Around eleven years ago my journey to becoming a black belt started when I took my first class. It was a little samurai class, I was five or six years old. There, the groundwork was laid for all the skills that karate has taught me. Since that first class, many of the students that were there with me have not gone as far, the only person from my first month that I can be sure was there is my sister. I first realized this during the end of the third pre-test when Renshi Tim had us all think about that first class and all the other students who were there. The realization that I have had the determination to become a black belt when so many others have not is inspiring to me. It inspires me to keep going no matter what happens, that nothing can hold me back from this forever. But when I was younger I didn’t always have this determination.
When I was a purple belt it took me some time to pass the final test. Shihan was being more critical of me than he had in the past, and I wasn’t quite ready for it. But now I’m glad he wasn’t going easy on me, having to work to pass the rokyu test helped me to realize I needed to work harder than I was before and that mentality is still helping me now. Another setback for me from second to first degree brown belt. I wasn’t quite ready and had to retake the final test a few times. But I’m glad for it because in that time I really got into the nitty gritty part of my karate, particularly my katas. All that work paid off when it most certainly helped me pass the second pre-test. Another major setback that was the first pre-test when I didn’t pass the first time. After that I started working harder than I ever had before for the retesting two weeks after. During the retest I did my best but once again I did not pass. A few weeks after that the second pre-test occurred and I passed it on the first try. Passing that test helped to boost my morale and I once again started working to pass another retake for the first pre-test. The Thursday before then at the advanced class Shihan pulled me off to the side and tested me for my white stripe, and I passed. It was great when I passed because it inspired confidence in me.
The next Saturday in the black belt prep class was working for our yellow stripe which was for physical conditioning. Those classes were many things, but fun was not one of them. After the first test my muscles were sore and in quite a bit of pain, but from that pain I got stronger and more determined. So after a few more classes the third pre-test started and it wasn’t a lot of fun. I was able to get through it and all I needed to do to get my third stripe was run three miles and write this paper. I ran three miles on the following Monday (Columbus Day) and I didn’t enjoy it but I got through it. When I finished running, I thought about how all the other black belts I have met have done what I have done these past few months and more. It reinvigorated why being a black belt is such an achievement, and why not all who start this journey reach its end. I remember during one prep class when renshi Tim had all of us go into the youth class and demonstrate our kata for all the younger students. When we finished renshi Tim asked them what qualities we all had. The responses were, determination, focus, precision, and concentration. The younger kids were also asked which of them wanted to become black belts, they all raised their hands, unfortunately not all of them will make it, but some will, they will be where I am now and look back at their own unique journey. After that was the fourth and final pretest in the cycle, the self defense test. This was by far the most stressful one as it is the most important, and the one everyone says is what the instructors really look at to see if you should be a black belt. For the test I was matched with Thomas, since he was the biggest student taking the test it made it a bit more difficult.
Throughout the test I was not confident at all. I felt like I was messing up a lot but in the end I passed, which did surprise me a little bit. After continuing to go to class for the following month I eventually went on to the actual black belt test. It was very stressful, tiring, and difficult, but I passed in the end. After that there was the promotional, since that was just a presentation I wasn’t stressed out, but I was excited, especially when I was getting promoted. But not too long after that there was covid which slowed my advancement with junior black belts down, but I still learned two new katas and got the next belt. And most recently I have started the black belt cycle again, but now for my adult black belt. It’s much different now social distancing and masks but it still has been mostly fine, but I’m not looking forward to the physical test with a mask on. The first pretest for drills and basics went fine until we got to pinan shodon emota, which I had only recently learned, and didn’t know fully, causing me to fail that test. I was not discouraged however, and made sure to practice the drill many times in the coming weeks, and when retesting came I was able to pass. The next test I will be taking is the kata test, which is happening very soon as of me writing this paper. I’m a little nervous as always, but I feel as though I can pass since I have been doing most of these katas for years now, and most of the smaller details have already been worked out, but some of the newer ones might be a bit more challenging for me. I feel like I am ready to move forward with my karate, and I believe that I will be getting my black belt soon.
Written by Liam Lydon