Let’s hope I have some of this fierceness on the day of my black belt test.

I sighed as I looked at my lunch today: brown rice with roasted vegetables, topped with a chopped boiled egg and seasoned with low salt soy sauce. A small side of bland sweet potato chips and two clementines for dessert. To wash it down? A bottle of prickly pear flavored kombucha I bought on a whim at Whole Foods. (I live in Texas; we enjoy both looking at our cacti and consuming it…especially in margarita form). And for dinner? I had a protein bar, an apple, and some toasted nuts.

What I really wanted was a Whataburger value meal with a Little Debbie oatmeal crème pie for dessert and washed down with a glass of Gentleman Jack whiskey, but that would be giving in too quickly. I now officially have less than two weeks until I test for my black belt, and I’m not going to let something like fries and liquor, as glorious as they are, deter me from my goal. I’mma be one thin, cranky, slightly malnourished B by the end of two weeks. I’ll have to have some Halloween candy on standby for my after party.

So, how does one prepare for a black belt test besides the obvious: practicing taekwondo at every chance? It’s not like I haven’t indulged over the past few months, but since the clock started ticking really loudly about two months ago I’ve gotten my act together on what I eat. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since late March of this year, and I want it to stay that way until after the black belt test. I try to get about seven hours of sleep each night, I guzzle water, and I supplement my taekwondo workouts with swimming and yoga. It’s not a matter of looking good. I feel like crap when I eat too much sugar and processed foods (and drink too much alcohol), so as boring as brown rice and vegetables and drinks-that-aren’t-alcohol are, they make me feel better from the inside out.

This morning before I swam (Hallelujah, I actually got out of bed when the alarm went off!) I clocked in at 117 pounds, and my waist is down to 26 inches. I’d like to weigh a little less because the smaller I am, the less I have to haul into the air during jumping and flying kicks, but I feel leaner at this version of 117 than I have in the past at that same weight. Hopefully all those squats and jumps I’m doing in physical therapy have built up some muscle, or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. Not bad for a thirty-six-year-old cubicle dweller.

Speaking of physical therapy, I’m responding to it very well. My doctor determined that I have two problems: hip impingement syndrome, which is caused by damage to the labrum, the squishy stuff between the femur and hip socket, and is identified by a pinching sensation on the front of the hip when the leg is bent. I also have proximal hamstring tendonosis or maybe a tear, which could take about six months to a year to heal on its own. His solution was to stuff me into an MRI machine and shove a needle full of lidocaine into my hip. I politely declined and decided to keep going with a more conservative approach to treatment since I’ve improved drastically with just a month of physical therapy. I don’t need a digital image of my insides and a temporary numbing agent; I need my f-ing little dinosaur leg to heal.

Sometimes my PT has to do the hip flexor massage from hell, which I’ve dubbed the “psoas spaghetti twirl” (his fingers are the fork, my muscle is the spaghetti; enjoy the visual), to loosen up my left side since it takes on the bulk of the work thanks to my lazy weak right side, but I’m not as knotted up as I have been in the past…except for one recent time when it was so bad I wept during the massage. Perhaps I could view times like that as some kind of catharsis or an opportunity to imagine myself pain-free and wearing a brand new black belt. Either that or just keeping doing what I normally do: silently spew curse words and cry, you know, like a grown up.

As for taekwondo itself? I’m feeling pretty good about it despite weird, unsettling dreams I keep having about the test. My endurance and strength are consistent, and I have a good grasp on all the forms and self-defense I need to demonstrate during the test. During my down time I read through the testing requirements and visualize myself going through all the motions. Lately in our school the focus has been pulled away from test preparation and instead pointed towards the tournament, which was held this past weekend. Even though it was a very long day that required a lot of energy and hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was nice to take a break from obsessing over the black belt test and funnel my efforts into helping the other students.

For the tournament I served as a coach, which meant I could wear my teaching and pseudo-mom hats. (The best part about being a pseudo-mom is that I can give my little ducklings back to their real moms and go home to a quiet house.) I spent a lot of time yelling during sparring matches and holding boards for breaking, both of which were new and welcomed experiences for me. (I’m a little nicer when I referee during regular sparring class). I was just as proud of wearing my coach’s pass as I was wearing any of my taekwondo belts, and I was even prouder of how well our students did. My boss always tells me that it’s his job to make me successful. Perhaps the same can be said as a black belt and an adult taekwondo student: yes, my own performance is important, but a real sign of my dedication is how well other people who are in my care perform. That’s a good feeling.

Will I be nervous next week during the test? Yes. Will I be physically exhausted? Yes. Will I be ready for fries and liquor after it’s over? A resounding YES. Will I give up if it’s scary or difficult? HELL NO.

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