Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | Black Belt Test: Passed!

First Degree Black Belt

Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | Ia JimenezWoohoo!  I can officially say I’m a black belt and getting it felt even better than expected. For years, I looked down and saw varying degrees of brown belt.  Now I look down with the biggest smile on my face seeing a black belt with my name on it alongside the name of my martial arts school, Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do.  Getting through and passing my black belt test was an incredible feeling.

My family came in from San Francisco and I was honored to have one of our dearest friends, Ma’am Net Dancel of Dancel’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do fly in along with one of her black belts, Ma’am Jeanine De Los Reyes. These are strong women I admire.

There is quite a history leading up to this black belt.

The First Black Belt

Black Belt Certificate | Villatuya's Academy of Tae Kwon Do

If you’ve been following this blog journey then you would know that my sister, Ma’am Polly Villatuya, was her instructor’s first black belt at Lawler’s Tae Kwon Do in California. More than 700 black belts have come after her.  While I studied gymnastics, my sis studied Tae Kwon Do right next door.  I quit gymnastics 3 years later, and shortly after joined Tae Kwon Do.  I made it all the way to Advanced Brown Belt and then 6 months away from my black belt test, I quit.  I tried again in my 20’s and moved away about 6 months before I could test for black belt.  For more than 20 years, I sat through many black belt tests that followed, always thinking, that should be me.  I had the opportunity to be the next female black belt in line after my sister and I blew it.  I saw dear friends train at Lawler’s after me, including Ma’am Net, and cheered them on as they achieved their black belt.  As Ma’am Net has built a thriving Tae Kwon Do school in San Bruno, CA I have sat on the sidelines watching my sis and other friends sit at the black belt table, all the while, secretly wishing I could sit there too…but knowing I hadn’t earned the right.

My sister has helped two of her former students launch their schools but she finally launched her own, Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do in St. George, UT a few years ago.  On May 24, 2014, I officially became my sister’s first black belt!  When I first saw my certificate, I looked on the bottom right and saw Chronological Order and the number 1.  I can’t even began to explain how seeing that made me feel. Black Belt #1 of Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do.  All those moments of feeling incomplete and those internal self taunts about being a “quitter”…were totally silenced once and for all.  Redemption!  As important as this day was for me, I know it was equally important to my sister. That is also why I know I needed to push past my shoulder injury and work harder than ever to make sure I represented well for her…as well as for me.

The Test

Villatuya's Academy of Tae Kwon Do |Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt My black test was nerve wracking and exhilarating all at the same time!  I was winded between segments and found myself having to manage my shoulder pain 1/3 of the way through.  I found myself praying extra hard at the midway point for the ability to finish…and finish strong.  Afterwards, I learned that my supporters were covering me in prayers as well, and I totally felt it! I heard from several of them that I had stressed them out as their stomachs were in knots, too.  They were with me every step of the way.  I was surrounded in love and support and I was so very grateful.

I had my Shock Doctor shoulder support on under my gi along with a mixture of anti-inflammatory essential oils to keep my shoulder warm.  I gave all I had to every form, target and bag kick, punch and one step technique.  Then we capped off the test with board breaking.  I’m proud to report I was able to break the board with a step-in side kick and a jump turn back kick on the first try!  Phew!  It helped that my husband held the board for me (and not because I was letting pent up aggression out on him), but because he has been an absolute rock for me in this whole process.

The Ceremony

Black Belt Ceremony | Mama That Could Get Her Black BeltThe actual Black Belt ceremony included my sister / instructor putting my black belt around her waist first, to symbolize the passing on of knowledge.  As I watched my sister do this, I wept quietly.  I knew this was one of those moments in my life I would never forget.

As she then proceeded to tie my new black belt around my waist, I felt completely elated.  Together we had accomplished something significant in our lives.  I love my sister immensely and have always respected her loyalty, work ethic, discipline, integrity and wisdom.  These are characteristics that are the fruits of her 30+ years of Tae Kwon Do training and spiritual life.

Black Belt Ceremony | Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt
While she is one of my best friends in life and we share many inside jokes and goofy moments together, when it comes to Tae Kwon Do training, we take it seriously and there is an unspoken boundary of respect we draw, where I willingly and respectfully defer to her authority.

And as for sitting at the black belt table, before she left, Ma’am Net issued me an invitation to her upcoming Black Belt Extravanganza where…you guessed it, I will be sitting alongside my peers in a seat I have rightfully earned.

Highlights of the first black belt test at Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do:

Ia Jimenez demonstrates a Board Break with a Step-in Side Kick:

Ia Jimenez demonstrates a Board Break with a Jump Turn Back Kick:

Black Belt Test at Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do Photo Album:
Click here to view the album.


Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | 1 Day to Black Belt Test

Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | 1 Day to Black Belt Test

Here we are…tomorrow is the big day.

Getting this far, marks a huge milestone for me. When I was 15 years old, I quit 6 months before my black belt test. I never forgot it. I always felt like it was a part of my life that was incomplete. So in my 20’s I went back to Tae Kwon Do, got myself up to speed and then 6 months before my black belt (again), I stopped. I moved away and put Tae Kwon Do behind me. However, I never forgot my forms or my kicks. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew the day would come for me to finish.

Fast forward to 2012. I moved to Utah and my sis opened her own Tae Kwon Do studio. Ma’am Polly Villatuya, is my sister as well as my instructor. She has been a martial artist for over 30 years! Her instructor, Master Lee Lawler, was also my first TKD instructor. She helped two of her students open their martial arts studios in the Bay Area. I am blessed to train with my sister. She trains with emphasis on the old school and is a stickler about my stances and technique. Every correction she gives me, I am thankful for, and quick to make the adjustments.

Maybe I never got my black belt, because I was meant to be her first black belt (of her own studio)? Now there’s a thought.

As I reflect on this journey and the big day tomorrow, I’ve learned a few things about myself. For years I was haunted by the notion that I was no good at completing things. As a busy Mom and entrepreneur, going back to Tae Kwon Do seemed impossible.  As a life coach, I learned to work past those false beliefs. In truth, getting my black belt is something I desire and care to accomplish. When you want something bad enough, you’ll commit and find a way to make it happen.

When I injured my shoulder a few weeks ago, I know from past injury, it’s typically a 5-6 week week recovery and much rest is required to heal the shoulder. When it happened, I was disappointed, but there was no doubt in my mind that this black belt test was going to happen.

I started getting massages, using Doterra essential oils (love their Deep Blue oil and cream rub), icing my shoulder right after workouts and slowly implementing strength training. I pushed as far as I could without risking re-injury. I use a shoulder brace every time I train. I pray and have asked for much prayer coverage from friends and family to get me through this. When I got the stomach flu, I was slightly disheartened about the setback but again, determined to make it to this big day…which is tomorrow.

I truly believe and am living proof…it’s never too late to pursue the things that are important to you.

In reference to Bruce Lee’s quote, “If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there you must go beyond them.”  I know that training for my black belt has pushed me beyond my old limits and the discipline has impacted my work and my life.  I also know that hitting this new milestone tomorrow, is going to push me even further.

So here’s to going beyond the plateau…

Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | 5 Days to Black Belt Test

The countdown continues with just 5 more days to go.  Black Belt test is so close I can practically taste it…

Today I broke my first board with a step in side kick, at the end of practice.  It felt so good to see my foot go through that board.  My second kick was a jump back kick and three attempts later…no go.  I didn’t break the board.  To say I was disappointed is a severe understatement.  I was torn between discouragement, disappointment and determination.  I spent the rest of class extra focused and perhaps a little more aggressive than necessary to compensate for the lack of board break.  It really messed with my head.   I could laugh about it, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I felt very confident with all my drills, but not seeing myself break that board was a little nerve-wracking.  I get another chance on Wednesday…If I can break that board on Wednesday I know it will go along way toward my confidence and conviction for test day…

Say a prayer for me would you?  If you watch the video, you’ll see a sweet message my sister left me on my board to encourage me.

Little bits of encouragement go a very long way…



Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | 9 Days to Black Belt – Practice at the park

Here’s a fun little video clip of me training at the local park with my partner, Rebecca. I’m grateful she is able to partner with me for my test. A great target/bag holder and committed partner helps make the journey so much smoother. Rebecca is a dedicated Tae Kwon Do student who is testing this month for her advanced Blue Belt, along with my son, Sol.

Since I missed a day of training due to a tummy bug, I made up for it with a workout at our local park. It was a good challenge working out on uneven ground.  It’s crazy, I think this is the strongest my legs have ever been.  I thought I was going to try to trim down for my test to be lighter on my feet, but it has been an asset to bulk up in my legs a bit.  It has helped with strength and power when I work on bag kicks.

My sister, Ma’am Polly Villatuya, is the owner of Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do in St. George, UT. It means so much to me to have her as my instructor. She has graciously worked around my injuries this past year, yet doesn’t let up on disciplining me on my form and technique. She pushes me to just the right limit. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her, not just because she is my sister, but because she is an incredible Martial artist and instructor. So you know…I want to make my sis proud:-)


Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | 10 Days To Black Belt

Okay, 10 Days to black belt, and I’m freaking out just a little bit. I missed a day of training due to the stomach flu. I had to force myself to rest and recuperate, but I definitely felt the frustration in not being able to work out. I have had two previous shoulder dislocations and recently suffered a partial dislocation during training:-( So these setbacks have been a little discouraging, but this is not the time to give up!

I am absolutely determined to see this through! I’ve come way too far to quit or to postpone testing. I’m thankful for this shoulder support brace made by shock doctor. It gives me confidence that I will not re-injure the shoulder during training. I ice my shoulder immediately after training which helps with the inflammation. I’ve also been asking for prayers to see me through these final stages of training.

Overall, I’m feeling mentally strong and consciously working to not get too caught up in anxiety or fear. I feel the anxiety, the butterflies in the stomach, but I just pray, pray and pray some more. God is faithful…because He’s giving me the strength to persevere.

10 Days and counting…


Mama That Could Get Her Black Belt | 40 Days To Black Belt Test | Tae Kwon Do

Here I am, 40 days away from my black belt test, working on some advanced kicking drills. I’m training with my sister, Ma’am Polly Villatuya, owner of Villatuya’s Academy of Tae Kwon Do in St. George, UT. My son, Sol, is a blue belt and is featured holding the target for me:-) These kicking drills on the target help strengthen focus, speed, coordination and timing. Kicks and combinations include:

Round kick
Round kick, step turn round kick
Round kick, spin kick
Round kick, step turn round kick, spin kick
Round kick, jump round kick

Inspiring Mama Maribel Butts Battles Victoriously Against Kidney Disease | Mama That Could

A Radiant Maribel Butts | Mama That Could

Maribel Butts, Kidney Transplant Survivor and Donate Life Ambassador.

Maribel Butts is an incredible Mama and woman of faith that I have the honor of knowing personally because she is my cousin.  One of the great things about being related is that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing her strength and courage firsthand and can now share her story with all of you. Maribel battled kidney failure in her 20’s and was the recipient of a new kidney in 2010.  She is an incredible wife and mother of 2.  She has battled faithfully against infections, numerous surgeries and setbacks in this journey and yet has done it with an incredible amount of faith and strength.  Maribel overcame addiction and gang violence in her early teens (read about it here), teen parenting and now a life threatening illness.  Her attitude and transparency about the ups and downs of this journey is truly inspiring.  She continues to fight every day to keep a victorious attitude and does an amazing job at it.  She shares her inspiring personal story with the community and educates about organ and tissue donation as  a Donate Life Ambassador.

A huge part of  her physical healing journey has been forgiveness and her Christian faith.   This is a woman worth getting to know.  Read her interview below and follow her at Maribel’s Kidney Story on Facebook and

What is your history with kidney disease?

Maribel Butts - 1st year kidney disease diagnosis | Mama That Could

Maribel in the 1st year she was diagnosed with kidney disease.

In 2001, they discovered I had problems with my kidneys which resulted in pre-term labor of my youngest son.  In 2005, I was diagnosed with Neprotic Syndrome and was in end stage renal disease. I was on dialysis from 2005-2010; hemodialysis & peritoneal dialysis, both of which had its challenges. I received a kidney transplant in a miraculous way by partaking in an 8 person donor chain. This was very timely because, at the 5 year dialysis mark, my health was failing and my PD catheter for dialysis was starting to have problems. This was a great time of celebration for my family to be dialysis free.

What caused your kidney disease?

The doctors couldn’t do a biopsy to see exactly what had caused the kidney disease. They were challenged to keep the health of the left good kidney. Unfortunately, that ended up failing too. The MRI scan showed shrinkage of the renal arteries which is likely nephrotic syndrome. Doctors believe I have always had this since the day I was born.

What caused you to fight for survival?

My family, of course, but really my relationship with the Lord…what He laid in my heart to continue to fight and share His testimony in my life. I realized He was going to use this for a greater purpose.

Do you remember the moment when you decided that you weren’t going to let this illness beat you?

There were many times I had to make that decision. Sometimes it just felt so hard to fight because circumstances in my physical body seemed impossible to overcome. It was always something within me that reminded me of how blessed I was to have my family, the blessing of each day. So the decision to fight even when it seemed impossible was to be an example to never quit. Even if it meant fighting for just one more day. I want my kids to see that. I want my community to see that. Most of all, I want God to see how appreciative I am for giving me this will to live…to give me the faith to look outside my circumstance…the word and knowledge to not fear.

Where do you find the strength to be a wife, mother and a kidney transplant survivor?

Maribel Butts 4-way donor meeting | Mama That Could

Maribel meets the donors and other recipients of the 4-way kidney transplant exchange at UC Davis Medical Center.

Definitely supernatural spirit within. My strength comes from being a survivor…to really appreciate the roles as a wife and as a mother. That being my first calling in life. There have been many times that I was unable to do anything. It was very hard to not have the ability to cook for my family or attend baseball events. When my health is good I know not to take that all for granted. I have had to learn some hard lessons but at the end of the day I will say I’m content with my first calling in life to be there for my family.

What kind of things do you have to do to maintain good health and to prevent the possibility of kidney rejection?

Just recently our associate pastor shared the root word to health is heal. I continue to heal. Being more than a year and half post transplant, I see how valuable it is to allow time to heal. Not only physically, but emotionally as well. I started this process of full deliverance through Celebrate Recovery and years of hurt and denial revealed many stumbling blocks to maintain my physical health. Truth is anger can cause many health issues. But peace can bring healing. So with that in order I realized rest was very necessary for healing. I’m a go getter, active mom on my good days and having the kidney transplant was like good days everyday. However, I soon realized with recent infections that made it challenging to fight with a compromised immune system that my body is still healing. So a season of rest to heal for health is now in order. Also it is important to take medications on time and scheduled lab work to maintain kidney health.

What causes are you passionate about?

Maribel Butts in her younger years | Maribel's Kidney Story

Maribel in her teen years

Sharing the gospel through ministries such as Celebrate Recovery. It is here I can share my testimony of my hurts, hang ups and habits. I see it as a close discipleship, allowing people to commit the time to heal themselves. I’m passionate about advocating about organ donation. Look at what it has done for me.  I encourage everyone to be donors. Don’t fear what you can’t bring to heaven. If everyone in the US were donors there would be no waitlist. We would continue to recycle and extend life to those who want more time here on earth. I’m also passionate about the youth and education. They are our future. I want to invest my time not only in my own kids but in all children. Some people just won’t invest time. Time is everything and leading children in the right way through extra curricular activities such as art, music and sports can show them their giftings early on and lead them in a positive direction. Of course, being an example to them and emulating Jesus in what I do. This shows an unconditional love. This would be what would show the passion in what I do.

Do you have a favorite quote or scripture?

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” It was the one that got me through some very hard times! Easy to grab from my memory bank but powerful in its words!

What has been the most important revelation you’ve had around your healing and recovery?

Forgiveness. I know through my forgiveness I am able to be a better person overall. Sometimes it can be a process but continue to work on it until you truly are set free from any past hurts. It can hold you back regardless. In scripture in Matt 5: 23-24 it says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

I realized my unforgiveness blocked the blessings God wants to give to me. Even if you aren’t the offender, you must acknowledge the part you’ve held on to (being the anger, resentment) to that person. You forgive for yourself, not always for that person. Then when you offer yourself to the Lord your connection is clear.

Thank you Maribel for your courage, honesty and willingness to share your story and words of wisdom.  You are a true inspiration to mothers and women everywhere.  I’m constantly encouraged by your strength and sense of purpose and know your story impacts far more people than you know.

Maribel Butts and Family | Mama That Could

Maribel with her husband, Daniel and 2 sons, Marcelo and Marquez.

Maribel has set a goal for her family to participate in the Transplant Games in Grand Rapids, MI from July 29-31. No donation is too small.  Be a supporter and send Maribel’s family to the Transplant Games here.

For updates on Maribel go to

Maribel’s story drives home the real impact organ donation can have on someone’s life. Currently more than 110,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants to save their lives. Thousands more are in need of tissue and cornea transplants to restore their mobility and sight. Register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor today and provide hope to those who wait.

Did Maribel’s story inspire you?  Do you have a personal story of victory?  Be sure to share your comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.