One of the interesting things about taekwondo is watching people react to belt tests and rank.
I still haven’t figured out how we line up at my studio. I don’t know if the highest rank stands in the front right or front left. I do know that in the classes with really little kids, we stand by height, mostly, with no regard to rank. I’ve been told to test and I’ve skipped the testing because I don’t like the faux-in-between belts tests that my school has, nor the insane rates changed for them. I don’t need tape wrapped around my belt to tell me I’ve been studying. My belt still had only one stripe on it (showing first degree black) which confuses people when they realize I’m actually second. I’ve gotten to a point where I really don’t care what rank I am compared to anyone else in the class. I know I’ll get my sam dan (third degree black) eventually. I just don’t know or care about when.
I have noticed a few trends about belts, testing, and rank. It seems that kids are always more interested in rank than adults. The lower level belts (children and adults) usually care more about advancing. Then somewhere in the middle color belts it becomes more about showing up. If the taekwondoist makes it through the middle belt slump, there tends to be a point right before earning the black belt where the adults suddenly question themselves. Are they really ready to become a black belt?
And then, the biggest question. You’ve got the black belt. Do you continue or quit?
Last week some seventh grader was whining before class. “My dad always works! I should be a purple belt and I’m still green!” He complained that he couldn’t come to the studio alone (it’s a half-mile walk from his house) and he couldn’t get a ride from anyone else, and his father works too much.
I asked him what he’d do when he finally got purple. He said he’d keep working to get black. “And what will you do then?” I asked.
“I’ll quit and do soccer because I hate taekwondo.”
Even though he’s only thirteen (and thus…well, thirteen), I called him on it. “If you want to do soccer, quit now.”
“But I want a black belt!” he whined in that pre-pubescent boy voice.
“Hey,” I said in a stage whisper, “I’ll let you in on a secret. You can buy a black belt online for about $10.”
He stared at me and then screeched, “That’s not the same thing!”
I nodded, “But the black belt isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. Of course he did. He’s thirteen.
Tonight after class an adult I enjoy training with said he was tired of taekwondo and testing. I looked at him. “I haven’t tested in more than two years. No problem with that.”
He nodded, “Yeah, I think I’m going to quit.”
“Quit testing or quit taekwondo? I mean, my taekwondo desire always ebbs and flows… Sometimes it’s just about showing up.”
He nodded. “Quit taekwondo. Think I’m going to try judo. Think I’m more built for it. Short, squat.”
I laughed. Fair enough.
But it got me thinking. Why do I still do taekwondo? When I started I had no belt goals. I’ve now gotten black. I don’t want to be a master. I don’t want my own school. I don’t think competing is a big deal (although I find it fun enough when I do it), so I’m not in it for that.
What is the motivation?
The thing is…even when I don’t particularly want to go to taekwondo, even when I’m just going through the motions by showing up, even when I’m in the ebb—I mostly enjoy it. It’s my thing.
And so I stick with it.