Honoring the Past – Tae Kwon Do

My name is Joshua Dawson. I’m a traveling, filmmaking, writing, acting, blogging, music-making 15-year-old. You don’t hear that everyday. On top of all of that, I’m a black belt, and I want to tell you a story about honoring the past.

The Journey to Black Belt

When I was about 8 years old my family and I lived in Atlanta, Georgia. One day, while driving past a Karate Studio I had seen multiple times, I told my parents I wanted to take on Karate. Soon after, we signed up for ATA (American Tae Kwon Do Association). There, I had a great teacher, Mr. Lower. I trained in that studio learning the forms and sparring, all the way up to my orange belt before I moved to Seattle, Washington.

After we moved, I wanted to continue my training. So we found another ATA studio in Lynnwood. The teacher was Master Cho, an 8th degree black belt, the highest level possible is a 9th degree. Born in South Korea, he had been a soldier in the army and now teaches Tae Kwon Do to all ages.

I trained vigorously, slowly progressing in my rank. I went from orange belt to camo belt, then green, purple, blue, brown, red and red-black. I learned the butterfly kick, round off, knife hand, side kick. All the moves. I learned how to fight with a bow staff, nunchucks, fighting sticks and so much more. It was hard work, but I didn’t give up, and it wasn’t all fighting. I learned integrity, honor, discipline and persistence. It shaped what I did, how I spoke and how I acted in my everyday life.

Tournament Season

Every year, ATA brings in hundreds of thousands of students from studios all around America and beyond to attend annual tournaments. Here, they can compete in sparring and/or performance. This is where things get real exciting. Students can create their own form with, or without weapons to impress the judges on their skill and imagination.

In one of my own performances, I used the opening song of the LEGO Movie. It was awesome. At the end of the tournament, winners are rewarded with medals and trophies for their achievement. I earned many state-level awards and became a district and state champion.

State Champion Goes Extreme

On top of all that, I joined XMA, Xtreme Martial Arts. It’s a group where we do live performances on multiple occasions during the year. It’s exactly what it sounds like, Xtreme moves, forms, flips, fights, everything.

Years later, 11-year-old me is preparing for my black belt test. This was the moment everything had been leading up to. I was about to test for my black belt! I was so nervous and excited at the same time. They’re practically the same thing. I was feeling “excervous.” Anyway, the test has everyone go through a series of forms, sparring against two people and lastly, board breaking. For me, I had to break two boards, one with a kick and one with a palm strike. This was the moment. If I didn’t pass this test I would have to wait almost a year until the next testing. But that wasn’t going to happen.

The Final Challenge

I kicked, but the first board didn’t budge. I had one more try. I put all of my strength and power in my foot. In seconds, the board broke in front of me. Then I turned and smashed the other. My mom cheered with the crowd. That was it, it was done! I had earned my black belt!

To celebrate, we went to Olive Garden, where I had a Black Tie Mousse Cake (quite fitting right?). I decided that my time with ATA was complete. I had other dreams and passions that I wanted to focus on. I said goodbye to my friends, who had accompanied me on my journey, and I said goodbye to Master Cho, who had taught me so much physically and mentally over the years.

Honoring the Past

A year later, I started my nomadic journey and I hadn’t kept in touch with them. I was afraid of what would happen if I saw Master Cho or the other teachers again. I was so young, I had developed fears of having to prove myself, to show them I was worthy. Four years later, while preparing to go nomadic again, I still had my leftover ATA backpack full of my equipment. We were going to sell it, but my mom suggested we take the bag back to Master Cho as a gift. I was hesitant, still a bit fearful, but she said that I was honoring my former teacher by going to visit and bringing him a gift. So we went.

I was nervous, but just like the black belt testing, I was excited too. I walked in, and immediately recognized one of my friends. By the way, everyone is four years older, so we look different. Spotting us, Master Cho comes up to me and to my ultimate surprise, we hug. All my fears wash away. He told the class how I was such a good example of honor and integrity and how coming back showed respect to him as a mentor and teacher. I was jumping for joy after that.

So, what things are you still holding onto? Things that, if you just honor them and let go, will take that burden off your shoulders. It may have just been the imagination of your little self that just needs love. It’s an important lesson. We must trust the future, enjoy the present and honor the past.


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