Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Meaningful test

(I am having trouble posting pictures to blogger.com. I will add them later.)

At what point do martial arts students decide they’re going to become black belts?

I know that for me, it was about a year into joining TKD. Before that, I never thought about that particular goal; I was just enjoying the learning. But some people must have that goal in mind when they begin.

I think if I were to reflect on the meaning of a black belt test, I’d need to start way back at the beginning and reflect on why someone begins martial arts in the first place.

Our black belt candidates are required to reflect on this. They’re asked to write a two page (only TWO!) on the topic “what has TKD done for me?” Hearing those essays read at the test on Saturday by the black belt candidates was extraordinarily moving. They told us joining TKD with their children—to have a chance to spend time together, to encourage each other, to get fit together, to protect each other. They shared stories about injuries and disappointments and steady progress. All of them told us how important it was to have friends to work out with, especially during this last two months of preparation. Great stories. Moving stories. Inspiring stories, too!

For those of you who haven’t been to a black belt test, it’s worth watching as a display of determination, strength, grace, stamina, and focus. As I expected, Pam, Jim, Brian A., June, Patrick and Grace all did well during the test. It was long—over 1 ½ hours.

They started with basic moves, which were only called out in Korean. After showing their best kicks against a pad, they were all asked to do all 13 forms, all the ITF forms, and all the Palgwe forms up to the black belt level. Master Hughes mixed up the forms and had the candidates face different walls while doing forms.

Then they did 3 and 1 step sparring, regular sparring and 2-on-1 sparring. There was very little rest time; everyone was red-faced and sweating.

Of course, there was also board breaking. At our school, black belt candidates must break 2 boards with a hand technique and 3 with a foot technique. I have a movie of Brian A. breaking with a double knife-hand and then a jump-reverse to break 3 boards.

The breaks weren’t easy, and it took some of the candidates more than once. “Shows indomitable spirit,” I told June, who had to try more than once. All of it was amazing: the essays, the forms, the breaking, the stamina they showed. But knowing how hard they worked was probably most impressive to me.

“We gotta get to work,” said Brian to me as we watched from the sideline. “I think we can do it,” I replied.

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