“WHAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF THE BLACK BELT?”

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I had the privilege of speaking as the Guest of Honour at the ACS (Barker Road) Founder’s Day Celebration last Friday 27 February 2015.

As I entered the school auditorium, all the students were standing up, clapping their hands.  But what made the occasion so different from any other function I have attended was that the students were cheering with gusto. Thus it was not simply the polite stand-up welcome for visitors but a warm, noisy welcome of the heart (or just the boisterousness of ACS)?

Awards were a major part of the programme.  And the first awards were for staff members who had served for many years.  What was truly heart-warming were the catcalls and wolf-whistles when a lady staff member went up for the 15-year award, and even louder catcalls and wolf-whistles when another lady staff member went up for the 20-year award.

It struck me that this was living out honour – a mark of gratitude and respect sincerely and cheerfully offered.  How I wish all of us could live our lives with a cheeriness to offer gratitude and appreciation often and spontaneously!  Indeed it has been found that gratitude reduces stress and extends life.

The day ended with a speech by the Valedictorian for 2014.  It was a speech filled with appreciation for the guidance and encouragement of teachers who go out of the way to help students build up their self-confidence and succeed.

Offering honour cheers the heart of both giver and recipient!  But it cannot be empty words, but heartfelt truth.  

My speech that day started with the story of a martial arts student who kneeled before the master sensei to receive his black belt.  It was after many years of hard training.

“Before giving you the belt, you must pass one more test,” the sensei said.

“I am ready,” the student said, thinking it would be just one final lesson.

“What is the true meaning of the black belt?” the sensei asked.

“The end of my journey,” the student said.  “A good reward for all my hard work.”

The sensei waited for more.  Clearly, he was not satisfied.

Finally, the sensei spoke.  “You are not ready for the black belt.  Return in one year.”

A year later, the student knelt again in front of the sensei.

“What is the true meaning of the black belt?” the sensei asked.

“A symbol of distinction and the highest achievement in our art,” the student replied.

The sensei said nothing for many minutes.  Clearly he was not satisfied.  Finally, he spoke. “You are still not ready for the black belt.  Return in one year.”

A year later, the student knelt again in front of the sensei.  And again the sensei asked: “What is the true meaning of the black belt?”

“The black belt represents the beginning – the start of a never-ending journey of discipline, hard word and the pursuit of an ever higher standard,” the student said.

“Yes.  You are now ready to receive the black belt and begin your work.”

As we can see, the black belt is not the highest pointThe black belt is what allows us to go on to the next point.

This is an expression of honour.  It is honouring one-self, for the talents and abilities that we have, and it is honouring others through the use of our talents and abilities. 

Photo Credit: alsaakaratewadokai.com

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