The week of a belt test reminds me of finals week in college, specifically the fall semester sophomore year finals week when I was 19, had a bad flu, and still dragged myself (sometimes literally) to class and my little campus job. I’m physically exhausted, mentally drained, and emotionally on edge. My suitcase still isn’t unpacked, the fridge is empty, laundry (clean at least!) is piled up waiting to be folded, and a jigsaw puzzle I started is woefully incomplete.
Ah, the trials of a lifelong student!
This Friday’s test is particularly meaningful. I will be testing for bo dan, the rank below black belt. It will be my last color belt test (EVER, at least in this martial art) and mark the beginning of serious training for my upcoming black belt test. I’ve really been training for black belt since the first day I walked into the dojang with my new, stiff, blindingly white belt and dobok. Two years later my doboks have greyed, my red belt is soft with nearly a year of wear, and my body sports new muscles and old injuries, but my desire is still the same. You could even say I’ve been training for this when I first joined taekwondo as a shy but eager ten-year-old.
Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun
Monday I was out of town so I went in Tuesday for extra practice time, which is detailed in this post. Last night I went back for my usual long evening of sparring followed by advanced red & black belt class. Sparring went well. My instructor and I had the quietest sparring match ever (quiet but still nice and violent) and I chased around a goofy 14-year-old who seems to be in denial that he is testing for black belt in three days. I still ended up beet red and glued to my clothes with my own sweat but my stamina was fine. It helps that we’ve gone to a system of alternating the children’s and teen/adult sparring sessions although we’re still “working” while we’re refereeing the kids. My two takeaways: (1) head shots to my opponents are fun even if I miss (2) I really need to incorporate more turning back kicks and stop falling into the roundhouse trap.
Red and black belt class was devoted to testing requirements. From an outsider’s perspective it may seem like we just do the same old rote things over and over, but it’s quite the opposite. Every class is an opportunity to learn from yourself and make the subtle changes that lead to long-term success. We marched slowly through four forms, doing them again and again until they were correct. Then we practiced one-steps and hand-to-hand combat with partners.
“This is as good as it’s going to get because I’ll be super nervous on Friday,” I warned my instructor, who might be my partner for the test.
“Then don’t be nervous,” he said with a shrug. I’m not sure if that was response came from the fact that he is a seasoned black belt master or the fact that he is a twenty-something year old guy. Men!
“You’re thinking too much,” he said later when I was getting lost in details that I’ve previously had no problems with. I sighed, remembering the adult orange belt I’d coached the night before and the advice I’d given him. Physician, heal thyself.
We ended advanced class with breaking practice, which always seems to lighten the mood and relieve stress. Either my classmates were being chivalrous or they just did not want to do it first because they all cleared away and left me standing in the middle of the room. I set up my holders and executed what I practiced Tuesday night—an elbow, a jump snap kick, and a spin kick. POP! WHAM! SMACK!
“Do the spin kick again,” another master instructor said. “Make it more powerful.”
Ok, you want power? I’ll give you power! Watch how powerful I can–
Somehow in the course of two seconds I ended up flat on my back staring up into the startled face of my classmate. On the plus side I had knocked the pad out of his hands with a hard kick before I hit the ground.
“Did you see??” I squealed to my instructor excitedly. “I kept my head up the whole time!! I didn’t even know I was going to fall; I just did it by instinct! See, I listened!!” He just stared at me open-mouthed. Nobody even laughed, we were all too stunned. Each of us have eaten the floor more than once, so it wasn’t anything new. I thought it was pretty funny but really hoped it wouldn’t happen during the test or I’d never hear the end of it. After I’d blinked the stars from my eyes and given the OK for my classmates to laugh I reset the pad, turned slowly, actually looked at my target this time, and kicked it with a satisfying pop. I threw my arms straight up in the air like Mary Catherine Gallagher and danced away to the sidelines.
My instructor pulled me aside and showed me what had gone wrong with my posture. It was such a glorious perfect storm of terrible physics that I probably can’t (and hopefully won’t) replicate it. I was glad Grandmaster wasn’t in the room. He certainly wouldn’t have found it funny.
Tonight I went back for more practice. I mostly hung out with a younger classmate who is also testing for bo dan, plus I ran through one steps with the big orange belt guy. It was tempting to stay in when I got home from work, but I knew I’d regret it if I let another chance to practice slip by.
The last three nights I have gulped down a mini-Gatorade and forced myself to eat a Power Bar, which is pretty much a glorified Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I don’t like the idea of putting so many chemicals into my body, but I needed some recovery food and the mega-industry of consumer sports nutrition fit the bill. Plus I haven’t had time to go grocery shopping, and I’m too tired to cook after class. To my delight I found some ripe banana chunks in the freezer so I made a potassium-rich “ice cream” by pulsing them in the blender until they were smooth and creamy. Yum.
This past week I’ve been trying a recovery technique my boyfriend learned from one of his wrestling buddies: drink a little caffeine before your work out, take as cold a shower as you can stand afterwards and pop two ibuprofen. The next morning take as hot a shower as you can stand and pop two ibuprofen. Rinse, repeat, and try not to bleed out with all that ibuprofen in your system. I still woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a truck, but the only soreness I feel is from having my feet stuffed into four-inch heels all day.