Oh sure, it's easy for me to say that, now that I'm getting my third-degree black belt. But it's still true. Karate is not about the belts. It's about you. About how you deal with your limits, and how you learn to push through them. One of my friends, who is testing for her first-degree black belt this weekend, burst into tears at the end of the first and most difficult part of the test today. Those were tears of happiness. She couldn't believe she'd gotten through the test. Which was hard, as it should be. You're not trying to earn Facebook likes, here. You're trying to earn a black belt in karate. Of course you should suffer.

I did, too, back in the day. I went for my first-degree black belt in 2004 and that test was *hard*. So much so that I came thisclose to just walking out. I didn't think I could do it. Then at some point I figured we were probably around the half-way point of the 5-hour-long first part of the test and then I got royally pissed off. They were NOT going to make me go through this again. I was going to finish this test. I started swearing in my head and that pure stream of anger got me through. When they told us it was over I collapsed into my sensei's arms and started crying uncontrollably. Just like my friend did today, and for the same reason.

I started the six-month training period for my second-degree black belt two months after giving birth to Eldest, in January 2007. That was hard and a half. By late February I was ready to give up and I almost did. But, see, I wanted to have more babies and I didn't want to delay trying to get pregnant by a year, and neither did I want to have another baby then try again for that second-degree black belt. I had a nice window there in early 2007, and I was going to have to make it.

As it turns out, I earned that belt in late May 2007, got pregnant again in August but lost that baby at eight weeks and got pregnant again with my rainbow baby in December 2007; I had my third baby in the summer of 2010. My training suffered a bit between 2008 and 2013. I continued to go and train regularly, but between the three small kids and the full-time job, I was having trouble finding the energy to do it right. Still, I kept going and trying my best.

Now that the kids are bigger, I have more energy to train hard again. (Not more time, alas, but I manage by prioritizing and working like a dog all the time.) I was finally able to try for third degree this year. This time the training and testing for it were a bit easier for me. I've been training so hard now for the last few years that my fitness is at an all-time high. And that black belt test is somewhat less nerve-wracking the third time around. You have some idea what to expect, so you grit your teeth and get through it. But there are still challenges, among which the need to mentor, encourage and guide brown belts who've never done this before, and being strong always for them.

I am not crying this time, because this time I can finally believe I can go through those grueling tests. But the challenges remain, and so does the need - and pure joy - of continuing to push my limits, one day at a time.

The belts are cool. Especially the black ones. But karate is about so much more than that.