“You could have your old red belt back.”
The Taekwondo instructor’s statement blew me away. It was my first time back in a martial art school after 14 years. I had just finished struggling through the beginner’s class, filled with young students bearing white and yellow belts who had welcomed me with high-fives and advice. Now, she was offering to restore me to my former, senior rank.
Memories of my 7 years in Taekwondo rushed back in. Kicking at targets that my practice partner maneuvered. Watching my sweat fall onto the concrete while my knuckles burned. Sparring with black belt teachers who danced around me. Year by year, I had worked my way up the promotion tests.
White belt. Yellow. Green. Blue.
Finally… Red belt.
I had so proudly worn that belt. The respect. Getting asked to demonstrate the proper moves to other students. The requests for advice. Being only one step away from the black belt.
Over 7 years of hard work instantly redeemed.
Come on Jeremy… You’ve already earned it. Just say “Yes!”. No need to seem eager. Just be professional. Gracious. Thank her. My promotion records are in my files. Let her know that she’ll get them first thing after you get home.
… I hadn’t practised Taekwondo for 14 years.
I hadn’t wasted those 14 years. I had passed my exams. Judo. Army. University. Consulting. Social entrepreneurship. Grad school. Startups. Family. Friendships.
Still… Out of shape. No flexibility. Bad form. Overweight. Sluggish reflexes. Sloppy kicking. I’d get my ass kicked if I tried sparring with a yellow belt, let alone another red belt.
… Can I in good faith even coach a white belt?
I looked at her. Hesitated. Cleared my throat.
“I’ll work my way up again.”
“Okay Jeremy. Next beginner’s class is in 2 days. Here’s your white belt.”