The Road to Black Belt

by Sonja van den Bosch

The Road to Black Belt

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been a spectator and supporter of my boys’ road to black belt in Taekwondo. This experience has had a profound impact, not only on them but also on me.

There are so many similarities to the road to marketing, business, life or you name it excellence that so many people strive for and only a few seem to master.

Why is it that so many drop off along the way? Who are we really competing with? What do we need to be able to reach for the stars?

Here are the 5 biggest lessons I learned through this experience.

Lesson 1: Choose the right environment

I believe that every day we have a choice to make it a good or a bad day. We can’t control what happens to us, however, we can control how we react and that makes all the difference. The other thing that we can choose is the environment that we create around ourselves and the people that we engage with. We can choose to have inspiring and positive people around us, who build us up and believe in us.

When I walked into the ITFA dojang, now more than 4 years ago, I instantly knew that I had found a wonderful environment for my boys to learn, explore and thrive. I saw a blueprint of the ‘in my eyes’ perfect society. My boys were greeted warmly by all the students, senior belts were helping junior belts, respect was oozing everywhere and there was this enormous positive vibe of wanting to learn, share and improve. Senior Master Rhee 8th Dan was clearly doing something right. Over the years I have gotten to know him as a great leader with the biggest heart. He is firm and friendly. He treats kids like adults, gives them responsibility and pushes them just that little out of their comfort zone, time after time. I’ve seen kids who couldn’t even distinguish left from right move on to become accomplished Taekwondo students.

Ask yourself: What environment do you feel & work best in? Who are the people in your life that uplift you and that bring out the best in you? Are you spending enough time with those people? And how can you create the most positive environment around you?

Lesson 2: Live and breathe your values

Values are basic and fundamental beliefs, formed through our life experiences, that guide and motivate our attitudes and actions. They help us determine what is important to us, what we define as good, desirable or worthwhile. Understanding your own values and using them as your guiding light is so powerful, as they are the motive behind purposeful action.

Taekwondo has 5 tenets (or values) that are lived relentlessly. These values are self-control, courtesy, integrity, perseverance and indomitable spirit. No matter how good you are technically if you don’t live the 5 tenets you are not practicing Taekwondo. It is something that Master Rhee emphasises and repeats day in day out. He puts context around them so that students understand the why behind the tenets and they are meaningful to them.

Senior Master Rhee’s dad, who is the First Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha, 9th Dan and who trained under General Choi, the founder of Taekwondo and then brought Taekwondo to Europe says it beautifully:

‘If I have defeated my opponent but have no SELF CONTROL can I claim victory?

If I have won every competition, am the world champion, but have no COURTESY, what have I achieved?

If I have broken a thousand bricks but do not understand the meaning of INTEGRITY, what have I learned?

With PERSEVERANCE and an INDOMITABLE SPIRIT we can all find the true meaning of Taekwondo.’

Jordi and Dylan with FGMR and Senior Master Rhee

In a nutshell, Taekwondo is the physical, spiritual and mental practice of human rights and human equality. General Choi Hong Hi, who had experienced the horrors of his country, Korea, at war first hand, was determined that Taekwondo had to be used as a force for peace with the mission to bring peace and unity to all mankind.

Ask yourself:
What are your values? What life experiences have influenced your values? How are your values driving your decisions? Are you using, living and breathing them?

Lesson 3: Don’t underestimate what you can achieve & celebrate your wins along the way

It is human nature to want quick results, hence the common habit of overestimating what can be done in a year and underestimating what 10 years can bring. Daily improvements can secure you some success, but when done over several years, the success is exponential.

I vividly remember in my first visit to the ITFA dojang seeing a blue belt red stripe doing a complicated pattern and thinking ‘I don’t know if my boys will ever be able to do that’. Now, 4 years later, they have far surpassed this ‘complicated’ blue belt red stripe pattern and are proudly wearing their black belts. From the first moment, Senior Master Rhee started teaching Jordi & Dylan he spoke about the goal of becoming a black belt and he kept repeating this over and over again throughout their journey. The great thing is that you don’t have to have any specials skills or talents to do Taekwondo and make it to black belt, you just have to consistently put the time and practice in.

The journey is broken down in smaller steps, yellow, green, blue, red and all the stripes in between before you do your big black belt exam. There is always a next step to strive for, there is always something new to learn, there is always a new achievement to celebrate (the pride and joy on the kids’ faces when they move up a colour belt is priceless!). Now that my boys have their black belts, which simply is a white belt that never gave up, there is still so much more to learn. They have started training for their second Dan, so the journey goes on.

Ask yourself:
What are my long-term goals? And what are the steps I am putting in place to get there? Am I celebrating my wins along the way? And how do I keep myself motivated and on track to keep going?

Lesson 4: Give, learn & improve…repeat

Being able to give to others is probably one of the biggest gifts that life has to offer. Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have. Naturally, we can only give to others, when we are full ourselves, which means that we constantly have to ensure that we look after ourselves and keep learning and improving.

Probably the biggest benefit that Taekwondo has given my boys is that I’ve seen them transform from shy juniors into confident, strong black belts, who are now supporting other students through their journey. They are teaching part of the class and are truly seen as an example. They take this responsibility very seriously. When the parents of the juniors tell me how thankful they are that my boys are supporting their kids, I simply say to them that they got so much support along the way and to now see them step up into this role of mentor/coach/leader is very satisfying. Naturally, my boys are still getting great support from others in their own journey, as there are still more senior black belts ahead of them. The responsibility you carry as a black belt is that you must continue to improve and not have the attitude ‘I have already reached my goal.’ It’s give, learn and improve on repeat.

Ask yourself:
What gifts do you have that you can share with others? What are you doing to fill yourself up? Who are your teachers? How do you keep learning and improving?

Lesson 5: Give it a shot and don’t be afraid to fail

Last but not least, if you never try, you’ll never fail. If you never step out of your comfort zone, you’ll never make a mistake. If you never stretch yourself, you’ll never know your full potential.

Every time my boys had to do a colour belt grading, especially the higher ones, I prepared them that there might a slight chance that they would not pass, or only one of them would make it. Every grading is just a moment in time and no matter how well prepared you are, if you have a complete off day it might just not work out. Luckily, they passed each grading, some of them with more grace and ease than others. After every grading Master Rhee would ask them: ‘What do you think you could have done better?’ It’s such a simple, yet powerful question, that helps them be self-critical in a positive way. Obviously, the black belt grading was the most nerve-racking so far. It started on Friday night with an official dinner, where they had to give a speech, followed by 1.5 days of international instructor training and then finally their black belt exam, right at the moment when they were completely exhausted. A great test in perseverance and it shows again that attitude is almost more important than skills.

Ask yourself:
What do I do to constantly challenge myself? Do I step out of my comfort zone enough? How do I react to failures or things not going right? What do I learn from that and how does it make me stronger?

My sincere gratitude goes out to Senior Master Rhee and the rest of the ITFA community for creating such unforgettable life experiences and for bringing so much positivity and confidence into the world. You’ve touched my boys and our family in a very special way.

For more information please visit the ITFA website.

If you have a similar experience you would like to share, I would love to hear from you.

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9 Comments

  1. Karla Orozco says:

    Love this article, story and specially the questions after each of the 5 lessons. Thanks Sonja!

  2. Karla Orozco says:

    Love this article, story and specially the questions after each of the 5 lessons. Thanks Sonja!

  3. Great to hear you enjoyed reading it Karla!

  4. Gary Mezei says:

    Your story is Extremely well articulated Sonja, especially wonderful how you’ve managed to connect our everyday life goals to the boys TKD Journey.

    You have a beautiful loving family, and that is clearly reflected through the depth of your story here. The inspiration that you yourself demonstrate as a mother shines through.!!

    Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful story with us all.

    Gary.

  5. Thanks a lot for your beautiful words Gary, it’s such a joy to have you and Connor being part of the Taekwondo journey!

  6. Very well written Sonja!! I have been witness of Jordi & Dylan teaching my younger twins and helping them on their Taekwondo journey. The boys are great examples of how to give back to each other.

  7. Thank you Farzana. Before you know it your twins will be in my boys’ shoes and helping younger belts on their journey!

  8. A very inspirational piece Sonja. I will be reading it to my son this weekend. I totally agree that SMR has provided an excellent environment for my son to grow and develop important life skills as he continues though his TKD journey. I especially appreciate the way SMR combines firmness and discipline with caring and mentorship.
    Thanks.

  9. Great to hear that you’ll be sharing this with your son Walter. Our kids are very lucky to have SMR in their lives!

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