“You may train for a long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning Karate is not very different from learning a dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do.”
– Gichin Funakoshi
I did it again.
I left my Taekwondo class in near tears, not speaking to anyone until I was in the middle of my living room—and there was no one to talk to.
Earlier that night, I was surrounded by Black Belt students performing black belt movements and forms. “Don’t let yourself get frustrated,” our master instructor told me. “The reason you’re not going to do well right away is because you don’t know how to do it. You have to learn it and practice first.”
Try telling that to a middle child perfectionist.
I have approximately three months to learn the final form on the pathway of taking my mock test for my Black Belt. Once that’s done, all I have to do is practice my self defense, raise my cardio, and increase my flexibility.
The five tenets of Taekwondo are as follows:
Not anywhere in this list does it say to learn kicks, memorize forms, and be the absolute best martial artist that the school has ever seen. Yet there are days when I walk into the dojang and can think of nothing else.
As I was growing up in my childhood household, everyone around me had a title or a recognition that made the outside world take notice. Awards and decorations were prevalent on the walls, at concerts, in convention halls and on stage. When I saw these items—even received a few for myself—I coveted them all the more. I wanted to continue this trend of achievement. It was a part of my definition as a human being.
However, to live satisfied by one only portion of myself was…well, dissatisfying. I wanted more. I wanted to be more.
I had always wanted to join a martial art. I didn’t know enough about the individual artistries to tell one from another, but I knew that the serenity and control that I perceived in its users was something very sweet indeed. While other people were watching action movies for the heroes’ fighting combos, I was watching the clarity of their eyes, the slow and careful flow of their limbs, and the mental calculations as they saw things that no average human would ever know.
They transcended humanity. They had become art.
“A black belt is nothing more than a belt that goes around your waist. Being a black belt is a state of mind and attitude.”
– Rick English
Four years ago, I was working out at my apartment gym when I overheard a student of my current dojang talking about how he was going to go for his Black Belt soon enough. As soon as he had completed his phone call, I urged him for more information. After talking myself in and out of going for an entire month, I finally drove up the road and entered what appeared to be a jungle of kicks and screams.
The kicks were from the students. The screaming was from me.
For the last four years, I have entered the dojang with a bow, but my knowledge of what I was doing—and why—was never concrete. When I became frustrated and would cry anew as other students—older, younger, thinner, wiser—would achieve skills faster than I, I did my best to take a step back and review the five tenets.
Breaking a board is easy. Learning how to break it right is not.
There are days when I’m so scared and aggravated with myself, I can’t even speak. Every student around me laughs and jokes over their silly mistakes, and I turn my back on them, disgusted that I can’t find that light-heartedness in my own performance.
What courtesy am I showing them? What does it matter if I can’t succeed today? There is always tomorrow, right?
After attending the advanced Black Belt-level class on Thursday, I left the dojang thinking, “I don’t have to come here. I could just disappear—from the school, from Atlanta, from everything—and no one would even notice.”
But I want to be a martial artist—and there is no integrity in giving up or running away.
Sometimes, I make excuses to myself as to why I can’t go to class for the day, the week, the month. I’m sick. I have to work or am mentally exhausted from life. I have to meet someone, and I don’t want to race around wasting gas.
But if I don’t persevere, how am I supposed to ever get better at the techniques that discourage me the most?
There are days I want to kick the stuffing out of everything I can get my hands on, swinging and screaming until I collapse onto the mat. There are days that I do. That’s a lack of self-control and, through I’ve got energy to burn, is nowhere near indomitable spirit.
I could kick as high as I wanted to; I could jump as far as twenty feet over a river. I could break ten boards in a row. I could strike a silent fear into everyone I know. None of that would make me a true martial artist.
Where do you find the balance in it all?
I’ll go back to the Black Belt class, just like I’ve returned to the class with heavy cardio, the class with self defense, and the class with forms.
What happens when the day returns that I become frustrated again? Will I revert? Should I “fake it till I make it”? Or do I succumb, just for a moment, to the overwhelming terror of what could happen to me, come my mock test?
“It is not the accumulation of extraneous knowledge, but the realization of the self within, that constitutes true progress.”
– Okakura Kakuzo