Guest Blog by Michelle Hodnett
Project Dojo is a nonprofit community outreach program in Pueblo, Colorado, that works with at-risk children. Through the power of martial arts, Project Dojo seeks to inspire and motivate kids within a safe environment, while continuing to teach the traditions of martial arts. This is the story of Project Dojo co-founder Michelle Hodnett’s experiences in her martial art journey.
I stared down at my coffee, knowing I was going to be on another sixteen-hour shift. I worked as a corrections officer in the local jail, in the segregation unit. Here, the inmates who had been deemed too dangerous or violent for the general population lived while they served out their sentences.
Suddenly, the radio clicked in: “Code 82, Seg 4!” Setting my coffee down, I rushed out with the sergeant and three other officers. As we ran down the hall, the blood rushed to my ears. I could smell fried baloney, leftover from lunch, in the air. The strobe-like flash of lights blinded us, and the shrill alarms deadened us as we raced down the hall. My heart rate leapt and matched the pace of our boots, footsteps echoing down the concrete corridor.
Hodnett as a corrections officer.
“Master Control, open the sally port!” the sergeant shouted over the radio. Over the noise, I heard someone telling us that there was a K-9 in the unit. Then the doors opened, and we rushed in to a cloud of pepper spray. It burned my eyes, and I took a step back as my vision blurred.
I still remember the scene unfolding around me: a unit in chaos, the sound of myself and the other officers coughing, the jeers and shouts from the inmates as they banged hands, trays, and bodies into cell doors. The dog barking in the corner. I had a moment of clarity. After five years of working in the jail, I had to ask myself, “Do I really want to keep doing this? I have so much more to live for!” That epiphany stayed with me.
That night, I arrived home exhausted. My husband sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and said: “I have an idea. Quit your job. Chase your dream, and run the dojo with me.”
In that moment, it was as though he proposing all over again. I looked at him and said, “Yes, let’s go for it!” It was like I had been given permission to do what I already knew I could. Find a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
The past and the present.
Letting Go of Who You Are; Becoming Who You Are Supposed to Be
After realizing my goal, I started working intentionally to make it happen. This was not a decision to make lightly. I had the responsibility of two children to raise, a household to maintain and I had resigned from a stable career as a metropolitan county corrections officer to become a full-time martial arts instructor. Only a few people have the courage chase their dreams. There’s always an excuse: not the right time, not enough money, too much work. No one said chasing a dream was easy.
On the other hand, regret is awful. A powerful dream that you don’t follow will bring equally powerful regret. I will not live in the spirit of fear nor will I live with regret, so I chose to face my future head-on. I ran towards my destiny, and distanced myself from my history. I hung up the duty belt and tied on the black belt.
The Dream Continues…
After running our largest school in New Mexico, we moved on to the next state over, Colorado. Here in the city of Pueblo, we have found a solid community of families ready for enrichment martial art programs like Project Dojo. Colorado has good schools, good weather, and is perfect place for our dojo and family to thrive.
We have already re-built clientele, hosted several family events, and made several business connections in the city. We installed an indoor running track, added new classes, and set up a pro gear shop. The on-the-mat success has been an ongoing and I believe that the Pueblo students will be the strongest crop of martial artists we’ve trained yet. Dreams make you take chances, but chances can bring more opportunities!
We had faith in our dream that we could run our own dojo; teach our own curriculum. We believed that we could be successful if we just tried. We went all-in for it, and it has been the most fulfilling journey that was beyond what I imagined. We’ve learned so much about life and we’ve found a way to make it work where we can fulfill our dreams while helping our community. We’ve become successful with the support of each other. There is a real longevity in the martial arts community here and we hope to continue to cultivate that love of martial arts for many more years to come.
Michelle Hodnett is the co-founder of Project Dojo. She is a third-degree black belt with over 15 years experience as an instructor.
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