I tried on my first belt - a white belt - when I was sixteen years old at Steve Sexton's Hapkido school in Canoga Park, CA.
At the time, I worked at a local restaurant as a busboy to pay for my own lessons; thankfully I had some cash left over to buy a uniform and the belt came with it. On the day I bought my uniform, one of the teachers, John Felperin, sat me down and showed me how I was supposed to fold it after class; the belt needed to loop around the folded uniform, making a nice handle to carry it over my shoulder.
It's been many years since that day and I still kneel down at the end of the day and carefully fold my uniform like I was taught to. Everything's the same except I don't get up and down from the floor as fast I used to, and my belt is black and threadbare.
Being a white belt was about standing in the last line at the back of the class.
Everything was new and I didn't know what I could or couldn't do.
Everything was like a secret; I felt like I was studying something important and that the stances, basics and all of the techniques were going to make me powerful, different, valuable and capable.
And you know what? They did. Yeah, it worked!
Every child should be a white belt at least once.
I wanted to learn; I wanted to grow and that belt made me hungry.
It made me practice, learn and strive.
Looking back, the martial arts has been one of my best friends and teachers; while I've had innumerable experiences over the last four decades of training, my best day - my favorite day - was the day I took that new white belt and tied it onto myself. It was the day I started this amazing journey and whenever I see some young person tie on his or her first belt I think to myself, "Oh man, you are so lucky, so fortunate!” I always go out of my way to make sure they have a good experience.
Dear Parents, if you're looking for a gift to give your child; something they might use for, oh say, about forty years or so...consider a plain white belt.