[Disclaimer: There’s nothing I can do in the post to NOT sound like a humblebragging privileged tool, so if that really bothers you I suggest you cut bait now.]
“When are you going for a PhD?” my dad asked jokingly during a recent visit.
“I’d rather just advance in black belt ranks,” I replied.
I’ve done the grad school thing. Twice. The first time was when I was a fresh-faced twenty-two year-old who could handle the crazy hours of commuting six days a week to two internships, managing two to three classes a semester, and staying up until 2 AM most nights to finish assignments. The second time was when I was a sallow-faced thirty-two year old, slogging through three hour night classes after a full day’s work, plus changing careers and buying a house within that time period. It was difficult, tiring, and sometimes I wondered why the hell I was torturing myself, but in the end they were some of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have some nice diplomas on my wall and a career that has been boosted by my education…and I’m done. If I never see the inside of a university classroom again I won’t be too heartbroken.
Taekwondo is difficult, tiring, and sometimes I wonder why the hell I’m torturing myself…but going back to it was also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Here’s why I’m glad I chose going after my black belt over another round of grad school:
Better ROI: A college degree, whether it’s a bachelor’s degree or a PhD, isn’t a surefire ticket to career success and financial stability. It’s certainly a leg up in the working world, but what you do with your education is what really sets you on the right path. I’ve already looked at the numbers for what a PhD in my field would make, and it’s not much more than I’d make now. I don’t want to teach or go into leadership, so how far would that degree really take me? Would it be worth the thousands of dollars and hours spent on attaining another degree? For some the answer is yes. For me it is no. I’m happy where I am in my chosen profession.
A black belt is just a stop on the way of continuous growth and improvement in skills. You also gain confidence, a higher self-esteem, better health, new friends, mental strength and discipline. You could gain some of those things in grad school (except perhaps the better health part), but with taekwondo it seems to be a more immediate return, and one that keeps growing over time with compounded interest.
Less Expensive: Have you seen college tuition costs lately? And I’m just talking about state schools. If your martial arts school costs more than a year’s tuition then you have a serious problem with your choice of dojang.
Besides, I’ve never heard of anyone thousands of dollars in debt from a martial arts school loan.
Better Health: Do I really have to explain this? Graduate school required a lot of sitting—sitting in the car after sitting at an office job all day, sitting in class, sitting at home studying. The only sitting we do in taekwondo class is a few seconds at the beginning and end for a brief meditation. Taekwondo class is an hour of crazy cardio, sprints, lunges and squats disguised as jump kicks, and of course knuckle push-ups. (I add Pilates abs if I’m leading the class) You should even be breathing hard and sweating with forms if you’re doing them correctly.
I didn’t really need to lose any weight when I started TKD, but I’ve noticed my muscle tone has improved quite a bit as well as strength, speed, and stamina. Grad school makes you smarter (sort of), but you look like death warmed over half the time from the stress, plus it’s easier to slip into bad eating habits when you’re on the run or cramming school work in with the rest of your busy life. I still like fast food and candy, but TKD motivates me to maintain a healthy diet that keeps me fueled and doesn’t slow me down. I sleep like a rock on nights I have taekwondo class. That’s way more fun than logging into Blackboard at 11:30PM to upload an assignment.
Better Hours: We have to account for kids, so our classes don’t go any later than 8:30 PM. We’re efficient and get stuff done in an hour. Some of my college professors could have learned a thing or two about getting to the point from my TKD instructors. And see my comment above about doing school work late at night. Who does flying kicks at 10 PM unless they’re drunk?
Studying Is a Lot More Fun: Improving my spin kick versus reading a thirty-page article…hmmm, what to do…. I had to force myself to study, as in setting timers and giving myself little rewards when I had made it through a study session. I hated studying, even though I was paid to be an expert researcher for many years! Practicing (studying) taekwondo is the reward in itself. Study = fun, instant payoff.
The Learning Model is Actually Conducive to Learning: I’m a learning and development professional. I know how people learn, and passively sitting through a lecture is not that great of a method, at least it wasn’t for me. In TKD you do initially learn by listening and watching, but most importantly you learn and apply by DOING, plus you get instant feedback from your instructor.
The Formal Learning Never Stops: This isn’t exclusive—or at least it shouldn’t be—to taekwondo. You want to see continuing education in all professions. If your doctor hasn’t set foot in a conference or picked up a peer-reviewed journal since medical school…RUN.
First degree black belt is just that…first, the beginning. There is still so much more to learn, plus the expectation to teach others, which helps me learn my craft even better.
Cool Title: Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be addressed as Dr. LittleBlackBelt or see those three letters after my name, but that curiosity is often soothed by hearing a room full of people scream “YES MA’AM!!” at me when I am leading the class.
The Korean title for first dan is “jo kyo neem,” or “assistant instructor.” You know your place in the ranks, you’ve proven you are worthy of the title, and what is expected of you is written right into the title. The weight of that responsibility actually freaks me out a little more than being called “Dr.”
“Graduation” Is Actually Exciting to Watch: My family has been through their share of boring graduation ceremonies with me. I fell asleep during one of them and was only disturbed from my slumber when an undergrad tripped on the stage.
There will be no sleeping during the black belt test…unless I get knocked out during a sparring match. Hopefully it will be a lot more interesting to watch, and instead of long-winded speeches you just hear people yelling in Korean. We get to the point in taekwondo.
They make you work for it in the black belt test, though. We don’t actually get awarded our belts for another week or so, so you get to sweat it out a little while longer. The diploma you get onstage during college graduation is fake, but at least you get something.
I wasn’t nervous during any of my graduation ceremonies. Meanwhile at every belt test my heart feels like it is going to jackhammer through my chest. There’s a lot more at stake. At a graduation ceremony I know the degree is guaranteed. I’ve already completed the work and have been allowed into the ceremony. With a belt test there’s always that threat hanging over your head that you *might* not advance. That makes getting the belt or stripe at the end of the test all the more of a sweet relief.
I won’t say there isn’t such a thing as a boring belt test, but seeing people flop around and beat up on each other is vastly more interesting than hearing five hundred names being called out. The only redeeming entertainment factor of a college graduation ceremony is seeing all the colorful outfits of the faculty and staff PhDs. Every time I go to a graduation ceremony I pretend I’m at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the PhDs are professors of magic.
You Get to Yell and Hit Stuff: Do you know how many times I wanted to do this during those late-night classes, boring lectures, and tricky assignments?
Either Way I’d Get to Teach: I love teaching. I love helping others learn and develop and grow. A route for many PhD recipients is teaching at a university, and that’s just not my cup of tea even though I’ve been a guest teacher at a few university classes. I wouldn’t want to be a professor, because you have to…you know…work…and publish..and put up with whiny students and stuff. We have plenty of whiny students in TKD but they do what I say without question most of the time because they’re children and I’m an adult. TKD makes me want to give back to my fellow students, and I enjoy coaching and teaching almost as much as I do practicing taekwondo myself. I get to share what I love with others, and it doesn’t feel like work at all. That’s how my dad felt when he was an art professor, and that’s when I feel when I’m coaching two little kids to kick the crap out of each other.
You Don’t Have to Wear Shoes…Ever: This is the best reason by far.