Michael Carrera, 17

Michael Carrera, 17

How Getting My 1st Degree Black Belt Changed My Life 

As I start this essay, I look back and think about the great memories, skills, and friends I have acquired over the last four years. I have made great friends that I will never forget and have learned a lot of amazing things during this chapter of my life. I must admit, Tae Kwon Do training really took me by surprise. At first glance, it didn’t really seem too exciting, but I was proven wrong after my first encounter with the intense Blue-Black belt class. Everybody begins their Tae Kwon Do journey with white belt and that day when I experienced how amazing the higher belts were during class I immediately wanted to join them. That is what truly motivated me to set one of the most difficult goals in my entire life: attaining the rank of Cho-Dan (1st degree Black Belt). When I learned the first five moves of my belt sequence, I could not get enough of it. I looked forward to every single class at PS Academy. Gradually, I grew stronger both physically and mentally. Tae Kwon Do has really changed me and who I am.

I have learned that to be successful you have to put your whole heart into whatever you do. You also have to believe in yourself and walk with confidence. Before Tae Kwon Do, I used to be very quiet, especially at school. I had very low self-esteem, hardly talked to anyone, and I hated speaking in front of a large group of people. Through Tae Kwon Do, I learned that by focusing my eyes, my mind and my body, I could do anything. For the first time in my life, I asked a girl to the homecoming dance during my freshman year in high school. After my first dance, I started talking to more people, making new friends, and meeting new girls. Even though I knew this was my weakness, I also knew that I was capable of doing anything.

Grandmaster Hyong has really made a major impact in my life. He taught me how important it is to have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. The road to Black Belt is a long one, but it is truly meaningful in every aspect. The most important qualities of a Black Belt include the following five Tenets: Perseverance, Integrity, Courtesy, Self-Discipline, and Indomitable Spirit.  The Tenet that I can relate to the most is Perseverance. I have learned over the past four years, that no matter how hard something is, I cannot quit. I have to keep on trying, no matter how many times I fail. The greatest mistake in life is to continue fearing that you will make a mistake. Throughout my entire four years practicing at PS Academy, I failed at least four or five times during my belt tests. During class, I thought I was the best at doing certain moves because I was always setting an example for other students in my class. The very first time I was notified that I had failed my test, I was very upset and I started crying. However, I did not let failure stop me.

Working with Ms. Hyong, Grandmaster Hyong, and Mr. Garwood, to name a few, has truly been inspirational. They are some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met in my life. With Ms. Hyong’s motivational talk and inspirational academic achievement, I strived to improve myself both inside and outside of Tae Kwon Do. Through Assistant Leadership and Leadership Training at PS Academy, I learned how to manage my time better at home which made a major impact on my academic record. I went from B’s and C’s to almost all A’s. The Tenet that means the most to me is Indomitable Spirit, which means “never ending enthusiasm.” I’ve never met anyone in my life that has higher enthusiasm during Tae Kwon Do training then my favorite instructor, Mr. Garwood. Mr. Garwood always knows how to make me feel good about myself and never fails at making me smile. Throughout my most stressful months on the way to my Black Belt, Mr. Garwood showed me how to relax and stay calm. Over the next several months, I began pushing myself to be the best that I could be. I went to class every day and I took as many classes as I could. I felt great, and I owe it all to Mr. Garwood.

On Saturday, April 25th, 2011, I achieved my goal and I was presented with a beautiful Black Belt inscribed with my name on it. The last three tenets, Courtesy, Integrity, and Self-Discipline, are most important to me and my family. These are the traits that will help me to be a better person and a true Black Belt. The most important trait that you have is Integrity. Your integrity applies to every part of your life including, while you are in school, with your family and friends, your job, and even church. Without integrity, you have nothing. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents, family and instructors. No matter what we had going on my parents made sure to get me to class every day. My parents were there to support me and encourage me during difficult times. Mom and Dad, thank you for giving me this opportunity and always being there for me. No matter how many tears I shed during the classes and when I did not do so well at tests you were always there to give push me to keep on going even though I was ready to give up. I know I could not have done this without you. I love you. Thank you for all of your unconditional love and support.

Master Hyong, thank you for always helping me, and taking the time to teach me. You opened the door and welcomed me to your academy and to the Dojang. To all my instructors, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of a Blue-Black belt class that’s always so full of energy. I really appreciate the friendship we have. I will never forget any of you, and I hope to resume my Tae Kwon Do training later in life. At this moment, I look at this as just the beginning and a pathway to my future. I am currently a senior at Naperville North High School and I am very excited and scared for what lies ahead in my future.

To all current students: For some, earning a black belt has no more meaning than earning a high school diploma. But that’s not so odd, is it? For some people, life is all about acquiring, owning, controlling, and profiting. For some, life is about revenge —or compassion or education or paying homage. Being a Black Belt is a new beginning. You will have demonstrated maturity and an understanding of some important tenets of Tae Kwon Do. You don’t feel different but you know that you have changed. After looking back on the years that have passed since you were that timid white belt at the back of the class, you remember the faces of the training partners that have come and gone and the people that inspired you along the way. You remember the challenges you faced and how they don’t seem that difficult anymore. While reviewing your own journey you see that the Black Belt itself is not as important as the lessons learned along the way. Best of luck to all of you future Black Belts.