Friday, January 21, 2011

A Date With The Black Belt

What do Pythagoras, St. Augustine of Hippo, and myself have in common? As it turns out, a bit of an obsession with numbers and the meanings behind them. I don't like to think of myself as superstitious (who does, in this modern "logical" age?) but I admit that I have a set of personal numbers, and our family has a family number that just seems to keep cropping up in everything we do. I won't give away our family number, but let's just say that everything from phone numbers to license plates to driver's licenses to the tail numbers on our old airplane keep repeating the same four digits in the same order.

My personal number though is 19. My birthday, my wedding anniversary, and other important dates keep cropping up around the number 19. So although I hate to admit it, I was really happy when my Sensei told me that our black belt test would be on March 19.

In various numerological systems, the numbers one and nine translate as follows:
1: Individual, agressor
9: Highest level of change

That seems auspicious for a black belt, no? No one can do this test for me, it's a purely individual effort. And it would certainly reflect the "highest level of change" if indeed I can achieve it.

Or how about the Chinese (Cantonese) interpretation:
[jɐ́t]  — sure
[kɐ̌u]  — long in time

I like the notion of "sure" as it relates to the coming test. I'd like to feel REALLY sure about it when the day comes. And "long in time" is certainly appropriate. This year will mark my 5th year in this dojo, and 10th year total in the martial arts. My black belt test will be a culmination of many years of effort and practice.

So I'm very happy to have this date hanging out there, a date when everything I've been practicing will hopefully come together in one perfect moment where I can demonstrate what I've learned. Not unlike a big race like the Ironman, so much preparation has to go into it. It's one of those things that can't be faked or shortchanged.

When I was younger, many things came easily for me. I came to associate myself with being "successful" in my head. But what that meant was that I was very afraid to try anything that would show me to be "unsuccessful". If indeed I tried something and I failed, I had to immediately make an excuse as to why I didn't succeed. I was feeling sick that day, I twisted my ankle, I was distracted by some important thing. Eventually, I tried fewer and fewer things that I didn't think I could accomplish.

Martial arts was one of the first things I ever tried that was really hard for me, and that I couldn't immediately succeed at. It's a practice that takes years and years to master. There's no way to cheat it or to learn it quickly and easily. You simply have to put in the long, hard work. Several times I quit, for various reasons. Then, five years ago I made a determination that this time I was going to see it all the way through. And now it comes down to this:

Two months. Eight weeks.

That's all the time I have left to solidify everything I know into my muscle memory. Make sure it's buried in concrete in there so every technique is as good as I can make it, and every move gets remembered. I'm training as hard now for this as I trained in the last two months for the Ironman. Twelve hours a week of karate, plus my usual conditioning work (swimming and running and weights).I go to sleep and I dream in karate. It all comes down to this.

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