Black belt isn’t just something you “get”

Most martial artists and non-martial artists understand that a black belt is something you “earn”, not just something you “get”.

But, please hear me out, I would like to take it a step further.  I like to think of a black belt as something in the present tense.

I like to think of a black belt as something that you “Be“.

Today, I’m going to be a black belt.  Tomorrow, I will be a black belt.

I call myself a black belt because I do the things that a black belt does.  I go to a dojang.  I bow to flags.  I try to learn from my teacher as best I can.  I practice as hard and sincerely as I can.  I do sit-ups and pushups, stretch, hit the heavy bag, and practice my patterns.  I try to further the teachings of Taekwon-Do by inviting other people to practice and then I do my best to give them the training they need for their development.  I try to “be” the best black belt I can “be“.  This is something I “do”.

When I’m not training, I hold myself to the tenets of Taekwon-Do by being courteous and being an indomitable spirit.  I also try to build a more peaceful world as General Choi wished in the oath.  This is the way I choose to “be“.  (That’s a great link, by the way – Calvin & Hobbes help explain the Oath!)

One day, I got an email from some guy who wrote:

“Ray, I trained Taekwon-Do for 5 years and just missed out on getting my black belt and was wondering how long and how much it would cost to get one.  I’m only going to be in town for 5-6 months, but I don’t like having loose ends out there.”

I was offended by this for a few reasons.

My first thought was, “you trained for 5 years in Taekwon-Do but didn’t learn that rule about calling black belts Sir or Ma’am or Master?”  Okay, some schools are like that.  I’ll let that go.

I re-read the 1st sentence: “how long and how much…”, I felt like I was Burger King being asked about a special order cheeseburger or something.

To me, a black belt is a personal experience and there is a great deal of growth that goes on during the years leading up to and after black belt.  I do my best to consider each of our students from white belt to 2nd degree black belt and I devote my energy to helping them be the best they can be.  In Master Kim’s school, there is a relationship between teacher and student that transcends mere coaching.  It’s a tough thing for me to consider doing for only a 5-6 month commitment.

Not everybody needs to make Taekwon-Do a lifelong journey.  However, boiling it down to a “loose end to tie up” left me without much common ground upon which to build a bridge with this gentleman.  But, you never know who will turn out to be one of your best students, so I responded:

“Dear Shawn (not his real name), congratulations on your accomplishments.  Thank you for your interest.  I don’t think 6 months is enough time to earn a black belt.  However, please come and see us when you get to town and perhaps when you visit our school, you’ll get a sense of how it would be to train with us.  Nothing is impossible.  Are you familiar with the original Taekwon-Do patterns or the newer ones? “

I forget what his response was.  Something about not being able to attend on the nights when we have sparring and that’s mostly what he was interested in anyway….

I guess what I wanted to say to him was that getting a black belt is not a “loose end” and a black belt isn’t something you just “get”.  It’s something you earn on your way to becoming a master.  It is something you become, and then it is something that you continue to be on a daily basis.

It’s okay that this guy didn’t approach me in a wiser manner.  He didn’t understand my perspective.  That’s called a student.  Who knows, had he finally showed up, he may have gotten more than just a belt that was black…..

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