PORTLAND FAMILY – Growing up, life presents so many twists and turns that can derail a teenager’s path. That’s why an adult’s guidance is critical — having someone to help a teen develop a moral code that will keep them from making poor decisions.
But what if that person is suddenly taken away?
Three years ago, Triston Christensen lost that special person when his father, Shawn, died of cancer. Being heavy, 13 years old and in junior high was bad enough, but when Triston lost his dad, it was as though the world jerked the rug out from under him.
“He was my best friend,” Triston said. “I loved doing things with him. We’d go to Portland to attend comics conventions, and every fall and spring, we’d go to the park to feed the ducks. I also remember building forts together and playing with action figures.”
Triston said he particularly enjoyed playing with Batman, Star Wars and Green Arrow action figures. “I probably identified with Batman the most because he had a great impact on the community,” he said. “He’s not as strong as the others, because he doesn’t have super powers, but he aspires to be as good as the other super heroes.”
“I also liked the moral code of the Jedi in ‘Star Wars,’ for defending what they believed was the right thing.”
Triston tried various sports and enjoyed many of them — swimming, gymnastics, soccer and basketball — but it was learning martial arts from his dad that really sparked his interest.
Using a bag hanging in the garage and some mitts, his father began teaching him the basic stances, punches and kicks used in taekwondo (Korean martial arts). “I didn’t know how to apply the techniques yet, but I was hooked, and we talked about finding a class for me to join,” Triston said.
When his father fell ill, those plans were put on hold. But they did have time to talk, and his father had lessons he wanted to teach his son, especially about the need to maintain a moral code.
“My father always told me, ‘No matter what people say, just be yourself,’” Triston shared. “He said that before I make a decision, if I can’t lay my head down on my pillow and live with it, then I shouldn’t do it. It really had an effect on me.
“In the transition between losing him and finding martial arts, I needed that code.”
When his father died, Triston said it wasn’t as devastating a shock as it could have been, because he had so much time to prepare himself emotionally. But there was a void, which he soon filled with a sketchy group of kids. “The people I began hanging out with weren’t good — they brought me down when I was already down,” Triston said. “But I never caved into doing things they wanted me to do. The code helped keep me from going along with them, and away from drugs and alcohol.”
Fortunately, Triston’s grandfather came across a Groupon coupon for the Aim High martial arts studio in Beaverton, and encouraged Triston to give it a chance. “I tried it out, and I’ve loved it ever since,” he said.
The impact on Triston’s outlook and well-being has been impressive. For the past two years, he has dedicated himself to the arts, immersing himself in learning Muay Thai (kickboxing) and Fusion, which is a mixture of taekwondo, kickboxing and western-style boxing.
His social circle has shifted from less savory characters toward the staff and fellow students at Aim High. They serve as a kind of extended family. He lives with his mom and attends Hillsboro’s Century High School as a junior, but it’s his classes at Aim High that really light a fire under him.
“The studio has helped me find happiness and an education in both martial arts and life choices,” Triston explained. “Today I wake up feeling great, especially when I know I have class that day. Martial arts has helped me gain balance, coordination, self-respect and respect for others.”
In addition, learning martial arts has infused Triston with self-confidence and an improved physique to match. “I’ve lost quite a bit of weight, too — 95 pounds,” he said. “In eighth grade, I wore an extra large shirt, but now I’m down to a medium.”
Sam Gregg, an instructor for 12 years at Aim High, has been impressed with Triston’s dedication.
“Triston understands the attitude needed to pursue martial arts,” Gregg said. “It requires a lot of time, repetition and attention to detail. But no matter what we ask him to do, he does it.
“At Aim High, we talk about keeping things in balance: the physical, mental and emotional. Like any kid, Triston has struggles. But we emphasize that he has to make grades and be responsible for chores at home.”
“Martial arts have helped me with my moods, too,” Triston said. “Because I have an instructor position, I have to be responsible, and I don’t take anger out on people. I’ve learned a lot of self restraint. When people make fun of me, instead of giving them a hard time back, I either walk away or talk to them.
“I’ve learned that fists and kicks are the last resort. There are a million ways to solve your problems. It’s something that the school stresses.”
Looking forward, in addition to teaching martial arts, Triston hopes to work in health services. He wants to become an urgent care doctor or physical therapist. “Or I’d love to be a forensics crime scientist,” he said.
But for now, it’s school, home and his treasured time at the studio, working on his craft. After all, it’s where he feels closest to his father.
“Every time I get on the floor, I dedicate my workout to him,” he said.