This past Saturday I took what is known as the “prequalification test” for my black belt. I’ve been working toward this for five years now; and now I only have three months left. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is going to be a tough squeeze. I’m excited. I’m focused. I’m going to do this. Black belt here I come.
As I’m sitting here, two and a half hours away from my brown-stripe belt test, I got to thinking. Which is an odd and dangerous thing, me thinking. But I did it anyway.
In the American TKD school I attend, the brown-stripe belt is the last bastion before the coveted and hard-earned black. Now, we are taught, most carefully, that black belt is not the end of the martial arts journey. It’s really, only the beginning. I watch the black belt “masters” class on the floor before my adult class on Tuesday nights, and I marvel at the unfamiliar, difficult-looking katas and self defenses and weapons work they do.
But then, I also think back to when I was a white belt, just starting out, just learning the first few moves of the form “Journey,” and watching the red and brown belts pull off the “Matrix” kata with seeming ease.
But now I’m testing on “Matrix” today, along with three other katas, including “Journey.” And I know now it absolutely wasn’t easy. Not easy at all. Fun yes, but a lot of hard work. It’s been a long trip, but the road ahead is much longer.
That all being said, I think now about writing and publishing. It may seem to some, it did to me, that the publication of a book, whether via the traditional way or via the self-publication route, was akin to the black belt of the writing game. Sitting in the desk chair of a new author, just starting out with the proverbial “…Once upon a time…” is likened to learning that first front stance and double middle block in “Journey.” Starting out a new novel… it’s like sitting on the sidelines and watching black belt authors on the floor of a masters class as they spin and kick and jump through their double digit glowing reviews and high sales.
Publication, it may seem, is the end all be all of getting the story out of the head and onto paper (or into Scribd or Word), getting it through the editors, beyond the agents, past the publishers, and finally, out there on Amazon, the Barnes and Noble bookshelves, or the local libraries.
But, like the earning of the black belt, publication is not the finish. It’s only the kickoff.
Having your book published is only the start of a massive learning curve, a period of smile and cry, test and try, discard what doesn’t work, and keep what doesn’t. It’s a period of going back and cringing at that bit of editing you still don’t like. It’s reading others’ works and dripping with jealousy over their fine, fine prose. It’s learning to take the good with the bad, the harsh, strange reviews with the glorious praise. It’s learning to press the flesh, virtually and in reality, to get your book out there, to get it sold (or given away) to get it to eyes that will see the words and minds to give the words the gestalt of life.
Which is really, what every author wants – their blood sweat and tears driven story to be on display, to live in the mind and heart of another. Quite like what every black belt wants – their years of hard work, their integrity, discipline, and honor displayed for all to see on that strip of stitched canvas around their waist.
I’m excited about my test today. I know it’ll be hard, the entire process of getting to where I am was a long, hard, wonderful road. It’s not black belt yet but it’s close. But again, I know, it’s not the end. There’s so much more out there, and I can’t wait to learn it.
Edited to add: I did pass my brown-stripe belt test. And like the rest of my journey, the test was difficult, but fun. Black is next. Bring it on. I’m ready to kick the door down. I say the same about my writing and publication of my book. What comes with that too… bring it on.