Red belt

A few weeks ago I graded for my red belt (2nd kup) in taekwondo and passed. This is probably the most personally significant grading I’ve had to date, and is certainly one that I felt I would never reach when I started learning taekwondo nearly 18 months ago.

The courses have been a huge experience for me, the largest being the 6-day course in Nottingham, taught by the 8th dan grandmaster who started and runs the national association. It was such an honour to be taught by someone with such amazing experience, and I think the more I learn about taekwondo the more I come to appreciate the achievements of those who have reached the highest levels. I would probably say that the summer course was one of the hardest, most challenging and most rewarding things I have ever done. I experienced pain, exhaustion, despair and exhilaration. Often within moments of each other. And I learnt an astonishing amount. It is certainly the case, obviously, that intensive training is a sure-fire way to improve and when we graded at the end of the week I certainly felt I had progressed enough to warrant it. I also learnt a lot about myself. About what I value and my strengths and weaknesses, and I came away confident and liking myself, but knowing that I still had a lot to work on in my training and in myself. I would recommend the course, but would not call it ‘fun’ :-).

The competition was the same one I competed in last year and this time around I won one fight and lost my second, resulting in a bronze medal. I was pleased with my achievement, but obviously would have preferred to do better. I know some of what I need to work on, though, so hope to do better in future.

A few of the key things I’ve learnt over the last few months have not been to do with technique or tactics in taekwondo, but more about attitude and understanding. I am not fantastic at taekwondo. I have to work quite hard to understand the new techniques, learn the new patterns and keep up with some of the other members of the club. On the other hand, one of my strengths is my willingness to do that work and I now appreciate that about myself and value it more than I had before. Another thing I have learnt is the value of turning up. Virtually every week for the past 17 months I have gone to taekwondo. I have missed sessions for holidays and illness and work, but my commitment to just walking in the door has led to progress, regardless of what I’ve done outside class. It has taught me that solidly doing anything on a regular basis can lead to results. And this task is not always easy. There have been many times when I would rather go home, or go to the pub, but knew that I had committed to go to taekwondo instead.

Taekwondo has five tenets: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. When I started training I liked the idea of these tenets and over the past few months I have returned to thinking of them on several occasions as guides for how to approach a particular challenge I have been facing. For example, a few months ago I was hating taekwondo because I was in so much pain after every session, clashing legs in sparring training and coming away battered and bruised. Perseverance and indomitable spirit seemed particularly relevant then and sure enough I worked through it.

Another thing that occurred to me is how different grades in taekwondo result in different behaviour. Each belt colour signifies something reflecting the development of taekwondo knowledge but I think that alongside those symbols there are parallels with growing from childhood to adulthood. At white belt people can behave badly and it is tolerated while they are gently taught the rules and way of doing things in taekwondo. As they develop through yellow belt to green belt people reach a sort of adolescence, where rules are tested and there is a struggle with emerging knowledge and maturity and feeling the need to step up. Blue belt and red belt are that transition to adulthood, with taking on of more responsibility and knowledge, and greater comfort dealing with the authority of those above you. Black belt officially represents the opposite of the innocence of white belt and maturity. That seems very appropriate to me. And that’s what I have to try to learn next.