martial arts · motivation

Taking a Quick Glance Back

A couple of weeks ago, I was helping* with a belt testing for Taekwon-do and watching the other students tests for belts ranging from yellow stripe to black stripe was really encouraging for me.

I spend entirely too much time with my eye on my next belt, on learning the next thing. It is all too easy to forget how much I have already learned, how far I have come. I mean, obviously, I know that I have more skills than I once did but since those skills are part of my knowledge base now, I end up focusing a bit too much on the skills I don’t yet have.

It’s a natural development of a graduated learning system. You are always aware of what you don’t know because that is what is between you and your next belt. I can always tell you what I need to know for my next test and how much of it I have already learned.

The author wearing her white martial arts uniform with a yellow belt around her waist. She is smiling, standing slightly sideways, with her left hand held flat at thigh height.
This is me, right after my yellow belt test in 2010. I’m proud of my past self but I have LOTS of advice for her.

It’s a sensible approach for skill development but it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. Even though I generally feel challenged rather than discouraged, I am still very aware of the areas in which I fall short. And I know that can be the case with any sort of goal, particularly fitness-related ones.

That’s why the belt test was so encouraging for me. In the course of a single afternoon, I was able to see my skill development at each level mirrored by the students who were testing. I could see what I must have looked liked at my first test – determined, yet uncertain, with my skills just beginning to grow. I could remember myself at each level, what I felt like I knew then, and how I must have been better than I realized.

Seeing how the students’ dexterity, strength, power, and speed increased at each belt level was an excellent reminder and a boost to my ego. I have followed that path. I am still on it. My skills are improving all the time and I’m sure that senior students can note that when they are watching me. That’s a good thought to keep tucked away for when I get frustrated with myself as I practice for that next test.

It’s good for me to have that test in my future – it helps to focus my practice and it gives me something to work toward.  However, I can’t just keep my eyes on that prize, I have to take some time to glance back at my yellow stripe self, my green belt self, my red belt self and celebrate how much I have accomplished already.

I’m grateful that assisting at the belt test gave me such a direct opportunity to see how I have refined my skills over time. I’m not sure that I would have thought to do it otherwise.

Do you often take time to note how far you have come from where you started?

If so, what do you do?

*To be clear, I was *not* testing these students, I am not qualified to do that yet. I was just helping to keep the test running smoothly and assisting where needed.

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