First Degree, 16 Years Old

I want to begin by stating that I hate writing essays and I especially do not want to read this one. Advancing in my TKD practice is a process of growth. Growth means doing things we don’t want to do sometimes. That being said, here is my black belt essay.

I have associated “pain” with writing this essay and “pain” with the thought of having to read this essay out loud. I don’t want to think about “pain” and certainly do not want to share it out loud. I see myself as a shy person. I was even more shy when I started TKD. Part of being shy means keeping things to myself. Feelings and emotions are things that I learned to put walls around. They are protected by a fortress which is like the Great Wall of China with all draw bridges up. Nobody in and nothing out – nobody gets into my emotional protected area and nothing gets let out. Maybe my parents were the only exception, but even then I may have hidden some things.

I joined Sun Soo when I was in 7th grade which was in February of 2011. My mother died shortly before this. I was enrolled by my grandmother. She thought it would be a good idea to have something to focus during this depressive time. When my mother died, I expressed my sorrow in different ways. I played songs for her, I would think about it quietly to myself – but I didn’t cry much. Nobody in and nothing out. At the time, I wasn’t involved in any clubs or sports, so I thought I would give TKD a try.

I felt pretty powerless when I started my TKD practice. I didn’t have the power to change my mother’s circumstance. I also had issues with middle school that I had no power to change. I spent most of middle school feeling intimidated. Middle school was not a fun time for me. I can’t say I was picked on too much, but I can say I didn’t feel entirely safe there either. I avoided people and situations that did not make me feel safe. I would end up going out of my way and not walk or act as I normally would have. My TKD practice was the beginning of me gaining power in my life during a time in my life when I felt I had little to none.

I began TKD in the kid’s classes. It was a good start for me. They were fun and not too overwhelming. I was shorter than my dad at the time. Then I started adult mixed classes. These classes were a little different. We had to meet strangers and tell them a little bit about ourselves. Having to do this was a little uncomfortable for me. My family joined TKD soon after I started doing adult mixed class and this helped a little with the anxiety I felt doing adult mixed classes.

Whenever I had to meet new people in the adult mixed classes, I struggled with telling strangers a little about myself. Remember the fortress? Nobody in and nothing out. I prepared a “S.N.A.C.(K)” to help me get over the “tell me something about yourself?” aspect of mixed adult class. My S.N.A.C. was: (s)chool, (n)ame. (a)ge, favorite (c)o!or. I have been pretty good at serving snacks up to this point. In order for me to progress in rank and in life, I need to learn how to prepare meals.

I have grown a lot since the beginning of my TKD practice. I am much taller than my dad now. I walk through high school hallways as I please. I do not have to avoid people or situations because I realize the degree of control I have when I engage my environment.

I reflect on this idea of having control over my environment. I realize there are two kinds of environments: the internal and the external. It’s great that I have been successful in managing my external environment. Managing my internal environment is something I’m still working on. The internal environment deals with thoughts and emotions. “Nobody in and nothing out” is how I’ve managed my internal environment to this point. My dad tells me in order to have meaningful relationships in life, it will be necessary to let people in and maybe let some of my emotions out. I don’t like letting my emotions out. I don’t want to let people in to see my emotions and I don’t want to let my emotions out to be seen. Standing right here, right now, is a personal test. I’m going to talk about some personal things. I hope to learn not to fear my emotions as much as I do. After I let you, the audience, in for a peek into my emotions, I hope to realize the world will not end because I let some of my emotions out. So here goes.

I wish my mom hadn’t given up. The choice to end her life was hers. If she were still here, I would have wanted her to see my testing. It’s a strange mix of emotions though. Because if she were alive today, I probably would not be here reading this essay. My feelings about the whole thing is summarized in the belief that everything has reasons for why they happen – I may not understand the reason, but there is a purpose behind them. I feel sad that my mother could not be here today. Not only for not being here today, but for all the things she missed out on. She missed out on all the growth I made over the past four years and she will miss out on the growth I will make in the years to come. I’m lucky to be surrounded by family and friends that think I’m awesome. I’m thankful for this. I’m glad I can call Sun Soo my family. I feel thankful for my dad. Even though through this process, he was a complete pain in my butt. I’m still glad that he helped me through. I could not have done it without him. I have fears. I fear losing my dad because he is the closest person to me. I don’t know what would happen next without him. I also want to tell you about my sister Sofia. She is an even bigger pain in my butt. Looking after her is difficult when my dad is not home. Sometimes I think life without Sofia would give me some peace at mind. But it would be sad and quiet without her. Sofia is my sister and I love her.

Like I said before, I hated writing this essay. It was very difficult. What made it difficult was the worry I had over sharing it and being treated differently because of reading it. Don’t treat me different because of this because I am still the same person.

Ok, so now I can say I am proud of myself because I let you, the audience, in to see my emotions and I was able to let some of my stronger emotions out. The world didn’t end and unfortunately I’m still reading this essay. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The TKD journey is a test of practice – both in the art and in life. I have grown in both.

Some student’s journey to black belt are accomplished weeks before the student’s testing. A big piece of my journey became accomplished right here, right now on this mat. Thank you for being here to support others and myself during this testing. And thank you to everyone who walked with me along the way to get me here right now. It’s been a great journey and I’m glad I have people I can share it with and I am excited for what happens next.