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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Black Belt Way

Author's Note: I originally wrote this essay and delivered it in the form of a speech at the Black Belt Extravaganza VII and the 2013 LMA Christmas Party. After much delay, it is now posted here for all to see!

My name is Levi Sweeney, and I am 18 years old. I have held the rank of first degree black belt for three years. It took me many years of hard work to achieve that rank, and now I am prepared to ascend to the next level. It took me about five years of hard work to get to first degree, and three more years of the same to get to second degree. In short, I’ve come a long way, learned a lot of things, and have gotten to know a lot of people. Without these experiences, my life would be very different. In this time period, the dojang has become another home to me. This is not just because I’ve spent a lot of time there, but because of whom I spent that time with. I’ve learned much, but I’m only at the beginning. I’m only beginning to learn what it means to be a black belt. As one of our school’s many mottos says, “It’s not what’s tied around your waist, but what you did to get there.”
                The first thing to understand about being a black belt is that a black belt has a specific outlook on life. The black belt must always adhere to the five tenets of taekwondo; courtesy, integrity, perseverance, indomitable spirit, and self control. Moreover, the black belt must learn to incorporate into his or her personality other, more far ranging qualities which stem from these tenets. From courtesy comes respect. From integrity comes goodwill. From perseverance comes commitment. Indomitable spirit and self control are two sides of the same coin: With an indomitable spirit, black belts will never allow anyone to control them but themselves. With self control, black belts will be able to dominate themselves. To be a black belt is to be defined by these traits, as the black belts themselves define their school and their teachers.
                The second thing to understand about being a black belt is that a black belt must act like a black belt- both on and off the mats. The black belt must personify all of the previously mentioned traits, and they must be evident in his or her life. For if a black belt does not behave like a black belt, is he or she really a black belt at all? Again, “It’s not what’s tied around your waist, but what you did to get there.” Whether it’s helping people in need, showing respect to others, or simply saying, “Thank you,” the black belt’s actions are highly important. They demonstrate not just the quality of their character, but the quality of their instruction. As it says in the Bible, in Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Black belts must also honor their teachers, not only in taekwondo, but also in life; that is, black belts must honor their parents. At Lee’s Martial Arts, one of the first things that new white belts learn are the Children’s home rules, which dictate how students must treat their parents. Black belts should be above reproach when it comes to these rules. They should not only talk like black belts, but walk like black belts.
                Finally, a black belt should strive to be a good example to lower ranking belts. This is harder to accomplish than it seems. It requires black belts to mind their actions, to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses. They must be extra mindful of their conduct, seeking to be fitting exemplars of everything good. They must be willing to be teachers themselves, whether simply as assistant instructors or as more hands on mentors to bodans and other lower ranking belts. They must be gracious, patient, hardworking, and kind. Above all, they must be good. If the lower belts see black belts going about their business, they must be able to learn something from what they see. They must be able to see a model of behavior, a standard worth achieving, a beacon calling them to be more than just students. Black belts should inspire others to be black belt-like.
                I have come far in my journey to second degree black belt. I feel like I have earned it, and I’m proud to have accomplished so much. I remember starting as a white belt, working my way up through the ranks, and finally attaining the rank of first degree black belt. I have not only become a black belt, but I also am a black belt. But I didn’t do it all by myself. I couldn’t have done anything without the help of my instructors, my fellow students, and my friends, all of whom have become a second family to me. For now, I plan to continue in my study of taekwondo, but I also am interested in possibly studying a different martial art, such as parkour, krav maga, or kenjutsu. But that’s in the future. For now, I am content to be a black belt, and to bear all of the responsibilities which accompany that role. Being a black belt is accepting those responsibilities, and dutifully acting on them.