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!)
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…