Somewhere along the journey unexpected things begin to pop up. You trip over a rock and injure your foot. You are not progressing as fast as you had hoped. You get bored with the scenery, the same damn trees over and over again.
But other things happen too. You start to learn more about these strangers you are traveling with. You survive a particularly long night together. You help each other over obstacles in the road. You start to notice subtleties in the landscape that weren't there before. You start to enjoy the tiredness in your feet. Suddenly, it does not matter so much where you are headed, it is the going that excites you. For awhile. Then you hit the wall.
Karate training is front loaded. You train for 4 months and you get a brand new colored belt. Another 4-6 months and you get another one. Then another. It is easy to stay motivated when the rewards are so obvious and tangible. And then there are the fringe benefits. Your muscles get stronger, your stamina improves, you can fit into your skinny jeans. You walk down the street with the confidence of a prize fighter. (No one better mess with me, I know KARATE.)
After a few years the time between promotions gets longer and the stuff you need to know gets harder. If you are committed enough to make it to black belt then there are many years between ranks. (I haven't taken a promotion test in over 4 years, nor do I think there will be one any time in the near future) By then you have hopefully found something else to motivate you, something more profound than a new belt color.
My jiu-jitsu journey has been even more arduous. It has been a little over a year and I am still a white belt. Ninety five percent of my classmates are bigger than me. Most of them are men. I get x-choked and arm barred and submitted by moves with sexy Portuguese names. (Come on over here baby and let me gogoplata you) I often question my sanity. If I was looking for a "big win" I would have quit a long time ago. Instead my training is a series of small successes. I sweep a dude and end up on top. I get my guard back. I don't limp home.
Today I took a white belt class and had the rare experience of not being outclassed by everyone in the room. I pulled off the guard pass we had been working on in drills all week. I successfully defended an Americana (for those of you who are not up on your BJJ terms, picture your arm bent backwards like a crooked tree limb). I even submitted the "new girl" with a cross collar choke. (Yes you heard right, I actually made someone else tap. I am a superstar.) The nice thing about having low expectations is that it feels so very good when things go well. Hooray for small successes!
All that being said, we had a kids promotion yesterday and Maya got her blue belt. All afternoon she was a huge bundle of excited, joyful energy. (Although to be fair, my mom did buy her a box of cake pops as a congratulatory treat) The little successes are great. But nothing beats a brand new belt. Especially when you are a four year old. Or when you are her very, very proud mother.