but for anyone that have ever been a part of our community, as well as to those that might one day also be a part of our community.
“Kicking off the open house, I would like to share the story of our school, who we are, how we came to be, how we’ve evolved, etc…for those who may not already know us or maybe even a different view for those who already do.
I originally did not begin practicing kungfu to learn martial arts. It was for mental health. I was struggling and my hope for remedy was a choice between taking piano lessons or learning a martial art and I, by chance, just happened to see this school on one of the worst days of that time. The effect that the practice had on me and my emotional state was clear from the first class. I knew I always needed to be doing this. I had no idea of the world that I was jumping into.
When I was still training in China, I had the idea that one day I would want my own school. I thought, 5 years from now, when I am 35, I will start my own school.
A few months later, after Louis and I had finished our tour in China and returned to Belgium, I visited home. At the end of my visit, when I was about to fly back to Belgum, the plane was delayed. The delay was enough that I had to stay in town and, since I hadn’t spent time in Raleigh in a while, I took a couple of extra days to enjoy. On the last evening, I visited the Kungfu Center, it had been the first time in 2 years. This was when Master Chen told me that he wanted to retire. I asked him what would happen to the school and he said he didn’t know but maybe he would close it. It was that moment, I saw it, I felt it, I knew it. My path, my direction, was clear. I spoke to Louis and my family, they all supported me. Two months later, I was starting my life back in Raleigh.
On paper the business was created in May but it was not until July 1st that the school was %100 under me. There was a lot to work out before I could really take it but in the end, I succeeded.
The transition was hard. Immediately half the students left. They didn’t know me, Master Chen wasn’t good about communicating what was going on and it wasn’t my place to do it. Also, Master Chen was gone immediately, he had been ready to let go for a long time. Master Zhao too, Vicki had stayed to help because she promised Master Chen but then also broke off at the end of November. Louis was in Belgium, working on getting his green card, I was living with a difficult roommate. I didn’t know anything about business, and I needed to figure out how the curriculum would work because my training had been very different in China than in Raleigh, I was intimidated at the idea of teaching young children…it was overwhelming and I was very much alone for a while.
But, one really good thing happened during that time. In September during the Dragon Boat Festival, I met Master Alex. Master Alex greeted me with his light. I found him to be a kind and genuine person and I liked and respected that about him. He was also transitioning in his martial arts journey. It was perfect. We hosted a seminar to test the waters and in January of 2019, he officially joined East Cloud. Master Alex was(is) a blessing and I was really grateful not to be alone anymore. Also at the time, I reconnected with my friends Mike and Ginny and then Louis came a couple of months later, so things were definitely looking up. Slowly, I was learning, and the school started growing. February 2020 was the highest revenue we had ever had at that point.
And then covid. Of course, covid was hard. We adapted the best we could and the landlord was gracious with us. But there was a lot of uncertainty for a long time. Many times I looked around the school and visualized the death of it, preparing myself in a way. Imagined packing things up, trying to think of other ways. Recovery was slow. Most people didn’t wanna train in a mask. Many people didn’t want to train indoors. All the things…
But we had a core group of dedicated people that held with us on through it. And then we picked up some others brave enough to try something new in a scary place. We got through it together and little by little, it started to pick up.
I still struggled a lot. Emotionally it was hard to deal with. Progress was so small and there were many moments where I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to keep doing it or if I even wanted to do it anymore at all.
But then, something changed one day. It was during Chinese New Year last year, 2022. I don’t know exactly what it was that shifted but I remember after that week, I no longer felt that way anymore. My heart was completely recommitted to the school and there have been wonderful developments since.
I have had many incredible experiences in my life. This school is a whole other level. When I was in China, I never could have dreamt what it would mean for me to run my own kungfu school. It is the greatest thing I have done in my life so far. The martial arts is such a small part of what we do and what this school truly is.
So, what are we then?
I struggled with the identity of my school for a long time. Caught between different styles, not particularly strong in any of them but needing to teach all of them. No clear direction for me to take and I didn’t have any guidance, as I said, my Masters had left me and it was a while before I found others again.
But, one thing I found over time is that, it didn’t matter because, just as I first came to the martial arts for reasons other than martial arts, many other people are the same.
It took me a while to realize that this school impacts people. I am not sure why it took me so long to see it because it impacted me, but I finally began to understand that this is what it is all about.
The true purpose. The martial arts, and thus this school, is a tool for life. Its a tool for self-discovery, self-development and growth. It is a tool for maintaining physical and mental health. Its a place of community and connection, a place to learn about a rich, endless, and fascinating world (the chinese martial arts) and share it with other people that are just as passionate about it. It is its own little beautiful entity.
So I realized that it is okay that we’re nothing specific…because we’re so many things. We are an eclectic mix of wholesome, passionate people and thus, we have a lot to offer people, to share with people, and in that way, we serve many people. That’s our purpose.
I never thought much about dharma until recently. This school is the reason I now know mine. Every time someone makes progress, has a positive moment, breakthrough, or endures through their challenge, I am elated. I am an incredibly sensitive and empathic person. I share those moments with you all.
When I first had the idea to teach, it was purely for selfish reasons but the experience of teaching drastically changed that perspective. As I look back at my life, who I am, how I am, what I’ve been through…I feel as if I was made for this role.
And as this school has evolved, so have I. Although I still have much to learn, I am more mature and balanced in my body and my mind than I have ever been. I have come to know and understand love, gratitude, patience, humility, and compassion as I never have before. I have come to learn and understand life as I never have before. This school is helping me become the woman I have always wanted to be. It helps me to be a person that I am at peace with being.
And while it is an incredible experience to learn and develop for my own life, part of building and growing myself is so that I can teach others how to do the same. While some people grow up with excellent examples of physical and mental health, I didn’t. I had to learn a lot for myself and it took me this long to figure it out and I have struggled so much along the way. The more I learn and understand, the better I can teach and share with those that may need it and help them also find peace within themselves. In Buddhism there is this concept of “serving all beings”. I embrace this purpose thoroughly. At this point, I feel as though it is my duty.
As for the future East Cloud, I have no idea. I was never able to make a 5 year plan. Sometimes I think about it, there are many ideas I would love to execute, experiences I would like to share with my community. But I have found it is not possible to ever really know what is going to happen. And I already absolutely love what this school is right now. In my eyes, it’s an amazing thing in my life. So I just enjoy it, keep doing my thing, and look forward to what may be.
In closing, I want to give thanks. So, so many thanks. Thanks to those that were there from the beginning. Thanks to those that stayed through covid. Thanks to those that were here and those that are friends with us even if they’ve never been here. Thanks to those that came back. Thanks to those that have gotten us through these years, through all the hardship. Thanks to all of you who help and support, in any way and every way. Thanks to each of you for being a part of this truly special experience. Whether you know it or not, your impact is no small thing. I may run this show but there is no school without its community. I am grateful for all of you.
One thing I have learned recently is that when you do something good, it is important to recognize it. You don’t need to be arrogant but, it can be easy to just bypass or downplay and if you’re trying to improve or create a positive habit, what good is it doing you if you’re not recognizing your progress? So thank you Master Alex, for the nudge.
And thank you all again. Happy Equinox and I hope you all enjoy the celebration!”
Spoken with love, Maestra Imari ♥