Belt tests make me more nervous than any of the presentations I do for work or any of the hoops I had to leap through in graduate school. Here are some tricks I’ve gathered along the way that help me relax, do my best, and have fun.

1. Get over the fact that you will be flanked by children who are just about as good as you are…and who might beat the crap out of you in front of a room full of people during sparring.

2. Dip into your coworker’s peanut butter M&Ms stash the day before to calm your nerves. It’s carb-loading!

3. Practice your form at home without bashing your knee on the big coffee table you got at the Neiman Marcus outlet. That takes mad skill and reflexes, Grasshopper.

4. Take the day off work or find a reason to leave early. (Bonus points if your boss thinks it’s cool you do taekwondo). If I have the day off I like to take a yoga class. You will need your time to stretch and warm up after doing boring grown-up stuff all day. Prolonged sitting is much worse for your body than any of the kicking or jumping you’ll soon be doing.

5. Ladies: put on a little eyeliner and mascara. It makes you feel better when you’re a red, panting, dripping swamp beast.

6. Leave your house early to get to the testing site so you’re not panicking and yelling at your partner in traffic. Not that I know anything about that first hand.

7. Threaten the same partner with banishing them to sleeping on the couch if they laugh at you during your flying kicks.

8. Warm up! Anyone old enough to remember Ronald Reagan does NOT want to do a jump snap kick with cold muscles and joints. Feel free to tell your little buddies that you need “quiet time.”

9. Be as picky about how you stage your breaking techniques as a demanding theater director is about blocking. It’s all about the creativity and presentation (okay, it is to me anyway).

10. Justify the celebratory greasy fast food meal with the 10 minutes of hard work you did at the test.

11. Brag to your parents. You never get too old to do that.

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