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A few months ago my Body Combat teacher yelled at us to work like we were “owning” our lives rather than “borrowing” it. That can be a motivating sentiment. As a homeowner for the last eight years, I’m much more invested not only financially in keeping up and personalizing my home than I was as a renter, but emotionally as well. I love my home. There’s a deeper attachment than just fulfilling the physical need of shelter. Owning it means something special.

One could assume then that we could apply that analogy to the rest of our lives. It pops up in corporate lingo all the time. Companies claim they want their employees to have a sense of “ownership” over their work, which implies more autonomy, creativity, and  more responsibility. “Borrowing” or “renting” is sometimes looked down upon for its impermanence and unpredictability.

So yeah, we get excited and jump up and down and scream, “Yeah, I’m OWNING this shit!!” Of course we want to own it! Everyone tells us that’s the correct and more admirable way to live our lives.

…but what if I were to offer the opposite side of the argument? What if I were to make a case of “leasing” life rather than “owning” it?

A few weeks ago I had a solo black belt lesson with my Master, a woman a little younger than me who has proven to be not only a successful taekwondo school owner, but an exceptional coach and leader. (Trust me, y’all, I get paid to look at stuff like that.) She asked me what form I wanted to work on. I was tempted to go through Keumgang or Pyongwong, where I’m at my short-girl-compact-stompy best or the beautiful and athletic No Pae.

Instead I screwed up my face and said, “I should probably work on Koryo.” Koryo is the typically the first form a new black belt learns. I first learned it four years ago.

“Why Koryo?” she asked.
“Because I don’t want my body to forget it…and I kinda don’t like it. I’m not that great at it.” She narrowed her eyes and smiled.
“Have I told you about my lease vs. own philosophy?” she asked.
“Uh…I hear people talk about owning instead of leasing, so no…I haven’t heard it.”

Basically, her lease vs. own philosophy is that (and forgive me for paraphrasing) is that the danger of ownership is that it can become stagnant. Leasing forces you to continuously re-up what you’ve learned and put a conscious effort into making changes and improvements. You learn Koryo as a first Dan, and that’s it; you just keep doing it from rote memory because in theory you’ve already learned it, you own it, and there’s nothing more to do.

If you lease Koryo, then you are constantly mindful of your practice and continuously look for ways to improve, whether you’re a brand new first Dan or a 9th Dan Grandmaster. Each time it is performed, it’s brand new. It’s a new lease on the form.

There’s no guarantee that you’re going to nail it every time you do the form; autopilot isn’t an option. If you’re leasing life, there’s no guarantee that things will be laid out neatly for you every time–you have to thoughtfully pursue it.

By that rationale I’ll never stop “learning” Koryo, and that’s kind of cool. That means it will keep evolving as I evolve in my taekwondo practice.

I though about that philosophy as I slogged through Koryo and still secretly pining for the other black belt forms. The concept finally struck me in a more recent class.

In mid-July one of the coaches was running us through slow-motion kicks, which are typically taught at first Dan level and tested on at second. I had first been introduced to the technique several years ago as a color belt and took to it fairly easily thanks to decades of balance work in yoga. That night at the dojang it was a small group–me, a woman near my age who is a blue belt/red stripe, and three teenage siblings who got first Dan last year. It was a new concept to everyone but me.

That didn’t mean I mindlessly ran through the slow motion snap and roundhouse kicks; I did concentrate on each movement, making tiny tweaks as I went. I thought I was doing it just fine. But then my coach said something that really resonated with me. He gave some tips on the basics to the younger black belts, praised the color belt for doing a great job on her first try, and then came to me at the end of the line.

“Melanie, I have a note to challenge you,” he said with an eager smile. On the slow-motion roundhouse kick, which is trickier than the snap kick, I was pivoting my standing leg too soon rather than waiting to fully chamber my kicking leg.

“If you pivot too soon, it looks like you’re swinging your leg. Think about how it looks full-speed,” my coach said as he demonstrated a fast, poorly chambered kick. At that moment a lightbulb went off not only about the proper mechanics of the kick, but the words from my Master a few weeks ago.

OH.

THIS is what she meant about leasing vs. owning.

I was performing the slow-motion kicks with a sense of slightly stagnant ownership–been there, done that, got the second degree belt for it, just gonna keep doing it the way I’ve been doing it for years. Instead, I could approach it with a sense of reverse-engineering and application of years of practicing regular roundhouse kicks. I didn’t need to come at slow-motion roundhouse as a complete beginner the way my classmates were, but it was a chance to slough off my jaded black belt assumptions about the technique and really put some critical thought into it.

I was excited about my coach’s feedback and thanked him for it. I looked forward to getting to approach my slow-motion roundhouse with this new detail next time. It was a great reminder that being a black belt doesn’t mean you get handed a piece of cloth after a test and you are done.

You are earning that belt, dare I say, leasing it, every day in class. There’s no guarantee you’ll be at the same level of performance next time. You have to make a promise and a commitment to yourself every time you walk onto the mat.

Where can you approach your life with a “leasing” attitude? Be sure to bring your curiosity, work ethic, and an openness to feedback. You may be surprised at how you can refresh something you thought couldn’t be improved upon or changed.

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