“A black belt is a white belt that never quit.” (Inspiration for essay)
I am four years old and taking karate classes at the YMCA. It’s in a small room, with a small class and we’re learning the basics. I can tell right away that this is going to be a passion of mine. I admire the black belt in my class, but a black belt seems so far away from me right now. I start to think of wearing a belt like that someday. I haven’t realized it yet, but this is my first, fully-realized goal in karate. Setting goals is something I’ll do for the rest of my life.I am seven years old and I’m leaving the YMCA. I spent years here, but I’m being taught the same basics. I’m still thinking of my black belt, so far away, a tiny speck in the distance. I promise myself I’ll get there one day, and to do that, I need more rigorous classes. Even at age seven, I’m pushing to achieve the goal I set for myself, but to advance, I need more exposure to martial arts. Plus, I want a weapon.
My dad and I are walking down 14th street to look at a new dojo he found. AmeriKick. When we walk in, I see a Sensei with unusual looking glasses on. He looks both intimidating and strong. Little do I know, he will become one of my best friends. Students on the mat tie their belts with ease while looking into the mirrors. I keep peeking around the corner of the desk to look at all the glittery gold trophies. It’s overwhelming; I don’t belong here yet. But I will.Forward again, only by an hour or two: I am in the back room with a teacher introduced as Sensei Nico. He shows me the style used here, and then guides me into a middle split. He asks me how hard I’m trying to achieve a full split, on a scale of 1-10. I tell him 8, and he tells me to make it an 11. Sensei Nico’s encouragement still pushes me to strive for that 11.
I am 9 years old and after being persuaded by Sensei Ricky (the menacing one with the glasses that turned out to just be the aftermath of an eye surgery), I have joined the Demo Team. I had to give up Girl Scouts, but it’s okay, because in doing so, I am opening myself up to this team. I find really close friends, friends that stand by my side today. I have yet to realize that I barely have a year of this normal.
I am 10, a year later, and I’m on the Demo Team Zoom meet. It starts off normal, and I reminisce of being in person, on the mat I sorely miss. At the end of practice, Sensei Ricky gives us the news that turns my karate world upside down – he’s leaving. I’m happy, I am, I’m happy for him, as I tilt the camera screen up so that nobody can see me crying. This was one of the first times that made me question the commitment I made to karate. His leaving, the pandemic, missing my dojo all made me anxious for what was next. It took a while to find my strength and to remember all the lessons that were focused on growth, adaptability and moving forward. And I had a team full of friends to lean on.
Becoming a Sensei requires me to go through rigorous testing, and I need resilience in order to overcome challenges. The one thing that helped me after Ricky left, was I sought out the other Senseis at AmeriKick. I learned that Sensei Alex has a completely different take on running a team, and he has really pushed me to new heights, especially in acrobatics and leadership. I also grew closer to Sensei Yeshua and Sensei Alexa; they are the role models I hope to be just like when I grow older.
I am thirteen years, five months, and three weeks old. I am testing for my black belt. All the dreams that 7-year-old me had are finally coming true. I’m no longer afraid to walk past the benches and tie my belt in the mirror because AmeriKick is my home now. I’m not afraid to look at the trophies because some of them are mine. I’m not afraid of fitting in on the Demo Team because all of them are my family now. My black belt is a symbol of my resilience and my bravery. It’s a symbol of my time spent pursuing this passion, and it shows my dedication. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing karate for 9 years, but don’t worry: I’ve got more to go.