Learning to Climb
by Mark McNutt
(Blue Belt - A Retrospective of My Training Midpoint to Black Belt)
Halfway up the mountain. But this is only the first mountain in a vast chain where every mountain is higher than the one previous. In that sense Blue Belt, hardly seems like a midpoint. At Chosun Taekwondo Academy, achieving 1st Dan black belt is described as ‘the beginning’, so
The personal history of my climb started as an indecisive white belt. I entered reluctantly through the gift of an introductory pack to Chosun Academy and spent a few months training with one foot in and one foot out of the school. Despite this lukewarm state of mind, I managed to learn some valuable lessons, like how to move about on the dojang floor, how to interact with other students in simulated confrontations, and how to listen properly to teachers. I also learned the five tenants of taekwondo, which began to point to the spiritual side of the art.
I graduated to yellow belt without having made a concrete decision to stay. But here I had a brush with bit enlightenment that helped settle my mind. I became intrigued with the Korean warrior known as the Hwarang whose distinct martial attitude had a major effect upon taekwondo. It was their diversity that appealed to me: the fact that they sought to develop themselves in spiritual, artistic, and social ways that went beyond their study of pure martial arts. Here was an idea that I could lock into, that of being a multifaceted martial artist, where all facets come together to create one life as a whole. When I attempted to put this into practice, I quickly discovered that, yes, I could live a lifestyle that was multifaceted and balanced, but only if I set my own pace and resisted the influenced of those around me who had a more singular focus. When dealing with martial arts, I told myself that taekwondo was a lifestyle and not a race. Therefore, it didn’t matter when I got to any particular place, as long as I got there. My only obligation was to keep moving forward and not to retreat. That changed everything for me. It was a way of life I could live with. Belt tests come up every three months – but I spent six months as a yellow belt before testing for orange; the advantage of that was that at no point did I feel like leaving.
Orange belt was the cementing of the lifestyle I had forged as a yellow belt. I took it leisurely, though that’s not saying that I took it lightly. The slower pace helped me keep up with business outside of taekwondo, while at the same time giving me a deeper appreciation of the art form. I took more time to read, finishing up and even taking some notes from Master Cook’s A Pathway to Excellence. I signed up for the annual TKD awards dinner. In other words, I had time to take in the whole picture of Chosun Taekwondo Academy rather than just the pieces that would get me through the next belt test. The slower pace allowed my spiritual side to grow on par with my physical abilities. I spent six months as an orange belt and graduated to green belt with little difficulty. At green my patterns of training evolved as my abilities grew and my tendency to be intimidated by tasks this particular martial art set before me hardened; my attendance increased. Suddenly six months seemed too long and with a slight push I successfully tested at three months to achieve blue belt.
Now, something close to three months later, I find myself with a purple stripe on my blue belt and a mind set for testing. I am midway on the mountain between white belt and black belt; I can clearly see my destination from here and am already starting to feel like I belong up there. I know that as a blue belt I am not yet up to ‘warrior’ caliber; nevertheless, I feel like a martial artist. From where does that feeling come? Well, perhaps it comes from the knowledge that no martial art, no matter how formidable, can ever scare me away again, because no martial art can ever again challenge me as a pure novice. Going halfway up the mountain has taught me how to climb and has gotten me used to being a ‘climber’. Once a person learns to climb, all mountains become accessible.