For my brown belt rank in Cuong Nhu karate, I was required to write a paper. I submitted this on January 17, 2004:
Like most boys in their early teens, I used to love watching martial arts movies. Groups of us would stay up late consuming great quantities of Oreos, soda, popcorn, and Doritos while watching movies whose actors’ lips never matched the voices coming out of the TV’s speaker. We didn’t care. We were too busy whooping, hollering, and high-fiving as the likes of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and the legendary Bruce Lee beat up the bad guys… or the good guys… or guys standing around who just happened to get sucked into the fight.
But Kung-fu movies weren’t the only thing that captured my imagination. As I grew older, I was interested in most of the things that normally occupied the thoughts of other guys my age: girls, cars, gadgets, etc. By the time I reached my 18th birthday, I had begun a list of “Things to Do Before I Die.” Among the list items were some traditional goals:
- Get a bachelor’s degree
- Get an MBA degree
- Get good grades
- Get a job
- Get married
- Get some kids
However, the list was peppered with many non-traditional goals, including:
- Get certified in SCUBA
- Get a Ferrari before age 40
- Get a corner office on the top floor of a glass building
- Get on the cover of a magazine
- Get a black belt in a martial art
That last goal was primarily based on the notions I had formed as a young teen watching those Kung-Fu movies: if you were a black belt, that meant you were tough. You could walk around knowing that if anyone messed with you, you could simply beat them up. A black belt would impress others, and make you feel like a bad ass.
My first attempt at obtaining a black belt was in college. I studied a style called Kishindo, which was a Japanese style that blended elements of Shotokan, Kenpo, Goju, and Jujitsu, with some Judo and Aikido added for self-defense needs. It had much in common with Cuong Nhu, primarily in that it classified itself as a mixed martial art that incorporated both hard and soft styles. An injury, the resulting surgery, and the added pressures of graduate school led me to temporarily abandon my goal of getting a black belt, but I vowed to resume my efforts later.
“Later” came in 2001, after many of the other items on my list had been checked off. I was out of college, married, had one child, had a successful career, and had checked off a great many other list items. The goal of “Getting a Black Belt,” however, still loomed unchecked, and I was making no progress.
I began my search of a Dojo in the online yellow pages. I called many, visited a few, and joined one – this one. While Fairwood Martial Arts had a convenient location and an accommodating work-out schedule, the most attractive feature was the family atmosphere. I decided that these would be the perfect people to help me “get my black belt.”
Over the next few years, something changed. More precisely: I changed. If you take another look at the items on my list above, you’ll notice they all have something in common. They are center on “getting” something. Over the last 10 years or so, however, I’ve been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with “getting” many of the things I thought I wanted. I have slowly come to realize that “getting” something is nowhere near as important or rewarding as “being” something. Anyone can “get married” but it’s much more difficult to “be a good husband.” It takes little skill to “get kids,” it takes years of patience and sacrifice to “be a good father.” And as the principles of Cuong Nhu began to be absorbed in my mind, I began to realize that “getting” a black belt is minimal compared to “being a black belt.” The belt itself is not the goal – it is an outward manifestation of what one has become. When worthily attained, it says more about who you are than what you have done. My new goal is to BE a black belt.
Strangely, however, achieving that goal is not the primary reason I come to work out in our dojo. It’s not even the second reason. It ranks all the way down at reason #5. While I will readily admit that “getting a black belt” is why I first came to this dojo, I am happy to state that I now remain and continue to come for completely different reasons. First, I enjoy a good workout. After losing nearly 60 pounds since 2000, I appreciate the ability to come to a location that motivates me to continually improve my physical abilities. Second, because I work from home, I welcome a regular activity that forces me out of the house. It’s good for me to come to a different environment for a while so I can return with a fresh perspective to address the issues facing me at work and at home. Third, I believe that everyone should be actively engaged in continually learning new things – and Cuong Nhu has much to learn with well credentialed teachers. Fourth, my membership in this dojo has brought me many new friends. These are more than mere acquaintances, these are people that have come to my house, or I have gone to theirs. We have blown up fireworks together, watched movies, sat in hot tubs, gone go-karting, traveled 13 hours in a car together, eaten Philly sandwiches in the Philly airport together, or gone walking down the street at midnight in North Carolina in search of a pizza together.
And yes, the fifth and final reason I am still here is that I still do want to become a black belt. Not because I want to be able to impress others or beat anyone up – but because the belt represents years of hard work, sacrifice, setbacks, victories, patience, and persistence. How quickly I get there is no longer important to me, because the four more important reasons I listed will always be there, and they will continue to motivate me long after the color of the cloth tied around my gi turns black.
Although, I must admit that I still do enjoy a good Kung-Fu movie periodically.