by Michael Markos
Looking across the table to a partner from a prominent Arizona law firm, he shakes my hand welcoming me to meet with him. The first question from his mouth was “so let me get this straight, you are a fifth degree blackbelt!” My name is Michael Markos, I am a second year law student in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and I am also a fifth degree black belt.
In attendance at a tier one law school every student is smart, talented, and ambitious; so what makes us different? For some the only difference is their GPA, for others it is externships or club participation. Although, with the amount of clubs and externships the lines begin to blur in the eye’s of employers or perhaps even when applying to schools for that matter. I for one, have a 3.72 GPA, I am ranked in the top 5%, I have preformed an internship at a top Arizona law firm, and am the Vice President of the Corporate and Business Law Society.
On paper when applying for a summer associate position or even an externship position, every applicant looks just like me, they all attend a prestigious law school, they all have to be within the top 20% of their class, they all have some legal experience from a internship or externship, and most if not all have positions of leadership within the myriad of the clubs found on campus. So again I pose the question what makes you different, what will separate you from the rest of the horde of applicants?
At the tender age of six, I began martial arts with the intent of becoming a “Super Saiyan” from the cartoon Dragon Ball Z. While, the intent of my parents who knew this was an impossibility was simply the comfort of knowing that I will be able to defend myself in a world becoming more and more adversarial. I was not the perfect student, in fact far from it. Soon my parents realized that the not only do I need to know how to defend myself, but I would also need a serious lesson in respect. This lesson was not “fun” as a child to endure, however, my parents forced me to continue. After years of being is this culture of discipline, I learned what respect truly was, however that was not all, I learned about the most influential concept a child could comprehend and this skill was perseverance. From tournaments to my training in the Taekwondo School, I was drilled in the concept of never giving up no matter how hard, no matter how much you want to quit, to simply never give up. This was the first time that a taekwondo concept had affected my education. This life skill was directly tested when I did not get into the law school I had strived to earn entrance into. Instead, I attended an unranked school, in which for an entire year I pushed myself to my limits, and achieved such successes that I was able to transfer into the law school I currently attend. Failure does not mean that you are finished; there is always another way to achieve your desires.
The second concept that carried over into my education and my future career was my ability to efficiently public speak. Leadership classes required, excuse me, demanded we get out of our comfort zones and speak in front of others. I for one always viewed myself as an exceptional speaker, however, when I stood up all that would come out was my nervousness. How could something so simple be so difficult? There are two types of people in this word, those who are inherently good at speech and others who need to practice in order to become proficient. Furthermore, even people who are naturally good, still need to master the finesse behind efficient speech. Once I promoted into the Instructor class, my opportunity to master this skill presented itself, by being thrown into teaching classes I perfected my ability to slow down my normally fast speech, learn to have a command presence when speaking, and finally be able to be heard throughout the room while at the same time not shouting. This ability is invaluable for two reasons, 1) law school requires public speech when randomly called on to explain to the entire class the case from the text, while the professor drills you with questions and 2) an efficient litigator needs to have a commanding presence in the court, which in many cases feels like taking command of a taekwondo class.
The final concept, is something rather peculiar. Taekwondo has taught me how to be composed when faced with any situation with indifference towards the task at hand. This stems from two integral parts of taekwondo. First, our school implements a testing system in order to obtain ones next rank. This system at first felt miserable, I dreaded going to testing for fear of failure and stage fright. Nevertheless, after facing this challenge well over 60 times, I no longer have a fear of failure nor of stage fright. This coupled with my perseverance has caused me to come to the realization that, the only fear one should have is if they didn’t give the task their all in the first place. Second, was my innate fear of tournaments. What is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the word taekwondo? For many if not most the first reaction is the classic mental image of a one on one battle in point sparring. Trying to remember back almost 17 years ago, my first tournament was a petrifying experience. As an orange belt, I had to go into the middle of the ring and perform my traditional form while at the same time being scored by three judges. As anyone could have guessed, I performed poorly. However, perseverance is not about giving up, its about getting up and continuing forward. In the years of competing since then I have not only scored better and better, I have overcome the fear of the entire event, and not only enjoy proceeding to do my form, but I also love the battle for the first place in sparring competition. The ability to remain composed when taking tests or even simply interviewing for a position that may determine the rest of my life is something I can firmly trace back to taekwondo.
In conclusion, I have something that virtually no one else has the ability to put on his or her resume. I am a 5th degree black belt which directly means I have a strong work ethic (perseverance), highly-developed interpersonal skills (leadership training), and a level of composure when faced with a challenge. This is what makes me different from everyone else and something that I appreciate my parents for forcing me to not quit during the tough times. In addition, the elite level of training provided by Master Keene has proven to be a critical component of my success in law school and in life. Moreover, if I were asked what makes me unique, the simple answer would be I have discipline that no one else will have, the courage to never back down, and the strength to never quit. If you were asked what makes you unique, how would you respond?