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An excerpt from

It took me six years to get my black belt.

Two fty-ve-minute classes every Monday and Wednesday after school, plus Friday night sparring and Saturday morning demo-team practice. Two belt tests per year, spring and fall, like a pendulum swinging ever higher. I memorized the colors, chanted them to myself in bed at night. The walls of the dojang were white except for a section at the front of the room where a brightly painted ladder, one fat brick per color, reached up to the ceiling. As if Id ever forget. White belt, yellow belt, orange belt, purple belt, green belt, light blue belt, dark blue belt, red belt, red with black stripe, brown belt, brown with black stripe, black belt. And guess what black is? Hint: its not the end. Its not the highest level, not even close. Black belt means now you get to start. Now you get to learn martial arts. Youre back at the beginning: rst degree. There are twelve degrees, and each one takes years and years to achieve, maybe even a decade. Only like ve people in the world are twelfth-degree black belts, and theyre ancient and live on top of mountains and stuff. My black belt wasnt the end, and it wasnt the beginning. It doesnt represent six years of hard work, constant practice, anxiety attacks on test day, stacks of certicates, a cabinet full of trophies, sweat, pain, and elationor Friday nights spent sparring while my friends went to the movies. My black belt represents everything I couldve done and everything I didnt do, the only time it really mattered.

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