So, I thought I might share a bit of my own writing for anyone who is interested. This isn’t fiction, or anything as exciting as that, but it’s something I wrote recently and I figured why not post it. This is my thesis for my upcoming taekwondo test. My wife designed a freaking awesome cover for it. And yes, I am a big nerd.
Loyalty and Faith
My Continuing Journey in the Martial Arts
By Scott Francis
“There are no limits. There are only plateaus,
and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
At a certain point everyone questions the motivation behind their goals—or at least they should. What brought me to this point in my life? And where do I go from here? As I write this essay I’m training for my Second Dan Black Belt test—something that involves a lot of time and commitment. Thinking about the stresses that such training entails makes it natural to reflect upon everything that happened along my path to get here. I think back to when I began studying Tae Kwon Do, and the reasons I started studying martial arts in the first place—a hope to improve my physical stamina, and a yearning to gain some insight into Eastern philosophy. I remember looking ahead to achieving my First Dan Black Belt and thinking that I would feel somehow more enlightened or at least different—something that one of my instructors, Mrs. Knarr, warned about. She called it “the Black Belt Let-down.” She was talking about the expectation that such an achievement would change your life in an instant, like some sort of profound revelation. That, of course, just as she warned, never happened.
Shortly after getting my black belt, a friend of mine from work asked me what I was going to do next. “So are you going to quit now and try something else?” He confessed that he thought that achieving a black belt seemed to him like a goal that one could check off of a list of things to do—sort of a “1000 things to do before you die”—and that if he had done it then he thought he would be ready to move on to something else.
This, and other conversations like it, left me with the realization that I was at a crossroads. My achievement was something to be proud of—something that not everyone can say they’ve done. Should I chalk it up to life experience and search out some other goal to conquer? There would certainly be merit in trying something else new. I could learn to be a metal sculptor perhaps, or take a photography class, or enroll in culinary school. But, what would that mean for my black belt? Would I hang my belt on the wall like a trophy and look at it as something I did once in my life?
“Martial Arts should be a way of life, not a job, hobby, sport,
but a part of you and the way you live your life. ”
My understanding of what I had accomplished came more through reflection, and realizing that what I had arrived at was not a finish line, but instead a chance to learn even more. I felt grateful for the things that I had learned. I noticed changes in myself: changes in the way I talked to people, changes in the way I approached stressful situations, and changes in my general mood.
My appreciation for the things I’ve learned translates into loyalty to the tenets of the martial arts—and this means sticking with it despite difficulties, or times of doubt. Training in the martial arts requires dedication to a set of ideals. Making a commitment to devote a large amount of one’s time to the pursuit of a goal is rarely an easy thing to do. It’s human nature to procrastinate, rationalize or choose an easier path. To continue in the martial arts means believing in the teachings, believing in one’s school and believing in one’s teachers. This belief is faith—faith that the skills learned are worth all of the effort and time spent; faith that one’s school and teachers are providing good instruction and advice that is of value.
For me, the decision to continue studying the martial arts was based on more than just a desire to learn more and improve the proficiency of my techniques. I found myself thinking about how much Cincinnati Taekwondo Center has given me. I’ve grown in so many ways—both expected and unexpected—and have learned a lot about myself. Contemplating all of the ways in which I have benefited from martial arts makes me feel grateful for the guidance and fellowship I’ve found at our school. I found myself wanting more and more to try to give back whenever possible by volunteering or teaching. I feel a sense of loyalty to the school and the teachers and fellow students who have so generously shared their insights with me. I hope that I can use my own talents to contribute to the school and further the education of others.
The traditions of martial arts are steeped in principles and hierarchies that to the outsider may seem rigid, or even strict. But the framework that such tradition provides allows students to learn not only techniques, but also important philosophies and concepts that will change their approach to many aspects of their lives. One such tradition is the way that martial arts teachings are passed from teacher to student—a tradition that implies that a serious student of the martial arts should also consider themselves a teacher to newer students. Continued study in the arts means a commitment to helping fellow students and passing on things that one has learned. This way of practicing the art (applying it to your daily life) and openly sharing what you have learned with others who also want to learn is a way of honoring the art, and the school. In this way loyalty to one’s teachers and school furthers the art—by either passing the knowledge on to other students, inspiring others, or by demonstrating the teachings and values the school upholds to the community.
A thought that kept occurring to me during the last few months of training for my first dan black belt test was a fear that I wasn’t really ready—that I was somehow a phony and that my physical prowess would never reach the level of someone fit to be called a black belt. In the years that have followed I have come to realize that while improving and measuring your physical abilities is indeed important as a martial artist, it is not the most important thing. The important thing is faith—believing in yourself. By believing in the techniques and having faith that you can indeed learn them, then you can eventually accomplish any goal. The ability to visualize yourself accomplishing a difficult task is a large step toward being able to do it. If you can see yourself doing something, believe that it is indeed possible, and have faith in your instructors and the help from your peers then you will in time accomplish your goal.
I am committed to making it to second dan for several reasons. I believe the teachings and life lessons I have learned through the martial arts to be worthwhile and have faith that there is much more to learn. I am grateful to a school—to teachers, fellow students, and friends—who have in many ways helped to make me a better person and have improved my life. I have faith in the skills I have learned and in the experience of the instructors who have shown me the way, and believe that investing my time in these endeavors will continue to enrich my life. I believe that loyalty to the ideals of the martial arts means that I should find a way to contribute to spreading the knowledge and the principles that I have learned. I believe that somewhere within my own talents I can find ways to help others achieve their own goals.
So where will I go from here? Once I have achieved my current goal what will I do? I believe martial arts is much more than a pastime, but instead a way of life. I’m unsure what my next goal will be—should I endeavor to reach third dan; should I focus on a different art, Hapkido perhaps; should I focus on becoming a better teacher—I’ll see where opportunity takes me. I do know that I will continue to practice, strive to learn more, help others whenever I can, and simply always try to be a better person. I am loyal to these ideals, and I have faith that I will always endeavor to walk the path of a martial artist.