Last Friday night I tested for my third degree (dan) black belt. I can't tell you a lot about black belt testing because it's super-secretive - they put black paper over the windows so no one can see in and no one who isn't already a black belt is allowed to attend - but I will tell you that my testing lasted a little over 4 hours. I had to defend myself against an attacker with a (fake) knife and I had to spar 2 people at once, during which I started hyperventilating and couldn't breathe no matter how hard I tried to suck air in, because my allergies have been killing me lately. (By the way, what is UP with this pollen??? Karly, be glad you're not here. It's half an inch thick on my car.) I tried to break 5 concrete blocks with my hand but only got through 4 of them. I keep finding new bruises on my body and I'm still sore and tired from this abuse.
Why do I put myself through this? Better yet, why do I pay people to do this to me? It can't be worth it. Can it?
I sacrificed a lot to get this last belt. I met with my instructor Monday and some Friday mornings from 10-noon for about 6 weeks, in addition to attending 2 classes Monday night, 2 classes Tuesday night, 1 class Thursday night, and 1 class on Friday. I also do kickboxing twice a week to keep my cardio up. I practiced forms (a series of tae kwon do techniques put together in a set pattern), push-ups, and sit-ups almost every day for 6 weeks. My children and my husband sacrificed, too. Since I was at class all the time, my husband rarely got to exercise and had to get the kids fed and to bed several nights on his own. (Yeah, I know, poor him, but really, he's terrific and pitches in constantly, so I did feel guilty leaving him alone with them so much.) My kids went with me to those morning training sessions, which wasn't too bad but they were pretty much on their own, since I was busy doing jump kicks and learning how to get out of a throat grab. At night when I was going back to class, my eldest son would ask, "Where you goin', Mom?" "To tae kwon do, baby." "Oh. (pause) Bye!" Sometimes he wouldn't let me kiss him good night. I felt guilty. A lot.
I like sports but I'm not good at them. I messed up my shoulder playing softball for my church, if that gives you any indication of how coordinated I am. For some reason, though, martial arts works for me. I think it's because except for sparring, which is only a very small part of tae kwon do, martial arts is about battling yourself. Black belt testing is a mental game. Sure, it's hard physically, but it's more mental than anything. Are you going to quit? Your body is begging you to quit. Are you going to give in? The door is right there. You can walk through it and never come back. No one's going to stop you. The Grandmaster is telling you what moves to perform, but you don't really have to do them. Sparring two people at once? That's nuts - just quit. When she comes at you with that knife, don't bother. It's fake, anyway. You have to push through to get that belt. You have to say, "This matters to ME." Not to my instructor or my husband or those other black belts sitting up there. It matters to me.
And that's why I do it. That's why it's worth it. It matters. It's mine. I earned it. I'll be honest - I never had to try very hard in school. Not even when I got to college was it much of a challenge. But I have to try in tae kwon do, especially to get a black belt. I have to work harder than I ever have and it's empowering, especially now, as a stay-at-home mom, when there's not much to show for the things I do day after day. Another thing - no one made me get a black belt. They made me go to school, church, college, work, but I chose tae kwon do. I chose to work hard and become a third dan. It's all mine and it's worth every drop of sweat and every tear (yes, I cried, and you would, too, if you couldn't breathe) and every bruise and every minute of practice.
Maybe I'm speaking a foreign language to you. I might not have done very well explaining why it's totally worth it to get a black belt. So I will end with this. I started by telling you the 4 things that have changed my life. As it turns out, those 4 things are interconnected. God sent me to tae kwon do. I firmly believe that. There I met Todd, who became my husband, with whom I have two darling children. Being a black belt helps me be a better person, Christian, wife, mother. Plus, there's always the endorphins. :)