I have to laugh when I look at this photo.
I’m flying high, fist ready to power though ten boards. My eyes are laser focused on the ten boards below. Those ten boards are what's standing between me and finally getting my black belt. In that moment my heart is racing and I know I have this. There is no doubt in my mind.
But to quote one of my favorite movies, The 13th warrior, "And things were not always thus."
The night before my black belt test, I was a wreck.
Friday night we had a pre-black belt test class. Maybe it was the fact that I am not used to doing poomsaes in a group setting, surrounded by young kids... But I kept forgetting the moves. I could not make myself focus.
Perhaps I even over-trained
I have been practicing a lot; group classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, private lessons with Master Ko on Wednesdays, Saturday practice with Rick (3rd Dan black belt who is my age) and Sunday poomsae practice in my home dojang. In addition to that, my work moved to a new building with a gym. Five days a week I was using my lunch to work on my condition training.
Bicycle, weights, stretching, repeat.
Whatever the reason, Friday night I made mistake after mistake and by the time I left the dojang my confidence was shot.
The battle now was truly in my mind. I saw myself screwing up in front of my wife and the whole school. How could I trust myself to remember what I’d learned?
But I started to back off the ledge talking to my wife and a few text messages from Rick got me back into reality.
I finally laughed at myself, what am I picturing? Do I see myself being summoned by the resounding sound of a massive gong? A giant drum beating a slow rhythm while I am marched to the lit center of dark chamber? An ominous voice announcing, “Begin!” as I engage into a life and death struggle fighting off ninjas?
I really have to do something about my imagination. I calmed down and simply decided to do my best.
The day of the test arrived. I walked onto the mat and was met by Rick who gave me a final pep talk and told me once again to relax. I slowly stretched and moved through my poomsaes to get my body warmed up.
|Getting hydrated with Rick|
The test finally began and we were called to sit and meditate. I slowly breathed in and out as Master Kim spoke soft words of encouragement to myself and the other students who were testing.
To my relief, when my name was finally called I would be performing my poomsaes, demonstrating my blocks using Korean terminology and basic stances, alone on the mat.
Void of distractions, I performed the poomsaes, one after another without mistakes, building my confidence. I could hear people clapping for me after I passed each one, and the encouraging sound of Rick cheering me on.
Ironically, I made one mistake during the last one after I started feeling relieved, thinking I’m almost there! Master Kim had me repeat that part of the form and I moved on. By now I was so relaxed the mistake did not bother me at all.
Next came kicking techniques and footwork that I did with the rest of the group. It was good to get my blood moving for the sparring that came next.
For sparring I was matched up with Chris, a young 3rd Dan testing for his 4th. I was feeling great and very pleased that after two rounds I did not run out of breath.
Next came breaking. I had to break three boards with a punch, three with a turning back kick and then three with a jump front kick. I was stressed performing the back kick, as I worried about my knee twisting. I broke through the first two, and then ran to break the last with the jump front kick
This was the toughest kick of them all. Three boards were held chest high. The challenge came not from the height, but the way the boards were held. For the other two breaks the boards are held on both edges creating an unmovable target, but these boards were held on only one edge, like someone handing you a plate of food. The challenge is you have to kick them very fast to make up for the lack of support.
I took a breath, let out a yell and ran.
I jumped. I kicked. I hurt my foot.
The boards did not break.
I stepped back a few feet, ignored my throbbing foot and tried again. This time I broke right through.
|Me and Master Ko|
Now it was time for endurance. I had to first jog fifty times around the dojang. My much younger classmates began to literally run circles around me as each in turn finished long before I did. But I kept my own pace, happy that my knee allowed me to run at all, and that all the cardio I have been doing paid off. Soon it was just me running, followed by student instructors and a crowd cheering on the old guy! I felt like I was in the latest installment of the Rocky franchise!
100 sit-ups, 150 backups and 55 push-ups later brought us to that final moment.
This was the last challenge, the power break. I took a breath, focused on my target and with one hammer fist broke through the ten boards and accomplished my goal.
I was a black belt!
As I reflect on this journey, I realize that getting my black belt will not be the end; it truly is only the beginning. I have achieved so many benefits from Taekwondo in the areas of physical health, mental focus and spiritual strengthening that I know I will continue this path for the rest of my life.
At the beginning of every class we state the ten student commitments. The tenth is, “always finish what I start.” For me, this is a commitment to continue daily in my study of Taekwondo for the rest of my life.
My advice to anyone, young or old who is considering taking up Taekwondo can best be expressed in the words of Master Sang Kyu Shim in his book, “The Making of a Martial Artist.”
“Venture into the unknown of your potential; you will surely come out the victor.”
My complete Black Belt Journey is now available on Amazon!
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