Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ten Down, One To Go

I knew it was going to be a tough morning when the head instructor looked at Nick and me during warmups and said, "Since you two are testing to become black belt candidates, you probably won't get many breaks today."

Nails done for the test as per my tradition...all but ring finger painted to match the belt for which I am testing.  The blue nail is to remind me to relax and breathe.

There were 14 of us testing yesterday: four adults, one teenager (Nick) and the rest younger kids.  Every test is organized a little differently just to shake things up, but in general, a test starts with the warmup (jumping jacks, sit-ups, pushups, stretches, rolls, breakfalls, etc) and then moves into material in belt-level order.  Everyone starts out doing all the techniques and forms together,  and as the instructor finishes with your belt level you bow and step to the side to watch the higher ranks.  As the high belts testing--by several belts--that meant that Nick and I were front and center by ourselves for some time.  As a 15 year-old boy, Nick absolutely has the physical edge on me, so my goal was to represent well for the adults in the program by demonstrating that skill and technique are not limited to the young whippersnappers.

As soon as we finished there, dripping sweat, we were sent to the back of the room to run through our self-defenses.  Each belt level has its own, and an instructor attacks you for all of them in sequence, both right and left sides, no stopping.  Nick and I are expected to know and properly execute 33 of these at our level.   With that done, we were called back to the front of the room, told to sit on the floor, and three attackers holding target pads came at us so that we had to defend ourselves against three opponents from floor level. That gets to be a lot like exercise after a while, especially in a warm room!

By that point, we were two hours into the test and Nick and I had had exactly one very brief chance to grab a drink.  We'd been told it would run about two hours total, but I'd been looking at the clock and gauging the remaining material that needed to be covered, so I knew there was no way that would happen.  Sure enough, right at the two-hour mark the head instructor told me that if I'd brought my sparring gear, I should go put it on.  The sparring gear is protective padding...most of us wear headgear plus hand, shin and foot coverings.  

Our black belt test includes a sparring component, which is affectionately known as the "Chain of Pain."   The candidate faces 12 to 15 opponents for one minute each.  The opponents cycle in and out, so they are fresh while the candidate gets no breaks.  It's a test of endurance, of the candidate's ability to dig deep while exhausted and find a new source of strength to get them through.  It's also something that never fails to choke me up when I watch one, since everyone in the room (including the current sparring opponent!) is cheering on and supporting the candidate to help them through it.  The energy is amazing and I get chills just thinking about it.  Anyway, as a practice of sorts for our next test, Nick and I had to do an abridged version of the Chain of Pain at that point, 8 opponents for 30 seconds each.  One of mine was the head instructor, and I had enough energy left to jam him up and keep him from doing much, which made him and everyone else watching laugh!  

Three of the four boards I broke.  No idea what happened to the fourth.

Get the sparring gear back off, hastily gulp a little Gatorade, get handed a stack of four wooden boards.  You choose four techniques (two hand, two foot) and instructors hold boards for you roughly at the four compass directions with you in the center.  The goal is to break them all in quick succession.  This was new to me...last time I only had two boards.  Moving on up.  Knife hand strike, elbow strike, skipping side kick, spin axe kick and I went through every damn one of those boards on the first shot!  Crack, crack, crack, crack.  Whew.  Note to self, though...ELBOW strike in future, not WRIST strike.  Ugh.  Caught that board a little too far down my arm in the heat of the moment, looked down afterward and realized I had a lovely swollen purple knot just below my wrist.  Crap.  Could tell nothing was broken at least and got an ice pack on it immediately.  Today it looks much better, thankfully.

Test over.  New belt earned.  A few mistakes, but that's going to happen.  Things to remember and work on for next time.  Walked out with the ice pack still on my wrist but a big smile on my face.

The new belt!

And now I am officially a black belt candidate!!  The black belt test is much harder than this one, so it a good thing that I have 6-12 months to prepare for it.  I was ready for what they threw at me yesterday and still had gas in the tank at the end, even as hot and tired as I was.  Can't even begin to tell you how good that felt.  My goal going into any test is not to embarrass myself or the program and to show that I deserve to be there.  Yesterday, I accomplished that goal.

As soon as I got home, I put the new testing certificate in front of all the others in the frame on my office wall and added my old brown belt to the belt rack that hangs next to it.  My routine upon returning home from a test.  Then I took a long, hot shower.

I need a bigger belt rack!


  1. You were just starting your journey when I came across your blog... Congratulations! And you can bet I will be cheering you on towards your next belt, too!

  2. Thank you so much, Joan!! :)


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