Third Degree, 45 Years Old

Someone recently asked me, “What does it mean to be a Black Belt? What do you have to do?” I found myself searching for words and wondering how to describe it. What I realized was that there isn’t a perfect definition. For me it is not a journey but a destination. The journey is a personal one and sometimes a private one as well. Becoming a black belt is an ongoing process of personal growth and striving for personal maximum potential in all aspects of life. Finding balance, breaking through obstacles without giving up, all the while staying true to who I am, is what I have been striving for since I started my practice here seven years ago.

Soon after I started my practice, I was given the nickname Amish. I am from the Amish country of Western New York; I had very long hair, wore very long earth tone skirts with big earth tone shirts and was very timid on the mat. I held myself small and put everybody’s opinions before my own. I believe I was a bit of a challenge for Master Morris and the other students here. At the time I really did not know what the upper belts were talking about when they would say “Wow Amy, you really have potential, you are going to be amazed with your own progress.” Believe in yourself, give yourself permission to be big, even if it seems hard to keep trying.” Well, that is exactly what I do. I keep trying. Many obstacles have popped up for me. The first obstacle happened on the very first day. I could not kihap for literally TWO WEEKS! Once I felt somewhat ok with that, I was introduced to one-steps. Now they are telling me I had to look someone in they eye and yell at them???? Oh I thought, you have got to be kidding me. And to make it even harder my partner was a man. I was so scared of men! The poor guy stepped back to down block, he kihaped and huge tears began to roll down my face. I was uncomfortable but I did not quit. I was determined to get past that obstacle. With practice and patience I did.

Another obstacle was when I learned what the word grapple meant. Master Morris had a seminar about this topic which he said it would be great for my practice if I would attend. Little did I know that meant it required allowing people to get into your personal space. Well that did not go well for me. I cried during that too. The next day in class, Mr. Dickinson (a blue belt at the time) offered to help me. While we had a water break he sat next to me on the mat and I just trembled. He said, “Well, this is a pretty good start. Next time maybe I can sit a little closer.” I was uncomfortable, but I did not quit. Iwas determined to get past this obstacle. With practice I did.

The most current obstacle I am working on and has been an obstacle of mine for a very long time is happening at this moment. Right now. Being public and sharing myself with others. I really struggle with this. I have never invited anyone to my testing before I just didn’t want to draw attention to myself, but I finally did this time. I prefer to work behind the scene, help others, remain humble in all that I do and not draw attention to myself. I am comfortable there. Master Morris says when you are slightly uncomfortable progress is about to be made. He made sure to give me plenty of opportunities  to work in this area. One time I knew he was going to ask me to demonstrate a form in class, so I hid in the bathroom. Guess what? He noticices eveything! He did not say anything at the time but he upped the ante. Later, I found myself doing a self-defense demonstration in the middle of a basketball court in front of thousands for the SEC college Basketball tournament held at UNC Asheville.

I now understand that the obstacle represents the terrain of my path of becoming the black belt I was meant to be. Since I have been a black belt I have noticed a significant difference in my ability to handle life’s obstacles. Just this past January my beautiful mother (who is here with me today) had a stroke. The old Amy pre-martial artist would have totally freaked! I would have simply frozen. My brothers would not have given me details because emotionally I would not have been able to handle it. The black belt Amy, remained calm, and took action which doing so abled me to serve my mother and care for her in a much stronger manor.

A few months later, my dear friend Tiffany (who is also here with me today) was diagnosed with cancer. The old Amy would have just fallen apart. The black belt in me remained calm, and supported my dear friend so she knows she is not alone. I will always be with her. I will be her rock.

Just a few nights ago I was teaching the night class with Mr. Dickinson. The students had just left, and I was in the bathroom. Mr. Dickinson thought it would be a grand idea to hide behind the door and jump out at me like a horrible monster. The old Amy would have been covering my face in horror, my body would have been frozen and I would probably have been so scared that not a sound would have come out. Scared stiff, one might say. The black belt Amy was not visibly fazed at all. I did, however, step off the line, breathed out and was calm, but ready. It was pretty funny.

This journey is amazing!! I can’t believe the personal growth I have made. I am absolutely thrilled to be an instructor here at Asheville Sun Soo. I get to be helpful and supportive to all my fellow practitioners and their families. When I think about what is to come…I beam with excitement because the possibilities are endless. We have such great things happening here. Thank you all for your contribution to the community here at Sun Soo. Thank you all for being a part of my personal journey as a Black Belt. I feel deeply loved and feel very blessed to be given this opportunity to share a little bit of myself with you all today,

Thank you and God bless.