Prior to my test for 1st Dan Decided in Songahm Taekwondo I was required to write a letter to Mr. Wegman, no topic specified. I could write anything I want, and it made sense to write about why I deserved by Black Belt.
I recall thinking of and discarding a number of ideas, some of which were as simple as "I deserve this because I worked for it". Didn't like those topics ... so I thought of the changes in myself since starting in July, 1999. I considered my successes and failures, and realized that the big changes were in my attitude and self confidence. So I went with that theme, producing the following letter.
Note: Prior to May 2007, when I earned 1st Dan in Soo Bahk Do, I had this letter embedded in my journal for 2001, as I didn't have a better place for it. Given that I published my essay for 1st Dan in SBD, it made sense to put the letters together, especially since I'll be writing more essays as I test for higher ranks.
As I await the test for 1st Degree Black Belt Decided, many thoughts come to mind. I've re-read my journal of the last 2-1/2 years, reliving many successes and some disappointments. It has been a personally intense journey and a very positive one. But the journey is not ending -- this test is merely a milestone along the way. A rather important milestone, but still, just a milestone and not the destination.
In many ways it has been a very personal journey. I've learned new things about myself, and confirmed other things that I knew but had not yet proven. I've grown in many ways and believe that I have improved myself in general.
But the journey has not been solo -- it has included many companions, both among my fellow colored belts and among the Black Belt instructors (who I realize are also my fellow students). I have made new friends and shared many triumphs, both mine and theirs. As I look back it has been a very positive experience, even when negative things occurred.
I'm glad I joined your school. My first impressions were very positive. The entire environment was (and still is) a positive one, with palpable lines of respect running in all directions. I have experienced none of the foolish arrogance that mars so many otherwise great martial artists and their schools. That first night, at the end of class when you thanked us for coming to class, I knew I had made the right choice and knew that I would be extending my agreement when the introductory period ended.
I'm glad I joined the SWAT team. I believe that I have made a positive difference in others. I also believe that it has made a difference in myself, in that I must know the material well enough to teach it to others, and it has helped increase my self confidence. This one opportunity has enabled me to grow and to help others grow, all at the same time.
The sometimes intense warm ups and kicking drills are another thing I'm glad of. Well, maybe not at the exact moment, but definitely later on. We don't get better and stronger without pushing ourselves, or having someone else push us. Sometimes it is hard to push ourselves sufficiently, and it helps to have someone else do the pushing.
Surprisingly enough, I'm also glad about the various injuries I've had. None have been severe (thankfully no bone breaks so far), but they have each tested my commitment and I have proven victorious each time.
I'm also glad about failing the test for Red/Black in August. Does that surprise you? Although it did not improve me in any way I noticed, it allowed me to prove something about myself. I was very proud that I handled a public failure in a positive manner. How we handle failure is sometimes more important than how we handle success.
If I had not declined my first test for Brown Belt Recommended and my first test for Red Belt Decided (and failed the second test) I may have tested for Red/Black last April, and as a result I may have tested for 1st Degree Black Decided as early as June. But I'm glad that I took the extra time when I needed it. The extra time meant that I knew my material all that much better. I believe the last 6 months have made a significant improvement in my abilities and my knowledge of my material, and those are certainly worth the extra time.
I'm especially glad that, at the colored belt testing last Wednesday, you had me get up and do my rank form and Songahm 1-3 with the Red and Brown belts. I was totally unprepared to do any forms -- I had not warmed up or reviewed the material that day -- my performance was totally cold. Although I won't claim that my performance was faultless, I did not have any trouble doing the forms. After the first move everything was on auto-pilot. I know my forms well enough that I don't need to think about them.
THAT is one of the things the last 6 months of practice have gained me. If I had tested for 1st Degree Black Belt Decided last June, or even August at the tournament, I would not have given the performance that I expect to display Saturday morning. So I don't begrudge the extra time -- I welcome it because it has enabled me to be a better martial artist. Regardless of the belt I wear, my goal is to be the best that I can be.
The troubles I have had with breaks over the past 6 months have proved to be a blessing in disguise. I did not realize that board breaking is where everything we do comes together. But now I realize that we must have accurate targeting, proper focus, power, speed, and solid technique. When all these things come together the board breaks -- it has no choice. When any one thing fails the board usually doesn't break. This realization is the other thing the last 6 months of practice have gained me.
Oddly enough, I realized now that I am ready to earn my Black Belt. As you may recall, your school is my fifth Taekwondo school over a period of 19 years. I had various reasons for leaving the other schools, some good and some not so good, but looking back I realize that I did not believe that I could be a Black Belt. It was a goal that was just so unobtainable. I could not visualize it and so it did not happen.
But now I am a believer. Now I can visualize it. Now I am ready and I am looking forward to demonstrating that to you Saturday morning.
Copyright 1999-2008 Bryan Fazekas