I finally received my Black Belt (1st Dan) in Shotokan Karate after training for it for nearly 7 years and I am super proud of it! I know it took a bit longer than a few others but I am too old I suppose :). I have heard of people, in fact kids receiving black belt in 2 or 3 years. I can tell you that at least in Shotokan Karate, it is almost impossible to receive any kind of black belt with in 5 years. It takes even longer for kids because they still have to build up the strength. My daughter who joined almost at the same time as me is now in Brown Belt (4th Kyu). Of course, if you are young, fit and dedicated you can still achieve in 5 years time.

Black Belt with Sensei!

A black belt is just a white belt who never quit

I’ve had only three dreams in my teenage years. One was to achieve black belt in Karate. Second was to do my engineering in the US. Third was to work at one of the top companies in the US which at the time was Intel in Santa Clara which is where I wanted to work. While I was unable to do my engineering in the US due to financial constraints, I at least completed my Master’s there. Likewise, while I did not work at Intel, I did work at Google which was in the top companies in US at the time. Finally, I realized the last dream of becoming a black belt in Karate. In fact that was my first dream :).

The goal of martial arts is to affect the mind and spirit, not just the body
-- Gichin Funakoshi

The craze stared when I was about 13 years old. I initially joined a Karate class in school, but when the Sensei stopped teaching in school, I had to quit because his Dojo was too far. After almost 25 years I joined Karate again. The training was long and painful especially because I was so inflexible so my kicks and splits suffered. My reaction time was slower than the youngsters, and so was my stamina compared to them. As a result Kumite (sparring / friendly fight) was difficult. You can tell that by watching some of my sparring experiences in the video below. The only aspect that I can say I was good at was in strength.

Martial arts training is about finding balance in all aspects of life

Anyway, the 7 year journey was both difficult and rewarding. Learned a lot of things, not just about physical strength but also about mental strength, stability, memory and calmness. Marital arts is not always about how many people you can beat up or how fast you finish the fight or how well you can defend yourself. It is as much about how much control you can have such that the fight never even begins in the first place. Having said that, I have not experienced Chi yet, although some martial artists I know, claim they did. Perhaps more training is required for me.

The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them.
-- Miyamoto Musashi

There was no shortage of injuries either. I ripped off my toe nails twice, sprained my fingers (several times), had a major shoulder injury, back injury a couple of times, hamstring tears (multiple times), wrist injury, and not to forget a black eye when a kick landed on my face in one of the practice sessions. The worst part is the burden that I put on my family as they had to suffer with me during injuries and worried about my safety every time I go to the Karate class. Still they supported me all through the testing times. So thank you to them! Without their continued support, I could not have realized my dream.

Black eye!

The best fighter is someone who never has to fight because they control the situation.
-- Bruce Lee

Don’t worry, it is not always about hardwork, we do have some fun too. Here are some clips of those not so painful and fun things we have done.

The true essence of martial arts lies in the ability to control one's own mind and body

While I have reached my goal, it does not mean I am stopping here. I am not planning on going up the black belt ladder, but I will continue to train as hard as I can and for as long as I can. Judging by my age and reflexes, it may not be for too long. Even if I cannot do black belt level Karate in the future, I will continue to workout and practice what I can.

A black belt is just the beginning, not the end, of martial arts training

The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is still to learn. When you see those purple brown bruises on your body after a fight, when you feel you are out of breath and cannot execute any more kicks in your practice session, when your abs hurt, unable to maintain the hollow body pose, then you realize, how weak you still are and how much more there is to learn.

Martial arts is not just about fighting, it's about building character