Black Belt: What It Is and What It Takes

By Coral

Coral (right) at an Arnis seminar in 2019.

For some people, they think of a black belt as a way of showing off or proving that you’re better than other people. But to me, it proves that I can do anything I set my mind to and to always finish what I started. To never give up and have the courage and the mindset to keep going even though it’s hard, and that is what a black belt is truly about.

My karate journey started at 6 years old. My parents enrolled me in a few activities including karate, gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, tennis, ukulele, and piano in order to make sure I become an over achiever and a successful person in my life (like seriously, that’s what my mom told me). But little did I know how much of an impact karate would have on my life. r

I started training at JIKC martial arts studio in Aiea, Hawaii for about 3 years. However, when I moved to Washington and joined NWSMA, I noticed something different about this new school and the other students there. At JIKC, there were hundreds of students that would come and go and I couldn’t keep track of all the people and their names. I never knew anyone there and the other kids never seemed to want to be my friend or even talk to me. When at NWSMA, the school was much smaller, familiar, and more friendly. But it wasn’t just the people that was different, but the technique as well. NWSMA had longer, lower stances and techniques were faster and more powerful. A lot of physical training and mental strength is required in martial arts, but JIKC didn’t seem to require the same perseverance and resilience needed to get a black belt like NWSMA. They don’t have the same sense of family and friendship that you have at NWSMA, for they run like a business, not a true dojo. 

I have learned countless things from NWSMA. One of these things is discipline. The atmosphere in the dojo is rather serious and strict. Sure we socialize and have our little chats before class or during stretching, but no fooling around or excessive talking is allowed. For me, these disciplinary actions are often used at home and during school as well, teaching me to be more focused and respectful. I also found I put more effort into things in my every day life, such as school, chores, or helping my dad with jobs or around the house. Even the little discussions we have in class has adapted to my life, like knowing how to take care of my body, posture, and how important certain foods are to your system. *ahem* not to mention I learned about the wonderful world of K-pop:) Karate has especially encouraged me to push farther than I believe I can go, making me more determined to achieve my goals. 

Reaching Black belt is not an easy goal. I’ll admit, when I first started karate, the main reason I was interested in it was the fact that it looked cool and I could impress my friends. But it’s much more than cool moves and fancy forms. It requires respect, discipline, patience, humbleness, and a strong physical and mental state. Without the encouragement of my instructors, fellow classmates, and my loving father, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. 

At the end of my black belt test, I realized that this was only the beginning of my training. This is only the first phase of what’s to come. Rather than dwelling on my mistakes and errors that I made, I am determined to improve and learn them in my journey as a black belt. 


July 2022 Calendar


NWSMA is still in business!

Hello! We are currently (Jan-Feb 2022) working on updating our website. There is so much to do! Please email for current class information and pricing. Click here for price information and here for the schedule to help you plan your visit.

Black Belt Candidate Essays

Black Belt Essay: What It Is and What It Takes by Tyler

Tyler receiving his advanced brown belt in 2015.

Here is a black belt essay from Tyler! Tyler is an adult provisional black belt candidate for 1st degree in taekwondo. In this essay, he talks about how different martial arts training was from his childhood ideals. He also talks about the importance of persevering in the face of his own limitations, and looking for the deeper meaning in his martial arts training–love it!

Check out Tyler’s black belt essay after the jump to find out what he really thinks it’s all about!


2016 Book Recommendations!

NWSMA’s summer reading contest kicked off on June 1, so I figured I’d throw out a few recommendations to get y’all started. Obviously, my recommendations will be colored by my own interests (fantasy, Middle East, SE Asia, Japan, history, comics), and I also tried to pick things I’ve read more recently, things with universal appeal, and also things that are pretty squeaky clean in terms of content.

Speaking of content! Parents, if you haven’t heard of it, Common Sense Media is a wonderful site to add to your favorites. It allows you to check out what your kids are reading, watching, and, playing. Each entry rates the piece of media in several categories, including violence, positive messages, role models, and drugs/drinking/smoking.

Another note for our readers: if you’re having trouble finding a book, try the following 6 ideas:

  • Read a book that was made into a movie or tv series
  • Re-read an old favorite
  • Ask a friend (or your kids) for a recommendation
  • Read a book that is part of a series
  • Browse AT the library (novel concept I know!)
  • For adults: read a YA or teen novel

Recs after the jump!


7 Benefits of Summer Martial Arts Training (or, why you should continue to train over the summer)

NWSMA students at a sparring-focused summer camp.

I’m going to keep this simple: MOST students who train during the summer advance to their next belt before or close to September. (Obviously, this isn’t a guarantee–the only thing that guarantees a test is effort, focus, consistency, and skill growth!)

So, what is it about training during the summer that is so beneficial?

  1. Students who train over the summer do not forget their requirements. Students who take the summer off forget things. (It’s amazing how quickly the memory goes!) Martial arts is cumulative: basic skills lead to more advanced skills. Students who come back in September after a few months’ break have to go through a period of “re-learning” and re-practicing a lot of basics. We also often see old habits make a comeback after a break. All of this impacts progress. On the other hand, students who do train over the summer see a lot of benefits from staying consistent in their practice.
  2. Students who train over the summer have only one thing to focus on. Well, maybe they have Boy Scouts or other summer activities. But the point is that they’re not in school, trying to keep a handle on a wide variety of subjects, homework, activities, etc. When students are able to focus in on 1-2 things, they make faster progress in skills. They’re able to give full attention to martial arts, without worrying about getting their homework done later.
  3. Students who train over the summer maintain their level of fitness. All those pushups and situps are great, but when the body isn’t asked to do them, your fitness will suffer. This is not as much of a problem for lower ranks, but can hugely impact students who are at higher ranks, where the expectations for fitness are high.
  4. Students who train over the summer learn about having a routine and sticking to it–an important Life Skill for success. Consistency is a key Life Skill: you go to school regularly, you do your homework, [in college] you plan your study time, you show up to work, you stick with something you’ve started: GET IT DONE. Why? Because when you quit, you don’t reach your goals! One of the most important lessons you can teach your children is to have a routine and stick to it. Allowing children to choose when they go to class can be problematic, as it teaches them they can do whatever they want, whenever they “feel like it.” Not a recipe for life success. Now, we’re not saying you shouldn’t take a break from time to time, go on vacation, etc. But we are saying that training over the summer is a BIG part of experiencing what it’s like to stick with something.
  5. Students who train over the summer stay in a “learning mindset.” When these students return to school in the fall, their brain is already primed to continue learning. The brain, like the muscles, can get lazy, and martial arts is a great opportunity to keep your mindset open for learning and growing.
  6. Students who train over the summer grow their brains bigger. Repeating any skill you’ve learned causes the connections in your brain to grow, widen, and thicken. Bigger pathways mean better transmission of electrical signals. Repetition makes brain connections stronger! What’s the big deal here? Well, in addition to strengthening brain function (which may work against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s), the bigger and stronger a brain connection is, the more likely it is that a student will actually be able to perform their martial arts in a real life situation. The summer is a huge opportunity to get in repetition, strengthen the brain, and increase your chances of success in a real-life self-defense situation.
  7. Students who train over the summer have NUF in class! Summer classes can be really NUF for students! We have summer camps, we play BINGO, we have competitions in reading, we bring in cold treats on hot days, we train with various weapons, we play games, we go outside to train…there are so many AWESOME things about NWSMA in the summer. Summer is the best time for students to develop strong social connections to other students through fun activities.

You wouldn’t want to miss out, would you?


Culture in the Martial Arts School: Commitment & Honor

What kind of martial art do you do? What place, country, nation, or people does it come from? How much do you know about the culture of that country, historically or contemporarily? Is your understanding simple, or is it deep and complex?

What kind of place do you live in? What are the values of the people in your specific locale? What kind of culture are you stepping into when you bow in for class? How does “dojo culture” differ from the wider culture your dojo is situated in?

Today, I want to talk about two deeper values that are common to many traditional martial arts: commitment and honor. I want to define these two values, and then talk about how YOU might be expected to SHOW those values in your school or training hall.

Obviously, all schools are different. These values may not be as important in your specific school. I’m going to talk about these ones because, in my nearly two decades of training, being a student and guest in dozens of schools, these are the ones that in my experience stand out across many styles, places, teachers, and schools.


Martial Arts and Values

Hey, all! Just dropping by the blog to tell a story that happened to me a while back.

I was speaking with family friend’s child about their schoolwork. We were trying to figure out how to improve on what they’d begun.

What astonished me was not only that they listened respectfully, they were also quick to volunteer that they were responsible for something! Without me prompting them, they admitted to getting distracted while working. They were also open to some ideas about what they could do next time, like re-read their work out loud to make sure it sounded okay.

This young person was not a martial artist at NWSMA, but they had trained in martial arts elsewhere, and they did a couple other contact sports. I was impressed, not only that they could understand their mistakes, but also that they could admit to some personal tendencies that were getting in the way.

It was a mature, responsible, and open-minded attitude, and that kind of attitude lends itself to quick learning and growth.

What is it about martial arts and contact sports that lead to this kind of attitude?

Well, in a sparring match or tournament, martial artists usually spar one-on-one. This leaves very little room for blaming anything other than yourself when you lose! Martial artists are forced DAILY to look their mistakes in the eye and figure out how to become better.

Just another reason why martial arts are so awesome!


“Black Belt: What It Is and What It Takes” by Ryan

Ryan is a provisional black belt candidate for 1st degree. Here is his essay about what it means and what it takes to be a black belt.

Ryan is an adult student. In this essay, he tackles some issues that will be familiar to adult martial artists: how humbling it is to start something new,  how tough it can be to make time for training outside of class, how difficult change can be, and how much there is to remember! What I love is how Ryan talks about his own strategies for overcoming these difficulties, while also recognizing that the very act of overcoming them is a key part of being and becoming a black belt.

Check it out after the jump!

“What a Black Belt is and What it Takes” by Ryan

Black Belt in Life

I started my journey to black belt on the sidelines, watching my kids with their own Taekwondo experience. I didn’t just watch, but I really paid attention. It didn’t take me long to realize that Instructor Chris wasn’t just teaching these kids how to punch and kick. He was teaching them so much more, and more about life. One thing he always said to the kids, and it has stuck with me, is that he didn’t just want them to just be a black belt at the school, but that he wanted to teach them to “be a Black Belt in life.” This is powerful, and its essence is exactly what a black belt is and what it should take.

Benefits of Martial Arts Instructor Resources LIFESKILLS

Kata for Focus: Helping Children with ADD/ADHD?

As parents, educators, and mentors, we all have times where we wish a certain kiddo had a little more, well, FOCUS!

Focus is a particularly salient problem for children who are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Countless anecdotes will tell you that martial arts are good for kids (& adults) with ADD/ADHD.

But no one really knows WHY martial arts help work to control ADD/ADHD.

But as someone who’s been teaching martial arts for over 15 years, I have some thoughts. For one thing, it is well known that ALL children focus better in school when they are given ample opportunities for vigorous exercise! Vigorous exercise also contributes greatly to physical health. Martial arts certainly covers that category!

But in my opinion, there is something else. Traditional martial arts are different because they include something called forms, sets of movements that are memorized and performed. The difficulty level usually increases with rank, and forms are evaluated as part of a student passing from belt to belt.

So, what is it about forms that help cultivate skills for focusing–not just for ADD/ADHD kids, but ALL children?