Jillian Beck 2017-04-27 04:34:28
Peaceful Fighter An Austin attorney finds tranquility and strength in martial arts. Austin attorney L. Todd Kelly’s fascination with karate started as a family affair. Watching his sons learn the basics in classes over a decade ago piqued his interest in the martial arts, and before he knew it, Kelly was off the sidelines spectating and on the floor learning the meticulous self-defense practice. He quickly excelled, earning a black belt in less than five years. Kelly, a lawyer focusing on personal injury cases, owned and operated a dojo—a training hall for martial arts—in Richmond for six years while also running a law firm. “The reward of seeing children develop skills and confidence is one of the highlights of my life,” he said. After moving to Austin in 2012, Kelly stopped teaching but he still trains when he can find the time. “There is a peace that comes with training,” he said. “As you become singularly focused on the technique of the martial art or the self-defense, the stress of life—and particularly of the practice of law—simply melts away.” Looking ahead, Kelly doesn’t have any lofty aspirations related to his karate practice; he just hopes to continue. “Martial arts are not about the goal but truly about the journey.” How is the Zen-Do Kai karate that you practice different from other martial arts systems? Zen-Do Kai is a blended martial art—a combination of Shotokan, Ishinryu, and Taekwondo. It is different, primarily, in that it changes as more effective defensive techniques are learned. What is the most challenging part of karate? As with many goals worth attaining, it is pushing yourself past what you thought were your limits, only to then learn that your limits were a little farther out than you first realized. Are there any similarities between martial arts and practicing law? The interesting thing about karate is that it teaches you to use your opponent’s weaknesses (and sometimes even strengths) against him or her. You learn to put your opponent in a position of confidence and over-assuredness. It is then that you truly have the advantage. I was once competing with a younger, faster, stronger opponent whose physical abilities were clearly superior to my own. I had to use my wits and keep my focus on his few errors when sizing him up for our match. His over-confidence was his own undoing. That translates well into the practice of law where we often become too confident in our own positions of strength, blinding us to the outlying issues that sometimes become our undoing—or become our keys to victory. What have you learned from training? Mostly, I have learned to be still in chaos and to focus on one goal when there is so much going on around me. I have also learned to treat each defeat as a lesson so that I am more competent in the next match. People who do not know the martial arts see them as aggressive (and certainly, some are), but what I have found is that the trained fighter is one of the most peaceful people you can know—he will only fight if he must, but then he will fight with everything he has. It is a good lesson for a trial lawyer. What does it take to get a black belt and how long did it take you to achieve it? A black belt is, itself, a piece of cloth, and you can buy one for about $6 online. However, to become a black belt takes discipline and hard work. The time it takes to earn one varies from about five years at a minimum (at least in our system) to decades—depending upon the level of effort and focus the artist trains with. I was a black belt in just under five years; I was allowed to test early because of an upcoming trial at the time. Are there any misconceptions about martial arts? The biggest misconception about martial arts is that we are all like the Cobra Kai from the movie Karate Kid, training for violence. It is actually quite the opposite: We train to avoid conflict and only use our physical skills if we are completely unable to avoid it. In some ways, I guess it is like a trial: If we can negotiate a peaceful resolution, we do. If we cannot, we fight with all that we have. What is your favorite technique? A favorite move would really depend upon the situation I was in. I think that I felt most accomplished when I was able to pull off a jumping, spinning hook-kick—just because it required more skill than anything I had done prior. Tell us about a memorable moment from your practice. One of the highlights of my work as a martial artist was not really mine. I was teaching a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome. His mother told me that his doctor had recommended martial arts because of its focused nature and that she wanted him to try, but he was affected to the point that he would never actually perform by himself in front of others. About a year later, I watched this young man, full of pride, as he performed his kata in front of an audience while his mother cried in the background. It was simultaneously one of the least perfect performances and the most perfect performance that I have ever seen.
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