Thursday, September 13, 2012

"I finally did it!"

I am sitting cross-legged on the gym mat floor. To my left is the wall painted like the American flag, and on the other side is a giant mirror. Directly in front of me is a table with a few candles, a pile of small rocks, and an incense burner. Thankfully it masks the smell of the SUBWAY on the other side of the wall.
    I am in the middle of the first row of many, maybe six or seven rows of three going down the gym. The rest of them who I see are barely older than twelve, some of them younger. Some of them are relaxed like me, but not many. Most of them are screwing around with the candles in front of them and making jokes. Don't get me wrong, I love jokes. But when it gets annoying and a bit disruptive, part of me says "Just don't get involved." But when they say something I actually find funny, I look over my shoulder to them and laugh or comment lightly.
    In front of each of us is a small plate with a little round candle, and for each of us, our Black Belts. To just look at mine and be that close to it is amazing. I have to grip my knees tightly just to resist grabbing it.

 At six, one of the instructors lights the other small candles laid out at the edges of the gym, and the ones in front of the other instructors sitting in front of the table. There are seven of them in a row, and Mr Morgan is in the middle, sort of facing me. The lights then go out, and the music player under the table (covered by white tablecloth) is playing a narration apparently by Haeng Ung Lee, the Eternal Grandmaster.

    My row of three is supposed to walk up to the instructors and we light our own candles by holding them to the instructors'. I light mine using Mr Morgan's, and I can feel my pulse pounding inside my head as I do it. It takes me a few tries and am sort of afraid I'll drop out or that it will go out before I go back to my spot. But when I sit back down with the lit candle, I am relieved.

   When it is over, Mr Morgan tells us to blow out our candles, and after a few moments, the first boy on my left is brought up to the front with his Black Belt. He takes his Red-Black Belt off and Mr Morgan ties on the black one. He says the boy's name, everyone claps, and then he shakes the instructors' hands before...

I am called up. Mr Morgan whispers a few congratulations to me while he ties on the belt, and asks if I'm gonna end up running the Pottstown school. Since I might as well, I say yes and then he says it to Mr Wolfel, one of the owners.

"First Degree Black Belt, Mr. Derek Bartlett."
   There is clapping, I shake a few hands, and I walk back to my spot. From a distance or up close, the Black Belts look bigger than colors belts, and that's cause they are. They're thicker by about half an inch, and maybe twice as long so you have to wrap it around once and then knot it. Mr Morgan tied it on very tightly around my stomach above my waist where I normally tie my belt on, so it takes me a minute to get used to that.
   One one end of my belt, my name DEREK BARTLETT is written in gold letters. On the other end I think it says "American Taekwondo Association" in Korean. When I watch the other kids get their (First Degree, and some others getting their Second Degree) Black Belts, I can't help but smile and help cheer them on. 'Cause that's what they need, motivation and encouragement.

  After we are all given our belts, Mr Morgan walks around giving each of us a stone. Not like any stone I have ever seen. I focus on the one in my hand, feeling it smoother than almost anything I've touched, and it has cracks in different places. Mr Morgan goes on to explain how it symbolizes the whole path we each took, learning Taekwondo. There have been smooth spots along the way and some rough ones, he says. And I couldn't agree with him more. But most of the stone is smooth, which is the way I have viewed it. Some rough spots, but it is worth it overall. The candles, we keep as well.
    Finally able to wear the belt that I have seen hanging on a wall in the lobby for nearly three years, it feels amazing (despite the fact that it's squeezing my stomach right now, lol). I've come this far, working hard. Here's my prize, and my ability to keep going with my training. I FINALLY DID IT! I'M A BLACK BELT NOW!

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