gucci belt
Now that’s a white belt I could wear all the time.
White belt is probably the most trying time for most students even though the upper belts are full of complicated techniques and memorization. It’s doubly trying if you’re an adult in a class full of spazzy little kids and awkward teenagers who actually say “ki-yahp” when they ki-yahp. Being a white belt is like being a freshman in high school or college. Everything is new, the instructors are intimidating, and your body behaves like a clumsy newborn calf. You’re on information overload, and it takes months or even years for the muscle memory of your body to catch up with the cognitive understanding of your mind. Doing the same basic movements over again can be pretty boring, so it’s up to the student to dig deeper and find ways to improve and refine them.

Not knowing what the hell you’re doing is more uncomfortable than control-top pantyhose. I experienced a career change a few years ago and am just now feeling confident and well-versed in my new profession. If you grew up in the 1980s you learned that if you said “I don’t know” you’d get doused in a bucket of Nickelodeon slime. Admitting you’re lost or you’re scared or you lack confidence is a rejection of our collective cultural worship of American bravado.
The great thing about being a white belt IS the fact that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Your mind is open and your heart is humbled and ready for learning. You pay close attention to the new information you’re receiving and pour your efforts into practicing your new craft. I see this passion in a coworker who wants to be in the same role as me and my colleagues after she completes her education. She is hungry, enthusiastic and reminds me of what I like about my profession when I’ve become jaded and complacent. 

At the beginning of each year my taekwondo instructors spend a few weeks revisiting the basics. We meticulously and repetitively work our way through kicks, blocks, strikes, and stances the way one might do with a group of white belts. My greater knowledge and skill is met with the patience and curiosity of a new student. Incidentally I tore my rotator cuff doing a low block during one of these “back to basics” classes. Nonetheless I look forward to our time of revisiting and refining our foundation. Perhaps I’ll rip my right shoulder so I’ll be even.
I’ve held up the facade of accomplished independent professional for so many years that it’s a no brainer. While embracing the Black Belt Mindset of confidence and grace can enhance our lives it’s dangerous to forget where we came from. Even though I’m advancing in my taekwondo practice my inner white belt gently reminds me to relax into the role of student and forgive myself for not being perfect. It’s refreshing to scrub off my makeup, slip into a clean dobok, and smile at the fact that I still have so much to learn.

3 thoughts on “White Belt is the New Black

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