“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