What to Do…

Life is funny sometimes. Just the other day I was raising a stink at home because I found out that another member at the dojang is progressing at an accelerated pace. I don’t have a problem with this in general, my own husband is doing the same. My objection was that it was another MAN getting the opportunity, and I was starting to wonder if Grandmaster was sexist. Well, I had a lesson with him the other day and he threw a whole bunch of stuff at me. First, he wants me to compete in a poomsae competition sometime in the nebulous future. He said when I’m black belt, his daughter said I should do it sooner. This caught me off guard, because while I felt I was competent at my poomsaes (what IS the correct plural of that?) I didn’t think I could be considered good enough to compete. It was kind of a one-two punch. I was pleasantly surprised and I have to say flattered that he thinks I am or can be good enough. However, the thought of competing fills me with dread. On a good day I barely feel like I’m good enough at anything to be passable, and often feel like a fraud. Standing on a mat in front of a table of judges, the audience, and other competitors makes me break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. I have a hard enough time at my belt tests, and that’s in front of people I know and are moderately comfortable with. I would also hate to disappoint Grandmaster, especially when he seems to think I can do well.

Later, before class started, GM pulled me aside and gave me the opportunity to accelerate my progress. This would entail more private lessons, and belt testing every 1-2 months instead of every 3-4. I could only get up to red belt unless I become an assistant leader, then I could progress at least until senior belt (just below black). Becoming an assistant leader is not the main issue I have either. While my ego likes that I have the opportunity, I wonder if I’m going to miss out on something by not doing the same thing over and over for months at a time between belts. I’m concerned that I will become the martial arts equivalent of Jack-of-all Master-of-none. Being an example to other women in the dojang is attractive as well. There aren’t many of us, and fewer that I think will advance to black belt. GM seems to offer acceleration to those he sees potential in, and as far as I know, I would be the first woman to do it. It would require a much higher level of commitment than I have given it thus far. Practicing daily is going to be necessary to learn everything, and now, I barely practice at home at all (we need to make some room). I have the option of going to the dojang during the day (no classes) to use the floor to practice.

I’m leaning toward accepting his offer of accelerating, partly because of ego, and partly because I’d like to at least try. If the pace is too much, I can always go back to the regular pace, but with the knowledge of what I am saying no to. I think part of my hesitation is that I barely feel like I have my shit in order in any area of my life, and to think that I could do it in tae kwon do when I can’t seem to do it any other time seems an impossibility. But maybe some of that is the point, to do what seems impossible.



  1. Hello Minivan Ninja. I was looking for interviews with Doug and Jimmy from Fightquest (aren’t they delightful?) when I happened across your blog. Perhaps you weren’t looking for advice from a stranger but I’m going to impart anyway.

    I know what you’re going through because I went through something similar about a year ago. I’d gone through the instuctor training program at my dojo when I was a green belt (the first advanced rank in my system) and after graduating, became a regular staff instructor (whereas my classmates became assistant instructors) and member of my Chief Instructor’s “inner circle”.

    He pushed me through two of the three brown belt ranks in a matter of 4 months whereas it usually takes about 6 months to advance between ranks. Then, last April, he told me he’d like to promote me to black belt in June, skipping over the third brown belt rank alltogether.

    Of course I wanted to! There aren’t many female black belts in my school either, and most of them are teenagers. I wanted to be a leader, I wanted to be a role model and I totally wanted the priveledge of skipping a rank and acheiving a black belt in less than three years of training. But what about all the stuff I was missing out on! All that time to master the skills I’d learned! I struggled with that decision because it seemed like I was cheating. In my style it takes between 3 and 7 years to make black belt.

    But I did it anyway. I did it because when an opportunity is presented to you to, you take it and you appreciate it. Yes, I missed out on a lot of practice time and no, I wasn’t as masterful at the basics as my classmates when I finally started taking black belt classes but at the same time, it afforded me the amazing opportunity to overcome a whole host of obstacles, to prove myself worthy of skipping a rank and studying at a higher level than the students I started with. And even better, now I have enough clout in my dojo to influence how classes are taught and how policies are written. When my teen girls came to me a few months ago and said they felt like they were being discriminated against, I had the power to change their environment.

    Don’t turn down the opportunity if what you’re afraid of is regretting what you might have learned. I guarantee you’ll be too busy learning new things to notice regret. If you really think you can’t do it, or if you really don’t want to, don’t. But again… opportunities find you because they’re supposed to.

    If you’ve never read The Alchemist, I’d recommend it to you nowish.

    Good luck with whichever path you choose!

    “The black belt is not a mark or symbol of the end of the journey to ones mastery of the arts; rather it is the mark that one is done packing for their journey and may now take the first step in their true journey. This a journey which can not ever be complete, only traveled…”

  2. OMG Wendy thank you! How interesting that you happened upon my little blog and that particular post. The universe does work in mysterious ways sometimes. I really think it’s screaming at me, especially since the opportunity came up when I noticed that no woman had accelerated in our dojang.

    I think I’m going to do it, but starting after our vacation (in two weeks). You stated the exact reason why. I’d rather try it and either 1) progress at the accelerated pace or 2) find out it’s not for me and go back to the status quo.

    But in the long run, wondering what could have happened if I don’t choose would eat me up inside. I really appreciate your advice. Martial arts are still a primarily male world and anything I can do to make it more accessible and attractive to women could only be a good thing.

    I like your quote at the end. Our GM’s philosophy is that you earn two black belts, one in TKD and one in life.

  3. Entirely true! I earned my black belt in June when I took the test but a couple months ago, everything I had learned about self control was tested when the disgruntled parent of my of my students violently threatened me for having yelled at his kid (for something completely justified). Had that happened even a year before, I would have torn that man a new one… several new ones… mostly in the middle of his face. But from what I’ve learned about respect and self control, I knew the best thing to do was to assuage his hurt feelings and shift the focus back onto his son.

    Of course, I hate the man and still want to beat him bloody. But I won’t. Because that’s… wrong. But the point is that I felt like I earned my belt that day because IN THE MOMENT, I kept my ninja cool and defused instead of exacerbated the conflict.

    I’m glad you’ve decided to try it. You’re right; you can always go back if you don’t like it or find it’s not for you. But why not try first, right? I keep telling my teen girls–most of whom are junior instructors–anytime the men in here give you the littlest bit of power, you take it and you hold on to it and you don’t give it back. It’s the only way to keep women up at the top of the totem and the only way to train the next generation to take commands from strong women role models.

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