bandcamp and beltsRead Now
When I was in fifth grade I begged my parents to let me play in the middle school band. I wanted to be a percussionist, more accurately I wanted to play the xylophone. With two parents both in college and four kiddos we didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around so buying a couple hundred dollar instrument was a big thing to ask. My mom told me they would do it but I had to play in the band all the way through high school. At 12 I would have agreed to anything because time was irrelevant but in 8th grade we moved to a much larger school.
I was incredibly shy if you can believe that, and the prospect of going to band camp the summer of my freshman year was possibly the most frightening thing of my life up until that point. I knew nobody and wanted to blend in. I was a wallflower by choice and begged my parents all summer to let me quit. I straight up made pie charts and formulated amazing and articulate arguments on all the things I could focus on personally if I were to quit band. I cried and threw tantrums when that didn’t work, but mom stood like an oak and wouldn’t budge. I had given them my word and I was going to learn to keep it. First day of band camp I met one of my closest friends through out high school and we were pretty much inseparable until I graduated. Had I not followed through I would not have overcome fear, had awesome expieriences, and met some core people in my high school life.
I recently was chatting with a friend of mine about belts and it wasn’t the first time I had heard it, but he said, “the belt is just something that holds the GI together.” Which, by the way, I agree, that is totally its function, but I would like to throw it out there that it is much more mentally to some people.
When I started karate 7 years ago we were in the middle of homesteading a house. We had a shell of exterior walls, we were pretty much living in a tent in what is now our living room, we rigged up solar showers off our back patio with a ladder and a tarp, and we worked on the house in all our spare time. Our two older girls were married and out of the house and we were down to four kids at the time when we got a call that there were two more siblings that went into care, a two month old baby boy and a three year old girl. I was baking cakes in a smoker, freaking out over squirrels in the dark, all the while contracting our house. It was insane. Jim Gaffigan said it best when he asked if you wanted to know what having 5 kids was like? “Pretend you are drowning and someone hands you a baby…” I was thrust into 6 while living in drywall dust.
But karate was mine. I had set a goal for myself that I wanted to be a black belt so every week I trudged in on Tuesday mornings and took up all of the studio's time with my herd. The older four kiddos had their lessons, then mine followed. There was never a time we were not constantly interrupted. It was frustrating. I wanted to quit so many times, almost did, but harkening back to band camp days, the pie charts in my own head did not overcome. Thanks mom.
To kids the belts are steps, hopefully not a participant trophy in your gym, but something they feel they earned. This keeps them moving forward, formulating new goals and teaches them to conquer. The goal doesn’t have to be a black belt. Recently I was talking with the director at Saving Grace which is home for girls who have aged out of foster care and they are learning how to transition into working in the world. She said that every week they have achievement acknowledgements. They sit down and make sure that they celebrate their weekly accomplishments. This is such an important thing. Some of these girls have never had anything celebrated about themselves like a birthday and things like putting in a college application or getting an interview for a job are a high that needs to be observed with joy. These are the stepping stones to an elephant. That job is their belt that they put the work in for, their next step in life.
When things are so incredibly overwhelming and you don’t know where to even start and you spiral into depression sometimes the only goal that may start that journey up is to put on your shoes. Something small, but a goal none the less. When the house is unlivable because you have not had any time to get to cleaning it, (or you live in a tent in your unfinished living room) and you just can’t, the only goal may be to do the dishes or keep the infant from chewing on a power cord and revel in that accomplishment for the day.
My first job is mom. No career or goal supersedes that, however having something that was mine ended up being incredibly paramount into what I was able to pour into them. When you are constantly managing a household and several lives, when you are the one who organizes everything down to not letting the kids look homeless (side note, my 10 year old bragged to our trainer Aaron one night about how he had had the same socks on for three days, my son apparently needs new goals…) it is a relief to go into a studio and let someone else tell you what to do. I am not in charge. I may not like all the things I have to do, the 180 footwork drill is no favorite of mine, I am a whiner too and definitely over the top dramatic, but I will do it. It is the best thing for my brain to just do what I am told instead of racing through everything I had to get done. I could simplify and focus and not be the one in control. For a person that literally never gets silence or to pee by herself, this is a reprieve of the highest order.
Holding yourself accountable plays into setting the example as a mom. I have heard so much from martial arts schools that for women when life gets crazy the first thing to go is training. When a young woman comes into a gym and then gets a new boyfriend after several months of go go go, it’s the first thing to drop off. I suspect that it is a mixture of several things, but the big one is the lack of wargaming. When you set your goal in your head it’s a little harder to let go. This is turn shows those in your charge that you will do what you say. Another thing to note, I have heard so many times men saying that they want their wives or daughters to train and learn to defend themselves. Then be the pillar to make sure that you support her goal. Help her achieve it, give her the kick and reminder on those days when its easier to quit. Help your children set goals and then hold them accountable to their word. Expect big things from them and yourself. The high from that accomplishment is worth more than the busyness of that single day or month.
My friend Morgan is a trainer at Fit to Fight in Charlotte. Ironically as I was writing this article she posted on their website this, “Ladies what are you tired of? Not having confidence to advocate for yourself? Struggling with weight loss and/or being fit? Not knowing what to do to achieve those goals? What are you READY for?! Being confident. Being fit and strong. Blowing past goals and READY to conquer more.” She had told me that sometimes women come in not necessarily ready to take the step into either accepting violence as a necessity or the confidence to be in a group class so she starts them on the heavy bag. It’s a workout, they feel accomplished, and it meets them where they are at to start setting goals. From there, the sky is the limit.
In Jiu Jitsu it can take upwards of ten years, three hard days rolling a week to earn a black belt, and you are likely to have a chronic injury before you are done. That’s an amazing accomplishment. But sometimes as a foster child going into a bank to open up their very first account by themselves is right up there with that. I am elated and equally proud of both of those individuals. Belts earned in life.
I am now in a different place in life, I met that goal and actually have a different one when it comes to martial arts. I floundered a few months making sure I was set up right in my head. It is not another belt this time around and that is okay. My two girls and I were recently gearing up for our first fight in kickboxing. They are 12 and 13. I asked them if they were scared. They both answered in the affirmative. I understood, I admitted I was too. We had each made the decision that we wanted to to do this and put in the time and training to be ready enough for it. It’s never enough time though it seems. I told them it was okay to be scared. It’s the doing it that is the accomplishment. The fact that they step into the ring knowing they are scared is what makes me proud. It is also that fact that when it is over, win or lose, and they feel that rush of adrenaline and relief that they overcame and the electric charge for the whole day zings, I am glad. It’s a figurative belt and a lesson they will take with them throughout life; just like band camp.
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Author- Christun Erwin
"Thank you for your words. They make an impact and its important that, human to human, woman to woman, mother to mother... you know that you make a difference, even to those you never knew your words" -Krystal