It's an honor to be a teacher, to give students tools for self-improvement (planting the seeds of strength and self-esteem) and then patiently wait and watch them grow. Some stretch tall. Some expand wide. Others fly to incredible heights.
It's quite an accomplishment for a student at ANY age to take a black belt exam in ANY martial art. And I've learned the hard way that a good instructor knows when to be tough and when to be supportive. That's especially important during the last few days of Black Belt Test Month. During this important time, when the student is on the verge of completing a rite of passage years in the making, there is no time for stern lectures or admonishments. Now, a good instructor pours on the love, support, and encouragement.
Below is the last piece of advice I give students about to face their BLACK BELT TESTS.
But you don't have to be a black-belt-in-waiting to benefit. Read it and ask yourself, "Who in MY life needs to hear good, supporting, loving words from ME today?"
(Don't be surprised if that person is YOU.)
Dear Black Belt Candidates,
Right about now, you're probably feeling a whirlwind of emotions: fear, excitement, gratitude, nausea. You may even feel frustrated, angry, and impatient. Maybe you're wishing the test were already over so that you can relax. Well, you CAN relax in a way: Everything you’re feeling is normal. (Wink.)
Black Belt Test Month can be a highly charged, emotional experience. It's the culmination of years, months, weeks, days, hours, and minute-by-minute honing of a myriad martial arts and self-defense skills. You’ve huffed and puffed, and sweated bullets. You’ve downed millions of gallons of water and bottles of Gatorade to stay hydrated. You’ve given and taken hits to the stomach, kidneys, ribs, head, chest, and even some shots below the belt, and you’ve gotten back up, shaken off the cobwebs, and continued.
Check it: The kind of mental, physical, and spiritual work you've been doing doesn't just come and go unnoticed.
You've learned a great deal in your time with me, and I want you to know today that I'M SO PROUD OF YOU I CAN HARDLY STAND IT! I'm your greatest fan and will be rooting for you as you walk the gauntlet in your individual rites of passage.
Now, though, is your turn to pump yourselves up. A positive mental condition is essential to succeed in this endeavor – and amid life’s greatest challenges. Find a quiet spot somewhere in the house. Take a walk in the park or find a quiet hiking trail to explore. Spend some quality time every day between now and the test to quiet the body, mind, and heart and fill yourselves with positive affirmations.
Remember the following:
• You're mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger than your FIRST day in class.
• You can kick faster and harder than you did as a white belt.
• Your stamina and endurance (no matter WHERE it is today) is FAR BETTER than it was when you began this journey.
• You did that one extra pushup, sit-up, kick, and punch when you didn’t think you could – and you can do it again.
• OMG, you can BREAK BOARDS with your hands and feet! How many people in the school you attend, the office at which you work, or the grocery store in which you shop can say the same?
• Since you began your training, hundreds of students have bowed onto the mat, bowed off the mat, and ultimately quit, and even more advanced belts have avoided this daunting challenge. YOU REMAIN. That alone says a lot about your level of perseverance and fortitude.
• I told you to keep coming back, to suit up and to show up one day at a time – that that is what really turns a white belt into a black belt. You heard me, and you’ve been coming back FOR YEARS. Not surprisingly, your white belt has slowly darkened and is on the verge of becoming black.
There is so much for which to be grateful, so take stock in the next few days. Give a little thanks to those folks who’ve supported you along the way – parents, children, teachers, co-workers, even (and especially) your BFFs on Facebook.
Remember that not everyone in the world wears a black belt because this is HARD WORK. Martial arts pushes you physically. It pushes your mental buttons. It challenges your spirit. It makes you look yourself in the mirror, and ask the hard question: “Am I happy/satisfied with who I am?” If the answer is no, martial arts gives you the tools to transform yourself into the person you’ve always dreamed of being.
This has not been an easy road you have trudged. The journey has been long and hard. But you’re on the cusp of a very important milestone.
So go forth today with confidence, humility, and grace. Do your best on the test. Leave it all out on the mat. Let your performance be the bar you set for how you live your life from now on.
Most importantly, BREATHE...
Your greatest fan,