The Special Black Belt:
If you visit my home you will see a lightly used black belt with
gold embroidery. It has the name
of my school and looks very fancy.
My wife found it in my duffel bag along with my other training
implements. She had her father
build a nice wood and glass display box for the belt and it resides in the
box. I tested and received this
belt 19 years ago.
My waist was thinner in those days so I rarely wear the fancy
belt because it doesn't fit so well anymore. Middle age is humbling.
Is this belt special to me? Well it is in a way, it reminds me of my test
and the pride of passing it. In
some ways the box that holds the belt is more special to me because it reminds
me how much my wife and her parents love me.
My other black belt is the one I mostly wear.
It has no fancy embroidery, and it's not as ebony as it used to be. In fact it’s not even black anymore but
has a gray patina to it. The edges
are frayed and worn in places.
Some of the seams are tattered.
When I pick it up it is supple with use. This belt is the one that is most
special to me. Not because it is
fancy but because it more closely represents what I have learned and what I
It was passed to me informally by my teacher one day, he had
worn it for years before giving it to me and he had a new belt.
This belt was with him while he trained multitudes of people, including
me. It looks very plain but I
cherish it because it represents all the qualities of a good teacher (I write
‘he’ but it can also be a she):
He must love his art
He must be patient
He must be kind
He must value his students and honor them
He must be selfless
He still learns every day
He exists to serve others not himself
I see a lot of fancy schools out there that focus on
performance, winning, and the spotlight.
They charge vast sums and have rows of students, many of them black
belts. The instructors have gilded
belts with rows of stripes. The
walls have affiliations and awards, the windows frame rows of trophies. I am not saying these things don't have
their place, but I am glad that I didn't learn in a place like
I look back at my teacher. He has been teaching for 30 years. He has had scores of students come and
go like other schools. Out of all
those people to my knowledge he has only promoted three to black belt, me and
his two sons. When I talk to him
he often calls me one of his sons.
He hasn't made a
lot of money in martial arts, in fact he usually teaches for free nowadays. Just for the joy of it.
I was poor growing up and even now I never seem to have much money. My first belt my teacher bought for me
and he never asked for compensation, he did it because he loves his art and he
loves his students, they are family.
Nowadays if you visit his school often you will see his son teaching
advanced techniques to higher students.
If you want to find my teacher follow the joyous giggles of children as
he teaches them to tumble on the mats.
You might think that because our school is simple and doesn't
have all the trappings of success that it is not successful.
This is simply untrue. My
teacher gave me an invaluable gift.
On one occasion it saved my life and the lives of my two children. All my years of training coalesced at
that one fateful moment.
The rest of the time his other gifts serve me, faith, trust,
honesty, humility, hard work, and love.
I carry on with my own school and my own students, I just hope I can be
half the teacher that he is and be worthy of wearing his special black
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Teacher and Hapkido Online Developer.