Why I Traded in My Black Belt for a White Belt

HapKiDoA couple of weeks ago, I took the plunge and signed up for HapKiDo. HapKiDo is sometimes called the “anti-martial art” because it emphasizes deflection and leverage. HapKiDo techniques use joint locks, strikes and dynamic kicking.

I’m a black belt in TaeKwonDo. Why embark on another martial art, especially when my TKD journey has just begun and I’m far from expert on the many TKD techniques?  Or, as my husband asks, “Why embark on a whole new journey of pain?”

The short answer is that I’m curious. The HapKiDo workouts are really intense, the HKD students are really good friends and they have this stance that says “don’t mess with me.” Yeah, I want some of that.

This isn’t the interesting part of this story.

What’s more interesting is the story behind my decision to finally sign up. You see, I had been flirting with the idea about six months ago. I took a couple of trial classes, and they were hard, but they were terrific. But I just couldn’t bring myself to sign up. My excuses were myriad and valid to anyone who inquired: “I’m busy enough, the classes are too late, the HKD guys are always injured, yada, yada.”

But in my quiet moments, when I was honest with myself, those excuses sounded lame. The real reasons were deeper and had more to do with my sense of who I am than with anything else. You see, starting a new martial art means becoming a white belt all over again. It means not knowing anything, making lots of mistakes, looking silly, feeling embarrassed, feeling slow, standing at the end of the line. Was I ready for that? It was going to be uncomfortable and a lot of hard work – who needs that?

Turns out my martial arts journey parallels my professional journey in many ways. You see, Matrix Group is getting disrupted. A little background: We build fantastic, effective, user-friendly websites, e-commerce sites, customer/member portals, intranets, etc. We’ve been doing this a long time, we’re great at it, you could even say we’re black belts at it, maybe even 2nd- or 3rd-degree black belts. Trouble is, there are about a zillion agencies in the DC area, indeed the country, that look like us. So over the past couple of years, we’ve been undergoing a process of reinvention. Not only have we been asking, “what’s next?” we’ve been working on ways to bake “what’s next?” in to our day-to-day lives. This process has been hard, uncomfortable, even heartbreaking at times. It has meant closing down product lines, saying good-bye to people, and testing out new products and services that will resonate with the company, my staff and our clients.

In essence, a couple of years ago, we had to become white belts, learn some new skills and get beat up in the process. In the past few years, as we’ve been developing our mobile offerings, we’ve had fits and starts. We’ve changed frameworks, made mistakes, and done things the “wrong” way. But now we’re cruising with mobile. Every website is responsive by default, responsive isn’t taking as much time as it used to and testing is easier. Our mobile app business is booming.

Being a white belt is hard and frustrating, but it’s also exhilarating. At work and at the dojang (martial arts studio in Korean), I’m learning fast, I’m feeling good, and I’m feeling strong. And it turns out my TKD experience is coming in handy. I have good endurance, I know a lot of the kicks, and I can take a hit. So I’m not exactly  starting from ground zero. And so it goes at work. Our expertise in design, user experience, browsers, database development, and membership databases only benefit us when we build new association membership experiences for a phone. This experience will be a good foundation when we start building virtual reality apps in the next year or so.

So, what’s my martial arts week like these days? It’s TKD 2-3 times a week (where I’m a black belt and building on what I know) and HKD 2 times a week (where I’m a white belt and everything is new.) It’s a mix that works for me.

How about you? What will be your white belt experience this year?

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