• Sara F. Hathaway

Student Feature: Emily Hyatt

Each black belt testing is a special time not only for our school but for the individuals who persevere through the blood, sweat and tears to make it there. Upon receiving the honor of being allowed to test for a black belt, each student is asked to write a paper describing what this honor means to them. One of our students, Emily Hyatt, stood above the rest in her dedication to Taekwondo and her outstanding literary production. Here is what Emily had to say about what her black belt means to her:

"Winter break, where the gap from school leaves one with hours to do what they wish: make decisions, clean something, do that ​one thing they’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to. The winter break of 2017 was a boring one for me. I sat around with nothing to do - no sport to look forward to on weeknights as I had become so accustomed to for the majority of my young life.

"Soccer had been my “thing” for about five years and I continue to play. It’s still as

thrilling as ever, and I can now kick a ball halfway across a field. During winter break, that idea was almost impossible as the soccer fields were wet and everyone was busy baking Christmas cookies and wrapping presents. My sister, on the other hand, had just signed up for her 3rd sport: softball. It would start in the spring, right after her basketball season. I thought to myself about taking up another sport in order to maintain my exercise in the off-season. Other team sports such as softball never sparked my interest, so I ruled those out.

I was sitting around in my living room one night, being heated by the fireplace behind

me. My dog jumped around near our Christmas tree while I contemplated other activities. I

realized that I had always been curious about martial arts.

"From a young age, I wanted to participate in Karate. I used to watch cartoon characters

on the small television in my living room doing martial arts like Karate. It seemed to be a part of everyone’s childhood, at least outside of where I grew up. I was raised in Georgetown with about 2,400 other people. There were only two restaurants and evidently there were no martial arts schools. The idea of joining martial arts was long forgotten until I moved to Auburn in 3rd grade. I saw martial arts schools ​everywhere.They just appeared as any other building or business, block after block on the city streets that were still unfamiliar to me. Nothing ever compelled me to sign up but that was only because I didn’t know what I was getting into. I only knew about kicking and wooden boards and superpowers and takedowns and wax-on, wax-off and that was it.

"During that winter break of 2017, I revisited the idea and decided it was something I

wanted to look into. I searched on the internet for different kinds of martial arts, and the one that interested me the most was kickboxing. The first link that appeared when I Googled “kickboxing in Auburn” was a Yelp page about Auburn Martial Arts Center. The reviews were all about how amazing Masters Dan and Debbie Lovas were and how supportive everyone was. A few days later, my mom and I went into Auburn Martial Arts Center to look into

classes. I was instantly intrigued by the aura of the gym - it was shocking. The gym looked so

much more professional than I could have imagined. We talked to the instructors about a class I could take and they recommended taekwondo. After learning what it was, I wanted to start as soon as possible. My mom wasn’t sold on the idea especially since we couldn’t afford it during the expensive Christmas season.

"Again, the idea was put on hold. I continued to be persistent about it but my mom

decided it would be best to wait. February rolled around and school was back in full swing. After discussing it some more, we went back to Auburn Martial Arts Center. I signed up for a free trial week and on February 13th, 2017, I arrived at my first taekwondo class.

The outfit I wore was something I would typically wear to soccer practice: leggings and a

t-shirt. I arrived plenty early and saw that there were a lot of people in the gym. I didn’t know any of them, but I made small talk with the instructors. Chief Master Dan Lovas taught me about bowing onto the mat and standing at attention and how I should call everyone ma’am or sir. When I lined up, I looked at the row of people as high as green belts. He explained to me that everyone was just going to bow and recite some words. “Just follow along the best you can,” he had said.

"I did the best I could to keep up but I was confused when everyone started reciting the

tenants. I picked up that the mantra was on a banner in the back of the class and I tried to follow along in the mirror by reading the words backward. “Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self control. Indomitable spirit.” I wasn’t sure what all of those meant and I recall feeling out of place and confused by the bowing and the Korean phrases that I didn’t know.

We sat down to stretch and then moved on to push ups and sit ups. That’s where I

struggled. Push ups were something I did at soccer but I wasn't prepared for sit ups. I made an effort to pull myself all the way to my knees. Chief Master Lovas smiled and said, “Sit ups. We found something for you to improve on.”

"I went the rest of the class talking to barely anyone. As friendly and associated as I am

now, I felt out of place among the ranks above me. I learned a few more skills and the class

ultimately went well. Despite how antisocial I was, I knew immediately I wanted to continue

learning taekwondo. After the trial week, I came back and got my official uniform and white belt. I fell in love with the sport and tried my hardest to practice and remember everything I learned. Around green belt, I received my sparring gear and went to my first sparring class. I can recall the thrilling night and being so exhausted I could hardly breathe, something I can now only smile at. I remember attending my first tournament where I was extremely nervous. Despite my fears, I came home with a third place medal for forms and a first place for sparring. The first few months flew by, filling my weeknights with forms and kicks and sit ups and meeting all new people. Taekwondo quickly became one of the only things on my mind, besides the compiling schoolwork and homework that continuously picked up.

"One night, only a few days after my first taekwondo class, I had finished my homework

early. It was rare for me as I am known to be a perfectionist, but I managed it. After a little while of scrolling around on my computer, I came across a wordart website and decided to make a design for taekwondo. I Googled “taekwondo quotes” and incorporated those. I saw a quote that has stuck with me since then. It read, “A black belt is a white belt who never gave up.” A fairly generic saying, but it put taekwondo into perspective for me. It changed how I viewed the intimidating black belts I saw in class. I realized how everyone is just on their own step in their journey to their black belt and that everyone started out where I was.

Since the beginning of my taekwondo journey, I’ve improved on sit ups and I continue to

get better. I don’t read the tenants backwards anymore and I can recite them all from memory.

"I’ve made many amazing and unforgettable friends in taekwondo, and I make an effort to talk to other gym members regularly. I have attended several tournaments and performed very well in them. I managed to survive Camp Winther’s taekwondo camp and created some of my best memories there. I always look forward to the sport that fills my weeknights, especially on Fridays, as our regular Friday sparring class is intense and thrilling. I have learned and grown a tremendous amount thanks to taekwondo and martial arts as a whole. Taekwondo has changed me as a person and taught me many life lessons that I will never forget.

"To me, a black belt is more than just something you wear. It’s something you become. A

black belt is a special type of person. Someone who works their absolute hardest each and every class to achieve their next rank. They fight and persevere and never give up. A black belt maintains their exercise and continuously betters themselves. They come to class with a new mindset and they are always prepared to try their hardest. A black belt participates in events and tournaments to broaden their spectrum and learn in a real-world setting. A black belt puts themselves out there as a person and as a friend and tries to make new connections. A black belt takes what they have learned from taekwondo and applies it to their everyday life, school, work, other sports, family, and friends. A black belt is a student, a teacher, a friend, a hard worker, and a fighter. They are someone with courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and an ever so indomitable spirit. A black belt is a person who found their passion. A black belt is a white belt who never gave up."

Thank-you Emily for your outstanding perseverance and indomitable spirit. We are honored to count you amongst our black belt ranks.

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