As we approach the next "Black Belt Induction Ceremony" being held this Thursday, 12/12/19, at 6:30 pm, my mind reflects upon "The Journey".
Growing up, it became clear to me that not all having a "Black Belt" are equal. Many black belts from the systems I was studying would enter into our dojangs/dojos/martial arts studios. They wore a black belt, but it was easy to see the lack of skill, knowledge, and application. I wondered about their journey.
Many training before me, training alongside me, and coming after me, would be on our floor. I would see the smiles, the laughter, the enjoyment, more than I would see the frustration, the exhaustion, the sweat, blood, and tears. I would wonder about their journey.
I would run into those who use to train with us around town. Many of them would tell me that they still train with us, but are just taking a break. It was as if they wanted all to know that they still had a membership card, but they failed to see that having a card does not make them a member. They had many stories to justify why they are taking a break. Each person had their own story. No story more or less valid than another, but all of them still just stories.
As I would enter our school, tighten the belt around my waist while exiting the changing room. I would gaze upon those on the floor. Each of them also had their own story. Each as valid as the ones I would hear running into those with "membership cards" throughout our city. The difference though, was that these people did not allow their stories to become THE STORY as to why they quit. I could see their stories upon their faces. Exiting the changing room I would see the faces drenched with sweat. Quickly I would be punched in the face with the strong smell of work. I would see many bent over at the waist gasping for breath. This was their story. They did not allow the things in life to become the excuse (the alternative word that many chose to use is "justification" as if a kindler word lessened the reality that they simply quit), as to why they would not succeed.
I would look down at my belt. MY black belt. The one I earned not just by applying myself constantly and consistently upon our training floor, but for not allowing life to deter me from finishing what I had started. Reflection.
My journey is no different than the others who have obtained a true black belt. I say true because it is not unheard of to hear of someone and even know personally of those who obtained a black belt simply by paying a fee. Little to know training occurred, but they have the material seen as the black belt. Their black belt was far different than mine. Theirs were absent of the dried red blood that turned black over time. The blood spilled through my training. Theirs were absent of the ground in dirt over the years of finding myself on the floor over and over and over again. Theirs was absent over the victories of continue to train even during the times that my mind rationalized with me that it is ok to quit. Those people only had the material. I possessed the RESULT of the training. Our belts appeared the same, but we were far different.
My journey, like those being inducted Thursday, consisted of many times of doubt. I had long talks with myself, secret conversations, preparing myself on how to deliver to my parents and my support team that martial arts just wasn't my thing anymore. I rehearsed over and over in my mind how I wanted to relay to my parents that I wanted to experience more in my life than just showing up to martial arts classes. I could hear myself saying that I am not quitting, I just want to do other things. Or saying, I am just not interested anymore. All these words would fall upon the ears of my parents and my support team. And each word...meant nothing. They heard them...for what they were...EXCUSES. My strong support team of my parents, my brothers, other students in our class, friends not in my martial arts classes who have seen me through this journey, all encouraging me to not QUIT! They demanded more from me. The understanding that I sought from them, was not understanding all. I was looking for validation. I was looking for people to tell me that it was ok to quit. Sure, there were some who would tell me what I needed to hear "You can always go back." I would say within my mind and even out loud "Yeah, I can go back and i will go back. I am not quitting. I am just taking a break." Silently, in my mind, in my soul, I knew that was not the case at all. I wanted to quit. But those true to me. Those who saw my growth and saw my potential, told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. They did not suggest for me to continue, they demanded it.
My journey is not different than many receiving their black belts on Thursday. All of them at some time harbored the thought of quitting, but someone somewhere TRULY CARED. That person or those people spoke words of encouragement, not words of validation for the act of quitting.
I have seen many on their journey to receiving a black belt create reasons to fail their tests. It is simple to do. They would create reasons as to why they could not attend classes. The same things in their life that were present when their journey began, now sought validation as to why now they must be succumbed to and allowed to deter them from obtaining their goal of black belt.
A young man asked his master "Master what must I do to obtain a black belt." The master being wise said to his student "Do you truly wish to possess the black belt above all things. To work hard without complain. To not give up. To know that you will quit creating excuses and will instead take that time to not simply practice, but to become your best." The student looked into the eyes of his master "Yes, Master I am willing." "Then meet me at the lake at 6 am as the sun rises." The next morning the student arrived at the lake to find his Master already submersed chest deep in the water. "Come to me" spoke his Master. The student walked into the water. "Master why am I hear to receive my black belt? What does this have to do with my black belt?" the student asked. Quickly, his Master took him by his head and plunged him under the water. The student was shocked and could not breathe. The student flung his arms above the water thrashing about. He found footing on the muddy bottom of the lake and attempted to propel himself upward. The burning in his chest increased, the pounding of his heart thumped against his chest. He reached up and grabbed his Masters hand still holding him by his hair beneath the water and he twisted upon it, scratched upon, and did all he could do, then...suddenly...his body emerged from beneath the waterline. Struggling to breathe he said "Master, why did you do this." The Master looked at his student and said "When you want my black belt as badly as you wanted your next breath, then you will be ready to receive it."
The problem with the student is that he claimed something that he was not worthy of yet. He kept asking about "his" black belt. He continuously asked "When will I receive "my" black belt and What does this have to do with me receiving "my" black belt. What he failed to see is that it was not yet his. Until earned, it belonged to his Master. Furthermore, this young man fooled himself into believe that he was truly fighting to obtain this black belt. He learned that there is a true passion, commitment, and determination in acquiring the black belt. You must want it as badly as needing your next breath.
Those receiving their black belts this Thursday have shown the qualities deserving of this honor. They have fought the adversities outside of the martial arts school and they have fought diligently upon the martial arts floor.
My students, take pride in the acquisition of our black belt because THEY KNOW, it is not given. Others look at our testing and say "It is too hard", "Why do you yearly test your people like that". They are right. It is too hard for their students because their students were simply showed motions in their classes, not the EMOTIONS that lead to the ACCOMPLISHMENTS and then the ACQUISITION of our black belt. In our school, CFMAF, we train not to be as good as, but to better than. This means that we must be willing to do that which all others SAY they are willing to do, to obtain that which they will never obtain do to the lack of a true work ethic. At CFMAF we do not try, WE DO!
The students in our Black Belt Induction ceremony have not simply tried. They did not just put forth the effort. The followed through. They did it. They will not look around and see hundreds and thousands of people standing around them with black belts on who have trained 1 to 3 years and now call themselves black belts. The belt color may look the same, but the hearts beneath them are far different.
Congrats to OUR BLACK BELTS, because you truly stand apart from the masses. I have seen your journey. I acknowledge your journey. And to you, I humbly bow.