Soaring solo


Kemp’s martial arts, musical interests stand out.

Sophomore Kaitlin Kemp has never fit the status quo.

“I’m not preoccupied with making sense as much as having fun,” Kemp said.

Kemp has never had a problem with expressing her eclectic personality through unique hobbies and interests.

This quiet yet adventurous fiddler adores Celtic music and performs a Japanese style of martial arts called Aikido.

Kaitlin’s mother, Audrey Kemp, is very familiar with her daughter’s need to be her own person and jump into anything her heart desires.

“She doesn’t have to wait for someone else to come up with ideas for her in order to get involved in new and interesting experiences,” Audrey said.


As Kemp spins around on a mat, she lets go of all the little details of life. Aikido is her getaway. Whenever she has anything less than a good day, she can turn to this Japanese martial art to revive herself.

“Martial arts is a whole lifestyle of being more open to communication of all sorts, whether it’s a punch in the face or somebody trying to explain something to you,” Kemp said.

Kemp has been training at Aikido Decatur for three years now with her instructor Joel Riggs, who founded the dojo.

Kemp has found a few Aikido techniques to be useful when handling her little brothers. However, she explains that Aikido is a special kind of martial arts, different from Karate or Tae Kwon Do with a different focus.

“[In Karate and Tae Kwon Do] you block the strike, but then you hit them back. [In Aikido] you don’t do that, you just block them and put them in a position where they can’t hit you.”

Kemp’s solitary practice concentrates on stretching and meditation, but “Aikido is mostly comprised of different techniques that can be used to blend with the ‘energy’ of a person who may be attacking you,” she said.

“[Meditation] helps you basically clear your mind, recenter yourself, and just be more awake or more calm, either one,” Kemp said.

Kemp’s favorite part of Aikido is it’s special combination of mental and physical training.

“I get to feel like a ninja sometimes,” Kemp said.

Kemp has never found herself in a dangerous situation where she had to use a technique on someone else. Even though Kemp realizes that “Decatur is not exactly the most violent place,” she believes that knowledge of self defense is valuable.

“[Aikido] is really something that everybody should know. If the situation arises then you need to be able to defend yourself.”

Kemp arrives at Decatur by bus in the morning. If the weather is nice, she walks to the Frasier Center courtyard to meditate and stretch before the first bell rings.

When Kemp started performing Aikido before school, she felt self-conscious for a while, but then she just decided that “it became normal.”

Audrey feels proud to be the mother of a well-rounded teen with diverse interests.

“I think more people need to see what’s out there and sample more [eclectic hobbies],” she said. “What if you are a champion at something you have not tried?”

Kemp has another unconventional hobby, one that is very different from the first.

Fiddle and Celtic Music

After moving to Decatur, Kemp spent a lot of time at the public library. She came across an assortment of Celtic CD’s, books and even DVD’s, and her love for the genre began. When she got around to choosing an instrument, the fiddle was an obvious option.

Kemp likes to sing, has been in a choir before, and knows a few keys on the piano; but with two musicians for parents, Kemp was encouraged to formally take up an instrument.

“[My parents] thought that having a concrete skill like that would be good for me because it’s something that never goes away, ” Kemp said.

Kemp has been playing the fiddle for a year and a half with her teacher Moira Nelligan.

“Fiddle is an instrument that, playing or listening, it just takes you somewhere else entirely,” Kemp said. “Musicians talk about the instrument becoming an extension of the body . . . that’s basically what happens, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

The fiddle and Celtic music originate from Irish culture. Although Kemp doesn’t have any extraordinary connection to Irish tradition, she recognizes that because of her interest in Celtic music, the culture has become very special to her.

Kemp’s teacher even encouraged her to apply for a scholarship to study at a world traditional music workshop in North Carolina called The Swannanoa Gathering.

Last summer, in 2012, she went to the workshop during Celtic Week, one of the many musical sessions they offer. There, Kemp was able to immerse herself in her passion of Celtic music, popular Celtic artists and all the instruments involved. She explored all the aspects, including the culture of Celtic music. She loved every minute of it.

“[Celtic music] is just really beautiful. That’s pretty much all there is to it,” Kemp said. “I guess I’ve acquired a taste for that kind of sound as opposed to all the ‘regular people music.’”

The fiddle is more of a challenge for Kemp than Aikido. “It’s hard to get motivated sometimes,” she said, recognizing that she could practice more often. She continues to play, however, because she wants to make the kind of music she loves.
The fiddle is more of a challenge for Kemp than Aikido. “It’s hard to get motivated sometimes,” she said, recognizing that she could practice more often. She continues to play, however, because she wants to make the kind of music she loves.

Fitting Out

Many students believe that people who are different and don’t fit in are loners, outcasts or even freaks. In that way, it’s common for high school students to judge and misread their peers.

Some of the students who are quick to critique are the ones who are trying to feel like they belong. Therefore, it makes sense that some of these students could feel uncomfortable around people who act so differently from them.

Luckily, in this day and age at Decatur, these stereotypes aren’t very customary. By living in a diverse community, people find it easier to be more accepting.

There are a variety of reasons why some people don’t seem to be able to blend in with everyone else.

Local clinical psychologist Melanie Bliss, who works with several Decatur students, determines that some students might have underdeveloped social skills. Others might just be natural introverts and some may even have permanent obstacles such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder that make it difficult for them to fit in.

Regardless of the reason for not being a part of the mainstream high school students, these people can often be targets for bullies.

On the other hand, some students have chosen to go their own way.

“Others feel as if the mainstream culture does not fit their values, interests or personalities,” Bliss said.

Kemp seems to fit in with this type of student.

“I like being a little outside of what’s normal. It seems like it’s more interesting. It’s just [that] I don’t want to be bored and know exactly what to expect and fit into a box,” Kemp said.

She seeks excitement in life by trying to be original.

“There are teens who want to be uniquely themselves, who don’t care what everyone else does, and who want to pursue interests and dress and act in ways that suit them and their personality,” Bliss said. “And there are teens who support and like these people. Sometimes they wish they could be brave enough to be unique, interesting and follow their own hearts.”

In addition to this, Bliss adds what she believes to be the benefits of having this persona.

“I love working with these kids. Usually they either have a solid confidence in themselves and strong self-esteem.”

Kemp is the atypical high school student but is not fazed by it.

“My parents always encouraged individual investigation of the world,” Kemp said.

Audrey believes that her daughter is quite good at marching to the beat of her own drum.

“[Kaitlin] has learned that eventually you choose your life regardless of where you are from,” she said. “You can choose to perpetuate your experience or you can create a new one.”
Kemp decided to create a new one. She dates her interests in unorthodox activities back to her childhood.

Ever since Kemp was a child, she has been a fan of fantasy novels, “full of wizards and dragons,” she said. Kemp believes that this is the true explanation for her eccentric interests.

“Essentially, most of my life has been kind of consciously or subconsciously looking for kind of a way to get super powers,” Kemp said. “[And yes,] I know how stupid that sounds.”
She realized that her hobbies allow her to obtain her own kind of super powers and find magic.

“Martial arts and meditation were part of doing that because they teach you how to have great control over yourself and be able to do more that the average person walking down the street,” Kemp said.

The magic in the books she’s read has connected Kemp to her musical passions. The fiddle evolved out of the Celtic music she listens to, but the Celtic mythology and Celtic settings came from the books.

“I think of it as magic, because that’s basically what I’ve been looking for,” Kemp said.