Journey to Black Belt and the Fear of Failure

black belt

Sitting in a parking lot, staring at a building for twenty minutes, debating whether or not to go in, messes with you, especially when you’ve been through tougher times. Usually though, during those tougher times people will tell you that you had no choice, that you did what you had to do. But really, we always have a choice and with every action we do, we are the ones who choose to do it.

I’m not sure why I was so resistant to start a self defense class. Albeit, I wasn’t the most physically active, it was for six weeks, dubbed the “Ultimate Self Defense” class and included learning to strike people who were trying to strike me, which ultimately, besides smacking my brothers occasionally,  was a foreign concept.  But after leaving the parking lot and circling the building (a couple of times), a friend of mine finally showed up. Intimidated as I was, I still got out of the car when she did.

Flash forward,  three years later. She and I are still parking in the same lot, walking into the same building together and are still learning more martial arts skills and more about ourselves each day.

It took me a while but I eventually realized what the key word was to all of this and that key word was “self”.

The day that I stepped out of the car with my friend was the first time in over a decade,  I was doing something for no one else but me. I’m not sure what compelled me to but it was the smartest move I ever made for myself.

How I went from an “embarrassed-to-be-wearing-a-white-uniform” introverted woman in a room full of skilled black belts to actually getting ready to “test” for my own black belt, in less than 48 hours might I add, is a bit of a shocker. But in life I’ve come to “expect the unexpected”.

So here I sit, along with ten or so other women who are right there with me, each of us having our own story and reasons for walking in the front door of Olson’s Martial Arts and tying that stiff belt around our waists.

I may not know why everyone decided to take the “journey to black belt” but I do know that along the way each of us either had something to conquer or figured out something we needed to.  I also know that when each of us felt challenged that each of us worked harder to figure out a way to deal with it.  I know we all had moments of success. We all had moments of failure.  There were times we would laugh. Times we would cry. There were times we were pushed just like times we’d push others. And I know more than anything else, that all of us were always right there for each other, making each moment in our black belt journey one that ended positively. And finding a large group of people like that, as you all know, is never an easy task.

But at Olson’s Martial Arts it’s a reality:

A reality created by Nanci and Katie who are always with a warm greeting when you walk in the front door.

By Walker whose gentle nature always brings comfort.

By Kristina who always brings us composure.

By Kellie with her constant passion.

By Ashlyn with her ability to conform her teaching style in a way that translates beautifully to others.

By every assistant instructor and student who walks through those doors with their positive energy.

But most of all,  for me it is a reality created by Amanda Olson who set the bar just high enough to make me work for it but just close enough for me to always taste it.  It’s a reality created by Glenn Olson who oozes a genuine comforting spirit like no other mentor I’ve ever experienced. And it’s a reality created by Keith Olson who understands the deeper meaning of what makes me tick and understood immediately that I have switch and taught me how to tame it.

I may have broken a toe along the way but I’ve also managed to break four concrete bricks.

What’s coming up for me is not a “test”, it’s an accomplishment. It’s not a trial but an honor. It’s not something to fear but rather it’s something to celebrate.

Pass or fail? We “passed” the first day we put on our white gis and decided to keep walking in the front door.

And if for some reason, as fate would have it and things don’t go my way, I know for certain that everyone mentioned above will be right there with me to make sure it eventually does.

As Mika from Blades of Hope might say, “As long as I look good doing it!”

I may not share the hugs but I definitely share the love…


The Passing of a Friend

Sometimes we don’t realize how much the current “us” exists because of the people we connect with in our lives. Often, this realization doesn’t occur until much later when many years have passed. Suddenly, in what feels like a blink of the eye, a decade or more comes between you and a friend you were once spending everyday of your formative years with.

There are no hard feelings. No falling out. Time progresses and before you know it, you are sitting there in a daze wondering how time went by so fast and how connections and friendships were lost.

Was it me?

Was it them?

Was anyone to blame?

Questioning and rationalization come into play as the mind wonders “What happened between us”?

Life happened.

Friends drift.

Life evolves.

People move.

Careers are formed.

Marriages begin.

Illnesses occur.

Children are born.

It’s simply a matter of “how things work”.

If you’re lucky, the friends from your past, the really good ones, the ones you know “get” you and watched you become and understand who you are today, are the ones that after years and years, even with nonexistent communication, are the ones that when you finally do by chance bump into them, act as though you saw them yesterday.

This is what I had with my friend Milton.

For many of us, Milton was there during our most awkward of years. He watched us as teens try to figure out who we were and what we wanted to be. He stood by our sides as we tried new looks, new music, new personalities. He watched us cry. He watched us laugh. He offered support and always, ALWAYS,had our backs whether he agreed with us or not and empathized because he too was going through the same, but always put others first.

When I learned of his passing I was stunned. It did and still feels surreal. He was a huge part of what makes me who I am today. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around it. The more I think about him, the more difficult it is to comprehend.

At the same time, the I more think about him, the more I smile.

I smile because the very mention of his name always had that effect on me.

I smile because no matter how dire a situation was Milton was always a positive and happy soul who found the best in any given situation.

I smile because all of the wonderful memories that I shared with him immediately flood my mind.

I smile because that’s exactly what Milton always did, he made me smile, he made me laugh.

Words cannot truly describe the emotions and thoughts that are currently in my mind.

The loss of Milton feels as though I have lost a major part of myself, a portion of my history vanished.

Milton was a part of many of us during our most formative years and we are fortunate to be able to say we knew him. He took the time and effort, that many people don’t often give, to get to truly know and care for those around him.

Years had passed since I had seen him last. I often wondered about him and always smiled at the thought of him. As fate would have it, I was blessed with seeing him one last time, a little over a year ago.

He made the effort to come out to my brother’s comic book signing in our home town.

When he walked through the door my emotions immediately lifted. We chatted for over an hour as though no time had passed between us. Our humor meshed just a well as it did in high school. His genuineness still exuded from behind his bright blue eyes. That special connection we had was still there, unaltered.

He filled me in on the happiness with his wife.

He filled me in on the happiness with his step daughter.

He filled me in on how life was finally where he wanted it to be.

He was happy and so was I.

Even though we planned to get together for lunch, I knew the chances were slim.

Even though we planned on me meeting his family, I knew the chances of that were also slim.

But more than anything, regardless of our busy lives not allowing the above plans to happen, I knew without a doubt and wholeheartedly that he 100 % meant every word of what he said. That he honestly and genuinely had full intentions of having me be a part of his family’s life. That he had full intentions of getting to know mine.

We laughed a lot that day.

I’ll never forget the peace and happiness that I saw on his face when he talked about his life.

And even more so, I’m grateful that I was given the chance to see him one last time in his adult life.

Before we parted and made plans for a lunch that never happened he left me with one final thought as he turned to walk back to his car.

“Maryam,” he said “I’ll never forget what your father told me when I was 18.”

“What’s that?” I asked

“Distraction leads to destruction. He’s a smart man.”

I smiled.

He smiled.

“Peace be upon you.” were the last words I ever heard him say, as he got in his car and drove away.

Milton, my dear friend, you always were and always will be missed.

Experiencing the Middle East Film and Comic Con




Traveling over seven thousand miles from home, one is bound to feel like she has entered a portal into another universe.  Often, one may think that life on the other side of the world is incredibly different.  Though this thought may be true, the amazing part of one’s journey is realizing that no matter where we live, who we are or where we come from there are common threads that tie us together as human beings.

The common bond between different “worlds” was evident to me as I ventured with my brother, Sohaib Awan and friend Keith Olson (insert shout out to Olson’s Martial Arts here), to the United Arab Emirates for the MEFCC (Middle East Film and Comic Con) in Dubai a couple of weeks ago.

For starters, the differences in cultures started as soon as our trip did.  Two people from Tennessee (who have very different cultures from one another in general) teaming up with a gentleman from the Philly area were sure to create a motley crew as we boarded a plane to Dubai from the already melting pot of JFK airport.

Throw in a couple of genders, religions, a variety of ages from different decades, a range of skin tones and hair color and a complete set of differing personalities and the adventure begins just by being in the same room.  Add to that equation a double decker thirteen hour plane excursion to the Middle East and the list goes on.

Managing energy levels, eating and sleeping schedules and traveling styles was a task in itself and yet each of us meshed well together, beautifully, with no conflicts (other than irate film discussions here and there, but hey, what are brother and sister “Film Nazi’s” to do?).

Yes, stories are plentiful of our journey.  If need be I could write a book about all of the crazy, awkward, unique, educational, awesomely fun and eye opening situations that occurred in our seven days as traveling companions but I’m typically a person who lives in the moment of adventures.  I don’t talk much about what did or didn’t happen.  When people ask how my trip was I typically answer with an emphatic “Good!” trailed by an “It’s was fun.” If people ask me more specifics, I might divulge some information but for the most part I keep it brief.

Overtime, stories will surface,  usually when relevant to conversation,  or when I have the sudden urge just to tell someone who “gets” me and will understand why I’ve suddenly decided to blab a tale of an odd or wonderful occurrence.  Mostly though, my travel stories will be memorable moments that I keep to myself and/or share with those who were present.

Now,  what I absolutely can share is how incredibly awesome my first real Comic Con was!

Just when we thought we entered a new world and culture traveling across the globe we realized that the MEFCC was like the film Inception…a dream, within a dream, within a dream and it just never stopped.

Thousands of excited fans (and by thousands I mean tens of thousands as in 30,000) anywhere from Europe to Kuwait filtered in and out for three days of what was an absolutely unique and wonderful experience.

Love Movies? The Con had you covered.

Comic fan? Check.

Cosplay? Absolutely.

Appreciation of Art? Definitely.

Like meeting celebs? Take a number and stand in line.

Music? Yes

Video Games? Of course.

Lights, cameras, action!  You name it, “it” was there.

(Aside from meeting Giancarlo Esposito aka Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad) My favorite part of the Con was engrossing myself in the absolutely fascinating culture of a Comic Con, bonding with fellow comic book creators/artists and the amazing opportunity of getting to spend time with and doing martial arts demos (thanks to Keith) for potential Blades of Hope fans, hoping to inspire a variety of strengths in young women and men they may not know they have.

Yes, it’s a very different world in the Middle East.  Dubai itself is a city of prosperity, beautiful skylines with amazingly modern architecture where taxi cabs of the Lexus variety gracefully glide along highways. The posh city of Dubai sparkles in a way I’ve never seen before.  And despite the amount of seriousness and wealth that oozes from the pores of many Dubai locals, they are honest and kind in this city where everything is chicly massive. And though the city is complex with its presentation and use of technology there is simplicity to it that I miss.

In the end, regardless of how different my world is in Tennessee from the streamlined towering structures of Dubai I still prefer my mountains and trees.

But the most important thing I learned while we were away is that we all have a common thread, the desire to have fun, relax and be happy even if just for a little while.   So whether you are from green mountains in The States, a small town in Kuwait, a cobble stoned street in London or a palace in Dubai through the love of movies, comics and art, the MEFCC brought to everyone just that.

Thank you MEFCC for showing us that in the end we are all pretty much the same.


For more information on Jabal Entertainment’s Comic Book Series Blades of Hope:

Blades of Hope: Press Release


Blades of Hope” Philadelphia Press Release:

Women and girls from around the world, trained in martial arts, join forces to solve a worldwide disaster and instill hope using their intelligence, physical strengths and good character.

PRESS RELEASE Philadelphia, PA –
With the help of publishing company Jabal Entertainment (creators of the IDW published series Jinnrise), co-creators Maryam Awan and Sohaib Awan and author Paige Hartman debut Hartman’s first partial fantasy graphic novel, Blades of Hope, hoping to reach out to young adult audiences uncommon in the comic book industry.

In Blades of Hope, strong female characters, skilled in martial arts, modestly take the helm using their intelligence, physical strengths and caring natures to help others in a world struggling to survive.

“Having a Master’s degree in Counseling, I’ve dealt with the many struggles our youth faces daily when it comes to body image. Today’s young audiences, male and female, are fraught with a society where they feel they must showcase their bodies far more than showcasing their intelligence and inner strengths.” says Hartman. “My decision to become a full time writer was easy. I knew that there were creative ways to reach out to our youth through mediums that young adults naturally gravitate towards, which today is through the entertainment industry. The art of graphic novels and comic books is rapidly evolving reaching more and more audiences daily. Such a beautiful art form can and should be used to connect with our youth helping them to value themselves. I believe, as a superheroine, you don’t have to be naked to save the world.”

Blades of Hope follows the journey of lead character and martial arts expert, Suriani, as she teams up with other women and girls to solve the mystery of a continuing apocalypse. It is through their wits and skills that they are able to close in on an other worldly devastation that surrounds them.

Jabal Entertainment CEO, Sohaib Awan, plans on releasing Blades of Hope internationally and in the United States later this year.

For more information on Blades of Hope and author Paige Hartman please turn to the following social media:
Blog: Facebook:
Twitter: @thewritepaige

22 Things I Learned about Running a Business from Watching Breaking Bad


Who needs business school when we’ve got television?

Here is a list of 22 things I learned about running a business from watching Breaking Bad. Can anyone argue that Walt’s work ethic was astounding?

1. You must have passion for what you’re selling, whether you use your product or not.
2. Start out small, local, and build your empire slowly as you go.
3. Find co-workers and employees that you get along with and have the same vision and philosophy as you do.
4. Don’t step on anyone’s toes. The people above you are there for a reason, it’s best not to cross them.
5. Finding trustworthy and loyal partners is key to a successful business relationship.
6. Sometimes the best employees don’t have a college degree. They can be just as talented as anyone else when taught according to their learning style.
7. Before you hire someone make sure you do a background check.
8. Creating a superior product against competitors is difficult but once you do you can take over the industry. Keep trying.
9. Never mix business with pleasure.
10. Work stays at work. Keep work separate from family.
11. Outsourcing can save you time and money but it’s not always the best idea.
12. Hiring your friends can bring unnecessary drama.
13. If you have a booming business continue to live below your means.
14. A signed contract is always safer than a verbal agreement.
15. Sometimes working with your competition can actually expand your business.
16. Make your product stand out so it’s noticed. A little splash of color can go a long way.
17. Keep your secret recipes a secret. Sometimes your life depends on it.
18. Don’t be fooled, sometimes your best sellers can be found at the bottom of a barrel.
19. A good lawyer is hard to find. Team up with one that shares the same morals and values as you.
20. Every trend and business can have a lifespan. When it’s done, it’s done.
21. Be honest. Know the real reason you started your business and accept it, there’s no reason to lie to yourself.
22. If you are an arrogant boss, with an uncontrollable ego, you’ll end up a lonely one man show.

Call Me Lonely Hearts, the Valentine Grinch


In about two weeks, thousands of people, young and old, will be scrambling around looking to purchase items in pink and red.

Flower sales will rise as will the sales of greeting cards, lingerie, strawberries, poorly made stuffed animals and chocolates wrapped in heart-shaped boxes.

Children will be licking the frosting off of pink sprinkled cupcakes while possibly exchanging tiny superhero or princess cards with one another at school parties.

Many men and women will feel the heat, not from a deep meaningful relationship, but from the pressure of making sure everything is perfect on Friday, February 14, as to avoid the possibility of tears and a potential argument.

(Personally, I’ll be feeling the heat by graduating to a new belt in Taekwondo that night, which to me, is far more meaningful than a goofy eyed monkey professing his love and dark chocolate covered truffles, but that’s another story.)

Like many teenagers, people around the world will be adopting the festivities, without even an understanding of what this day represents, simply because other people are doing it.

Those who (think) they have found that “special someone” to share it with will have a night to remember. Whether the memories of the night end up being good or bad is also another story.

Which brings us to everyone else. The Naysayers. The Day O’ Love Grinches. The people who reject any form of romantic comedy. The ones who shuffle their feet in the dirt as they walk by mumbling their annoyances at all things cute and cuddly. The Lonely Hearts.

Which makes me think about and observe my surroundings. As I sit here, getting my oil changed, I witness the disconnect of the human experience. Customers are making certain there is ample seating space between them, staring at tablets or screens, creating a see-through shield, not unlike myself.

Suddenly, I feel someone staring at me. I look up to attempt eye contact with a smile only to receive the quick “Damn! She caught me looking” turn away in return. Uncomfortable, I decide to take a quick bathroom break.

Not even five minutes pass when I return to find my seat was immediately stolen by the customer who pulled the ol’ “look away”. There are plenty of available seats. He was sitting in one. Why did he get up and cross over and take mine? Was it some weird attempt to connect. Was he even looking at me in the first place? Perhaps he was coveting my chair the whole time? Maybe he just wanted to get closer to the old school western that was playing on the waiting room television.

Whatever the case may be, it’s irritating, I hate my new seat and I’m definitely not going to take his old one.

Regardless, my own hang ups aside, calling a spade a spade, I am equally as guilty as everyone else when it comes to wanting to keep to myself.

My inanimate screens have “got my back” for those awkward moments when I just don’t want to talk. They are a means of escaping discussions I know I shouldn’t have. They are a way to create the “please don’t approach me” line of invisibility almost, at times, as harsh as the old school “talk to the hand” gesture but far more passive-aggressive.

On the flip side, my devices have also been there for me, like a reliable friend, in the moments I felt ignored or not needed by others, acting as a safety net, a digital wingman and quick access to a willing person on the other side waiting to connect through social networking or texting.

Bottom line, I’ve felt the empty awkwardness of loneliness and being out of place, even when surrounded by many others who are seemingly having a good time.

It’s safe to say, we all have.

As of 2012, there are reported to be 7.064 billion people on Earth.

7.064 BILLION.

With so many people, how can I possibly ever feel lonely?

How can anyone?

Why are there people out there who feel so lonely that they can’t stand to live another day? There is always someone in close proximity to talk to, right?

Is it our obligation to at least try to make sure that extreme loneliness in others doesn’t occur? Should we be the ones to welcome others into our worlds, even just briefly? After all, everyone, at some point, just needs to be heard.

With 7.064 billion of us out there, surely we can take a few minutes out of our day to be there for someone, whether we know them or not, to let them vent, to let them cry, to make them laugh to help them smile.

We all have the ability to be sources of comfort.
Comfort for the young.
Comfort for the old.
Comfort for those who are like us.
Comfort for those who are not.

Regardless of our commonalities or differences, we all have one thing in common, we’re all human beings who feel lonely one time or another and the more we are there for each other the more together we’ll all be.

That being said, it’s amazing what five minutes of genuine attention can do.

Breaking Bad, Disturbingly Good


Insomnia kicked in the night I completed The Final Season. Was it because of the caffeine I drank or the overwhelming rush from the last four episodes of the series? Most likely a bit of both.

Between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM I woke up four times. Each time I rearranged my pillow and changed positions, my eyes popped open thinking about and almost worrying about the characters from Breaking Bad.

For the first time ever, in a television series, to some degree, I was drawn to every last character. For some, I couldn’t wait for their demise. The others I rooted for, hoping they’d find some sort of peace or redemption, knowing they were only destined to be doomed.

Aside from Breaking Bad’s stunning cinematography, witty and intelligent writing, flawless acting across the board and it’s Tarantinoesque direction, the development, evolution and conflicts of the characters, within themselves and with others, is what impressed me most.

Brimming with beautiful Shakespearean tragedy, each character grieves and attempts to unsuccessfully cope through their emotional, mental and physical losses, desperately clinging on to their versions of a “justified” reality that doesn’t exist.

Breaking Bad is far more than a crime drama. It’s an artistic statement of arrogance and guilt and when combined how they eat a person alive. It’s a commentary on the evils of the world and how they lurk around every corner and sometimes even within us. It’s about escapism, greed, rationalization, family. But most of all, it’s an oddly realistic and desperately sad journey of facing and accepting one’s own demons and fate.

I may be late in the Breaking Bad game but I wouldn’t have wanted my overwhelmingly intense and emotional journey with the characters to be any other way.

So cheers to Breaking Bad and it’s incredible artistry. Here’s to totally messing with my head and emotions as I struggled myself with accepting the fate of and who your characters really are, you truly are a masterpiece.