David Muhammad is a Social Studies teacher at Shawnee Mission East, who is also known for sponsoring Coalition and the boy’s Lacrosse Team. Outside of teaching, Muhammad competes in martial arts tournaments across the country, and has been doing so for as long as he can remember. Check out this Q&A to learn how Muhammad’s martial arts career has developed throughout the years.
Q: How did you get started with martial arts?
A: My father is a karate instructor, so ever since I could walk I’ve been doing martial arts. It was just something my dad did and I wanted to be like my dad, I was never forced to do it. I have siblings who tried it, but quit early on. It is just something I fell in love with at a very early age. Even now, I teach karate after school and on Saturdays, it’s my night job. It’s something that if/when I transition out of teaching at schools I would want to do full time.
Q: Is it still something you are doing/still competing?
A: Yes I am still competing. Two years ago I qualified for the US karate team to go to the Pan-American Championships, so I went to Peru, and then I went to Vancouver for the North American Championships (North American Cup). Every year you have to try out again to make it, so last year I was not on. This past weekend, I made the team again in Colorado Springs as an alternate. If someone is to get injured in training or can’t attend the competition, then I’m the number one person in my weight class they call to step in, so I’m technically back on the US team again.
Q: What are the credentials/qualifications to get on the team?
A: We had the US nationals this past summer, and you had to place top six in your division. I fight, I’m in what is called Kumite. In my weight class I placed in the top six so this got me an invitation to the US team trials, which were in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. Then you had to make top three to be on the US team. The higher you place, the more possibility that gives you. First place gets full-funding and goes to Austria, second place person goes to Brazil, and Mexico for the North American Cup as well. My position is like waiting and seeing if anyone gets hurt. Not that I want anyone to get hurt, but it happens all of the time. Either a guy gets in trouble, can’t go financially, or people get hurt in training. I can’t get complacent and think that I’m not going to go, I have to train as if I’m going.
Q: What does your training entail?
A: I train about six days a week for 2-3 hours each day, which is pretty tough because of working here and teaching karate classes at night, so I have to squeeze in training whenever I can. On top of that I have a wife and daughter, so that makes it hard as well. I do technical karate training each day, and I also have strength and conditioning in which I have a personal trainer who meets with me once a week, and pushes me through hell. I also have to watch my nutrition, make sure I’m eating correctly, and try to get as much sleep as possible.
Q: What ways have you found that are the most successful in terms of motivation?
A: I have a coach in Colorado I train with as often as possible, who has been really great for me. Coaches on the US team give us advice also. Two weeks ago we met with 4-5 US team coaches that helped us with what we need to work on and gave us the latest, most cutting-edge stuff to use. The key is that you can’t stay complacent because everyone has already figured out the stuff that was working last year, so we’re always looking for new techniques and skills to stay current.
Q: Are your wife and daughter a big motivation for you?
A: Big time. If I didn’t have the support of my wife I wouldn’t be able to compete the way I do. Since I am taking a lot of time away from her and my daughter, I better make the most of it. Even if I don’t win I better enjoy and embrace every moment. I’m only going to compete for 3-4 more years because I’m at that point in my life where I’m going to focus more on teaching.
Q: Aside from the physical standpoint of martial arts, does it teach you life skills as well?
A: There’s a huge discipline factor, and I think that discipline helps adults as well. It helps you learn how to handle a situation when it doesn’t go your way, and that’s a self-defense ideology and a life ideology. If somebody is angering me or something like that, I have to figure out how I’m going to deal with it, because sometimes the karate instructor in me comes out. I am usually a pretty peaceful person and i think part of that comes from the aspect of martial arts. Ultimately, I think martial arts has taught me to have the mindset of ‘this is what I am and this is what I can do’ and I think that has taught me to be happy with my life and what I have.
Q: Obviously your dad has been a big push for you along the way, is he still a source of motivation for you?
A: He will be 70 this year, and he’s still teaching classes and could still beat me down, easily, so I still have a lot of reverence for him. Something that’s been really great for me is the idea of martial arts being a lifelong thing. It’s more than a sport, it’s an art, and art evolves. So right now my focus is more of the sport aspect, but I might paint with a different brush in a few years, who knows.
Q: Do you think even if you hadn’t pursued martial arts, the life skills of martial arts would’ve still impacted your life because of your dad?
A: His martial arts background has impacted the way he fathered me and my siblings, we were all influenced by that. I just decided to go much deeper with it, I’ve learned to really embrace the art itself, and hopefully carry on my dad’s legacy. He’s really well-known in the area from a martial arts standpoint, and so hopefully I can keep that going.
Q: Did your dad compete? If so, is that why you compete?
No, he wasn’t big into competing at all. It was something that I became very passionate about. I played basketball and other things like that, but karate was always my thing. When I was at the Olympic Training Center, I had to step back for a second and realize that I am one of the best at what I do in the country, and not that many people get a chance to say that. It is really humbling too, because I know that it’s not going to last forever, so I have to embrace it while I can. As long as I’m doing a sport like karate, I want to be amongst the top. I know I’m not the best, but I like being amongst the best, and I want to keep that going for as long as possible.