I just had a fellow black belt ask me the Taekwondo version of the million dollar question. This is interesting because we all know Taekwondo varies so much from person to person, depending on their build, attitude, instructor, and the list could keep going on and on. Yes, I am going to use 1st person so don't cringe when I say you! Haha!
So here was the question:
Good question. What does it take to make the rank and what should the rank look like when doing it? Well I think this should be broken down into life phases related to Taekwondo because ultimately it depends on the person that is training.
Phase I: "Excitement"
Remember that 1st Taekwondo class where you were either terrified or ultimately so wound up with excitement? Yeah, grab onto that feeling. It lasted months which propelled you forward into blue belt. Why did it last you months? Ah, because your instructors teach you new techniques, new patterns, new sparring strategies (or in my case just let you spar into the sparring strategies that work...that's another blog), it is new everything! Upon hitting that blue belt sometimes momentum might fade for a second. Then board breaking and, "A little more hard work" = black belt. Remember that ultimate goal we set for ourselves when we walked into that first class because we saw those students in the front of the line who in some way impressed us to the point we said to ourselves, "I'm going to be standing in the front someday - soon." That thought right there sent us into 1st degree recommended black belt!
Phase II: "Maintenance"
Sometime between a long rank change, for example between 2nd and 3rd degree black belt, we can fall into a "maintenance routine." You know that phase, come to class, do the minimum, you know all your patterns but ultimately did not get anything out of class. Well, you got that social factor AND you were there - you are NOT quitting Taekwondo. Or being the black belt that impresses those new white belts coming through the door for their first class... yeah that circle just happened! :D
Coming to class maintaining the brain to muscle connections while loosing strength, cardio, and tenacity for Taekwondo. Otherwise known as, "going through the motions."
We make excuses like these:
If I go 100% in class I won't have enough energy to cook dinner and study. If I come to class twice a week I won't get anything out of 1 of those and I could be doing ______enter something else you love doing here______. I don't really have to apply myself in class yet because I still have a WHOLE YEAR to get ready for my testing. (Uh, whoa, I only have 6 months left (6 months later...)) This college program I am in is totally taking all my time, I have NO time to practice and if I do it's only for 1 class maybe bi-weekly. I really want to just be lazy and veg on the couch and watch a movie. (Which is OK after your workout ;) And the list goes on....
Phase III: "Inspired into Action"
How do I know this? I have been there. Yes there. Now I am here. While between my 4th and 5th degree testings I had all these excuses and then some! Realization hit me when I went to a tournament and I was 183 pounds and lost in patterns to my friend who was 4 months pregnant...What a wake up call. How had I gotten there? Oh, yeah all those silly excuses.......
I went to Mrs. Hardin the following Saturday and we had a long sit down talk. I was putting college, personal life, TKD students, a whole bunch of stuff, over MY OWN PERSONAL WELLNESS. We came up with a game plan and I stuck to it. I lost 20 pounds over that summer and then finished up the last 10 pounds over a few more months. When I finally tested in March for my 5th degree I was a whole new person. Looking back I think everyone or most everyone in Taekwondo goes through these phases. It's part of life.
The part that is up in the air is what you choose to do about your situation. Do you go ahead and put in that 100% in that workout and be tired while cooking dinner and studying later? Do you go to that second or third Taekwondo class a week and FIND something new to learn or re-evaluate that pivot foot the instructor is calling out to those blue belts only to find it's really yours they are kindly not calling out because you are the top spot black belt the others look up to? Do you ask your instructor after class what you can do better or for a mini workout schedule for during the week to do between classes?
Phase IV: Answer to the original question:
So, after all this evaluating what does a 3rd degree black belt look like? What does it take? Your instructors know exactly what you are capable of, for your body type. They know if you are putting in 200% vs 50%.
If you are working out and doing your 100% best, depending on your age and body type a 3rd degree black belt MIGHT LOOK like a very slow, firm performance ability. They should be able to perform any pattern up to their rank. Sparring should have nice combo's. A proficient ability to break boards regardless of flashiness or simplicity. The key here is that your instructor guides you into what YOU NEED to work on. What the minimum GOALS for your rank are.
But what is rank? Is it a title or a gauge of progress? Sometimes it can be referenced as a title way too easily. It is a gauge of progress. For instance, it is common knowledge that MOST red belts have a lack of control. Ever think why that is true? Ever notice that occasional blue belt or black belt that is this way? It is because after a year or so of training they are getting their hips connected to their hands, their pivot connected to their kick, and so on. This equals a moment where they have loss of control. Everything is "clicking" for them all at once. Until this is realized and they work on their ability to reverse the forward motion they have developed, they will have little to no control over their techniques impact.
A 5th degree is another gauge of progress. It sounds big but what is it really? Well it's a lot of time put in training. But was it all good training? Of course! Even the lows are good. Why? Taekwondo is a vessel to learn life lessons about yourself in. I know after I got off my horse and had the sit down chat, that every time I practice with the Hardin's, elsewhere, OR even while teaching my students that I learn something new each time! Do you have to be a black belt to realize this? Probably not. Everyone comes to it in their own time. Another great thing Taekwondo sneakily does for us. It bends with us in life. Through good and bad.
Simply summed up:
Hope this encourages ya'll to fight another day. (Pun TOTALLY intended!)
Until next time,
Jessica Thelen & Adam Willis.