Monday, September 1, 2014

On Being a Black Belt

Before Sunshine and I took our Black Belt test, we had to write an essay about what earning our black belt meant to us. It was both easy and difficult to write. It was a journey that started 7 years ago for Sunshine and 5 years ago for me. Here are my thoughts on earning my black belt.

When asked, I tell people that running saved my life, literally and figuratively. But Tae Kwon Do changed my life. In class I can't think about my worries or my problems or what's for dinner, I can only focus on where to point my toes or how to turn my bottom foot, or is my thumb in and is my other hand in chamber? It is a welcome respite from the chaos that can often surround me.

This journey has been amazing for me; I still remember the first class when I noticed I actually had my foot sideways for a side kick. Taking this journey with Sunshine is precious, something we will always have together. Watching Sunshine earn her different belts, holding my breath and crying as each one was presented. Completing our red belt and stripe tests together has been wonderful. Watching her confidence grow over the years has been a true joy. I imagine I will be sobbing as she is presented her black belt.

And I've seen my confidence grow. As someone who has been fat for most of her life, body awareness is something I have had to learn in my new body. How to move my body in a particular way, how to fight someone to win, how to be the aggressor, how to play offense not just defense, how to fight for me, Shannon, not for my daughter, not for a project I am in charge of, or a cause I believe in, but for me, just me. These are all things I continue to work on, but see improvements in myself, that each time I notice give me confidence and encouragement.

Martial arts has also brought Sunshine and me a family. Everyone in our Tae Kwon Do Dojo have a variety of different interests, backgrounds, goals and personalities, but the martial arts brings us all together, and we support each other in class and in our everyday lives. One of the best things about going to a tournament is the sheer number of hugs I receive from martial artists all over New England, who know me only through tournaments.

The thought of becoming a Black Belt feels scary, and exciting, and I think comes with huge responsibility. Sensei K once told me that earning your black belt is earning the right to begin learning. It is both exciting and scary to think of what the concept ‘just beginning to learn’ could mean, knowing the journey I have been on to bring me to this day of testing, when I hopefully will leave as a black belt; the highs and lows I have experienced, the times I have thought about quitting, but didn’t, the classes (and tournaments) I have left feeling like a complete failure, and others I have left feeling like the ultimate rock star.

I see huge responsibility in being a black belt not only in helping others learn Tae Kwon Do, but in representing Tae Kwon Do at a different level. Judging at tournaments fairly and impartially, continuing to master the art of treating everyone, no matter what, with respect- including myself. Continuing to learn to love myself as I am and acknowledging and realizing that whether I end my day feeling like a rock star or a failure, if I landed in a horse stance instead of a back stance or if I kicked my round kick above Sensei J’s head, if I lost 5-0 or won 5-0, if I lost my balance in a kata, or lost my temper with Sunshine, or helped her make the best science fair project ever, no matter what on any given day I truly am ENOUGH.

Friday, January 3, 2014


I wrote earlier in 2013 about what an epic year I was having. I looked up the definition of epic. I think we all tend to use it is as a term to mean over the top amazing, but I think this definition fits my 2013 best 'of unusually great size or extent'. 2013 for me contained some of the highest highs and lowest lows I have had in quite some time.

What I started to realize as the winter began to arrive here, and I looked back on 2013, a year that has had me experience wide canyons of self doubt that I thought I would never get across, a year where I accomplished things that seemed insurmountable, what I realized is- I do not trust my ability to endure.

I don't know if this is new, or if I am just now becoming aware of this lack of trust in myself. I, like most everyone, have experienced difficult times in my life, that I had to get through, and somehow I have figured out a way. Perhaps those times were like child birth and you really don't remember how you struggled through it or how painful it was, just that you got to the other side- better for the journey.

I'm not sure if it is my innate nature to want to fix things, that causes this, although I wouldn't be surprised if it lies in there somewhere.

Let me explain, people tell me how inspirational I am that I run this or that. But I don't see it that way- I see it as a number- be it time, or miles. Okay- I need to keep moving for 2 1/2 hours to finish this half marathon. Or I need to run on average 3 miles a day to get to 100 miles this month. Somehow I can wrap my brain around that. And even non-physical tasks- you need to complete this TPS report by Monday morning-- great, it has a deadline, and I can give up a weekend and do that.

But when I don't have any idea how long something is going to last, or if it will ever end, I get very antsy and tense about it, and don't trust I can make it through. Be it, a really difficult time at work, or watching a friend in trouble who I can't figure out how to help or not knowing what the outcome will be. Or that I can just be, alone and lonely and not know if or when that will ever change.

I ran a little over 800 miles this year. That's 300 more than I ran last year. I was telling a friend that the other day and I said, that number isn't just because, and they said, its because you were running from or to something. I said, not quite, I think I was running to try to figure out how to fix all the things I couldn't figure out how to endure.

I guess being aware of my lack of trust in myself is the first step, and running a nice crutch. Seems odd though at 42 to have such a huge piece of myself that I don't trust.