Essay for my 1st dan Black Belt graduation
Had someone asked me when I begun training what becoming a Black Belt would mean to me I would have probably replied with “the world, of course”! However, now that I am here, it feels it’s just another milestone in my long journey. What does it all mean to me then, today, three years later?
Last week, we had an 8-hour meditation session with GrandMaster Kim. Despite his regular responsibilities he joined us for the most part, meditating alongside with us showing us the way of peace and emptying one’s mind. Then, during the last 15 minutes something profound happened, something that helped me finally find the words to describe what achieving Black Belt status really means to me.
During those last 15 minutes the GrandMaster asked us to sit around him on the mat. With a gentle tone in his voice, and clearly emotional towards the end, he told us stories about ancient Korean and Chinese monks and legendary heroes to convey the meaning of certain notions we practice during our training. That’s when it hit me!
There before me was a man who devoted his life in the martial arts, a firm and strictly controlled man, yet he was sitting on the mat with his students, teaching them philosophy in the most emotional, gentle tone of voice. Why! Because that group of people were about to become his next bunch of Black Belts. And so he wanted them to see him unguarded. Their persistency throughout their training had made them worthy of his teachings. His real teaching through philosophy had begun. We were his new Black Belts. And I felt a profound sense of humility.
Humble, and stripped-down from any pretentions, that very moment the connection between philosophy and the martial arts, the unification of mind and body and how we can become better persons through the practice of the martial arts became clear, as it was personified in the GrandMaster himself.
Make no mistake. The primary reason of the martial arts is fighting. And it is through fighting that we find answers and uncover our hidden self. But without an acute sense of what is right and what is wrong, anyone who has learned the techniques of hurting others will hurt others with no discrimination. Such a person cannot be trusted, will be alienated and consequently will eventually self-destruct.
The salvation lies in distinguishing between right and wrong. But what can possibly teach us what is right and what is wrong, help us achieve balance and become better persons through the practice of the martial arts?
GrandMaster’s teaching on the mat that day helped me make the connection: Philosophy – with its distinct ability to distinguish between right and wrong and point out the truth – co-existing with proven skills in the martial arts is the key. It is what makes the unification of mind and body possible. The mind is the voice of reason, which can protect even a technically advanced practitioner from self-destruction.
To me achieving Black Belt status comes with a firmly renewed commitment that I will use my skills only to do what’s right, demonstrating that the ideals I hold precious are right and true. Furthermore, and with a great sense of responsibility I promise here today that I will keep doing everything I can in order to initiate others into the martial arts as a means of helping them too find their Way and discover their hidden self; especially those who need this the most: Teenagers and people in their 20’s as they pass through the most turbulent time of their lives, and most importantly the most hopeful but critically sensitive group of them all: Our children.
So, three years later and I still feel that becoming a Black Belt means the world to me. Only now, with this great sense of humility and responsibility, it’s all for very different reasons!
A warm “Thank You” to all people who supported me throughout my journey, my wife Jeannie Vasilakos and my daughters Paress and Aliki.
Congratulations, Al! There is nothing like the thrill, hard work and dedication it takes to make it through the training with OMAC in achieving one’s black belt.
I wanted to thank you for putting into words the true depth and growth you experienced during the meditation and process, but most deeply from the connection and learning with Grandmaster Kim.
The process is a profound one and so often difficult to verbalize and share. Enjoy the rest of the journey.
–Fellow Black Belt from OMAC Oakville and Parent to a Purple Belt, Conrad, ready to return to work towards his black belt this year.
Thank you for your comments, Kim.
Please wish all the best to Conrad from me, and keep reminding him of the word “In-Nae”. He knows.