The True Beginning

In class recently, we talked about what it means to be a black belt.

Master Ricardo asked the class, “What does it mean to be a black belt?” Right away several students raised their hands…. “It means you’re really good at Taekwondo.” “It means you know all the techniques.” “It means you’ll always win in a fight.” And to each response, Master Ricardo said no, that’s not it.

Finally, one of the students preparing for her black belt test raised her hand and said, “It’s like the real beginning of your training.”

Yes, he told the class. Everything you are learning from white until black belt is like preparation. Think about an apprentice carpenter. Before he can learn to build a house, he first needs to gather up all his tools. He needs to get hammers, and saws, and levels. Without those things, he can’t create anything with carpentry. It’s the same for a color belt student. You are still gathering up all your tools.

I can’t teach you how to really use a backspin – how to create different situations in a match, or create different cool variations of a backspin – if you don’t know how to backspin. So from white to red belt, that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting together all the tools we’ll need to really start training in Taekwondo.

He told the class about another Master who held a black belt test, and 11 students tested to black belt. Then, after the test, all those students quit training except for 2. Nine of them thought, “Okay great! We got our black belts. We finished our journey and completed our goal, so that’s it.” Those students didn’t really understand the meaning of black belt. They didn’t understand that black belt is the true beginning. At black belt is when you start to really learn Taekwondo. So right now, all of you are preparing to learn. You’re getting your tools.

Once you get to black belt, then you have all the necessary tools to start learning, to start creating, to start understanding what Taekwondo is really about.

Right now, as a color belt, your goal might be to get to black belt. Or even, if you’re an orange belt right now, your goal might be just to get to yellow belt. And that’s okay; that’s great. But understand that each new belt is just a little step on the journey of Taekwondo. Reaching that goal of black belt is not the destination; it’s just the part where the journey starts to get really interesting.

The biggest problem some people have is that they give up too soon. Imagine you’re digging for gold. You dig and you dig, and your arms get tired, and maybe you get bored, and you keep digging until you feel like you must have reached the end and you’ve seen everything there is to see. So you quit digging. But little do you know, there’s just a little half-inch layer of dirt at the end of your tunnel, and if you just push through that much, you’ll reach a cave full of gold. Just a half inch more and you would have had it, but you’ll never know that. That’s what it’s like to quit when you reach black belt.

If you quit when you get that yellow belt, you’ll miss all the new tools you’ll gather at green and blue and purple belt. And if you quit when you get to black belt, you’ll miss the part where you can really start to understand and use and create Taekwondo. So don’t view your training like a checklist, where we just check off the boxes for each belt. Instead, view your training as a lifelong journey, and be excited to see where it takes you after each step.

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