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What Black Belt Means to Me
By Phi Himmel

    Self-discovery, courage, gratitude, integrity, and hope are the five words that first come to mind when I think of achieving Black Belt.  These words have been vocabulary for me and my siblings since we each started our black belt journeys here, at age six.


    When I started here, and for five years after, until I was eleven, I was Sophie.  My first Black Belt certificate says Sophie.  Everything up until that point, I was a girl, and I was okay with that.  I knew that there were other things you could identify as, but none of those things had suited me until then.  That’s where my journey of self-discovery began.  As an eleven-year-old, there were a lot of things I was unsure of.  How my parents and the rest of the world would react to me being transgender.  I was even unsure of being Phi.  Lucky for me, The Dojo is one of the most accepting places in the world.  Everyone was so supportive of my name change and my new pronouns.  I couldn't have asked for anything better. 


    To me, becoming a Black Belt and going through Boot Camp also means having courage.  You have to have courage because the instructors push you hard, sometimes past your limits and out of your comfort zone, which is a good thing because you’ll know more and be sharper in your skills, but sometimes it can also make you feel like giving up and walking during the runs.  Becoming a Black Belt also means having gratitude.  If you try to go through Boot Camp without being grateful for the beautiful Saturday mornings you get to run, or the opportunity that not everyone receives to be able to even go up for your belt, you’ll be absolutely miserable, and every Saturday will feel like a chore.  If you are grateful for the fresh air and the workout, Boot Camp is a much better experience, and most of the time very enjoyable! 


    Becoming a Black Belt also means having integrity and hope.  One of the aspects that is most important to karate is discipline.  You have to have integrity; you have to be and do your best even when no one is watching.  Integrity is part of discipline, and it’s a good thing to have in life too.  If you practice your forms like nobody’s watching and you don’t perform them well, you aren’t going to get better at your forms.  Integrity applies to everything in life.  You don’t do your test in school like someone’s watching?  You’re going to get a bad grade.  Integrity doesn’t come easy, either.  You have to work for it, just like everything else.  Having hope is also super important.  If you don’t have hope and believe in yourself you aren’t going to get anywhere with your training, and all the hard work you are putting in is going to be for nothing.

    Going on the journey of becoming a Black Belt has taught me many things. It’s taught me to work hard, be grateful, have courage, stay true to myself, and no matter how hard things are and how bad things seem for me in the moment, to remember that I will make it through and to have hope.

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