“So how many months is it between red belt and black tip?” asked a young blonde girl, tilting her head and narrowing her eyes at me. She was sporting a brand new red belt, still stiff and shiny and creased from her Friday night color belt promotion.

“Four,” I said absentmindedly, grabbing my foot and bending my leg at the knee for a quad stretch.

“Four months. It’s four, four, six!” piped up an adult blue belt at the back of the room.

“See, he knows too,” I said, nodding and raising my eyebrows. I wanted to tell the little red belt not to get too wrapped up in rushing from one test to the next. There was a lot to enjoy in simply being a red belt…and black tip…and bo dan. I hoped she would slow down and savor the moments and the little joys that I have since I donned a red belt over a year ago…but sometimes people need to figure things out on their own.

The same blue belt looked up at me as he was doing a butterfly stretch and said in a slightly sarcastic tone, “So…are you going to quit when you get your black belt?”

“No way!” I replied. “If I quit what would I have to write about? I’m in this for life until my body or my money gives out.” And it’s true. I found my niche and I found my second family. They’re stuck with me.

It’s starting to hit me that I will test for black belt in about three and a half months. I didn’t even think about black belt when I first re-entered the taekwondo world. I just wanted to be there. Finally after years of searching I’d found something that quieted and focused my mind and opened my heart. I became more nurturing and loving with the people around me than I ever had during half-hearted friendships that died out or sporadic attempts at connecting with people of my same religious faith. I found acceptance, friendships, and a newfound faith in myself that I’d never had before. As long as I can find a place to practice martial arts with other like-minded people I’m happy.

A black belt is just gravy.

First degree black belt is by no means the pinnacle of the taekwondo student’s journey. It just means you’ve completed basic training and your instructor trusts you not to kill the little kids in sparring class. You keep growing and changing and uncovering more and more layers as the years go by. You get to see taekwondo through the fresh eyes of new white belts and learn nuances you would have never discovered on your own without the guidance of seasoned black belts. You get back what you invest in it a hundred fold.

It’s not that I’m not excited about my black belt test. I think about it often and look forward to it eagerly. But I also don’t want to take these last few months of being a color belt for granted. If I’m just cramming for a test and not appreciating the present then I’m missing the point entirely.

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