The Art of Winning Blog

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Becoming A To-Shin Do Black Belt

*WARNING: This essay has very personal and intense information. If you are under 18, please ask your parents for approval before you continue reading. I am so grateful and impressed by Amanda's bravery in allowing me to share her essay. Please come support her in getting her black belt Friday, March 29 at 6pm at the Boulder Quest Center.
What a To Shin Do Black Belt Means to Me
Amanda Mahan

It has been a long journey from my first step into the BQC dojo until now. It feels like a lifetime of events has passed that presented many obstacles for getting to where I am now: ready to test for my black belt. For me to look at what this black belt means, I have to start at the beginning.

The origin of this path began after I was attacked and raped 11 years ago. This was my initial motivation for training in the martial arts. I was scared and grasping for security – as I should have!  This was my wisdom: to learn how to protect myself and gain confidence. When I started, I sampled a variety of martial arts. Between travel and high ambitions in multiple fields, I never stuck to any one path. I found To Shin Do in 2006 and I knew it was the right martial art for me. Somehow I have made it, over 6 years later, to my black belt test. This brings me to the first of four symbols a black belt in To Shin Do means to me: perseverance.  It is an old pattern for me to start something, get bored or distracted, and move on to something else. While it has taken me a long time to get here, I have at least kept coming back! It is important that I take the next step and achieve the goal I have struggled toward for so long.

Somewhere along the road to black belt I have gone from “victim” to “warrior.” This has been an important transition in my life. Since I was raped I would have many dreams about being attacked. In the dream I would try to defend myself and throw punches, but it felt like I had no strength and no impact on my attacker. A couple years into my training my dreams started to shift. I would still be attacked but I started to be able to run away. As my training progressed I was effectively able to disarm my attacker. Most recently, I had a dream in which I was being followed but I was aware of it and able to engage the attacker before he attacked—preventing the attack from happening altogether. I had a different dream in which I heard another person in distress and screaming. I was able to find the person being attacked and interrupt the attacker. Later in the same dream I was able to find resources for the attacker and mentor them. These dreams are a dramatic shift in my internal experience. I believe it is a representation of my journey from victim to warrior that has come about through my To Shin Do training. For this reason, a To Shin Do black belt is a symbol of my own warriorship.

On a deeper note, I am realizing that my motivation for a black belt isn’t exactly what it was when I began my training. I believe I started with a seeker’s heart, attempting to gain some knowledge or skill—and status of that knowledge or skill through a black belt. Achievement and recognition has been a driving force in my life and I wasn’t fully aware of this until recently. Certainly there is nothing wrong with gaining knowledge, skill, achievement or recognition. That is not my point. In fact, I am grateful for any reason that led me to this path. However, through my training and personal development inside and outside the dojo, I am realizing that I am less and less interested in the black belt itself. The thing that keeps me coming back to this training is what I discover or uncover in myself and my experience that was there all along. It is not something I gain, rather it is an awareness through somatic experience of the elemental nature of all things. I get to experience physically the patterns of my mind, my spiritual blockages, and my energetic tendencies. I get to see interpersonal dynamics come to life through the demonstration of a technique. As a psychologist I can easily get lost in the theoretical world of concepts of these things. The To Shin Do path allows me to integrate the physical and energetic/spiritual aspects of all the things I contemplate. This is invaluable to me and I view my black belt as a symbol of this integration. And yes, the self-defense tactics are great too!

Finally, it has taken me one year to actually get myself to test for my black belt. This has been a confusing resistance for me. Why would I not want to get my black belt? While the past year has been one of the most trying of my life, it still didn’t make sense that I would put this important moment off for so long. After training the other day and mentioning this to Aitoshi, she said something like, “Sometimes ‘becoming’ is easier than ‘being.’” This statement struck me. At 32 years old I am going through a speed bump in my life in the transition from “student” to “teacher,” and it hasn’t been an easy one. Somehow learning and “becoming” is safer than knowing and “being.” But I have to remember that “learning” and “knowing,” or “becoming” and “being” are not mutually exclusive terms. In fact, they must live together. Getting a black belt does not represent the end of learning. It is actually the mark of the beginning.

Another aspect of this resistance is a feeling of deserving the title of black belt. Since it has been so long on this journey it is easy for me to forget where I began. I remember looking at green belts test when I first started and I was amazed. Now the wind element feels easy for me, so I forget to see how amazing it really is. That happens to me a lot. I forget how amazing I really am. The truth is I already feel like I am a black belt in my heart. The belt is just a symbol of my being an amazing, integrated, persevering warrior. To be honest, I am still scared to test, to find out what it means to be a black belt, and to transition into “being.” But I am going to do it anyway.

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