As I approach the test for my second Shodan, I can look backand see that I have subscribed to both groups. Six years ago, in November of2006, I received by Shodan first-degree black belt in the Korean discipline ofTae Kwon Do. At this stage, I was a firm member of the first group. I got byblack belt because I was close to the end and just wanted to be done. I hadfriends in that dojo, but they were of the ‘office friend’ variety, where wewere very friendly and supportive on the mat and then didn’t spare a secondthought for each other as soon as we left the school. Since joining the BoulderQuest Center, I have made many friends, which are both my masters and my fellowstudents. They are different from the Tae Kwon Do friends in the fact that theyare some of the best people that I know. I actively seek to see them outsidethe dojo premises because of their unique views and amazing skill set that willmake even the most mundane activity a new adventure.
That same time of year is approaching again, the winter testfor black belt, the culmination of the last six years of hard work anddedication. There is one key difference this time though. The belt may be thesame color, and may have my name on it, but it now means so much more. Now, itisn’t just a resume builder or a tally mark on my life. Now, these people aremy greatest friends and allies. They are my teachers, and students, and becauseof them, and their support, I have become strong. This is the beauty of thisJapanese martial art, To Shin Do. While the style does teach self-protection,it stresses confidence, resilience, and that strength is not just about howhard you can hit something. To Shin Do showed me that a calm head and heart willconquer many obstacles that just my muscle strength or kicking speed could notdefeat alone.
To Shin Do has inspired me and changed me. I have trainedwith and under ranked instructors that are far above my masters and it hasshown me that there is a much greater world out there in terms of martial artsthan I had been exposed to in Tae Kwon Do. I saw that there were secrets andpowers that defied scientific study but were readily available for me to use ifonly I could open my eyes and see them. To Shin Do cultivates the mental andspiritual side of martial arts instead of purely physical. This, in myexperience is what separates To Shin Do from any other arts I have studied. TaeKwon Do taught that if you hit a board and it breaks, you are strong. Aikidotold me that if I can throw someone across the room and roll away, I wasstrong. While strength and technique are important and relevant, they are justfacets of the truth presented by To Shin Do: if I believe in myself and in whatI am doing, I am strong. This belief in the art and myself is what sustains methrough my training, and hiatus for school. These people that I see are theones who show me that this is a worthy pursuit and because of them, I not onlycome back to train time and time again but get excited for it, and sufferwithdrawal from it when I am away.
I have worn my Tae Kwon Do belt since I have left that dojo.I put it on once a year to remind myself of what I have accomplished and what ablack belt means. It means that the person wearing it is strong, confident andready to face the world. There is a small problem with that belt though. Itdoesn’t feel like mine anymore. It has my name on it, I have a certificate forit, and I remember very clearly earning it, but in comparison to the challengesI currently face and the values and beliefs I currently hold, my previousshodan carries less significance. In short, I am not the same person. I havegrown and changed compared to the small sixteen year old that stood on the gymfloor in Longmont, Colorado to tie on a black belt. I have become a rock, wherebefore I was a cracked stone, uncertain and unsure. I have become a solid forcefor good, whereas before I was indecisive. I am accepting and embracing whereasbefore I was snobbish.
In early 2007, when I joined the martial arts section of theBoulder Quest Center, after doing meditation classes for a few monthsbeforehand, I was still newly a black belt. I was thrust into the white beltbeginning class and saw it as beneath me. After all, hadn’t I just earned ablack belt? Hadn’t I distinguished myself enough to be put on the fast track toanother black belt? I had seen it happen in Tae Kwon Do and a friend of minereceived his black belt after only two years of Tae Kwon Do. If they could doit, why not me? As I look back now, the very reasons I wanted to go ahead werethe very reasons why I had to stay behind. Only by learning with an open mindand heart would I be able to go forward and achieve all I wanted to. Waitingand taking my time was one of the best decisions I have made in terms of martialarts. It has made me patient and calm. It has made me sure of who I am andgiven me a genuine desire to help people to learn. I have a wealth ofknowledge, which doesn’t make me better than other people, but instead gives mea place to share what I know.
While both of my belts are similar, they are very differentand instead of negating one another, they build upon each other. My Tae Kwon Dotraining placed a firm building block at the base of the martial arts pyramid.The highest honor I can give to my past training is to use the balance andfinesse that I have achieved to teach those below me. The highest honor I cangive to my future belts is to not let my past training hold me back from seeingthe truth with eyes unclouded. As I finish this essay, there is only one thingleft to say. I am ready.
To see Jeff earn his To-Shin Do shodan Black Belt, come to Winter Warrior 2013.