Every May for 3 years, we have taken a journey. It involves a trek back into Richmond on a sunny Friday night. (For those of you living here and contending with the tunnel traffic know exactly what this means). We eat incredibly early, (before 5pm) and take our place in line at the Gateway Theatre. Then we wait and wait for the event to start, after securing our perfect seats.
The lights finally go down and the music starts to blare from the sound system. The curtain goes up and within a dry smoke effect and a fantastic light show, the Grand Master takes the stage with a big sword. It is like watching a movie full of special effects, but it is right there, in real life. Adding to the drama is the fact that the Grand Master is not a youngster, (I don’t know what his age is, but I’m sure most men even half his age could barely lift that sword).
So begins the black belt ceremony for Tong Moo Do mixed martial arts. Each class of young people take their turn, grouped together by the their current level of belt. The white belts are the ones starting out, sometimes very young and so very cute with their fists raised in the sparring stance.
My children have advanced from that stage and are towards the middle of the pack, on their own journey towards a black belt. The reason for the evening is the awarding of the black belts, but it is so much more than that. And it is the circumstance and ceremony of it all that is so life changing.
In a fast paced world where we need to be reminded to turn off our cell phones and give loud cheers for all the participants, (not just for our own family or friends), this type of ceremony is a welcome breath of fresh air. Throughout the evening you witness the evolution of what the black belts have physically achieved as they moved through the belts. The advanced level belts wearing colored jackets are athletes of the highest calibre. It feels like you witnessed a miracle to watch the performance and remember they all started as white belts with a half a dozen moves.
But beyond the physical achievements there is a recognition of the personal changes each member has gone through. Black belt candidates are asked to write an essay, detailing how Tong Moo Do has changed their life. The excerpts that are read at the ceremony and posted on the blog are very profound. I always feel a close connection to these letters, because gymnastics had a similar effect for me.
This form of MMA also teaches one key value that I think is missing from most childhood teachings; respect. There a number of moves that pay respect to each other, the instructors and masters. In a modern world, it is so nice to watch this quick and easy way that people can honour each other.
I leave the evening feeling inspired, enlightened and optimistic for my children’s future. They are learning positive, life changing skills. That is good stuff.