Earning My Black Belt
Earning My Black Belt: How its meaning has changed by Ryan Clardy
In the fall of 2011, I made a conscious decision to restart martial arts training for the sole purpose of earning my black belt. It was a simple as that. I had made the promise long ago to earn my black belt and found it to be atop my bucket list. The initial meaning or purpose of earning my black belt was just another goal oriented task similar to others in my life before it, another check off the list. Unlike other accomplishments in the past, the meaning behind earning my black belt developed into something much more meaningful along the journey. My life has changed dramatically since I discovered NPMAC. I started a new career, bought my first home, my son was born, and I recovered from a major medical scare. All of these changes and others had a direct correlation with my journey to black belt and significantly increased the meaning of earning my black belt from NPMAC.
I first made the promise of earning my black belt when I was 12 years old. I enjoyed studying martial arts; Tae Kwon Do at the time, and even signed my dedication/commitment form for their Black Belt Club. I loved the physical aspect, earning new belts and developing new skills. It was fun. However, as few years later I had earned several belts and was approaching brown belt when I decided to quit and focus more on high school athletics. It was a decision made at young age that I began to regret within a couple of years. I felt I was so close and not fulfilling my commitment to earn my black belt became a disappointing memory.
Roughly 20 years after making the regretful decision to quit, I decided to restart my martial arts training but wanted to find something different. I began researching various dojos in the Conejo Valley and afterwards decided to take the 30 day introductory course at NPMAC. My initial reaction was mixed. There were plenty of students and it was a well established dojo. I was not looking for something small that may not be around in the coming years. However, I was not familiar with To-Shin Do and was not sure how it compared to what I had done in the past. I decided to continue my To-Shin Do training and pursue my black belt because I found the discipline to be very practical and the dojo had a very positive feel and culture.
At that time, my goal was to earn my black belt for reasons previously mentioned. However, the meaning of earning my black belt began to change. It was no longer all about the achievement and the check off my bucket list, it became much more. I did not want to quit again, I wanted to show my daughter that we fulfill our commitments, and I wanted to embrace the community that came with being a student at NPMAC.
Throughout my training, I met good people at the dojo whom I enjoyed training with. However, not all of them are approaching their black belts. I was determined not to quit but life can be challenging. I saw friends I enjoyed training with stop training for various life changes. It was work, finances, having children, and all the other challenges that come from everyday life. I could feel these same challenges test my professional career in a different direction in 2014 which resulted in an initial financial hardship. In November of 2014, I suffered a severe seizure while driving my car which resulted in a car accident and suspended driver licence. On January 11th, 2015, my son was born. All these things happened in such a short period of time and I felt for a while there was no way I could continue my training. It felt that life had become too challenging. I reminded myself how far I had come and the feeling of quitting at a young age was still lingering in the back of my mind. I refused to quit again. No matter how challenging, I would prove to myself that I could overcome it. As I approach my black belt, overcoming these challenges along the way has significantly added to the meaning of this accomplishment.
Being a father has also added to the meaning of earning my black belt. This certainly wasn’t an added motivation when I was 15 years old. Being a father changes your perspective. Earning my black belt doesn’t just mean I did it and am a black belt, it means I an better protect my family, am more aware of potential threats, and can even teach and show them one day. To me, that’s huge. My daughter is old enough now to understand what I do at the dojo and why I feel it’s important. Being a father is a huge motivator for me and adds to hte joy and meaning of being a black belt.
Being a father and embracing the community that comes from being a student of NPMAC slightly intertwine. I moved my family to Newbury Park from Camarillo in 2014, which can also be another life challenge previously mentioned, but did it because of the sense of community. When I take my daughter to school, I see kids who train at the dojo. I see the parents of those kids who train at the dojo and in some cases, like Paul and Kathy King, other parents I train with. Being a part of the dojo enhances the sense of community. My family and I are part of that and its a good feeling to have.
In closing, all of these experiences have enhanced the meaning of earning my black belt. It means I have proven to myself I can overcome difficult circumstances, that I am a leading example for my children, and have embraced the community which as helped me get here. Being a student at NPMAC is honor and earning my black belt will be one of the most meaningful accomplishments of my life.