I was cleaning out my cedar chest today (long ago gave up calling it a “Hope Chest”) and reliving memories as I emptied it to rearrange a room and fix the hinges. When I got to the bottom, my heart gave a tug and memories flowed back in of one of my first broken dreams that has never quit hurting.
When I was going to BYU for my first Bachelor’s degree, Chuck Norris (long before Walker, Texas Ranger) was just starting to become a film star. We went to see Breaker, Breaker and Good Guys Wear Black several times and this started several years of my seeing every Chuck Norris movie, reading everything I could get my hands on regarding the martial arts, and dreaming of earning a black belt.
The summer before my senior year, I took a martial arts class and was hooked. This class was repeated until I graduated a year ago and I lived for the hours when I could go and workout. I even practiced katas in my tiny apartment.
Once I graduated and moved home to Illinois, I lost no time signing up for classes at the Westmont Academy of Self Defense and spent the next 7 years almost living at the dojo. I worked hard. I advanced. I was a good teacher and spent many nights and weekends teaching the children’s classes and beginner’s classes as part of my studies.
White, gold, orange, purple, blue, green, brown, black. Dreams – countless hours of dreams of earning that first degree black belt. Books filled with notes from classes. Hours spent practicing both at the studio and at home. I was so dedicated that I would put in a full day’s work in my office in downtown Chicago, get off the train at the Westmont station and teach/practice/attend classes for a few hours until I drug myself home.
The day I got my first degree brown belt was so thrilling. There were three degrees of brown before you achieved the coveted black belt, but I was on my way. I was not advancing as fast as some of the “favorites” or those who had countless free hours, but I was advancing and I was a valuable part of the staff (all unpaid of course).
Then I made a mistake. I fell in love and got married. I got pregnant with my daughter and we moved 50 miles away. I still came down one night a week and most Saturdays to train and my parent’s watched my daughter. Then I got pregnant with Kevin. During this time I was chastened a few times for my lack of dedication to the sport because I put my family first. Yeah – it was great seeing all the black belts going through divorces. They starting changing the program some and my instructor said that I was ready for my black belt test. We knew that I would possibly be on bedrest soon and had been told I had to quit training until Kevin was born.
We scheduled the date for the test and I left with my family on vacation to Utah. When I came back from vacation I went in and did some private practice with a friend. Then I called to ask what time my black belt test was that weekend. I was stunned to be told, “We have decided that we are not going to hold the test. Your dedication has changed lately.” What? I was on vacation! They knew that! I was given no answers other than that.
My heart was ripped out of my chest. My world felt like it ended. I was blind with anger, rage and hurt. After a day or two, I wrote the instructor a letter letting him know my feelings about what had been done to me and things that had occurred in the past.
I was informed that I was not welcome back. More heartache. If you start over with a new style, you have to start over – not at the same rank. With a toddler and baby on the way – my dream was over.
Over the years I gradually got rid of my gi (karate outfit), equipment, and most of my belts. But tonight I found all my rank certificates and my two brown belts. (The blue certificate is from BYU – the other certificate is my third degree brown belt).
Did it hurt less to find out that they had never awarded a female a black belt in my studio and that they didn’t want me to be the first one? No. Did it hurt less to find out that they were opening a couple of new studios and would have to pay black belts to be instructors instead of using me as free help like I had been for years. No. I still had a huge, painful hole in my heart.
This was 25 years ago. It still hurts. Maybe not quite as bad as it did 25 years ago – but it is still a huge part of my life that ended.
I can’t bear to get rid of these symbols even though they hurt me. They also represent 7 years of work, sweat and dreams.
Once I earn my 100 mile belt buckle this fall I am going to find a studio with a style similar to what I studied and I am going to go back and finish this dream.