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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sophal's Story: Professional Achievement through Childhood Dreams

Sophal Keo is an assistant instructor at West Seattle Karate.  He has stories to tell about being impressed by the strength of punches from instructors in their 40's or 60's.  He also has a lot to say about the importance of understanding how to do things correctly and understanding why they are done that way.  But the story of how he got to where he is leaves all that in the dust.

Sophal Keo, living the dream.

Sophal is the son of Cambodian immigrants.  Being only two years old when he came to America, he was blissfully unaware of the conditions his parents faced before that. Because of their experience, they strongly objected to violence in any form and raised their family accordingly.  While Sophal acknowledges a certain admiration for their adherence to their principles, he also tells of frustration when they disapproved of his interest in martial arts.

"I rebelled," he says.  His parents pushed him to achieve in school, to no effect.  His grades suffered from lack of effort.  Never having performed well in school, he thought of himself as a failure.

The turning point was during his senior year of high school.  It was a major assignment where each student had to choose a goal or project.  Sophal set the goal of getting his yellow belt in one month.  Since it was academic in nature, his parents finally relented.  He signed up at West Seattle Karate and indeed did achieve his yellow belt within the time he set for himself.

"It was a boyhood dream come true."  He loved it and stayed with it.  But he also has an introspective assessment of what happened.  He cites that senior project as the first time he pursued his own goal instead of the goal of a parent or teacher.  His success inspired him to achieve.

He recalls the realization that he was completely capable of achieving in academics if he only applied himself in the way he did with karate.  He turned his grades around and not only went to college, but graduated with a double major in Accounting and Supply Chain Management.  He now has a successful career as an auditor while working toward his CPA.

Bachelor of Science degree in hand.

I asked him what he thought would have happened if he hadn't done that senior project. He paused, as if the question were too daunting to answer.  Then he said, "I wouldn't be myself."  He can't imagine things being so different.

Today Sophal is a big believer in the value of martial arts instruction to students of all ages.  He summarizes his main takeaway from his own experience succinctly:  "Be diligent, put effort, and always make goals."  He's quick to point out, though, that there's more to martial arts than is illustrated by this story.  "There's a lot you can learn in martial arts, not just that one lesson."

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