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The Meaning of Black Belt to Me By: Sean Foster | Ambra Karate Academy Blog

The Meaning of Black Belt to Me By: Sean Foster


I write this after the test, so it will be somewhat biased, however, I think the difference will be minimal as I have not yet received the belt….

The Meaning of Black Belt to Me

Upon hearing of the requirement to write this essay, I started by thinking of a suitable title… “My Black Belt”, “Finally There”, “My Black Belt and Me”, or “Pain, Suffering, and Rewards”, but none of them were close to describing what this event meant to me. But how could they? How could a single title describe how martial arts has shaped my life for the past years? And then it struck me; that that is exactly what the black belt is. It is the end of the new, and the beginning of the old; it is the start of a journey just finished; it is a marker of past experience, and a gateway of things to come.

My journey to this point was not easy, but it’s not supposed to be. I had taken Karate before, so I knew the difficulties when I started. However, I never progressed to this level before. I would have never thought it to include so many, let me repeat, so many emotional, spiritual, and mental challenges. The most surprising of these challenges was overcoming myself.

My Own Worst Enemy
I never realized the power of positive thinking, not only in attitude, but also in actual ability. I had to continually force myself to believe positively in myself to gain ability. Every fight, form, and exercise was spent telling myself over and over, “Yes, you can do this”. Every night after class was a selfish wondering of, “Am I doing this correct? Am I succeeding?” Self-doubt and lack of confidence were always there to bring me down without warning. It was so easy to give up even before trying, and even more so after trying only once.

But I kept coming, week after week, month after month. As the years progressed, I began to notice that when I was doing a technique or sparring that I felt confident about, I could perform at a higher level. My questions shifted from “Why can’t I …” to “Why can I only do this when…”At this point I realized that I was again holding myself back by allowing myself to be influenced by outside conditions that had nothing to do with my performance.

From there I progressed into being afraid of injuring others I respected. No one respects a dog that barks and never bites, and I began to loose respect for myself. How could I come all this way and still not be able to perform? I did all of the lessons over and over, but I was stopping myself every time. I feared I would injure someone and yet would stand there and take a beating. Why couldn’t I fight back after all this training? I was holding myself back, again! My own internal fears, my lack of self respect, the difficulties I had growing up were all coming to the surface for one last ditch effort. Ugh, I’m my own worst enemy. How frustrating.

Overcoming the enemy within required a continuous cycle of learning, practice, reassurance, training, and humility. One by one, my internal barriers were removed. Class went from something I struggled to do to something I wanted to do.

The Physical Struggle
The physicality of martial arts is amazing. Aerobic ability, strength, flexibility, stamina, mental control; martial arts has it all. Only I started with very little. I think the biggest intimidator of joining martial arts is the fear of not being able to do what others in class can. Honestly, while I may get frustrated because I can’t do something, nearly everyone starts from the same position. I’ll look back on my starting position on some points of interest…

Push-ups (without stopping)
Start:               6
Current:           72

This was embarrassing, to say the least. It’s a good thing there weren’t many students in the beginning. But I just kept trying.

Sit-Ups (without stopping)
Start:               12
Current:           120+

I always hated sit-ups. They never seemed to do anything. Turns out I wasn’t doing them correctly. Interlacing your hands behind your neck only strains it.

Side Kick
Start:               No technique
Current:           Spinning side kick breaking three 1” boards

I struggled for the longest to do these kicks properly. My frustration mounted to the breaking point. One night after class I demanded Mr. Ambra teach me his secret to doing a sidekick. He obliged by watching my miserable attempt, and then asked me why I wasn’t turning my stationary foot like he taught in class. Some secret.

Forms
Start:               5 forms
Current:           10 forms + 2 Staff forms + 36 Step forms

I knew some of the forms when I started, which made it easier for me to work on the specific techniques in each. It’s weird, but no matter how difficult the advanced forms look, the first form with that turn-around will always be the most difficult.

Sparring
Start:               Duck, cover, and run
Current:           Can’t beat Ambra, yet…

Sparring. Ugh. “Mr. Lead-foot”, “Cement shoe Sean”, “The plant”, “stinkin’ thinkin’”, all these terms describe my struggle with sparring. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just couldn’t perform were I wanted to be. My motto was “if I let them hit me, eventually they will make a mistake or get tired, then I’ll take them out.” Unfortunately, this really does not work.

The motivation of class

My desire to teach

My mentor

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