I stayed up last night to remotely attend a Tae Kwon Do class held in Madison. It was a special class to celebrate the promotion of two members of the club to black belt, and another two to second dan. It's a very rare occasion. In March, those who would like to be considered to test, go to Providence, Rhode Island and do a pre-test in front of the Master who lives there. He says if he thinks they will be ready to do the actual test in September or if he recommends that they wait another year and try again. Those who pass the pre-test are given things to work on and think about, and return in September for the actual test. It's several hours long, often in very hot weather in the sun; it's a test of endurance and concentration and the many other factors cultivated in training.
The test itself and the months leading up to it are certainly part of the effort of earning the black belt. But maybe more so than this are the previous years. I've been in the club long enough to have known three of the four people promoted this year (the other had moved away before I came to Madison). It can take a very long time to get to this point. One of them is my instructor, who was promoted to second dan. I know only a bit about his path, but know that it includes overcoming some physical difficulties including a surgery at one point that forced him to stop practicing for 2 months. The other second dan promotion has been a member of the club for awhile, and in the past 18 months has given birth and started raising her first child with her husband. I saw her practicing when she 2 weeks past-due, modifying as needed, and shared a class with her where she held her 6-month-old as she practiced basic kicks. The other black belt promotion I know started Tae Kwon Do when she was in college in California. She then moved away, got married, had two children, began her career in the ministry, and started again when she moved to Madison. It's been many years of working towards this goal.
There is more to these stories, and most people have stories like this. The club is through a university and so everyone is a college student or former college student. They are all experiencing the responsibilities of adulthood, moving away and returning, moving away and not returning, having children, looking for jobs. It's a really special thing to have a group of people with this level of dedication. To earn a black belt takes at least four years, but often it takes more than twice that. That's just life.
It was a special thing to see this promotion. And during and after the class one of the Masters in the club spoke about leadership; about how it is important to be a leader, even if one isn't in a top position. Even the lower belts carry leadership; it's about seeing what is needed in a situation and carrying through with that. This is one of the things that one learns on their way to earning the black belt.
What is a leader? And what makes a person follow them? There are those that demand authority; there are those that have it without seeking it. Do we choose our leaders? And what makes us choose them?
I remember my first Tae Kwon Do class. It was intense in a way I had never experienced. The warm-up routine was fast and required strength I hadn't imagined possible, everyone was shouting in Korean and kihoping, there were techniques and kicks and an order to the whole class that I didn't know. It was a lot. But when people came and worked with me during class, when they spoke with me before and after, there was also a calm intensity to their attention as they learned my named and observed what was needed, teaching me my first kicks and techniques.
I got sick from that first class, but I came back two weeks later. There was something about it which made me want to follow. As a white belt, maybe it was one thing, and throughout time, I think everyone asks themselves why they are doing this. How do we choose what we follow? What makes something or someone a worthy leader?
I think there is a lot that is needed, not all of which I know. But it's wonderful to see this step on the way, the growing of people that are in some way, leaders to those around them.