Happy Labor Day! Thanks for being a part of Hunter's journey. To celebrate, I've included a copy of his entire essay here so you can read it in one place. Hunter is a senior at CU working towards his degree in Advertising. He has been studying To-Shin Do for 4 years.
Earning a black belt is a symbol, it demonstrates that I have learned the fundamentals, but more than that, it is a personal symbol. It represents my progress and the obstacles I have overcome during the course of my journey since white belt. To Shin Do is a continuous learning process, if it ever stops being challenging, it is because I have stopped improving. Training has taught me to be in my body and in the present moment, but above all to be more patient with myself. Earning a black belt is not a destination, it is a milestone. It signifies, the faith, commitment and priority it has taken to get here and my readiness to take the next step on the path to mastery.
One of my continuous learning processes, has been to become more patient with myself. I have accepted that learning anything takes time and requires repetition. Progress is incremental and my “breakthroughs” are usually the moment in time when my gradual improvement has accumulated enough to become noticeable. I avoid setting unreasonable expectations for myself by remembering that everything takes time. As well as by clarifying and asking questions and remembering to have fun when learning something challenging. When frustration arises anyway, I have learned to work through it, by reminding myself to breath, more deeply and more often. I have found that the more I stay in the present moment, the less likely I am to become frustrated when my performance does not match my expectations.
When I first began training, I found it an unnatural experience to be in my body and was more comfortable being in my head. Part of learning to be ninja has been finding a balance between approaching things intelligently, while still being present in the body and in tune with the situation. I have learned enough about myself to know that I do depend on over-thinking things when exposed to a new idea. However, I can move beyond this after a little while and begin to integrate movements into my body as I become more comfortable with a technique. Alternatively, I sometimes focus on moving without fixating on what I want to happen, simply letting the answer to the problem come out of the situation. Making the shift from always thinking about things to simply being in my body represents the improvement past an obstacle, which has been crucial to overcome.
To Shin Do has stayed constant while other things have shifted and changed around me. It has always been something I can depend on to be there, even as the experiences I have while training have evolved over time. Part of the significance of earning a black belt, is knowing that I have stuck with it. I owe my persistence to three things; faith, commitment and priority. These three things have helped ensure that I have continued training, even when it becomes challenging, as well as encouraging me to come to class regularly, despite a busy schedule.
Faith can be defined as believing in something you cannot see or touch. Faith is believing that To Shin Do can work and that I can make it work for me. My perceptions have changed internally and externally as a result of having studied martial arts. However, I have come to realize that many of the changes, in my outlook, perceptions and level of ability since beginning To Shin Do are somewhat intangible. Skill manifests on a physical level, but the knowledge behind that skill is not finite. Progress can be seen, but it is easier to see over the long run than from moment to moment. The belief that I can keep getting better is built upon past experiences, but ultimately it is an act of faith.
I think of commitment as the ability to, do the thing I said I would do, long after the mood I said it in is over. Commitment has enabled me to take the promise to keep training until black belt seriously, not just on the day I made that promise, but every time I come to class. I kept my goal alive by staying committed to achieving it and in return it has given me little boosts of energy, determination and enthusiasm when I needed them most. Commitment is about more than just showing up to class, it is about getting as much as I can out of the experience, every time I am in the dojo.
The final quality, which has helped me along my path to earning a black belt is prioritization. Knowing that I have made the choice to be here, gives it more value and makes earning a black belt more meaningful. I have chosen for various reasons not to own a car, so the ensuing bus rides across town, to and from the dojo, take as much as twice the time I spend in a single class. I do not say this to brag, but simply to remind myself that I have not gotten to where I am by accident. I made the effort to come to class consistently because I made it a priority. I am here on purpose!
It is not earning a black belt that is significant to me as much as what it symbolizes that gives it power. For me, a black belt stands for everything I have learned during my path. It represents all the challenges and obstacles I have overcome as well as the many good moments I have had along the way. The path to black belt has been just as much of a journey of inner exploration as outward exploration. On the outside, I now have the knowledge that I am capable of something significant if I work at it, do not give up, and remember to have fun along the way. On the inside, I have come to have a deeper understanding of myself. I have come to understand that knowledge is power and that therefore, knowing yourself is self empowerment.