I am a student. Everything I do, in school, the martial arts, work, and even teaching has been a contingency to amplify a skill or comprehension. My mother always drilled an emphasis on learning from successes and shortcomings. At the time, as a student in only school, I did well academically and socially with limited effort. There was a lack of room to improve. This void started my journey in the martial arts, in grade six, as an opportunity to exert the limits I had placed on myself. With it came many failures, blemishes, and fatigue. All of which provided what my mother emphasized the most; an opportunity to be better. As a kid, I likely thought of karate as something to brag about. However, in retrospect, I realize I continued persistently, not because it sounded cool, but because I enjoyed the successes of persistence. Now, six years later in grade twelve, I endure for my black belt.
The discipline of martial art is never easy, nor meant to be. It is physically gruesome, with muscles aching to give up. Giving up, however, is never an option. We were versed into this mentality from the start. We held our ground in the dojo, even if oftentimes, tears were shed on the way home. A thrashing from Sensei was never easy to take, but invariably an eye-opener. It was these moments, that fostered growth, and courage not only to succeed but to overcome failure. Training for the most recent preliminary in December was a substantial feat and realization for me. We did two hours of intensive training almost every morning followed by classes in the evening. We would often stay at the dojo the whole day. The entirety of Christmas break was spent training. We carved our cardio, strength, techniques, and mindsets to a peak. Every morning was difficult, seeing friends relax and go out, while I along with others trained. We worked the mental resiliency to do what we least wanted to. As a result, the grading that followed was my most successful. I felt invincible. There was sadistic joy in the barbarous nature of the grading. Although too exhausted to smile, I was content. It was at that moment I finally understood the words of Senpai Linda; to smile at difficulty. I perceived it as some sort of mental block to abate the moment. But as the grading progressed, I smiled at the challenge, ready to take it on. It was gratifying to see the efforts of all the training put to use and on display. It taught me to enjoy the challenges of life and training as it augments the joys to come. As a result, my training for the black belt grading focuses less on surviving the day. Instead, I strive to present my full self both physically and mentally.
I was recently watching videos of my white belt grading and recalled how all the black belts would enter. It was my first time seeing this many black belts together. They all walked in with a similar attitude, obvious that they were taught by the same person. Their confidence took up the room and everyone else seemed invisible. I knew from that moment I was going to be a black belt. Although at the time, the swagger of a black belt was all it took to convince me. As I rose up the ranks, I heard more and more of past black belt gradings. The grim and daunting three hours, although intimidating, was something that always excited me. Fast forward to the present, wrapping up high school life, and preparing for university. The black belt grading couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. The black belt wraps my experiences up until now while also characterizing a new start as a blank slate. A black belt seldom implied the end or completion of a milestone. It serves as a palpable reminder that effort caters to favourable results if you stay long enough. No moment will feel as arduous as black belt grading. Presuming past this point verifies that I have the required skills and mentality to earn my goals and desires. No excuse or concern can be made about my ability to be competent in anything. It cements a will in my mind to work with purpose out of a desire to succeed rather than a necessity.
Each person has their own connotation of failure. I’ve always defined failure as negligence to learn from mistakes. Mistakes are always a possibility. It is never the end, just another step. My time in the dojo has been full of many faults and imperfections from which I have learned. The years we spent training were our opportunities to fail, cultivate, and grow as people and martial artists. The black belt grading, however, is not the time for this. It is a juncture to showcase the lessons we have learnt to this point. It is an occasion to present our peak selves, physically and mentally. The will to stand up and throw a good punch in a moment of hopelessness is the test. It is a test against my own mind. A test with no option to fail. I am confident in my abilities and resilience to never provide an option for failure. This resilience applies further than martial arts. Often people ask “What's your plan B?” in response to my academic goals, especially medical school. It always confused me why people would rather settle than bestow themselves the successes they worked for. For me, there is no plan B. I will be going to the University of Alberta next year, studying physiology, and eventually medical school. Living alone without family will prove to be difficult but a challenge I welcome. I’m eager to mature into the busyness of adulthood and constitute a name for myself in this world. And although I won’t be able to train often at our dojo, I am committed to continuing training, branching out into other martial arts styles. Maintenance and bettering my fitness is an absolute priority. We worked too hard to get to where we are physically. Besides, all of us just look too damn good. Why let it go to waste?
As time went by, the dojo transitioned from a place of mere physical maintenance to a home. The bonds created, conversations had, and memories made serve a peculiar purpose. It has equipped me with the confidence to fall forward to the ground, be obliged while I’m there, and stand up. My gratitude towards, Sensei, Senpai Jacob, all the other Senpais, and those I am grading with is beyond words. It is a gratitude I choose to array with my performance at the grading. Edwin