There’s nothing like sitting with a group of people for several consecutive years–hours at a time–in a steamy, sweaty dojo. Talk about getting to know your fellow human beings on an entirely new level.
My youngest recently earned his black belt in taekwondo. That means over the past few years, I have been in this dojo countless times to pick up, drop off and watch him test. You’d have to be a special kind of cave hermit not to get to know your fellow martial arts cheerleaders—and the students they cheer for.
Why should this interest you? A bunch of people you’ll likely never meet kicking and kiaiing?
Because the dojo is the best kind of social experiment. It’s really a lab for life. Hear me out.
Patience is not my strong suit. So, as I sit for hours on a hard bench, watching people-who-are-not-my-son testing for belts—I can get a little antsy. A bit perturbed. And I used to do so often. Until I turned my dojo experience into a learning lab.
Let the black belt testing commence . . .
Cassandra. Oh man, here comes Cassandra. Cassandra tests my patience if for no other reason than her uncontrollable tears. Cassandra cries when she prepares to test. She cries during her test, whether she is successful or not. And she cries after her test. I think it’s a mixture of stress, sadness and happiness all rolled into one big boo hoo fest. I’ve mentioned before I have a bit of my German mother in me—as in, suck it up buttercup. Tears are a last resort and even then—sheesh (unless you’re watching the P&G Olympic moms commercial—then crying is absolutely necessary).
So, as we sit and wait for Cassandra to stop crying long enough to read her essay on what earning her black belt means to her (part of the ceremony), I take a deep breath. There is a tiny bit of Cassandra in me. The part that thinks I can’t do something. The part that then does it. And the part that cries with joy that I’ve done yet another thing I thought couldn’t be done. I tap into that part, take another deep breath and wait. Her voice shakes and wavers, but Cassandra makes it through her essay. Phew. Her mother tells me Cassandra has set her sights on the US Air Force. Hmmm. My dad was WWII Air Force. I don’t believe they are big fans of crying in any form. Good luck, Cassandra.
And then there is the guy I call Old Man (only in my head, of course). He looks to be in his 60s (I learn later it’s only mid-50s). What possessed him to get his black belt eludes me. But, as he reads his essay, I realize it was something he needed to prove to himself. He is usually the one that misses his board break kicks multiple times. Today, he nails it. I think of all the things I now consider challenges as I age. And I think of how brave it was of him to take one on he could have walked right by. I shake his hand after the ceremony.
Next up is Timmy. When Timmy bounds onto the scene, I always smile. Very much on the spectrum, with a sky-high energy level and an attention span the size of a gnat, Timmy finds the present moment a great place to be. Always. I’ve never seen him complain or cry. They must remind Timmy to read his essay because he is just standing in front of the crowd smiling. Looking at all of us and simply happy to be there. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this pint-sized boy earn his black belt. There were days we were all sure he’d never remember his forms. I think of the time in my life when I did things just because they brought me joy. When my expectations were low and my energy was high. And I high-five Timmy.
I won’t bore you with the entire cast of characters, but you get the idea. Rubbing elbows with each other in this world can be tough sometimes. Especially when we are busier than we’d like to be. But we all mirror each other in some way, shape or form. When I can tap into the basic humanity that unites me with you, I can appreciate you no matter what buttons you push.
It shouldn’t be a lofty goal, remembering the humanity that ties us together. But in today’s world, it seems to be. I’m going for it. I think Cassandra and company would applaud that.