July marks the World Expo for the ATA. At the Expo, black belts with Top Ten finishes or who won a District Championship will compete for the title of World Champion. The event will also feature high-rank Black Belt testing for those looking to earn a fourth-degree rank or higher.
What does it take to get to this level? Hard work, certainly. Dedication. Practice. Determination. But it also takes something else, something that will get you through those times when things don’t go so well – and those times will come.
The Summer 2014 issue of ATA World magazine, the official publication of Songahm taekwondo, showcases several people from around the country who will be competing for a World Champion title, often in more than one category (traditional forms, traditional weapons, sparring, combat sparring, Creative and/or XMA). They range from 11-year old second degree Black Belt Devmini Jayatilaka to fifth degree Black Belt Ricky Gaston. All of them have been on the World Champion stage before.
None of them are new to taekwondo, training from between five to 22 years. They cite the same factors for success: intense training (often practicing multiple hours a day, multiple days a week), eating healthy, and general fitness. But one thing they don’t mention explicitly, but is definitely a factor, is persistence.
Persistence is defined as “firm or obstinate continuance on a course of action in spit of difficulty or opposition.” In the tournament world, nobody gets to the level of World Champion without persistence. That’s because almost nobody makes it to World Champion in his or her first try. There are many second, third, or non-finishes on the way to the top. They key is to not give up. Despite winning multiple world titles for sparring, Mr. Gaston hasn’t yet won a title for forms. Yet he continues to try. “I find the forms competition extremely tough,” he says, “but I love challenging myself.”
And while having a goal is important, working toward it, and being persistent, is often more valuable than achieving it. Devmini cited this quote from Bruce Lee as one of her favorites, and it speaks to the value of continuing to work and sticking to the plan, even when the goal seems out of reach: “A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves as simple as something to aim at.”
Not everyone at the World Expo will be competing for a title. Some will be taking part in a high-rank testing. It takes an enormous amount of persistence to make it from white belt to first-degree Black Belt, learning nine forms, sparring, one-steps, self-defenses, and breaking boards along the way, as well as dealing with potential set-backs from any “no change” testings along the way.
It doesn’t get any easier for high rank testing. Above third-degree, all Black Belt rank testings must take place at a national event: Worlds, Spring Nationals, or Fall Nationals. Being on such a visible stage adds it’s own level of pressure. As rank increases, the complexity, and length, of the forms increases. Compared to the 18 moves in Songahm one, there are 81 moves in Shim-Jun. And the fourth-degree form, Sok Bong, there are 84 moves. That number jumps to 95 for the fifth-degree form, Chung Hae. At each level, the number of required board breaks (hand and foot) also increases.
In addition, a student must be able to demonstrate not only the forms, including weapons, at his own current rank level, but any forms, including weapons forms, from any previous rank.
And don’t forget the required fitness test.
It’s a lot of hard work, practice, confidence, and determination. But most of all, it’s a lot of persistence. Because not only do the requirements get tougher, the amount of time spent “in rank” increases. Mr. Loevner, whose next testing will be for his sixth-degree Black Belt, has been a fifth-degree for at least five years. Five years of polishing the same form, making it as perfect as possible. Some young students get frustrated at brown belt, spending six months on the same form. But experienced high-rank Black Belts, such as Mr. Loevner, Mr. Weston, or Ms. Graff, know that the time is needed to make the form as best as possible, and it is persistence, and the steadfast desire to get to the next level, that makes the most difference.
So if you’re at the beginning of your Songahm journey, or one day you hope to have a dobok jacket with the red “World Champion” letters, remember: you can make it. All it takes is hard work, practice, determination, fitness – and an extra helping of persistence.
A software technical writer by day, Mary Sutton is the mother of two teens and has been making her living with words for over ten years. She is the author of the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series, writing as M.E. Sutton, and The Laurel Highlands Mysteries police-procedural series, writing as Liz Milliron. Visit her online at www.marysuttonauthor.com.