Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Achieving YOUR Black Belt

“Tae Kwon Do strives to develop the positive aspects of an individual's personality: Respect, Courtesy, Goodness, Trustworthiness, Loyalty, Humility, Courage, Patience, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control, an Indomitable Spirit and a sense of responsibility to help and respect all forms of life.”*

This past weekend, my children had their promotion test. I’d never attended one of the formal tests before, and was impressed with their organization. Two instructors told the children what to do while four judges, armed with clipboards, watched and periodically gave out advice. (My daughter needed reminding to kick higher.)

The staff was encouraging while the students wore faces of concentration as they went through their forms, sparred, and broke boards. When it was over, they took a break. Then it was time for two students, who are middle-school-age, to test for their black belts. Side-by-side, they went through much more elaborate forms, kicks against paddles, sparring, and then had to kick through FIVE BOARDS at the same time.

One student was more confident and a little better than the other through the first three parts. But when it came to the boards, he tried over and over. The audience collectively held their breath, knowing his foot probably throbbed, and wondering if he’d be allowed to try again or would have to wait until a different day. Finally, he broke through the boards.

But it wasn’t over. The pizza and doughnuts had to wait until the two students told us why they took Taekwondo and what they’d gotten from practicing to take the black belt test.

The first student to speak was the one who had excelled at the boards. He said something like this:

“When I started taking Taekwondo, I didn’t know my left from my right. It took a long time, but after awhile I got more coordinated. And I became more confident. I worked all summer to take my black belt. I practiced an-hour-and-a-half everyday to prepare for today’s tests.

“But getting a black belt is only half the journey. I still have so much to learn.”

The second student said something like this:

“When I was younger, I was sick all the time. My parents decided I should take Taekwondo to make me stronger and healthier. I’ve been to three martial arts places. The first couple of years, I didn’t try very hard. But when I came here, the students and instructors took it seriously and cared. So I began to care.

“I spent the whole summer practicing. At first, I was annoyed I lost my summer because I was here all the time. But coming here today, I felt confident because of all the work I’d done.”

Not only were these impressive speeches to hear from young, teenage boys, but also I learned from them. Everything that matters to us is hard work, isn’t it?

Training for a black belt test I compare to my years in college and graduate school, and the state tests I’ve taken in order to become certified to teach. In many ways, I gave up my 20s to be a student. But it was only half the journey. I’ll have my own classroom, and the learning and studying will start again. It will take years to be a master teacher, and if I want to keep my title, I’ll keep learning.

Training for a black belt is also like becoming a writer. It takes years to hone our craft. And the more we write, the better we get. Obtaining the black belt can be like landing an agent or a publishing contract. But it’s only part of our writing journey. We have edits to do, a book to promote, unkind reviews to endure, and more books to write.

Those students at their young age have logged hundreds of hours practicing. Studying. They’ve been tired and sore. They’ve given up time with friends and time to goof off. I’m sure they’ve tested and failed. And they’ve retested. These students have seen some of their friends move on past them in belt ranks. They’ve been frustrated. Even jealous. But they've kept at it. Taking three or five classes a week and practicing at home. And they’ll do it all over again for each higher-ranking black belt.

For all of us students, teachers, writers, and everyone else, who is working hard to reach a goal that is important to them, keep at it. Work hard. There will be setbacks and successes, trials and triumphs.

Malcolm Gladwell says you need to log in 10,000 hours to become a master. Keep mastering!

“This takes a great deal of hard training and many do not reach far enough to achieve perfection in all of these aspects. However, it is the physical, mental, and spiritual effort which the individual puts forth that develops the positive attributes and image of both the individual and how he or she perceives others.”

* - Grand Master James S. Benko, Ph.D. http://www.itatkd.com/tkdphil.html


  1. Wow so inspiring! I have many hours to go.

  2. So much wisdom in those young brains!! What a wonderful post, Theresa - thanks for the inspiration. :-)

  3. What an inspiring post, Theresa - thank you!

  4. That's one of the things people say about this, that it helps the students focus and gain discipline and that transfers to other areas of their lives. So cool!

  5. Oh wow!! What troupers!!! I just want to go "awwwwwwwww"cos the kids who gave the speeches sound so cute and so full of innocent yet adult determination! I hope they keep and sustain and build upon that confidence they've built up in these lessons throughout their lives!

    Oh yes writers may certainly learn a thing or two from these children!

    I wish you all the very best with your writing journey, Theresa Milstein!

    And yay for your children!!

    Take care

  6. I was a quitter when I was a kid. I went to karate once, realized I was the only girl, and never came back. I imagine things would have been much different if I would have stuck with it.

    It probably wouldn't have taken me so long to realize that hard work is necessary if you want to get good at something. I'm learning that now!

    Thanks for sharing, Theresa!

  7. They are very inspirational children, everything we want takes time to achieve. That is so true and congratulations to your two kids.

  8. I was another quitter as a kid. I'm ashamed that I gave up ballet for Saturday morning cartoons. Pathetic, huh? There's a lot those kids can teach us.

  9. A great lesson to be learned here. Thank you Theresa. I feel humbled by these students.

  10. It's inspiring to listen to children. We do learn a lot from them. Theresa, this is one of my favourite posts of yours! It's full of inspiration! Thank you for sharing! :)

  11. @ Anne, I have many hours to go as well.

    @ Shannon, I'm just passing on their inspiration!

    @ Kathleen, glad you were inspired.

    @ KarenG, you are so right. I have my children in TKD for exactly those reasons. It also reminded me of the time you said getting a contract was only 1/2 the journey, so I borrowed a bit from you.

  12. @ Old Kitty, I loved that - "so full of innocence yet adult determination."

    I wish you the very best on your writing journey too.

    @ Tere, my son is the same way. He quit gymnastics, soccer, Spanish after school, and piano. Now I have him in swimming, TKD, and piano. But his time to play video games and legos is his favorite.

    @ Brigid, thanks. I hear if they passed their tests in the beginning of October.

    @ Nicole, I spent way too many hours watching cartoons as a kid too. I try to balance my kids' time with mixed success.

    @ Ann, I was humbled by the students too.

    @ Len, I'm glad you were inspired. Those kids inspired me. I was writing the post in my head right after they spoke because I didn't want to forget anything.

  13. Oh, this was great! I loved the analogies, AND the speeches those young students gave.

    How cool that your children do this, too. Such discipline and sacrifice....

    You know, you'd also make a great life coach.....you're very good at it!

  14. Love this, and it's so true. I recently listened to an interview with a very accomplished musician. When asked about breaking into the business, and finding any success, he didn't blink an eye when he said to give yourself 10 years of practicing and trying. 10 years of learning and growing. It's an amazing journey, isn't it.

  15. @ The Words Crafter, I'd be a life coach, if I could get my professional life to actually take off so I'd have some wisdom to impart.

    @ Joanne, it is an amazing journey. And as you point out, long.

  16. 10 000 is a lot of hours! I've got a few to go... :)

  17. Great analogy!

    My daughter just started taking Taekwondo. It's the first activity that she's actually participated in and we're so excited!

  18. Great post! Like you, I also gave up my 20s to be a student, but until I read your post I viewed that sacrifice as a mostly negative thing. But you're right in that eventually all the schooling and hard work will pay off. I admire anyone who dedicates all the time and effort that is required to master their craft. But even though I do want to be a "master teacher", at the same time if I had to choose between teaching and writing, I'd choose writing. But hopefully I can have both.

  19. First of all, I wish I would have taken some kind of martial arts when I was a kid.

    Secondly, I totally agree. Most worthwile things take hard work. I always ask my students what they are most proud of themselves for, and every answer is something that took hard work, sacrifice and courage.

  20. Yes. Yes, yes. Anything worth doing well takes work. Hard work.

    I love this post. And congrats to your kids. :)

  21. @ Jemi, me too! I don't even want to think about it!

    @ Vicki, that's great. I hope she enjoys it. I like it because it's all in the kids' control. It's up to them if they do well or not.

    @ Missed Periods, I wanted to take dancing and piano as kid, but never martial arts.

    That's good to hear about your students.

    @ Lola, thanks. I can't wait to hear if they passed. If my daughter moves up, I only have to sit through one class instead of two.

  22. Well done to your children, hope they pass!Though it does takes years of practise to hone the craft of writing...I find it hard not to want the "black belt" now! Maybe its because I never did martial arts as kid! A bit of yoga might settle these nerves!

  23. @ Words A Day, I hope they pass too. I want the black belt in writing too. Let's keep working to get there.
    I love yoga - I have to take classes again.

  24. Wow. I feel all tingly inside. This is so true. Publishing a book isn't the be all, end all. I still have a lot of work to do, a lot to learn, just like the black belt kids.


    But I do feel inspired to go and learn!

  25. @ Elana, you've got your first rank black belt. Hope the other ones come even easier.

  26. Hi Theresa .. great lessons to be learnt here & I bet these kids and yours will be more successful and more rounded when they reach our tender years!

    Wonderful to hear their testimonies .. achieving things teaches us so much along the way.

    If only more people encouraged more .. I love the fact that it was the teachers and their discipline and care and love of their art inspired the kids so much. Excellent examples from those older kids for the younger ones to see ..

    Great read and comparison to us as bloggers and writers .. thanks - inspiring .. Hilary

  27. @ Hilary, the students were inspired. I need to make some time to head back to your blog and watch the inspiring video you posted.

  28. I really needed to read this today. Everything worth having is worth working for. I am going to repeat this to myself a million times today! And the first boy's speech is really sticking to my ribs...I still have so much to learn. Hm.

  29. @ Ant, I'm glad you got something from the post. I've learned that there's nobody I can't learn from and be inspired by.

  30. Wow, those kids figured out things that some adults still haven't figured out. I am also going for teaching and I have to keep reminding myself that it will all come together one day. I just have to keep working hard like these kids :)

  31. @ Raven, you are right. I know adults who still want everything with little work. It rarely works that way. We all get impatient from time to time.