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This Time For Real

By Randy Davis

    I don’t want to brag or anything, but I think I may have set a Dojo record for black belt testing.  Not the most black belts acquired, or the highest rank attained, or anything remotely impressive, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had the longest time elapsed between pretesting and actually testing for the same rank.  I had my (first) pretest for this belt more than three and a half years ago, in August of 2019.  I remember it well, not just because that entire group of candidates was so large and enthusiastic, but because I was part of a group that included many friends I had met when I had first walked onto the mat as a newly minted white belt, and had been training with ever since. 


    Gratitude is always a theme of black belt boot camp, but I was especially grateful to be there at that moment, with that group, and really looking forward to the coming months before the test.  So, for the next few months, we did what we do: trained, worked hard, had fun, and prepared ourselves.  And as the test approached, I felt as though I was truly prepared, both technically and physically, and yet, with about a week to go, I made the decision to bow out and not go through with taking the test.  That probably deserves more explanation than I’ve been giving it.

    At that time, there was a lot going on in the rest of my life, most of it having to do with work.  Our small company had just pivoted and launched a completely new product line, which required re-tooling and designing all new manufacturing processes, plus a host of other responsibilities that kept taking more and more of my time.  So there was a bandwidth problem brewing to be sure.  But it would be too simple to say the issue was with scheduling or time contraints.  Of course I could have carved out another Saturday to get through the test.  But that was the problem, being concerned with just getting through the test.  I began to view the boot camp sessions as distractions from the things I really needed to do, and started thinking of training and the test itself as just another task that needed to be completed.  In my mind, I was trying to figure out the least amount of time and effort needed to wrap it up.  And when I came to realize this, I understood what had happened.  I was ready in mind and body, but my spirit had faltered. 


    If I was really honest with myself, my only motivation for continuing was that I just wanted to go play with my friends.  And that just wasn’t a sufficient reason to promote to fourth degree, so I decided to wait. Of course at that time, I thought I would just be putting it off for six months.  But even if I had known the extent of the COVID pandemic on the horizon, I still would have made the same decision.  I’ve since come to understand that what was bothering me so much, was that I was not giving any thought at all about what came after the test. 


   I was looking at a promotion as an end instead of a begining, which is what every new belt is intended to be.  Since my schedule and availability was becoming increasingly unpredictable, I wasn’t sure how much of a commitment I would be able to make to training in the future (which was, in itself, kind of a scary thought).  But I knew that the last thing I wanted to do was get a new belt and then disappear.  If that were even a posssibility, then there was no point at all in going through with the test and starting with a new rank.

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