After White Belt Comes…Blue?

I spend two hours tossing and turning last night, stewing over the situation at work. I finally get up around 1:30am and write for a little while, and I think I went back to sleep by 3am. Then up a while later to check emails, organize my thoughts, and stretch before heading to the dojo.

I arrive at 11am and find that Jeff, Lis, and Sienna are thoroughly warmed up from whatever they’ve all been doing in the kids’ class. Warmed up is perhaps putting it mildly…they’re dripping sweat and even Hanshi is a little worked up—I can tell by the tone of his voice—and I can barely bow onto the mat in time before he has us doing this whacked out round kick-side kick combo.

I’m barely through the second kick and I can feel anger surge inside of me. It’s a moment where I can make a decision—I recognize that much. There are a million stories I could tell myself right now: But they’re already warmed up, they all outrank me, they just practice this double kick drill before I even got here, I drank half a bottle of wine last night, I didn’t sleep well, my knees hurt so bad yesterday I took at Aleve, I am mad at work, but, but, but.

Or not.

I remember Jeff’s words: When you take your socks and shoes off in the hallway, you are taking off the rest of the day, any baggage you have, all of it. When you bow onto the mat, you’re leaving all of that behind.

I work the kicks and I am barely half the speed of everyone else but I don’t care. If I practice it fast it’s just going to be wrong and that won’t be me anywhere. I’m still angry but now it’s a sort of Minestrone soup anger—some beans here (work), some noodles here (eating too much sugar yesterday), some spices there (PMS), some tomatoes here (my body isn’t warmed up)—all of it swimming around in me in this mess of indistinguishable energy.

I try to harness that energy. Lis and I are paired up for some “light blocking exercises” but as soon as I try them for myself, they’re more like “medium.” She kicks, I lift my leg to block. Our shins collide. We repeat the motion. It’s an interesting stinging sensation but not enough to make me flinch. By the end of class, I’ll have two bruises the size of peaches on my shins but I could give a fuck. Drop it. Leave it. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t an abusive mindset. It’s a mind-body spiritual practice. Bruises seem a low price to pay when you look at it that way.

Then we’re up against the wall, facing off with a partner, shuffling across the tatami throwing kicks and punches at will, the other person blocking. We switch, move back and forth, repeat. My anger comes back and this time, it has voices: You can’t do this, you haven’t learned enough to do this well, you’re doing it wrong, you look sloppy, you’re hunching, you’re missing, you’re losing your form, your move are ineffective. All of my brooding about work, it seems, is finding another way out of me and it’s attempting to do some internal damage in the process. But I know this tone of voice—it comes from the same family of censors that all the anti-writing voices come from. Which means I also know the antidote: Don’t ignore them, don’t stuff them down—that only makes them grow. Name it for what it is. Yes, voices of doubt. Yes, anger. But rewind, before that, and it’s the same old thing: energy.

Again, I try to harness it. We’ve been in the dojo all of twenty minutes and already, this microcosm of life’s endless ups and downs is replayed half a dozen times. Next, we work kata, the practice I most enjoy (so far). Lis goes over Wunsu with me again and we work together, then separate. I’m forgetting to be distinct with my hammer fist (versus the low block) at each direction in the form. My stepping and moving into and out of the shuto block needs serious work. And most of all, my stances are all too narrow. I’m almost 5’10” and Hanshi says if I don’t correct this now, it’s going to hold me back. There are, it seems, approximately 1,000 things to correct but I don’t feel deflated by this…only more aware.

Awareness. Perceiving the whole mountain. Just by coming to class perhaps I’ve come up a few more feet in elevation, able to gain a slightly wider view. And like most things, it will probably be two steps forward, one step back, but that’s fine. Our training together is a gift.

We bow out of class but, like many days, Hanshi keeps us after to tell stories. By the end of it (half an hour later?), Jeff and I are the only ones left on the mat and he turns to me, says: “I’d like to test you on Thursday night this week. Will that work?”

“Yes, Sir,” I say, closing my notebook and adjusting my posture.

“And I’m going to let the cat out of the bag here, but we’re not going to test you for yellow. We’re going to test you for blue. The reason I started training you on Wunsu kata wasn’t just because you were ready, it was because you’ve got a spark. You’re ready for more and you have been, and I’m not going to put you in a yellow belt at this stage. That won’t do anything for you—you’re already doing the first few moves of Anaku, the blue belt kata, as it is. ”

I stare at him. Every neuron fires and wants me to leap up, run, and give him a hug. I hold my posture. Is this a trick? Skip a belt? I should say thank you, but I forget to talk.

“I skipped my yellow belt as well. It’s not a cheating thing, it’s an honor. Every once ina while, someone can skip a kyu rank, and we’re going to get you in a blue belt. Thursday night.”

Debbie pops her head out of the office. “We’re out of blue belts right now.”

“We’ll get you one,” Hanshi says.

“Thank you, Sir,” I say.

“Don’t worry. This doesn’t up the stakes any more than what we were already going to test you on.,” he laughs. Pauses. Laughs again. “It’s not like doing double time. You’re ready.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you.”

It doesn’t hit me until I get home and can’t sit still. I look at my karate journal—sixty three pages and counting—I guess. It’s time to hit print and review as much as I can, and then some. Blue belt, here I come!

Showing 2 comments
  • alessa

    I never skipped a kyu rank, but I did skip a test for one. It IS an honor. You should be proud.

    I wish I could’ve been there after class, but I had to work at 130 at Mtn Air and I was pushing it as it was. Esp since I almost ran out of gas on the way home!

  • Britt Kaufmann


    you will meet the honor in fine form, I’m sure


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