The Importance of Visual Cues
At age nine my dad asked me if I wanted to try Tae Kwon Do. I had just seen “The Karate Kid” so I immediately said yes — we went down to a studio about a mile from his office, got a ‘dobok’ (or ‘gi’) and white belt and I was off.
My ‘Mr. Miyagi’ came in the form of a Cuban-American man in his late 30s who we addressed as “Master Casta”. He had trained for years and had a lot of stripes on his black belt. I had the highest respect for him and my young brain would watch in awe as he executed tornado kicks and spinning back kicks during sparring sessions.
I wanted to be like Master Casta — deliver crazy kick combinations, break cinder blocks, but most of all have a quiet, confident presence.
Every day upon entering, I would bow (as a sign of respect) , remove my shoes then step out onto the training floor. As I mingled with the rest of the students stretching and talking I’d sneak a glance at the items hanging on the wall. One that always garnered my attention was the progression of belts from white to black.
The progression went: white, yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, brown, brown with red tip, red, red with black tip, and black. I would have the opportunity to test and advance to the next level every four to six months — testing consisted of several demonstrations as well as a $40 fee. My dad told me if I wanted to test and advance I would have to earn the money myself.
Each class was two hours long. I would attend two classes Monday-Friday from 3–5pm, then walk to my dad’s office and drive home with him. My dad gave me the opportunity to earn the money by cutting the grass on an old Snapper riding mower — it was about an acre of mowing and I would get $5 per mow.
By the age of twelve I had advanced to the red-with-black-tip belt. My grass-cutting career had grown as well: I had knocked on doors and passed out flyers made on Microsoft Publisher ’98 that advertised “John’s Lawn Service” (complete with a terrible graphic of a lawnmower). The service now cost $20, and included mowing, trimming and blowing of grass clippings. Feeling like Warren Buffet, my wallet got fat as I raked in the insurmountable sum of $120 a week.
The one feeling that didn’t change was the one I got whenever I saw the progression of belts on the wall. I still wanted the black belt just as much as I had three years earlier. The time finally came: after a series of tests which involved some crazy kick combinations and breaking of cinder blocks, Master Casta presented me with my black belt.
The visual cue is different today but my approach is the same.
In the words of the great Johnny Wu:
“Get a goal. Get a plan. And get up off your ass!”