Catholic Inklings

Musings and sharings on my devotion to an ancient religion.

My Black Belt Journey

I hate my feet. In fact, I’ve always been entirely uncomfortable in my skin. As long as I can remember, I’ve known that I’m nothing if I’m not three things: small, ugly and weird. I’m not really that small, actually; I’m exactly average height for a woman of my age, but people have always experienced me as little. But, there’s no denying the ugly and weird—and I wouldn’t want to. I’ve come to accept and even appreciate those two parts of me. I’ve got a face that only a blind mother could love, and I’ve never fit in to any group that I’ve belonged to. As challenging as those two aspects of my life have been, they helped make me who I am and, a good deal of my self-acceptance has to do with my journey to earning my black belt.

I’ve always wanted to study martial arts for a few reasons. I’ve always wished I could defend myself if I needed to, or to be able to defend others if they were in danger. For a few years I lived vicariously through my children as they studied paying close attention to everything they were learning. So when the opportunity arose for me to study—you think I’m gonna say that I jumped at it—but, no! I hesitated! I would have to go barefoot. My hideous feet would be on display. And I’m such a klutz—I walk into walls, trip over flat surfaces, can’t follow directions, and have naturally terrible balance. Add getting nervous when people look at me and karate should have been a recipe for disaster. I decided that it would be so very stupid to not put aside my self-consciousness and try this thing that I’ve wanted my whole life, so I took my socks off, grabbed my son’s old gi, and got on the mat.

I’m 100% sure that if I had tried this anywhere but at Master Sue’s I wouldn’t have lasted very long. But, between Master Sue, Master Jose, Rob and the very encouraging teen instructors and classmates, I began to feel like I could get it. Master Sue and her instructors encouraged, joked, supported, and took so much patient time with me, putting me at an ease I’ve never felt anywhere. I stopped caring about my feet, any baby weight I was carrying (yes, I know they were teenagers—don’t judge me. I like cheese), the fact that I fell over more than I stood up straight; and I just really loved being at class, challenging myself, being amazed what I could retain, being happily shocked at how a palm heel can go through one-inch boards like butter, and doing all this with my oldest son. I began to get confidence; something as alien to me as octopuses (they are definitely aliens, and no one can tell me differently). Confidence seeped into other areas of my life, and I have been growing in many ways. One of the most significant places of growth for me—and this will seem silly to lots of people; but has been a stumbling block for me my whole life—was that I got less camera shy. When my picture was taken because I got another belt or stripe, I was happy to oblige, because I worked hard and earned it. I stick up for myself when bullied, had the courage to get a book published, and have made a point to step out of my comfort zone in a variety of ways. I even wear flipflops in public!

Throughout my time at the dojo I’ve noticed similarities between martial arts and my own work in initiation ministry in the Catholic Church. We learn a bit, practice a bit, become stronger and have rituals to mark important moments in our journey. This closeness has been significant for me, because it made me appreciate each more fully. To move up in a belt, you have to learn specific moves, but you also have to show personal growth. This has been a spiritual journey for me because I’ve had to learn a great deal of humility, self-control, letting go, acceptance, mentoring, and discipline. These have not been natural to me; but working with Master Sue and the study of Bool Gwa Mool Do Kwan has expanded me (I have more to learn, of course). Master Sue has been my Yoda (although she’s much, much cuter), constantly reminding me that I must, “do or do not; there is no try.” No negative self-talk. No excuses. No giving up. Even when I got hurt a few weeks before this test, I was not allowed to give up (I would have). And the beautiful part of this is; if I had had to wait to test, I would have been okay with it. As with the RCIA (initiation ministry), it takes as long as it takes—and it’s the very process of learning with Master Sue that I gained the patience to say that and it be perfectly true.

Earning my black belt has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging, and is the greatest personal accomplishment of my life. I’ve never had to work harder at anything or overcome more to accomplish a goal. It means the world to me that I’ve been blessed to take this journey with my son, Benjamin, of whom I couldn’t be prouder, and to have been taught be a woman as strong, resilient and beautiful (inside and out) as my Master Sue.