On the eve of a Black Belt Test

(this is a recount of my thoughts preceding my 6th Degree Black Belt Test in Dec 2016)

Well, here we are…on the eve of another Black Belt Pre Test. And in two weeks I will travel to Colorado for another Black Belt Test Weekend…my 30th time attending…This one, however, is among the 5 previous pre tests and test weekends that were mine.

Each one has presented it’s own unique challenges and this one is no different. I have often said that the “test” is not the weekend leading up to getting the belt but everything that happens on the mat day in and day out between successive tests. Getting the belt is a celebration of what happens between bowing out of one test and into the next. It is about balancing our life on the mat with our life off the mat…OR, maybe a better word is blending…because, anyone who has ever heard Mr. Gibbins at a Black Belt Test has heard him say that the “mat” at some point must expand beyond the four walls of the school so that no matter where we are…we are “on the mat”. That is when we stop “doing karate” and we “become martial artists”.

I walked into AKKA Independence 20 years ago and…well…I guess I just stuck around long enough and wouldn’t go away…so, now I have the privilege of managing a school. I was praying one night for some guidance on where to go in my life and asked for some direction. Two days later my instructor at the time asked me how serious I was about managing a school based on a comment I made, in passing, at a seminar 3 months earlier. (thank you for ‘hearing’ me Sam Middleton). I remember Mr. Gibbins words of wisdom when I first started managing. “So how does it feel to stand on the edge of chaos and look out into the abyss and have human beings come to you acting like human beings and expect you to fix it?” How true those words ring as I look back on the last 15 years of managing and the last 20 years as a student. I came here acting like a human being (still do) and have had many come and go over the years doing the same thing. There have been successes and failures along the way and I can say that I am slowly becoming who I want to be as a teacher and a student. There are days where I am on it 100% and there are days where I wonder how in the world have I pulled this off. My belt is becoming frayed and worn…and sometimes I feel like that belt…outside and inside. In the past I have admired the belts of the ‘old masters’ and the experience that a belt like that represents. I do not claim to have attained any level of enlightenment but I know the path I am on and every time a student comes through the door the message is…”I am going this way, want to come with me?”

As manager I have forged some lasting relationships with some awesome individuals. Sam, Santiago, Anthony, MattRitu…who are like my brothers (and sister)… and I do not say that lightly because I am an only child. Thank you guys…THANK YOU! I am honored to be surrounded by you guys every time we stand up in front of the candidates and it is a privilege to get to present to you this time.

The teachers I have had are truly exceptional. Mr. Hewitt started me on this journey. Mr. Gibbins “adopted” me and has been like a father ever since. Mr. Packer was like a wise grandfather who always had a word of encouragement or sage advice. Thank you!

I have learned just as much, if not more, from my students than they will ever learn from me. Many have come and gone…some have stayed…and some just won’t go away no matter how hard I try (HA!)…But I appreciate everyone who has graced our school with their presence, for however long, as I am better for having known you.

And then there is Mr. Pearce. I cannot thank this man enough for the commitment and devotion he continues to give our school and to me personally. And the thanks I do give seems so inadequate. There is a reason I waited for THIS test to pick him as my support team member. It may be my last one (we don’t know what is beyond 6th… tongue emoticon )and, if so, I can think of no one better to have at my side.

My wife has supported me wholeheartedly on this adventure. Dee, thank you for believing in me. It is not easy being married me…let alone being married to me being a karate guy. But we have stuck it out and I look forward to many more years with you on this crazy ride of life.

My son Joshua. I am so damn proud of you. I cannot say how much I love that you love karate. For now this is your thing and I really enjoy having you at the school helping with the kids and seeing you learn your new material. You are an awesome kid and a hope to make you proud on this test!

So, over the next 3 weeks there will be a pre test and rank promotion. 20 years of experience and another stripe added to the belt. I am blessed to be in this art and a part of our organization…

…to the next 20 years…

PS…if none of this makes any sense then stick around 20 years…you’ll get it!