Before I get to that, though, I've also been thinking about how I express that reaction. Part of me wants to jump up and down and grab everyone I see and show them the pictures -- I only have three -- and say, "Look! Look at this thing I did! I DID THAT, and it's fucking awesome!" and then part of me wants to play it cool and say, "Yup. Black belt. NBD." I'm a grownup, though, and I'm not supposed to do the jump up and down and LOOK AT ME thing, even if I really really want to. It's a huge deal to me, though, on a par with the day I got married (and had I thought ahead, there would have been cake after the black belt test, too), and I seem to recall wanting to tell the world about that, too, so I guess maybe this reaction isn't an unusual one for me. They were both transformative moments, and they both changed me forever.
I think a large part of why this is so important to me is that it's a goal I've had since I was... what, 28? Since the day I walked into a dojo for the first time, and realized that it felt comfortable. (I was so lucky to find kempo. I didn't even know that much about the different styles, but I know now that I picked the absolute right one for me, and it was purely by chance.)
They told us at Villari's (where I did the majority of my advanced training) that most brown belts never reach black belt, and every time they said that, I always said to myself, "That'll never be me." And then it was. I moved well away from the dojo I was studying at, couldn't afford both gas and lessons, and really, the couple who owned the place had such a toxic marriage that it spilled over to everything else. The day that the wife told me that my relationship with Wolfie would never last was the day I realized that she was really not my friend, that she was miserable and wanted everyone else to be miserable too, and that I didn't want to be there. So I became a statistic, and I always regretted it.
And then someone I used to train with came back into my life, and that regret became unbearable, so I started looking for a dojo. I didn't want to go back to Villari's; that sort of corporate juggernaut is bad for martial arts, IMO, plus the closest Villari's locations are a) too far away and b) run by people I thought were asshats back in the day, when I was still sipping the corporate Kool-Aid. So I went looking for a new kempo school, and found Pence. I didn't know what a gem I'd found, but I do now, and I am so, SO proud to be one of their black belts. I finished something I started 18 years ago, and the sense of relief is enormous.
As a brown belt, you're expected to know a lot, but not necessarily everything, and that's okay. As a black belt, that safety net is GONE. You need to know your material. I'm not there quite yet, and I feel the pressure. And at the same time, I have a sense of security knowing that Kevin felt good enough about my skills to award me a black belt, so it balances. The test showed me where my skills are lacking, and while Kevin wrote his notes down, I was making mental notes of my own. I'm often my own worst critic, but if I slow down and think about those criticisms, I see that at least I'm right -- the skills I think I'm lacking really aren't as solid as I need them to be, and I know how to fix it.
I've already gotten new material (and can I just say how weird it is to be pushed over with the black belts to work, rather than the underbelts?), and I've made a point of writing it up and posting it to http://pingshentao.wordpress.com. I redid the Rank Required Material section a little bit. Before, the required material listed for Shodan was a roll-up of everything required to get it, whereas all the material for the underbelt ranks was that required to move up. So now the Shodan section will have links to the material required for Nidan (second degree). It's pretty thin right now, because I don't have much, but it'll get more substantial as time goes on.
This has always been something I did for me. I did it (mostly) alone. I wish I had Wolfie to share it with, because he would have loved Pence and the people there would have loved him, but it's still my journey, all mine, and the good part is just starting.