On April 26, 2014 I received my 9th Dan in Traditional TaeKwon-Do from Grandmaster Robert Dunn among an assembly of other noted grandmasters. The occasion was attended by martial artists from all over the country, past and present students, instructors, and family members. It was the last promotion I will ever receive in the art of TaeKwon-Do.
I have grown old enough that the stripes on my belt will no longer increase. While this may sound flippant, it is not. Many years ago as a younger master I was teaching a seminar with a long deceased Grandmaster that I had just met. I was in awe over his rank and knowledge. I had the honor of picking his brain for an afternoon while on a boat ride around the lakes of upstate New York. A lot of the conversations we had that day are most likely the food for a different post. One of the things he said to me, however; was don’t be impressed by the rank, “I am just getting older.” I understood what he was saying, but knew that there was more to it. Right?
As the years chased by my rank slowly increased. At each new rank, I matured a little more into my role as a teacher and mentor. Last weekend, I started on my final martial arts journey in TaeKwon-Do. It is the beginning of a new chapter for me and the end of an old one. As a 9th Dan, I can no longer be promoted in my primary art. I have risen to the end of that structure. It is a bitter-sweet moment that I contemplate … an ending and a beginning.
Time and choices made along the way have made me the person that I am. I am honored and nervous about this change. I have met the men whose steps I have been asked to walk in and I find myself feeling small. Their strides are longer and more sure than mine. I feel inadequate, unprepared, and unworthy despite it all. At 9th Dan I am a white belt again. I have to empty my cup and fill it with something new.
My journey to this point took time. I did not feel my wisdom increase in concert with my age or even my physical skills, but then again I didn’t feel the color of my hair changing either. I often feel my body is falling apart with old injuries, yet I will do things I would chastise a lower rank for doing because I feel I am the one who should do it. It is like that when you walk in the shoes of giants, you put your all into being a shadow of greatness. The shoes I follow in are huge.
As I move forward with this responsibility, I understand things will change for me. I have to be more than I am, but I still have to maintain my sense of self. I need to know when to tell an up-coming martial artist to enjoy the journey and not be impressed by my rank because “I am just getting older.”
I will end this post with a thank you to all of those people who have made this journey possible for me. I am blessed to have known each of you and to have been able to achieve a dream.