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There and Back Again
By Jai Cotton

     This is exactly how I imagined I would spend my last few days before receiving my black belt, pondering life and writing an essay :) And man, it took me ten minutes just to figure out the font and title! But I guess this essay is going to be a bit different than most others, because a lot of other people title it “what my black belt means to me”, or “black belt essay” like it’s the conclusion of a blockbuster trilogy. But I must confess this doesn’t feel like a destination for me. It feels like a whole lot more. I’ve also realized that the road has not been the most smoothly paved and it’s been a whole lot of work to get here.

    When I do get my black belt, I‘m just going to be in awe of it and then consider it a challenge. Because to be honest, when I got my white belt, my first thought watching all the orange belts and purple belts and such were “Wow, when I have a rank that high, I bet I’ll feel like a karate master!” But when I did become an orange belt, I realized that I thought the same thing about a high blue. This thinking went on until I was a 1st degree brown belt! Then I thought to myself, “Why am I not satisfied?” It was then and there that I realized the single most important secret of karate. (In my opinion anyway. And if anyone else says the secret to karate is something different, then our secrets can be co-most important secrets :) Anyhow I digress. Want to know the secret?! The secret of karate is that karate is a journey, not a destination.

    The truth is, I could probably go on this journey until I am a tenth degree black belt and I would still be hungry for more. So you are probably wondering, just what does this moment represent to me? Well, when I do get my black belt, I will just be reminded that I haven't reached the top quite yet. But in a sort of good way. Because no matter what, there will always be a part of me that still feels like a white belt. A million miles to go. It’s not quite the light at the end of the tunnel I thought it would be, but the first main pit stop on the highway of life.

    Another thing I realized in this journey is that the path hasn't been smooth, in fact I’d say it’s been anything but easy. When I first stepped foot on the Black Belt path, I admit I was nervous, and rightly so. Orientation was H-E double hockey sticks. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was insanely hard. I was sweating harder in ten minutes than when I do three classes back to back on Thursdays. I also have to confess, a week before the pretest, I only remembered 3 forms and a quarter of 1 kata. (To put that in context, there are 7 forms juniors have to do in the pretest). So to say I’ve come a long way is an understatement. Just ask my instructors! I think we all can agree that I have undergone a metamorphosis since my first day on the mat. Basically what I am saying is, this journey has been really hard work and it’s taught me that I can do some really hard things.

    So yes, receiving my junior black belt is a very important milestone that has been a journey of hard work. Yet it kind of reminds me of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit. Bilbo went off on the adventure of a lifetime, but in the end he ended up back where he started. Transformed yes, but in exactly the same place where he started his journey, kind of like karate. It will completely transform you and yet you will still be back on the same mat, still doing all of the moves you learned way back when and then some. And that’s why I feel like the hobbit, because I was taken there and will go back again.

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