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.
I’ve also included two photos of my friend who tried the same kick (double shuffle front). She had the height and the power, but couldn’t break the boards either.
I’ve been thinking about this testing and how very difficult it was for me.
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.
Master Kim also had me spar with lower belts, to teach them. We had fun; the less advanced participants got in some good shots and felt great about that portion of the testing.
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.
(Do you see the crap I was pulling on myself? How often do we do this, make ourselves feel bad when we’ve actually accomplished something important and have shown true spirit?)
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.
Pari, congratulations on such an achievement. I think we tend to expect perfection (after all, they do it perfectly in the movies), but the reality is, we’re human–we’re going to be flawed. I look at something like that as a “now you know what to expect” moment.
I’ve had a couple of seminal moments, and after one, felt devastated to have been so… dumb. Just sheer failure at something critical, and it devastated me for a long time, until I talked to a friend of mine. She listened patiently while I described how really awful it had been, she then agreed with me that yes, it was a bad time, poor judgment, etc., and then she quipped, “Welcome to the human race. You didn’t think you were going to get off scott-free, did you?”
I was annoyed for a while with that response until I realized she was right. I do sort of go into projects hoping for and wanting perfection, so that any achievement is somehow “not as good as” I could have mythically done it. It’s not fair (to me or others in my life) to not value the here and now, the accomplishment “in spite of” and keep moving forward.
I’m proud of you, Pari. You’d done something I’d wanted to do and never made myself find the time or will. You should be proud.
Pari, I agree with Toni. You’ve worked so incredibly hard toward these belts, and I’m proud of you too!
I wish I had a great story of personal triumph, but alas, I’ve been relegate to the sidelines on this question ; )
Okay, first: Ouch! But your husband is right, the measure of who we are is clearly shown by how we respond to failure. You showed how strong you really are by continuing forward, despite the disappointment. Congratulations.
Congratulations, Pari, on both the belt and the perseverance. I know what that cost you physically, and I can only imagine the emotional toll.
I’m not much of a Nietzche fan, but he may have been on to something with that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” business.
Pari, I’m just amazed that you went on through the test with a broken toe. What strength of will and perseverance. Congratulations on your brown belt!
I can’t think of a test I’ve pushed through right off the top of my head.
I watched my daughter push through something last week that impressed me – she is readying her pony for a rating test in Pony Club this fall, and has to jump 2’6. He’s jumping that height reliably now but every time her trainer sets up a different looking jump he will either run out or refuse the first few approaches. It is daunting to ride fast toward a new jump knowing your pony might come to a dead halt OR dodge out at a sharp angle at the last moment.
She did it – and he dodged out. She used the crop as her trainer had told her to and smacked him on the rump. He, being full of spunk, bucked when she smacked him and unseated her, but she managed to keep her right foot in the stirrup. She rode him in a circle at a fast canter with both legs on the right side of his body – kept hold of the reins, balanced herself with that one secure right foot, and then threw her left leg back over to the left side and rode him at the jumps again!
That second time he took the combination of jumps beautifully. It was truly something to see. The fact that she can do this with this pony makes him pretty valuable, as he is too small for an adult trainer to ride, and yet very talented when ridden well like she can ride him.
I had to laugh – he’s a spunky pony but his girl is a redheaded firecracker and although quiet, she has a core of spunk that matches his. 🙂
It inspired me to see her jump, and now to read of your brown belt. Thank you for sharing the test and your success is pushing through the pain. I’m storing it up to use when needed!!
Congrats on going for brown.
I’m not sure I have any specific life tests, but if there are, I’m not sure I’m scoring too high.
Pari, congrats on your brown belt!
Congratulations, Pari! Yes, a toe is a small part of the whole, but a broken toe is a huge pain. I’m not sure quite why, but toes and ears are beyond nuisancy, they’re really awful.
You’re a parent, so you know that some of your life-changing moments aren’t the actions but deliberate inaction. I had no problems defending my son when he was arrested by his principal in middle school for being a Satanist – actually literally arrested, Mirandized, the whole thing – but honestly, the harder part was watching him marry someone I knew was wrong for him and be smiling and supportive through it. Give me an active battle over passive waiting any day!
Holy cow! I’ve been gone all day with my oldest who is starting at a new school. I think this is going to be one of those life tests too.
I’ll respond when I get back from picking up my other child.
Talk about a crazy day.
I’m almost in tears here. What beautiful stories and kind words. Thank you.
Billie and Fran,I can so relate to watching our children push through — or pushing through our reactions to their lives — today I was practically berserk with my kid at the new school. I thought someone was going to have to pull me off the ceiling.
Toni,You’re absolutely right about perfection and acknowledging the here and now. Wise words.
Thank you to B.G, J.T., Simon, Louise and Candace for your congrats and reflections.
Okay, I know it’s anti-climatic of me to say goodbye then pop in the next day, but I wanted to congratulate you on your belt.
Everyone who has studied the martial arts for any length of time has run into obstacles like this (some of us more often than others). But these so called “set backs” are in reality good for us. They give value to out accomplishments and force us to strive harder. If it were easy, what would be the point?
I’ve broken an awful lot of boards over the years. But the boards I learned the most from were the ones that didn’t break.
Holy Christ. I won the brown–must be fifteen years ago. But you did it with a broken toe?
You got cojones bigger’n my head, girl.
I bow to you. Seriously.
Mike,I know what you’re getting at, but you can have those damn boards . . . my toe still hurts. Still, I’m glad to have passed through instead of having given in.
Dusty,Yeah, well, those cojones get pretty heavy sometimes.
I bow back to you both.