Started training in February 2008, age 10. Tested for black belt July 2015, age 18.
Black Belt Speech:
The first thing i'd like to say is that I don't want this essay to be all about me, I want this to be about you guys, my listeners and supporters. The goal of my essay isn't to make sure you think I’m awesome, my goal is to inspire you, whether you're a student here or not. What I've learned doesn't just apply to karate.
In the past few months I’ve never felt worse in my entire life. I’ve never been more scared, never felt so beaten up, never felt so weak, and never wanted to quit so much. As terrible as it was, there's a silver lining to be found… I’ve never faced more fear, never grown so much, never felt so alive, and never achieved so much. Although you need to know a lot for the test: katas, defenses, all that stuff, it’s really a test of heart, it’s about pushing yourself, giving your all, and never giving up. We just do so through karate. Although you have to be a little bit crazy to do it, putting yourself through it can be the best choice you can ever make. While it's not for everyone, for me it was the best thing I’ve ever done.
As a kid I was never the best at the most sports. I was okay at tennis, decent at soccer, and pretty bad at basketball. I went an entire season of baseball without hitting a single ball and an entire season of football as a receiver without making a single catch. Eventually, in fifth grade my mom asked if I wanted to do karate and I made the biggest commitment of my life with the answer “Sure.”
My journey started in March 2008 at the old dojo above Radio Shack. As a brand new White Belt, I was 10 years old and a fifth grader in elementary school. Bush was still president and the upcoming Olympic Games were in Beijing. The first generation iPhone had only been out for a couple months and the iPad wouldn’t be released until I was at Purple II. I would finally test for and earn my Black Belt in July 2015, now a high school graduate, and a legal adult. It had been seven years and four months. Two dojos, three patch workshops, seven rank tests, three out trips and one black belt test, seven belt colors, four white stripes and at least three gi sizes, a million days of training, a billion hours of work, and a trillion techniques.
If I had tried taking this test four months ago without any out trips or training, I would have failed both physically and mentally. The four months of ever-lasting testing has treated me like a tool in a blacksmiths workshop. After building up a hunk a metal, I’m thrown into the fire and hammered until I’m sharp. Another way to put it, my body feels like a twig set to a flame... but sometimes I don’t even notice. My mind remains like a tree: thick, sturdy and strong, with leaves swaying gently in the wind. You set fire to a tree and the tree doesn’t jump, it doesn’t scramble, it doesn’t break. The tree stands still, the trunk stays sturdy, and no matter the blaze, the leaves still sway ever so calmly in the gentle breeze. Be that tree, be the ultimate calm.
I stand at the top of the mountain. There's dirt under my chin, down my pants, and in my ears. A muddy mix with sweat paints my face and neck. Cramps tense through my empty, hollow limbs. My lungs feel like they're suffocating, my stomach feels like it's throwing up. My throat sore from kiais reduced to mere screams. My tender, beaten body is covered in cuts and bruises. One hand is bloody, swollen, and broken... And i feel the breeze blow gently across my face…
For seven and a half years a black belt with my name on it has sat in the case, watching me for every class I took. It was always just something to aim for, some crazy goal that was never actually real. Over time, I put in so much work and so much effort, I had poured my heart and soul into this... I feel the gentle breeze blow across my face, and it's placed in my hands. "It" is the physical representation of all the hard work, all the pain, and all that I had poured into it. Looking at it, it's the most beautiful thing in the world. My eyes swell up as i let it unfold and I wrap it around my waist.
We don’t say much about the out trips and the test for a couple reasons. First of all, words can’t really explain it. Trying to put the test into words just gets frustrating and it's ultimately pointless. Second, we have to keep it a secret from possible future testers. We go into the out trips and the test knowing next to nothing about them. And that’s what makes them what they are. They're scary. You have to be ready for anything. And that’s just life, you never know what you’re going to get. In fact I always thought the mountain and the out trips were a myth. It wasn't until about 4 years ago when the first group started testing that i actually knew it was real.
After going through it, I have a small list of words that might give you an idea as to what it's like... Its excruciating, its awful, and it sucks - a lot... Its awesome, its beautiful, and in a sick twisted way it's a little bit of fun. Its petrifying, it's shocking, and it's really quite insane. It's dreadful yet exciting. Its intense yet calm. It's humbling yet motivating, and it's pitiful yet inspiring.
It seems like most dojos these days hand out their black belts. Pay for two or three years of classes and take a test that might make you sweat. Honestly it makes me sad. Not because I think they're not worthy, but because I believe they're missing an amazing experience. What makes me a black belt? Its not the belt around my waist, its the mountain underneath me. It’s hard to find a dojo like this one, and it’s hard to find a sensei like Sensei Brian. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have joined this dojo. It’s truly changed my life.