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.
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.
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.