frayed black belt

At the beginning of June my Master decreed blessedly, thankfully, that we could wear t-shirts with our dobok pants for training…as long as they were school-branded shirts of course. Her reason–it’s so damn hot in the Texas summer that we were absolutely roasting in our dobok tops.

For a while I resisted the t-shirt thing. I had come from a very traditional dojang (as did my Master originally), and I couldn’t dream of training in anything except a full uniform with a belt tied snugly around my waist. The only time I’d ever trained in a workout shirt at my previous dojang was when the A/C was broken one weekend, and my former Master had us wear t-shirts with our taekwondo pants and do slow motion forms in the heavy heat. I like the way a taekwondo uniform looks. I like the popping sound my sleeves make when I do a form.

But damn if it ever gets HOT here in Texas.

So I started wearing t-shirts to training classes this summer–other than the black belts-only classes, that is. I would feel weird and half-dressed in that class.

A t-shirt and loose taekwondo pants is a pretty comfy pair…but something is missing. I noticed some of the regular kids wearing their belts with their t-shirts. My traditional taekwondo brain thought it looked a little odd, but I tried it out–t-shirt, dobok pants, and my trusty black belt wrapped snugly around my high waist. Not as good as a full uniform, but in this heat it will do.

I don’t want just the reminder of my rank around my waist or to maintain the feel of working out with a belt (there’s such a thing as getting¬†too¬†comfortable)–I want a worn out belt. I’ve had my current belt for almost two years, and it’s not quite to my liking.

I want a greyed, freyed, soft-to-the-touch, floppy belt. My first black belt wore down like that, and the tattoo modeled after it shows some nice signs of use. My second degree belt, on the other hand, is still a little too shiny and new looking. I didn’t train half as much last year as I had in previous years, so I need to make up for lost time.

I want a belt that stays knotted tightly and doesn’t get in the way when I’m doing downward blocks (that happens when the stiff ends stick out). I want a belt that is seasoned with sweat, greased with the oils from my fingers, and easily snakes around my waist with a few deft wraps.

It’s not just a comfort thing. I want a black belt that shows my work, just like scratched out math problems on a test. A lived-in black belt means I’ve put in the time and effort to EARN what is wrapped around my waist. A lived-in belt shows that I AM a black belt, not just that I was awarded one at my last test.

So I’m going to wear t-shirts this summer, but I’m still going to tie that belt around my waist. I don’t want my body to get too used to training without it. I want that tightness around my middle committed to muscle memory when I’m doing forms and sparring at my next test. Here’s to hoping the sweat from the Texas heat helps me break in my belt to my liking.


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