V.P. of Operations,
Whitsons Culinary Group
Hometown: Islip, N.Y.
Education: Southampton College, B.A. in psychology
Has two sons: Austin, 17, and John, 10
What started as a simple self-defense class turned Kelly Friend, vice president of operations for Whitsons Culinary Group’s B&I division, into a martial arts master. Here, Friend talks about what she’s been through while trying to earn her black belt in karate.
“I started karate about five years ago. I got into it because a group of women in my neighborhood that did social activities together wanted to try out an adult self-defense class for women. We loved it so much that the teacher said if we wanted to form a class, he would teach an all-women class at our Dojo [training place]. Since there were 15 of us we had a big enough group to have a dedicated class. The class meets twice a week and I’ve done it for five years now.
Becoming a black belt is an arduous process. It’s a lot of classes and a lot of private practice with a sensei. I study a specific type of karate called Shaolin. It’s the purest form of karate because it has no other martial arts mixed in. I chose to study Shaolin because our sensei really loved and appreciated it more than any martial art. Once we started practicing Shaolin, I got attached to it. The difference is that Shaolin is a much more disciplined and structured martial arts form.
You start off with the lowest belt, which is white, and you work your way up the belt chain. In my art form, there are six belts before you get to black. Each belt takes approximately a year to two years to complete, depending on how dedicated you are. For each belt, there are different techniques you have to master. There are also other physical demands; for example, in the very early stages you have to do 50 sit-ups in a half an hour. As your belt grade gets higher, you have to do 100, then 200 and so on. The physical challenges are very strict and demanding as you go up the ranks. Every time you test, instead of just testing material you learned between your most recent belt and your new belt, they test you on information from all the way back to the original belt before they begin the belt test for the newest color level. It’s a lot of memorization. That’s probably what I struggle with the most. I’m aiming to earn my black belt by fall of 2009. Black takes a long time, most people have a brown belt for an average of two and half to three years.
One of the most challenging aspects to master has been a specific piece of the Shaloin called forms. There are several different forms such as flying tiger, which is probably one of the hardest ones—especially for a 40-something year old woman, although we do have a woman in our class with a black belt who is 62.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up with my classes because I work so many hours, go home and take care of a house and kids and stay active in many other things. One time, during an overcrowded class, we were doing a floor mat exercise where everyone had to wait their turn. So I was just resting on the mat, waiting my turn and the next thing I knew I had fallen asleep.
I really started getting into karate because it filled so many of the requirements that I was looking for. It was exercise. It was a discipline form, which I think is brilliant. It has so much history and artistic value to it. And it also covered the self-defense because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s frightening to even go shopping at night. I travel all over New York’s boroughs for work and sometimes I’d be in a neighborhood that I was concerned with, look over my shoulder and scurry very quickly to my destination. The confidence karate brought me was unbelievable.”