I stood there, facing two 12 by 12-inch boards, a couple of inches thick. I had no idea how quickly my confidence would drain when staring down a couple of pieces of wood.

I was at my green belt martial art exam, which is a belt level between beginner and black belt. I had done well through most of the test, although hours earlier I faced uncertainty and a lot of anxiety about it. I’ve never been a good test taker. I never realized, though, how important facing your fears were, until that day.

There was a large audience watching the test. They came to see their friends and family perform and demonstrate all of the cool martial art skills and techniques. For me, it was just my husband and I, who were both students testing.

At the very end of the test, I was unexpectedly called up by name in front of the crowd. It was a surprise because just moments earlier I was sitting comfortably on the floor with the rest of my peers, assuming the test was finished, and that we had all passed the rigorous challenge. As you know, life often throws you a curve ball when you least expect it.

“Andrea, do a jump front kick, and break these boards,” my instructor stated, holding the two boards together, back to back, directly in front of me. I just looked at the boards and felt my confidence quickly fade. I thought to myself, “I cannot do this!”

I jumped up, and sure enough, my foot bounced off, and the boards did not even bend. The quiet hush of the audience smothered me like a sticky failure. During the second attempt, I told myself that my instructor believed in me. Still, I kicked and left two boards completely intact. I know that the audience was holding their breath, in desperate anticipation of what may, or may not, happen.

Still, I kicked and left two boards completely intact. I know that the audience was holding their breath, in desperate anticipation of what may, or may not, happen.

This third attempt was all I had left. While my instructor believed in me, I knew there were four words that I needed to say to myself if I wanted to succeed. I turned my back to my instructor and the boards in order to regroup my thoughts. I began to whisper to myself over and over, “I can do this!”

I turned back around, jumped, kicked, and smashed through the boards with ease.

The lesson was quickly revealed. This was not about martial arts at all. It was about life. It was about believing in myself. My instructor knew it all along. It was not a test to break boards, but a test to break negative thinking, and a test to break self-imposed limits.

Every day, you face big, thick boards. They come in the shape of obstacles, difficulties, and discouragements. You may think that these negative barriers control you, but the truth is that you can control them.

Feeling like a victim, or giving up, are negative options that will never help you improve or overcome. Staring down the barriers with confidence and a strong belief in yourself will allow you the opportunity that you need to break through.

Push fear and anxiety aside, and instead focus on knowing that life’s unexpected “boards” placed in front of you, can be overcome if you believe.

I readily refer to my green belt board break incident as my “I can do it” story. Every time I face a new obstacle, an unexpected difficulty, or a disappointment, I remember the moment when I crashed through two boards, which at the time, seemed like an impossible task.  This moment carries me through and allows me to face each new obstacle with a positive attitude.


Today, think about a time in your life when you persevered or crashed through an insurmountable situation, and forever use it as your “I can do it” moment. If you cannot think of one, you can always use my green belt board break story as an example.

I’m sure you can feel the tension of the moment and understand how the pressure of performing this break in front of an audience may have felt when I was unexpectedly called up to demonstrate. Then, as I finally crashed through after three attempts, I finally recognized the true lesson, which applies to all of us.

If you want to live a positive life, you will be required to break through the negative.  It may take a few attempts, but that is okay.

The important thing to understand is that personal success requires positive action. The most important part of this lesson is that you can start right now to make this powerful change in your life.

The first step is to whisper the same four powerful words to yourself that I finally whispered to myself. Then, you will have the courage to push through.



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Andrea Harkins, a/k/a “The Martial Arts Woman,” is an internationally recognized writer, published book author, blogger, motivator, and public speaker. She has been a martial artist for 28 years, and is also a martial art instructor. Today, along with teaching and training, Andrea's passion and goal is to make the world a better place through her mission of positivity through martial arts.