The Art of Winning Blog

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Approaching Black Belt: Angelique Espinoza

On Sunday, January 8, Angelique Espinoza will test for her 1st Degree Black Belt. She graciously allowed us to print a copy of her Black Belt essay and let us into the thoughts and feelings of coming to this milestone. Please take a few minutes, without distractions, and give Mrs. Angelique your full attention.

I've been here twice before, on a martial arts path with my black belt in sight and years of training behind me. I never meant to quit. I simply did not overcome the rain of obstacles, large and small, that seemed to pop up in that last stretch of road. But there comes a time in martial arts, as in life, when you must either step up to the challenge or go home. So I quit, took breaks, switched arts, tied a white belt again and enjoyed being a beginner, free from expectations of greatness. Testing for my To-Shin Do black belt means rising to the challenge at last and coming to terms with my expectations of myself as a black belt student.

Some of those expectations are realistic and appropriate. Tying a black belt means I have demonstrated a commitment to training consistently, that I have mastered the repertoire of techniques adequately to graduate into the next level of training. It means committing to take on additional leadership responsibilities in the dojo, such as coaching, evaluating belt graduation tests, and helping to care for and advance the dojo as needed and requested. It means seeking out advanced training opportunities at both in and out of town workshops and seminars. Minimally, it means maintaining the level of fitness and skill I have achieved so far.

These things are all doable, and they bring with them commensurate privileges. Besides recognition and respect, tying a black belt offers the opportunity to train at the next level, to learn more advanced techniques, and train with more skillful partners. Along with greater personal investment in the life of the dojo comes greater ownership and influence, admission into the circle of black belt leadership, and a sense of contributing more fully to the lineage. Up until now I have belonged to the dojo. Earning my black belt will mean that the dojo, in some small measure, belongs to me.

With so much to be gained, why have I been unable or unwilling to cross this threshold before? Perhaps because many of my expectations of myself as a black belt student are unrealistic, even unachievable. Individual mastery is doable, but absolute perfection is by its very nature aspirational. Perfection is an idea of a state of fully manifested potential. There is no room for progress because perfection is already complete, and therefore static. In contrast, reality is a dynamic state of change and growth in which potential continuously manifests and dissolves into memory, making way for progressive manifestations as the future becomes the present.

Therefore, my expectation that I should be perfect before presenting myself for black belt testing is not only unrealistic, but also self limiting. I have held onto it for one reason. Perfection is beyond criticism, judgement and failure, it represents immunity from "what-if"s. What if my demo is not sufficiently impressive? What if I don't make it to enough classes? What if I am unable to best a lower ranked student? The list goes on. At a certain threshold, aversion to being found imperfect (read inadequate) becomes the enemy of my willingness to demonstrate the good.

Getting my black belt means overcoming that instinct toward self imposed limitation. It is one more particularly large and significant experience that builds on my ongoing efforts to retrain my instincts. Rather than avoid opportunities to manifest greatness out of fear of criticism, I seek to embrace those challenges and welcome constructive criticism as a tool for making progress toward my ideal, even when it means I risk literally falling on my face.

I have been here twice before, so what makes this time different? Perhaps I am older, wiser and more ready. Or perhaps there are elements specific to To-Shin Do training that have supported me in coming closer to testing for a black belt than every before: the small steady advancement of the striping system; the commitment made early on in joining the black belt club; the reinforcement of seeing my black belt inscribed with my name week after week, test after test; the encouragement to own and personalize the techniques, rather than struggle with what does not work for me; the simple repetition at every class affirming, " I am ready to learn and advance."

With little more than a month to go, however, I am approaching the cliff's edge beyond which only a leap of faith will take me. I do not have the perfect courage to dive gracefully...yet. Instead, I will employ the techniques I have mastered in my life to get me over the edge when I have decided it is time to go. I have already begun my running start, letting go of expecting to be perfect, and focusing instead on being good enough. I will not let mistakes or missteps slow me down. I will power through with sheer grit and determination. And if I run out of those, will trick myself like Ramon the penguin from Happy Feet who distracts himself from the edge in order to "accidentally" fall over it. If I need to, I will employ some friends as Ramon does in Happy Feet Two. "Count to three," he says, "push me on two but don't tell me." To me, getting my To-Shin Do black belt means finally going over the edge and getting to the other side.
Support Mrs. Angelique and Mr. Boaz by attending their Black Belt test on Sunday, January 8, at the Boulder Reservoir. The ceremonies will begin at 3:15 pm. Stay tuned for more details.
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