Every Stitch

A few weeks ago, a student came to me to let me know that they were thinking of quitting martial arts. This isn’t an unusual experience for martial arts instructors or coaches of any kind. However, the way the student told me of their decision was out of the ordinary. The young woman had just completed her 3rd belt test the week before. She came to me after class and said “Mr. TJ, after the last test, I realized that I have reached my limit.” I would like to say I was able to convince her to stay, but I’m afraid that isn’t true. However, for those of you who might be thinking about giving up, let me share a story that may encourage you to push on with your training, or your school, or just life in general.

There was once a young man who was enamored with the martial arts. He watched “Ninja Turtles” and “Walker Texas Ranger” a bit more than was probably good for him, and he believed that it was his job to protect his family. For several years he tried to convince his mother to let him join a martial arts school, but she thought it was a bad idea. Finally, after a long time, his mother agreed to take him to a Taekwondo Dojang and see what it was all about. The young man was both excited and nervous as he stepped out onto the mat for the first time. That was the first stitch.

There were many friendly people in the dojo, and the young man was soon enjoying himself thoroughly. When the class ended, the instructor came over and talked with the mother and the young man. Finally, the instructor told the student of another class that was going to be held in a few minutes. It was called Brazilian Jujitsu and was VERY different from Taekwondo. The young man thought to himself “I think I have had enough new things for one day!” and said he didn’t want to try the next class. However, between his mom and his new instructor, the young man was encouraged to at least watch a few minutes of the next class. The young man sat and watched the people chatting and laughing and helping each other with the conditioning and stretching. He saw how everyone was part of the “family”, and no one seemed to mind when a mistake was made. After a while, the instructor took a moment to walk over and invite the young man onto the mats one last time. The young man’s mother smiled and encouraged him to try the class. The young man wasn’t sure exactly why, but he suddenly decided to get up and walk out onto the floor for the second time that evening. That was the second stitch.

Over the next 4 years, there were many times that the young man had to overcome fear, frustration, physical limitation, and laziness. Each time one of these obstacles was met and overcome, another stitch was made. Finally, after long preparation and hard work, the student was ready to test for his black belt. During that test there were times the young man felt like quitting. His body ached and his mind was stretched trying to remember 4 years of training all in one day. However, he knew that the goal would be worth the effort. Each time his body or mind tried to quit, his spirit pressed on and kept fighting. Each of those many moments made another stitch. When it was all said and done, the instructor proudly handed the young man a black belt. That belt was a symbol of all the limits that the student had reached and reached beyond.

You see, a black belt isn’t an object to be earned. A black belt is made in the heart of the student that chooses to see beyond what is comfortable to that which is beneficial. Every limit that he or she chooses to overcome puts another stitch into the construction of the belt. So when you are tired, and sore, and your pillow is calling - keep training! When you are frustrated by things you see as failures, keep training. When you are afraid of what people might think, keep training. Break each limit and sew the stitches of your own black belt into your heart. Someday, you too, can receive the outward symbol of what has already become true in your heart.