The Long and Arduous Journey of a Black Belt
By Callum Johnson
Over the past nine or so years since I have started practicing karate, I have learned a great many things. Not only have I learned techniques with which to defend myself, but I also learned much about the world, life, people, and most importantly, what it means to be a Black Belt at this dojo. Throughout almost my entire life thus far, the dojo has been a major part of it, teaching me lessons as I grew alongside it. The more I look ahead at what is going to probably be my last Black Belt Test, the more I have thought about what this dojo has done for me, and countless others.
Never once before in my life did I think I was a particularly dangerous person when I started doing karate in second grade, it just seemed like a cool thing to me as my mom and I were looking at our school’s list of afterschool programs. Granted, I still wouldn’t say that I am a dangerous person now, but I do believe that I could hold up well in a fight if I got into one. That might just be because I’m that tall, but who’s to say? However, succeeding in karate has given me a lot of confidence over the years not just about my fighting ability, but as a person. As personal events occurred over the years, changing me in different ways, I could always walk into those doors and feel like I’m on top of the world. No matter how I got there, I could always count on the dojo to make me feel like I had a handle on things, even if as a distraction. And at some times, I desperately needed that feeling.
While I was little and having fun in the dojo, I was picking things up through classes that I would have never been able to learn at school. The value of respect, the importance of non-violence, and the constant desire to learn are all things that have been ingrained into my brain by all the great teachers who work here, through constant reinforcement. Making us do move after move after move after move, eventually I thought I knew everything there was to know, until I was informed that the next belt had two times the content, forcing me to improve myself to stick with karate. In return, these skills were extraordinarily helpful in school, where I continued to expand my learning. However, it was not until years later when I learned my most valuable lesson in karate: To always move forward.
Two years after I started karate, little ol’ me was in fourth grade getting my very first junior Black Belt. A huge accomplishment in my karate journey, which almost didn’t happen. I was very, very close to quitting karate in its entirety by that point, just because of the grueling nature of the Bootcamps I had to attend. I would begin to dread the weekends, pray every week that there would be a storm, and show up to the dojo in fear every Saturday. I wanted to be done with it. So, I raised my complaints to my parents, and they gave me the most important piece of advice I have ever received: “If it matters to you, just get through it”.
What seemed so insensitive at the time, eventually won younger me over, and has slowly become the thing I think every time I find myself procrastinating my work. After a while I agreed to stick around, as I still loved doing karate, even though it was harder. I went on to clear that test, getting me my Junior Black Belt, and ending the first leg of my karate journey. The ability to push through and do what needs to be done cannot be understated as one of the most important lessons in life. Many times in my life I have used this mindset to get through the majority of the day, as I am an inherently lazy person. Left alone without the lessons I learned through the dojo, I would have become a slug, wasting days away without purpose. Instead, I would like to think I have a promising life, have friends who like me for me, and am part of a caring community.
As I have continued through my karate education, time has seemingly started to move faster, as my teen belt and first degree promotions come quickly to mind, without many memories of the time in between. I do know however, that changes in both the dojo and my life were still occurring. Moving into teen classes, making new friends at school, brother fighting with parents, slowly transitioning into adult classes, finally feeling comfortable in adult classes, making more friends, and COVID. A lot happened during these years but nothing really changed. I became more reserved, then I learned to be loud. I was scared of others, then I learned to accept them. All throughout, the dojo was helping me understand that while the situation of my life may be changing, I can take those changes, and use the lessons I have learned to accept them. The dojo is the one really stable thing I have going right now, which is why I find it so valuable.
This is also why this Black Belt Test is so meaningful for me, as it represents the beginning of the end for this part of my life. Everything that I have learned in karate I owe to the community fostered by the dojo, and this is the place to show them everything I know, and everything I can do. Even now, I am pushing forward through Bootcamps to accomplish this, to prepare for my last Black Belt Test and Ceremony. After this, it will only be a short year before I’m off to college, in a new chapter of life. As the last Black Belt Test I will be taking, it will be my greatest challenge. With the completion of this test, I will have proven to my younger self that I always could get through it when it mattered.