Volunteering for Black Belt: Why Service Matters in the Martial Arts

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Volunteering for Black Belt: Why Service Matters in the Martial Arts

On a (volunteer) mission to black belt

There is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. Booker T. Washington

Becoming a black belt involves more than just super-cool crescent kicks, combos and curriculum. It takes a sustained demonstration of giving back to your community. And it’s not always sleek or pretty.

Arapaho Bend, a Natural Area of the City of Fort Collins, Colorado, is a gorgeous stretch of land just east of the foothills. Hikers, horseback riders and cyclists come out to enjoy the sunlight’s sheen on the little lakes (reclaimed from former gravel mines) and the red-winged blackbirds, the foxes, the falcons and other wildlife that make the area home.

Unfortunately, some well-placed trash, recycling, and fishing tackle receptacles along the routes don’t dissuade all visitors from chucking their cups, cans, bottles, diapers, rusted fish hooks, sandwich wrappers and other refuse into the brush beside the trails. In some places it’s a bit of a mess, and mars the scenery with squalor. Some of it’s even dangerous (a fishing barb in your bare foot in spring or summer wouldn’t be fun).

Cue Bridger, currently a conditional black belt and a candidate for certified black belt come the three-day test in April.

Does Arapahoe Basin look better? Yes, sir.

Does Arapahoe Basin look better? Yes, sir.

Last year, Ripple Effect Martial Arts adopted Arapaho Basin with the promise to keep it litter-free. Bridger stepped up to the task, and for the past six months has organized a monthly clean-up effort with the aid of his father, Brian, and other Ripple Effect recruits.

Modestly donning a forest green “Volunteer” vest, Bridger and his dad took a group of us out to Arapaho Bend this Saturday, handing out bags for recycling, trash and tackle, as well as rubber gloves for sanitation (appreciated). They explained what routes to follow, where to meet up, what to gather (cans, obvious refuse) and what to leave alone (needles, weapons, conspicuous stashes of food or clothes).

We split up, covering a pretty expansive stretch of ground around the banks of lakes, the shores of little islands, and off-trail into the scrub to bag strands of ribbon or unearth a faded 1980s aluminum Dr. Pepper can. Bridger and Brian were on a mission. They knew every inch of the territory and were proud to be our guides through it.

At the end of the morning the team had gathered up three black trash bags and a couple plastic sacks worth of cast-off fishing supplies. The trails and shores were refreshed, thanks to a couple hours’ effort led by a soon-to-be black belt.

Ripple Effect students leave the world a little cleaner.

Ripple Effect students leave the world a little cleaner.

If you’re working toward your black belt, consider what you can give back to the community, and start rolling up your sleeves. Thanks, Bridger, for spending a Saturday stabbing trash. There’s as much grace in that as in a poem.

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