I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of information about my belt tests. I record when and where I earned rank and who presented me with which new belt. Because one can program spreadsheets to calculate, I have it keeping track of how many days total I’d been training when I earned each belt and how many days elapsed between tests. I decided to make a graph with the total days training on the X axis and the days elapsed between tests on the Y axis. Here’s the result:
When I was done I suddenly remembered Jackie Bradbury’s article, “Martial Arts Growth is Not Linear.” I felt foolish for trying to capture my progress in a line graph. I thought wryly that at least I had learned a great deal about how to efficiently draw a line graph in GIMP (an image editing program). I was about to give up writing a blog based on this graph. Then I looked at the shape of the line. It looked familiar. I had something to write about after all.
This is Mt. Rainier, a 14,411 foot (4,393 meter) tall dormant volcano. Whenever the weather is clear I see it from my living room window. I had to laugh when I observed that my line looks a bit like Little Tahoma, a “bump” on the side of the mountain.
I haven’t “climbed” much of the “mountain” at all. I have a long steep way to go – and in fact, I will never reach the “summit.” Actually, in martial arts, there is no “summit” – there is only learning until you die or quit. Any analogy breaks down somewhere.
I “stood” on the top of “Little Tahoma” between 8th and 7th kyu. It looks like I coasted along until 5th kyu. Then I hit a challenging slope. The graph ends with my test for 3rd kyu. With tests coming far less frequently in my future, the slope of the line might not continue to mimic Mt. Rainier.
But let’s run with this analogy for awhile.
If you look to the left of the box in the picture of Mt. Rainier, you’ll see I had to climb a bit even before I reached the point that represents the start of my Karate journey. I had to wait for better financial footing before I could join my daughter. That was my best excuse for quite some time. I thought of myself as too old, too fat, too out of shape. I thought I had to be as young and athletic as I was years ago when I trained, and I knew I was a long way from what I once had been. Once the financial issues were gone, I decided to get back on the mats. I had to overcome a lot to even put on a gi and bow into the dojo for the first time in 27 years. I was intimidated by how much work I had to do to even catch up to where I once was. It turned out I handled it and I am now much further up the “mountain” than I used to be all those years ago.
Tracing the journey on the graph is interesting. It turned out that prior experience helped me rocket through the no-rank white-belt days and the first two kyu ranks. The length of time I spent as 8th kyu was about right for that rank, but I distinctly remember something holding me back. I was intimidated by the upcoming test for 7th kyu. At 7th kyu we tie on a purple belt. That was the color of belt I’d last worn as a teenager. For some reason I thought I did not compare favorably to my younger self, thus I might have consequently hindered my progress. No matter. I sailed right through 7th and 6th kyu.
The line tracing my “mountain” dips down through the purple-belt period, meaning I was taking less and less time between tests. I decided to look back at how I trained during that period. Just from scanning blog posts alone, I see that I did quite a lot outside my “home” dojo. Any one of those activities would give anyone of any rank a boost, but the timing was fortuitous for me. I had just enough understanding of the art to incorporate what I learned. Therefore I was very well prepared for those particular tests.
Some of the opportunities I took advantage from 7th to 5th kyu are closed to me now but most of them aren’t. I will still benefit from wonderful “extras” like seminars, tournaments, and training alongside those competing at USA Karate Nationals. Sure some doors have closed but one new, very significant door has opened. I will, as often as possible, be attending bi-monthly brown belt training at our organization’s Hombu dojo (about 3 hours drive). My first is in December.
I’m very likely to see the line of the graph climb higher because the tests will be progressively harder and I will, as most karateka, take longer and longer periods of time to prepare for those tests. I already see this in the length of time I spent as 4th kyu. The chart in the future won’t look exactly like Mt. Rainier, but I find it interesting that thus far there’s a resemblance. I’ve climbed “Little Tahoma,” and enjoyed the little downhill slope. Mind you, I’m not complaining about the climb I’ve started now. Yes, it’s hard work, but the view of where I’ve been is spectacular and I can see some interesting things on the slopes above.