Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"You're Going to be Broken"

Over the past few days as I've tried to compose this post, I've struggled to find the words to explain what it was like to go through 6 hours of testing for my black belt.  My thoughts still feel jumbled and like they're racing.  Also, I don’t want to be overly wordy but I don’t want to leave anything out.  Not to mention that just trying to find the right words for the myriad of emotions I went through might nearly be impossible. In any case, here's the recap - and be warned it's not short, unless you choose to skim!


Friday night, 57 black belt candidates arrived at the dojo, most of us full of adrenaline and anticipation for what the weekend would hold. As we sat in the back room waiting for someone to come line us up to march out to the main room where our friends, family, and teammates were waiting cameras in hand, the Shihan came in to give us a pep talk.

I don’t remember a whole lot of what he said, but I do remember when he said, We’ve had some discussions about the testing and I am here to tell you that this group will be the first to go through a test like no other we’ve ever done. We’d gotten a bit complacent and candidates were arriving knowing just what would happen.  That is not what this weekend will be like.  Get ready to get down and dirty and to be broken.  It’s not just about learning your material and attending your classes for the prescribed amount of time that gets you here.  You are here because your Sensei thinks you have what it takes to be a black belt.  Our goal this weekend will be to take you through the final step of breaking you.  Breaking down every single thing you thought or believed.  And if you are still here Saturday afternoon, you will have proven your Sensei right – you will physically, mentally and spiritually be a black belt. (not a full direct quote)

I felt fear rising up because on Thursday my foot had swelled up to the size of a grapefruit.  I have no idea what caused it as I hadn’t done anything strenuous.  But it was the very thing the doctor had told me would put me back in the boot.  So Friday, I wore the boot all day prior to going to the first testing session.  Then I said a prayer and hoped for the best. After that speech from the Shihan, my only thought was “Uh-oh.”

Mr. Helen, who was allowed in the back room with us because he’s a Sensei, saw my face and he knew.  He walked over to me and told me to just try and do my best and if something happened that kept me from finishing, there would be no shame because everyone knew I had a broken foot and had just gotten out of the cam boot.

We lined up and the door opened and off we ran into the other room to the sound of thunderous applause and cheers.  After we were re-lined up the Shihan asked that the 6 candidates for Third Degree Black Belt step forward.  He had them show some of their material and then asked them to line up side by side.  The first curveball was about to be thrown and it was a doozy.  

He announced that instead of working with teammates from our own dojo, we would be assigned to one of the Third Degree candidates who would be our Team Captain for the weekend.  Each team would consist of both Karate and Muay Thai candidates and we would have to put on a show for the audience Saturday afternoon – with no practice time!

As it was, my team captain ended up being the Sensei from my own dojo.  I was so happy about that I can’t even begin to tell you.  The rest of my team consisted of people I’d never even met.  There are four dojos and while I’ve occasionally taken classes at the other locations, like most students, I tend to stay in my own dojo.  I have to admit, I actually loved this aspect – it was very fun to meet and work with these other people over the course of the two days.

Once the teams were set, it began:  pushups, jumping jacks, sprawls, high knees, etc. until you thought you’d pass out.

We did a drill where a partner held a pad and you lay down and put your feet up.  The partner then basically put all their weight forward and you had to push them back with you legs.  With tired legs.

Meet Annie.  She was on my team and my partner for several of the drills.  I think she's enjoying the pad push a little too much don't you?  That's the other Kyoshi behind her.  Look at his smile too! (Also, you'll note that her son who took photos had a fabulous camera and a fabulous eye.  All other blurry photos are courtesy of Mr. Helen lol!)

Finally three teams were told to go in the second room and do our bag work.  My team was one of those.

They would give us a 'rest' where we would run around the room and then start the bag work all over again.

It was non-stop.  And yet, the worst hadn’t even happened, I just didn’t know it.  Now we were all hot and sweaty and suddenly the Sensei leading the drill says, put on your socks and shoes, grab your kamas and nunchucks (weapons) and go outside.

My mind was grasping to understand, “Go outside.”  It was 27 degrees outside!  Let me tell you I felt every single degree when I hit that cold air, especially since I was hot and sweaty.

Once outside the Shihan had us line up along the sidewalk,  He then told us that we were going to prove how tough we were.  He then made us do 50 knuckle pushups with our knuckles on the cement to start.  The two Senseis and the Shihan had three stations set up that we rotated through.  One station consisted of us doing nothing but 20 front kicks on the left, 20 on the right, followed by 20 sprawls.  The second station was kicks, mountain climbers, pushups, and squats until we were groaning.  But the Shihan’s station was impossibly hard:  We had to do 20 burpees, followed by standing, folding our arms over our chest then spinning around 10 times.  You did that three times and after the 3rd spin you had to grab your kamas and immediately go into your weapon form.  Repeat until he said stop. I’ll put it to you this way:  we had one person throw up and I asked Sensei Mr. Helen if he saw me staggering like a drunk.  Completely and totally nuts!  It went on for around 30 minutes.

Once finished outside, we were taken back in to show our self defense skills.  We stood in the middle of a circle while our team attacked us and we had to defend.

The sensei put me on the ground when I attacked from behind.  Then it was my turn to fend people off - glad to be done!

Finally, we were given our instructions for Saturday:  Be there at 5:30 a.m. and bring everything.

Mr. Helen and I got in the car and as we were driving home, I told him that while that session was hard, I didn’t feel broken and I felt like I could go on.  My foot was okay and that was what was important for that day. He replied, “That was the hardest first session I’ve ever seen.”  I should have been worried but I think I was on a high.  A high that would get me to Saturday…


  1. And this is only the first session? Helen at this point you already deserved that black belt in my eyes. One tough workout and I'm so proud of you, you did it!

    Look forward to the rest of the story.

  2. You are an amazing woman Helen! Is there anyone who didn't make it past day 1?

    1. Everyone made it through the first session!

  3. Wow. I think I'm speechless...

  4. Wow. That's way too extreme for me! But as long as you enjoy it (well, not the testing, but the rest of it), that's what matters. Good for you! Did you ice that foot down to prepare it for Saturday?

  5. Good lord woman. I need a rest just from READING what you did. Only the first day? Have mercy!

    1. First day and all that took place in 2 hours!

  6. Even though you told me most of the the whole story already, I am loving this recap! Go Helen!

  7. This is incredible and super inspirational! Go, Helen! I'm proud of you! You kept going when a lot of people would have quit. I'm proud of you!!!!!

  8. Wow, Helen, just wow. What an incredible workout they put you through. And you came away on a high! Way to go! I can't wait for the rest of the story.


  9. Wow!! Where is the rest of the story????

  10. Oh my goodness Helen you are amazing. Truly and utterly incredible to have gone through that. I cannot believe there is more to come. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the story. I really hope your foot is ok. Awesome job so far!!

  11. great Job will always remember this! I think it is great, because nothing is more precious than something that is earned..and it will be very earned. My first testing is on the 22nd. I am nervous, and excited....Can't wait till you are a black belt.

  12. There is nothing more awesome that seeing pictures of you kicking A** in the dojo. Cannot wait to hear more about this.

  13. I've been busy at work, so I read this on my phone and am just now commenting - awesome is the only word I can describe your experience Helen! You are amazeballs!!