My name is Talon Clayton, and I am a second-degree blackbelt at Frohm’s Martial Arts. I can honestly say that I do not know if I would be alive today if it weren’t for FMA.

 

I struggled navigating race, sexuality, gender identity, and mental health growing up in Oakland. I suppressed many aspects of my identity to conform to social constructs of Black masculinity. From the outside looking in, it seemed like I had it all together - straight-A student, athletic, friendly -, but on the inside I was deeply ashamed of who I was. 

 

Frohm’s Martial Arts became my outlet and my lifeline. Our humble dojo in East Oakland was often the only reprieve from the constant struggle of navigating my identity. At FMA, when I bowed my head to humble myself as I entered the door, when I tied my belt around my waist, when I saluted the flags to pay respect - I assumed one identity, and one identity only: martial artist. I wasn’t a man or a woman or gay or straight or rich or poor — I was just a martial artist — just like everyone else. Training with my brothers and sisters at FMA was one of the only times I felt normal, accepted. 

 

I earned my first-degree blackbelt a couple months before I embarked on a new journey: an undergraduate career at Stanford University. There is no way I would have gotten into Stanford without FMA. I wrote about  my martial arts journey in my personal statement for college applications. (I was also accepted to Harvard, Princeton, and UCLA). At Stanford, I continued training and returning to FMA to teach, but more importantly, I carried the spirit of FMA with me into every classroom, seminar, exam, interview, conversation, etc. FMA taught me to use the Five Principles of a Blackbelt as inspiration to accomplish my goals: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit.

 

After graduating from Stanford with a degree in Human Biology, I started working for a start-up in Silicon Valley. I was one of the first few hires, and since then the company has scaled ten-fold and has opened four offices around the country. I was a curriculum writer, instructional designer, a trainer, and an operations manager. (You wear many hats when you work at a startup in Silicon Valley). I trained over 700 people, and largely laid down the foundation upon which the company is built. I was so successful at such a young age because of the confidence that martial arts has instilled in me. Public speaking and training employees became a part of my daily routine. I was so successful at managing classrooms and board meetings because FMA taught me how to become a teacher. FMA taught me to figure out how to ‘reach’ people - whether it meant perfecting the pivot on a roundhouse kick or explaining fundamental attribution bias to a group of engineers. I’ve recently accepted a job working at a major tech company in Silicon Valley. When I think back on my interview process, I remember that I spoke about the lessons I have learned from FMA and how I employ the five principles of a blackbelt in my daily Iife. 

 

There is no way I would have been able to achieve so much without Frohm’s Martial Arts. I am Black, queer, and gender-nonconforming, and the only reason I can embrace who I am today is because Frohm’s Martial Arts saved my life at twelve years old.

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