Today I got blackbelt. Here’s how I told the story on social media.
“Today I got blackbelt. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to break the steel barrel, at first. Same with stopping the bullet midair. That was hard. But, you know, when you believe in yourself, you can do anything.
Now in all seriousness (not because that was joke, or anything), this was a big deal for me. I’ve been doing Tae Kwon Do for years. I even competed in college. But for whatever reason (running a business, getting married, having kids, Game of Thrones, etc) I just never got around to testing under my longtime friend and mentor Somnath Sikdar and at my more or less second home Dragon Gym Martial Arts & Fitness
But here we are. Almost ten years later and I finally did it. I have a lot of people to thank. Thank you Som and thank you Lonnie and thank you everybody at the gym. Also, thank you wife.
My time at The Dragon Gym has been the most valuable I can think of. I have learned more skills there than college and high school combined, times ten. Time a million, even. Honestly I owe such a great deal of who I am and what I’ve done to the wonderful and wise mentorships and friendships of those who’ve taken the time to invest in me and prod me to go after what I really wanted to be in life: Anything but an accountant.
I was never a terribly talented kid, but martial arts allowed me to find my self-discipline and make the most of what I have. So I see this as a new beginning; the next phase of my personal development. And I learned a lot in the process. Like how Parkinson’s law exists in everything, no matter what. Give yourself all the time in the world you need to prepare (like twenty seven years), and watch what happens. You’ll be cramming last minute, just like you did in college. So set more pressing deadlines for yourself. Got it.
Oh, and one other thing. At the test I remember seeing a young(er) kid trying to break a board. He missed the first few attempts. But I didn’t feel bad for him, because all I could think was how much more I had been messing up than he, and what an amazing advantage he has to be learning how to maintain composure with everybody’s eyes on you at such an early age. (Also, when you’re messing up, it’s good to have at least one other person in the room who isn’t 100% perfect. It helps.) But on the last try, he got it. Which, that’s why it was the last try. I mean you don’t keep trying to break a broad once it’s broken, generally.
Either way I could see he had learned the most important skill any martial art can teach you: Perseverance. Or more likely he already knew it, seeing how he didn’t let the missed attempts completely derail him. Either way, the point is that kid didn’t give up and neither did I. He got his blackbelt at what looked like twelve or thirteen, and mine I got at twenty seven. Sure, I was a little behind, but I would have gotten it sooner, if I hadn’t given myself so much time to prepare.”
What I Learned
It’s been a while since I’ve had a performance exam. I used to be judged all the time on my playing the guitar and competing in martial arts but honestly it’s been years since I’ve done something like this.
But what I know about any performance exam is if you go in feeling 100% prepared you will perform at about 80 – 90% of what you can actually do. I think that drop off is because of anxiety. I’m not a nervous person really when it comes to crowds or taking tests, but I’m also not immune to getting the jitters.
So what you need is to go in feeling 120% prepared, so that you perform at 100% of your ability. I went in feeling 100% prepared. And so I made a few mistakes. Nothing major or even noticeable to most anybody in the audience, but enough that it bothered me a little.
This test reminded me of the importance of being over prepared. I mean, this is something I have always known, it’s just sometimes you need to be reminded the hard way, is all. Whenever I prepare somebody for a strength cert, they go in 120% prepared. I don’t send anybody to RKC or SFG or PoopyLalaLand being only 100% prepared. And that’s why of all the fifty odd people I’ve sent to become kettlebell certified, I maintain a 100% pass rate.
Parkinson’s law: I gave myself maybe double the time I needed to prepare for this test and so spent all that much more time procrastinating. I wasn’t lazy. I just took longer than I needed to.
As a writer I know Parkinson’s law is real and a dangerous thing. If I don’t set pressing deadlines for myself, nothing will ever get done. Generally my rule is to assume whatever deadline I set, it’ll take twice that to actually get the project finished. This is not just because of Parkinson’s Law, but Murphy’s Law as well. Look these up if you are unfamiliar.
The point is to set goals and deadlines that stress you out.
Reptition and Resistance, the theme of my new book. There is a whole chapter (or what’s looking like two chapters at this point) of how to apply the principles you would use in the weight room to becoming a better martial artist. Som is helping me write it. He just doesn’t know it yet.
The best tip he gave me was to throw ten kicks a day of every variety I needed to know for the test. Start with the basics, then add weight ( complexity). Repetition and Resistance.
My Amazing Essay
Last thing. Part of my Tae Kwon Do test was to write an essay on what getting black belt meant to me. Christine made fun of me a little bit and said how what I wrote sounds like something a fourth grader might say.
What does getting blackbelt mean to me? Getting blackbelt means that I have worked hard and not given up. I am older now and so that is a good thing. Because for a while I thought I would never become a blackbelt. I thought, “If I live a thousand years, I will never be blackbelt!” With having kids and running a business and everything, my martial arts practice sort of fell to the side.
But then I began to think how there will never be a good time to practice my martial art and that all times in my life and all things in my life can only be helped by my martial art, so I might as well just do it anyway. Getting blackbelt means you are never too much of a crustacean to do something. It means you are willing to work because you want to be more than you are. The blackbelt wants to be better tomorrow than they are today.
One reason I wanted to get blackbelt is because I have never gotten it before. I have been practicing Tae Kwon Do for a long time but never tested for blackbelt and mostly because I didn’t think I could do it. And as the years went by I thought well maybe there is no point in ever doing it. So getting blackbelt also means a big change in my personal mindset and believing in myself again. And I would also say getting blackbelt has a lot to do with other people believing in me too.