On Saturday, August 4, I earned my brown belt in Tae Kwon Do. I also broke my toe and seriously bruised my right forearm. In the first photo in this blog, you can see me standing with one foot off the ground. That’s because I couldn’t put my weight on it. The pain was excruciating due to the double whammy of osteoarthritis in the same toe.
The first parts of the afternoon were wonderful. I did the forms — known as "kata" in Japanese martial arts — beautifully. In the first two photos in this section, you can see that I’m in the center; we all faced different directions to make the test more challenging. Look at the concentration on my face when I’m yelling — and with the lower belts whom I was asked to inspire later in that portion of the event — and you’ll see that I put my heart and soul into it.
But the real lesson for me came at the end of the day. It was the fact that I couldn’t give up, even though I really, really, wanted to. Believe me, I would have gladly hidden from the world. When that toe hit the board with all the force I’d mustered, I sank to the ground and screamed.
It didn’t stop hurting just because I moved on to another board-breaking technique. I screwed up that one too. I finally broke a single board and felt like a total failure.
(Now, before anyone starts worrying about undue cruelty, I want you to know that I could have stopped; I think Master Kim would have let me. But a broken toe is only a tiny part of a human being and I wasn’t about to give up.)
However, in the photos below, you’ll notice me looking down, holding myself. These photos were shot right before we got our new belts. Master Kim knew this had been an awful testing for many of us and he spoke about perseverance and dedication. All I wanted to do was to run from there and cry in shame; I didn’t feel I deserved such a high rank.
When my husband saw my tears, he spoke to me about true mastery and what it means. People can be dilettantes all of their lives. The real test of your mettle is when you come up against a major setback and you refuse to let it stop you, when you find another way to achieve what you need to do.
Most of us — writers and everyone else — have experienced these moments. They can be seminal.
That day, I forced myself to continue the testing and to go to the celebration party afterward. For two weeks, I’ve looked within to see if I have the strength of will to continue TKD, to earn my black belt.
It’s the same kind of test I’ve had with my writing over the years. And I’m still here.
What about you? Will you share one of your life tests with us?
I’m in the mood to be inspired.