Stripes. It feels, on one hand, an accomplishment. It takes me back to days of stickers on my papers in elementary school, of running my index finger over the shininess of the stars, so smooth in contrast to the paper. Even if everyone in class got one, it was still special. A sticker. A stripe.
My son has gotten stripes previously and been SO proud. Super proud. Last night, after class, I was surprised to get two stripes for one-step sparring and attendance. I already had my belt off, shoes on, holding my coat, not assuming I should be standing outside the office with the others waiting for stripes. My assumption is that they weren’t “coming to a belt near me soon”. Embarrassment tinged the awards, because can I get this freaking belt tied on with two yellow stripes on one side and two colored on the other? I mean, the belt and I are at odds–if only it were a couple of inches longer. Or me a couple of inches thinner. I don’t even know how to properly tie a belt because mine is so short (see how I blamed it on the belt?) it just has to be tied the only way it will tie. There’s probably someone in class silently cringing each time they see my belt.
I was excited about my stripes, and couldn’t wait to show the kiddo. (Who did point out that I was still missing two…kids are unfailingly honest.) And then I wondered…is this a good thing? For a lot of my adult life, I’ve fought the need for external validation, for the grown-up equivalent of a sticker. I’ve yearned for a boss to say “good job” or a teacher to recognize my effort. In spiritual practice, I’ve read and studied and meditated on going through life doing my best and the idea of living life not just for goals. I mean, in my head, I’m already wondering how long it could take to get the next belt. I get very wrapped up in goals and someone else telling me I’m doing good, so I need to clearly see this as proof of work done and me doing my best.
What stripes also mean are that testing is coming. And that terrifies me. Here I am, an older student, squishy in the middle. Testing means I’m going to go into a room full of young, toned black belts who are going to watch me attempt to do all these one-steps, poomsae, self-defense… I mean, if you don’t go into that with a sense of humor to outline the seriousness, how else do you get through it? When my kiddo did his belt test, I was nervous just watching–there were so many observers and black belts watching that they had to bring in an extra bench because they ran out of chairs. My palms sweat just typing about it!