Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It Ain't Over until It's Over

(This is the final part of a four part series on my black belt test. For part one go here, for part two go here, for part three go here.)


As the Shihan asked us to rise, I could feel the exhaustion starting to set in to my bones and I was looking forward to the end.  Then I heard him say, I want you all to take off your shin guards and your gloves ONLY.  Now I want you go to put on your socks and shoes, then put your gloves back on.  Leave all your other sparring equipment except your shin guards on.  Leave your mouthpiece in.  Find your Team Captain and once you're all together, run the two mile loop.  You have 5 minutes to get outside and 20 minutes to run the loop.

Let me just tell you that the entire audience gasped so loud when he said that it sounded like a roar. No other group has ever been required to do this much running, nor to have to do a timed run at the end of their testing. I know parents were very concerned for their children.  (In fact many parents ended up running the loop with their kids.) I couldn't believe what I was hearing and for a split second, I started to cry.  I just knew I couldn't do it.  My foot was hurting (but thankfully not swollen) from all the running and sprinting and car pushing we'd done in the morning.  Mr. Helen said he saw my head go down and he thought that was the end. He was right. I was done. I was broken.  Sort of ironic for a runner, right?

I slowly walked back to where my bag was, sat down and took some deep breaths. Mr. Helen came over to me and told me to just do it even if I had to walk.  Then he said, "You know if you don't try, you'll regret it."  Then my friend, teammate/supporter ran in the back and said, "I know you can do this.  Remember I did my timed run two days after I fell of that bike with my shoulder and hip all messed up.  You can do it!"   From somewhere inside that I didn't even know existed I pulled out the mantras I had chosen for the weekend and started saying to myself, "Never, never, never give up! When you're going through hell, keep going!" (Thank you Winston Churchill.)

I put on my socks and shoes, and put my headgear and gloves back on and went outside.  The same friend who had just encouraged me, came running outside after me, unwrapped an energy chew and ordered me, "Chew it and run like heck!"

So I did.  One foot in front of the other. My left foot hurt and I had tied my shoe too tight on my right foot.  Guess what you can't do when you have boxing gloves on?  Adjust your shoelaces.  But I kept on going and once again, I started picking people off.  At one point I came up to one of our junior black belts who is about as fierce as any kid you've ever seen.  I could see her dad and brother were running with her and I could hear him quietly talking to her.  As I went around, I heard her sobbing, "I don't want to do it!  Please daddy don't make me do it!  I hate this!  I hate everyone!  I hate karate!  I'm not going to run!  No! No! NO!"  I briefly tried to encourage her myself and kept going thinking, that she couldn't have said it any better, that's exactly how I felt.  And I knew I'd been broken and then broken through to what being a black belt really means.  As I finished the run, my friends were there screaming and yelling and running down the sidewalk to meet me, they were so excited.  Just the push of adrenaline I needed to finish.

After the run, we were told to get with our teams and get ready for our show.  Each team went out and did whatever routine they'd chosen.  My team was last, which was a compliment of sorts as we have a saying: "Last one, best one!"

When we finished, the audience roared their approval and we went to the back room where we were separated from our teams and put into lines with the other people from our own dojo.  Then we were marched back out and lined up in front of the Shihan and all our Senseis.  They then proceeded to call out our names and as we stepped forward, placed a white stripe on our belts, signifying that we had earned our black belt.

We had done it, all 57 of us were black belts! Mr. Helen said, "That was some old school martial arts testing right there.  I'm a little jealous because your test was harder than any I've ever done (he's done three). But I'm so proud of you I can't even find the words to express it!

I won't actually receive my black belt until we have our show on December 15th and when I tie it on, I'll know deep in my heart, I earned it.  I'm a black belt!

My personal cheerleaders throughout the weekend.  The woman with the pink and white jacket is the one who ran after me and gave me the energy chew.

My team captain for Power Weekend, my sparring partner and my Sensei

My Kyoshi.  She is the one who decided I should test and evaluated me all weekend.  She's an amazing martial artist - small but mighty!

My biggest fan
And she lived happily ever after


  1. Congratulations, Helen. And BTW, you look fabulous!

    1. Sorry Helen, but the comment above is me, E. Jane. I wasn't logged in properly. I love the photos, especially the one of you and Mr. Helen. Congrats!!!

  2. Helen, I can hardly breathe because of the big old lump in my throat. My god woman, what an ordeal! You must be so proud of yourself. What an accomplishment to overcome physical pain, exhaustion and the mental aspects of such a (seems to me) tortuous challenge. Sweetie Baby Cookie Darling - there isn't a damn thing that can ever stop you. You is FIERCE!

  3. I have tears in my eyes for you! What an awesome story! So proud of you! Congratulations!



    Gosh I'm so freaking proud of you, I know me: I would have given up at some point but not you, you kept on going.

    You are such an inspiration to all of us.

    Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading every post about this huge achievement.

  5. Well dang it Helen, you made me tear up. In addition to such an amazing accomplishment, you are a great story teller!

  6. Wow! I'm so impressed with your skill and especially your determination. I'm pretty sure I would have given up, but you just kept on going.

    The thing I don't think a lot of people realize is how hard sparring is and how hard the heart has to work. It looks easy, but doing it is something else. Then to run two miles at the end, just WOW!

    YOU - ARE - AMAZING!!!

  7. Glad you are done with this series because I need to stop starting my mornings off with tears! ;)

    You SO earned that black belt. Wear it proudly, and wear it often. Heck, accessorize your dresses with it?

    Very, very proud of you, my friend.

  8. Bravo Helen! I am so proud of you blowing past all the mental and physical challenges thrown your way. I don't think you ever were really broken at all, to find that last bit of strength to finish attests to that.

    Did that girl get her belt that was crying?

    1. Yes she did. All 57 candidates earned their degrees.

  9. Is it cheesy that this post made me tear up?

    Congrats, Helen. I'm so proud of you! You challenged yourself and you COMPLETED that challenge. You deserve a HUGE round of applause. You are my idol!

  10. Way to go Helen!!!!!! SOOOO happy for you! I though exactly the same thing as Shelley "wear it often and belt a dress with it!" (great minds think alike)
    Have a great day and celebrate yourself and your accomplishment!

  11. Congratulations Helen! I'm so proud of you as this is a major accomplishment. You are one tough lady!

  12. I never doubted your abilities Helen. You are truly incredible. I cried reading this. Congratulations! I actually mentioned you in a post today. You are such an inspiration.

  13. Sheesh...I am crying too! Even though I chose not to take this path, I have to admit that I am tiny bit jealous, in a good way. You persevered and you broke on through to the other side!

    Thank God it's over! Right??

  14. Awesomely fabulous post! I'm so inspired by this. I'll never do karate but I can press on with what I can do. Thanks for sharing. :)

  15. Congratulations! You deserve it after all that hard work!

  16. Congratulations! Wow, I never realized how much you had to go through for this. Truly amazing job you did. I can't get over how happy and proud you look in the pictures.

  17. I loved reading each and every one of these posts Helen - you most certainly earned that belt!! Hugs! (and keep having fun with your daughter!)

  18. So happy for you and I enjoyed every word. Wonderful achievement and wonderful story!

  19. You are SO. AMAZING.

    I am totally afraid to meet you now: you might kick my butt with your black belt. ;-D