This is a continuation of an earlier post on the journey to black belt. The grading felt like it was over as soon as it began. One minute we’re warming up, and the next we’re bowing out. I knew it would go quickly, but not that quickly. I mean geeze, I don’t even remember parts of my grading.
I’m told I threw knees during sparring, yet I have no recollection of that. I thought I performed four katas, when I really did six. What I do remember is that the warm-up was tough, designed to exhaust you before the grading even began. If you didn’t pace yourself, you were in for a world of hurt. So what else happened at our black belt grading?
Well, some of it’s going to have to be a secret. I can’t spoil it for the next wave of black belts! But watching my buddy spar a second-degree black belt in front of 300 people was a treat. So was watching my wife deliver crisp, clean kata with ear-splitting kiais. and so was performing a 2-person simulated combat drill with another of my friends. At the end of it all, I found myself in disbelief of the fact that the grading was actually over. I’m glad I took the time to savour the moment while I was sitting down waiting for my name to be called!
Fast forward two weeks.
I felt good about my performance at the grading, but you just never know until you hear it for sure. And hearing it for sure from my sensei was one of the best feelings of my life. Hearing that I passed along with my wife and friends together just made it that much sweeter. Now it was just a matter of receiving the physical black belt!
Fast forward three more weeks. Seeing the belts sitting there in front of us in class and knowing we had to wait until the end to receive them was pure torture. It was well worth the wait though – the ceremony where we received our black belts was just beautiful. I don’t want to give anything away, so all I’ll say is that it was at this moment that I felt the weight of the black belt for the very first time. I thought I knew what I was signing up for up to that point.
I was wrong.
All at once, nothing changed and everything changed. Nothing changed in the sense that I was still the same martial artist and person that I was before I got the belt. I still struggle with this kata, still suck at that kick. This I was prepared for.
What I wasn’t expecting was the feeling of imposter syndrome I’d be saddled with. Though all that changed was the colour of my belt, I can’t help but feel like the standards being put upon me by my peers and other students are instantly different than before. Maybe that’s the case, or maybe it’s all in my head – I don’t know. I just know that I felt silly when I messed up a basic front roll. Where normally I would laugh it off, this time I felt embarrassed. And I felt strange when I was asked for help by a junior belt. Offering advice when I myself still have so much to learn is an uncomfortable feeling.
In an earlier post on what a black belt means to me, I mentioned that my biggest challenge wouldn’t be the arrogance that can come with a black belt; it would be to enjoy the journey and not put too much pressure on myself along the way.
Well, I called that.
Even knowing that would be my challenge, I’m still dealing with it. And I don’t know if I’m the only one dealing with it, because nobody else writes about it. All of a sudden, I find myself setting the bar higher, almost impossibly higher, for myself. Any time I fall short of that bar, I feel it.
Buy you know what? I think that’s part of being a black belt. You feel uncomfortable, and you deal with it. Getting over the embarrassment that initially comes with messing up as a black belt feels like something everyone needs to go through. I feel like once you get through it, you’re back to your old self again.
Wrapping it Up
The road to black belt has been an eventful one. Since first joining karate, I got married, completed my MBA, bought a house, brought home a puppy, and changed jobs multiple times. I’ve learned so much in the dojo, and paid for that knowledge with blood, sweat and tears. There have been twists and turns, both expected and unexpected.
And yet, in the grand scheme of things, my martial arts journey has really only just begun. Black belt isn’t the end – it’s a new beginning. A chance to bring a new sense of perspective and focus to my training. A chance to start over again as a serious student of the martial arts. There is still so much I don’t know. Every time I show up to class, I’m reminded of that fact. The path is endless.
And you know what? I’m glad that’s the case, because it’s about the journey, not the destination. And I sure am going to enjoy the ride.