What do you intend to do today? Not your itinerary; go to work, spend time with family. But your specific intentions: How will you affect the people in your home before you head out the door? How many people will you smile at today at work? How will you rejuvenate yourself before coming back home and how will you end your day?
This month’s Hometown Hero Wendi Barker starts out her day with clear and purposeful intentions — followed by actions.
“I used to allow myself to be swayed and moved along by whatever outside force was the strongest. But then, my life turned around at age 30, and I was no longer a ‘daughter of the wind.’ I control the flow of my life,” Barker says.
One intention of hers was to obtain her black belt and become a Sensei — a karate teacher.
“I wanted to help kids and adults see their self-worth and not have to wait until they were 30 as I did.”
She became a Sensei and taught for seven years, and then three years ago opened her own studio in Freeland.
Though it’s a karate studio, children and adults say it’s much more. It’s an entire program and it’s a way of life.
“Wendi skillfully teaches martial arts forms and disciplines,” says Cait Cassee, the mother of three karate students.
“My three budding black belts, Max, Miranda and Callum all love being ninjas-in-training with Sensei Wendi. They learn so many life skills, it’s like I’m sending them to super hero camp.
“Wendi builds and focuses on a theme each month, like self-control, integrity, compassion, giving, responsibility or community building. Last month was ‘Being Thankful,’” Cassee continues. “She sets time aside for ‘mat talks’ on these important themes, and there is always some action involved that embeds the value into the students’ minds. Wendi’s programs offer kids a safe and fun way to hear from another adult figure why such values are important.”
Barker herself has not had an easy path.
When she was 4, an adult raped her at knifepoint. She says she never fully recovered emotionally from this and always felt damaged — later marrying a physically and emotionally abusive husband.
But when her son RJ was born with spinal bifida, her focus turned a corner. “When I couldn’t fix my son’s physical pain, I decided to take responsibility and take control of what I could — my choices and the way I felt about myself and joined a karate class.”
With the help of Mike, her Sensei instructor, she acquired the self-worth she needed to leave her husband and take her children to a safe home.
“Ever since then I believe in the power of intention and prayer. When RJ had to have more extensive surgery this summer, I called every church and asked for him to be on the prayer list.”
Barker is in the karate studio replacing new photos of her students on the bulletin board.
“I love what I do. I love the people that come to this studio. I want to help every kid and adult succeed and understand they each have something unique that only they can contribute to the world.”
She talks while straightening the karate belts, then finishes a bulletin board before standing back to look at what her students have listed what they are thankful for. “Very cool,” she says, with two thumbs up.
Barker sits down and folds her hands as if she is going to relax, only to immediately pop back up to check on some equipment.
“I took my daughter to the doctor to see if she might have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder.) The doctor said it’s hereditary. I said, ‘Really? No one has it in our family.’
“The doctor looked at me as I was fidgeting having to sit there, and said, ‘You have it.’ Well, he’s right, of course, and now on meds I actually can finish a project.” She laughs and says, “Who knew?”
The Middle School students eagerly arrive at her studio talking, shuffling, tossing their bags and shoes in a corner. And then once on the mat, they are transformed into respectful, purposeful and motivated young citizens.
One boy asks, “Sensei Wendi, would you help tie my belt around my waist?”
“It would be my pleasure, sir,” she says.
They talk about what they are thankful for and then together they begin choreographed karate movements with both grace and powerful intention.
“Wendi’s intentions are for the greater good and she never puts herself before that goal,” says parent Debbie Holbert.
“Our son Will loves her program and I love how she has inspired all of her students to give back to their community. She has a sign on her wall that says, ‘Character is how you live your life when no one is looking.’ This sums up Wendi’s life.”
“A lot of us have wonderful intentions, but they never become our INTENT,” Barker notes.
“They’re like little ghost ideas — we can almost see them — but they’re not defined, they are not clear. I am the same way, but what helps me is my Sensei told me to ‘fake it till I make it.’ This helps. He also said to pretend I was in a movie playing the part.
“At times we may need to reset our course; that’s OK,” she adds. “Heck, we all have insecurities and fears, but if our intentions are good, and we follow through, then we know we have done our best effort.”