A teensy break from my “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS” series…maybe.

I was hiking in woods above our home a few weeks ago, and lost my house key. Not too big a deal, under ordinary circumstances–our family seems to lose house keys like a six-year-old loses teeth.

But attached to the key chain was one of my most prized possessions–a little tag made from a section of a belt used to denote rank in the martial arts. In my case, green belt.

When I first took up Tae Kwon Do more than fifteen years ago, it was a struggle for me. I was over forty, I was out of shape, and I was never an athlete to begin with. But I fell in love with my practice and slowly worked my way up through the ranks. I had good instruction, and although I wasn’t fast or especially talented, my techniques were sound.

Green belt level always seemed ideal. It meant you were at that hugely desirable third stage of learning, able to competently demonstrate good technique with some thought. But training is not as rigorous as the next level (red belt). Maybe halfway to black belt–still a long way to go, but with hope it can be achieved.

It’s a good place to be.

Soon after I tested for green belt, I received two presents, one treasured, the other one I wish I could forget.

I was given a key chain with the aforementioned green belt, which I treasured.

And one of my black belt instructors severely damaged my knee while sparring with me.

And no, it wasn’t an accident, it was something a fifth-degree black belt should never have done to anyone outside of a life-or-death situation, let alone a student.

I call it that incident a “present” because my husband calls it “the gift that keeps on giving”. It totally screwed up my leg, and as a consequence, my lower back, my hip and my posture. I’ve had multiple surgeries to repair the damage, including an ACL replacement, months of physical therapy and other complications. I still struggle with compromised range of motion, swelling and discomfort.

The positive outcome? I left the martial arts, for good, I thought. But a decade later, I came back. First to Thai kickboxing and five years later, a new Tae Kwon Do school.

I’m even older, achy, ouchy, and even more out of shape. But I know now that, though my practice will always be a challenge, I will continue until I simply can’t.

I’ve learned to show up, even when I didn’t want to. I’ve learned to work through frustration and self-doubt. I’ve learned not to measure my progress against others, but to simply try to do a little bit better each time. And sometimes, I’ve learned to just stick it out “just five more minutes.” And another five minutes. And another. Until, miracle of miracles, the two hours is over, and I realize I’ve made it through another whole class.

And that has been a gift. Because I have applied these principles of practice to many other areas of my life, including my art.

The school I’m in now has a more aggressive, sparring-oriented approach, and my progress is even slower. I may never see green belt again.

So my little key chain was my constant reminder of how far I was able to go, once upon a time. A time where I could hold a little personal dream that I might at least achieve that level again, someday.

And now it’s gone.

I remember how upset I was when, trying to provide provenance for my past placement at this new school, I was told that “anyone could buy one of those key chains”, it didn’t prove anything. They’re right, I get that. Even now, I could simply buy another one. But anyone who knows me, knows I would never in a million years do something like that. It would feel like cheating.

I wondered why its loss feels so hard. Today I read an article by Lee Eisenberg, author of Shoptimism. (Okay, it was in today’s Parade Magazine and you can read it here.

I realized my little green belt tag represented something of value to me–of a time when it was physically possible for me to dream of being a black belt someday. Not as a goal, but as a culmination of a process, of dedication to my practice.

And now I have no such dream.

What I do have is the realization that black belt would be wonderful (after the training and the testing–it’s a brutal process.) But the dream of black belt is no longer my goal.

My goal is to simply keep going, and to keep on practicing, and to hope for incremental refinement and improvement. And hopefully, to continue my practice far, far, into my life.

So as painful as losing that memento is, maybe it’s just as well. Maybe it was actually holding me back. Keeping me in the past. Maybe it’s just time to let go of the need to remember stronger, younger days.

Or maybe I just don’t need a reminder anymore. Maybe just being me, and being grateful I can practice at all, is all the blessing I need.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

9 thoughts on “LOSING MY GREEN BELT”

  1. What a wonderful story to illustrate your point… perhaps in losing that green belt reminder you have gained more… you can be confident in the knowledge that you did attain that level and you can do it. That is a powerful affirmation to internalize. I attach significance to things, but I think it is more important to know it and believe it than to dwell on a past fact. You are strong and you are a fighter and you are able to rise to new heights. I applaud you, Luann. You are a multi-faceted woman of strength and courage who is an inspiration through her words and art. Thank you for your inspiration today. Enjoy the day! Erin


  2. Your writing has always been so helpful and at times it does seem like we are going through some of the same thoughts about life. I think a lot of us are and you express it so well.

    I recently shared an evening with my mentor, discussing life & art…during the course of that conversation, the topic of “letting go” came up as it’s needed sometimes to move forward. Your words resonate with this too.

    I recently lost a silver ring, but someone found it and actually asked my mentor about it…she knew it was from one of her students and I mentioned the loss to her this past Friday evening….she had my ring, returned it to me, and said “it was meant to come back to me”. Even though you talked about needed to let go of your key chain…if it’s meant to come back to you, it will.

    Thanks for all you do.


  3. Maybe it’s not about the loss of the green belt tag. Maybe it’s all about losing house keys. Your family looses them all the time, yet your focus is…..

    Just kidding around with you, Luann! I heard the story about the woman who called you and asked about Woody. So what is this connection all about? It sent me here to your site, and got me caught! Do you have an extra 5 minutes in your day?


  4. Oh my gosh, you guys, I have to go lie down in a dark room til the swelling in my head goes down!! (Except for you, Janet!) 🙂 Tomorrow I will share the very odd story that prompted Janet to comment.

    Erin, thank you so much. I think I’m actually more of a whiner than a warrior, but I do try. :^D

    Love the ring story, Kathleen. Maybe my green belt will come back some day…. Although it was so tattered, maybe it’s best if some little deer mouse uses it for her next instead. ;^*


  5. No, you ARE a warrior. Beautiful post!

    I say you ARE a warrior, because you have come to this beautiful place in your knowing, and because you have been able to let so many setbacks and painful things go and to start again.


    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC


  6. Keep on keepin’ on with your TKD. I started training when I was over 50. I also had a knee injury along the way (although not as impressive as yours!) Then I lost over a year to shoulder problems. BUT, I came back and at 67 I’m a 4th Dan and training for testing for master in a few more years (yikes, I can’t believe I just wrote that! Scary!) I have really appreciated a lot of what I have read in your blog, and now I know why! You are so right about how influential training in martial arts can be in one’s life. Brava!


    1. Thank you so much, Lynette, for the feedback (and the nice comments!) You know….if I could find an instructor I felt safe with, I might consider that. There’s so much I can’t do anymore. OTOH, even if I could return to kata practice, I’d be happy. You’re on!


      1. Keep looking until you find the right school with the right master. Look for their approach/philosophy to be about the TKD tenets and personal improvement/fulfillment. Schools vary widely, as you probably have found. Our school is a World Taekwondo Federation school, and I would suggest you look for that, and/or credentials from another international or national organization. I expect there are a bunch of schools in your area whose websites you can scope out. You can see as an example what my school is like at http://www.masterkims.com. Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s