The Six Month Long (and Counting) Black Belt Test

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Next week two of my classmates will be testing for first and second degree black belt, and several other students will be testing for various color belt levels. In addition to our normal training, much of our practice time has been devoted to preparing these students to test.

It’s nice not to have the heat on me as far as being a testing student, although if time flies as quickly as it has been, it’ll be my turn to test for second dan before I know it. These last few weeks have been a test in a different sense though: do I continue living up to my black belt duties?

First degree black belt is just that: The first among many levels. The beginning. Ground zero. I still have a LOT of work ahead of me. There’s no rest period. While the black belt test last fall was physically strenuous, mentally I was more calm and poised than I’d ever been for a taekwondo belt test or for that matter, the presentations I do for work. Kicks, forms, self-defense, breaking, sparring, no problem. I had done these movements over and over again, and my body knew what to do. It felt like the real part of the test began after I was awarded my black belt.

After I was awarded my belt it was application time: new forms, more complex self-defense including weapons defense, the expectation that color belt skills be performed at black belt caliber, and of course coaching and refereeing. For the first few weeks I felt like my brain was melting, much like my first few weeks as a red belt. The red belt test was a pivotal moment in my taekwondo career, but the real test was when I nervously attended my first red and black belt class.

As a learning and leadership development professional, I always preach to my clients that the real work begins after the meeting, workshop, or team building event ends. That also rings true in taekwondo and very likely other martial arts. In every class I build upon what I know and make the conscious effort to improve. Every class is an opportunity to use my technique to master a new skill, get creative with what I already know, and to demonstrate my understanding by teaching another student.

I feel like I am earning my black belt every day in class as much as I was that Saturday afternoon in October. 

This should go without saying, but in case anyone assumes this is undue pressure I’m putting on myself to be perfect or I’m anxious or self-conscious about taekwondo…I’m not. My taekwondo practice is as much as spiritual practice as it is physical. It is a joy to do, and I love challenging myself. As I continue to evolve and change, so does my practice. The more mindful I am of my taekwondo practice, the more I fulfillment I gain from it. Okay, I can’t do a jump spin kick to save my life, but everything else is peaceful, floating cloud, enlightened hippie bliss. Ahhh.

Anyway, last night’s class was dedicated to helping our testing students. As a group we ran through a good chunk of the kicking requirements that our lone bo dan will have to do at next week’s test to earn his first degree black belt. You know all those kicks and combinations you learned over the years in taekwondo class? Yeah, do them ALL in succession without stopping other than taking a few seconds to wipe steaming sweat from your face. Although my instructor paid most of his attention to testing students, I took it seriously, giving it my all and performing each kick as if I were the one testing. Power, speed, and strength never go out of style. Black belts can’t afford to get sloppy.

When we switched to breaking practice (hitting pads to simulate the precision and power necessary for board breaking) I grabbed a sturdy red pad and was assigned a tiny girl who wore glasses and a silk flower clipped to her curly hair. This was a black belt test of a different kind. I had cast to my own training self-interests aside and go into coach mode. How would I talk to her? How would I draw out the personality of one of our quietest students? How would I help her make decisions? How would I demonstrate and coach in a way that she could understand and follow my instructions?  I prayed that I wouldn’t have to re-tie her belt, which is the hardest thing to do with a wriggling little kid.

When the testing students were asked to demonstrate their breaking techniques in front of the entire class, I watched my little charge with anticipation, hoping she did everything we practiced. She did great job and had a big smile on her face as the class applauded. (Thankfully her belt remained intact.) Whew. Our work had paid off. I’d just passed another black belt test. I’m ready for the next one tomorrow.

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Final Color Belt Test – Savoring the Moment

sweet savoring

“You’re a good student. You have spirit,” Grandmaster said on Thursday, referring to the “taekwondo spirit” of integrity and perseverance. I was perched on a chair in front of the desk in his office discussing Friday’s bo dan test and paying him for the upcoming months’ lessons.
“Do you want to be an instructor?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” I said eagerly but softly, suddenly feeling very shy. I was reminded of when  I turned in my testing form for red belt nearly a year ago and he talked about the importance and responsibility that comes with that rank. The red belt test and my very first test, during which I jumped from white belt to green belt, were both important milestones in my taekwondo journey. Friday’s test would be the third and final significant color belt test. The weight of it settled onto my shoulders but not in an oppressive way. It was a firm but gentle pressure, an invisible voice whispering, “You can do this.”

Yesterday my Friday was a whirlwind of meetings and project tweaking, which made the hours fly by and keep my mind off the test. I went home a little early and exchanged one identity for another as I peeled off my poofy retro-silouetted dress, designer belt and heels and donned a pair of workout pants and my lucky testing shirt, a faded black tank from the GAP.

I had a quiet half hour at home before I had to leave so I went through a pre-test ritual to calm my body. I had an icy glass of gingerale to settle my stomach and cool down my core. My commute home was a half hour drive straight into the bright afternoon Texas sun, so for good measure I stuffed a soft cloth ice pack down the front of my shirt. It both cooled down my skin and calmed my nerves. I kept the ice pack on my chest and neck while I washed my face and splashed it with a mix of rosewater and glycerin, meticulously groomed my eyebrows, slicked back my hair, and reapplied some liquid liner into a neat cat-eye. I did a few stretches to take out the kinks in my back and hamstrings from sitting in the office all day, threw my duffel bag in the car, and drove to the dojang.

Usually I get incredibly nervous during a belt test. During other tests when I was asked Korean terminology it was all I could do to raise my voice above a shaky whisper. This time I remained calm through most of it other than a little wobble right at the end of my form (otherwise it was a pretty good performance). Maybe it was because the test was at my old familiar school with my familiar instructors (we have some students from branch schools test with us). Maybe it was because I trusted my body to do what I had been practicing so diligently for weeks. I figured I was as ready as I’d ever be.

The main reason I stayed calm (for the most part) was because I told myself silently to enjoy this moment, take it all in, look around and make memories. Like a final theater performance in high school or the last day of a job I was leaving on good terms, this last test was a send-off to a period of my life that I savored but was ready to let go. I may attend more color belt tests throughout my life, but never again will I be a student. I let that sink in as I settled onto the floor and smiled at the white belts throwing their blocks and punches with beginners’ zeal. I held my breath and silently sent thoughts of encouragement while my orange belt classmate did two forms for his green belt. At times I would close my eyes and take a deep breath as my time to perform got closer and closer.

“Breathe deeply and move slowly,” one of the masters advised me before the test began. I kept that in mind as I moved through my forms. While I was still a little wobbly and nervous I just reminded myself that I was in my old familiar dojang and I should enjoy them as much as I do during class. Kicks were o-kaaaay, not my best, but I know my masters and Grandmaster had seen me perform the kicks countless times before, so I figured that would work in my favor. I still performed them as best as I could and used my old dance training of laser-focused eyes for a dramatic touch.

One-steps and hand-to-hand went better than I imagined. S., a teen who is testing for black belt today, came to the test to be my partner. Even though he’s a rubbery goofball I was glad he was there since we had partnered together many times before and were very familiar with each other’s style and tendencies. After I was finished I stood quietly facing the judges’ table while the two visiting black tips finished their sets. At that moment a flush of blood, sweat, lymphatic fluid, and whatever else was in my body suddenly felt like it was coursing through me like cars on a race track. I kept my hands clasped and my eyes demurely pointed toward the floor while my face flushed with blood and sweat poured down my back. It was as if my mind was finally free to grasp the gravity of the moment. I had done the toughest part. I still had sparring and breaking, but those pieces are fun and not nearly as nerve-wracking as doing forms and one-steps in a silent room with all eyes on me.

I sparred a teenage girl from a visiting school where one of our masters teaches. I had politely introduced myself to her and her brothers beforehand to welcome her to our school and to also size her up since I would likely be fighting her. She put up a good fight that left me with a deep ache on the side of my shin. My boyfriend, a seasoned competitor in wrestling and jiu jitsu, had been telling me about the benefits of competing because you have to think quickly against a person you don’t know rather than your classmates, who tend to become predictable. While this wasn’t a competition she was a completely new partner for me, so I only had seconds to figure out what to do in the ring.

Breaking! This is the final part of the test and one of the most exciting for the students and spectators. I ended up being the last one in line, which for a moment made me panic and wonder if I’d have a repeat of the glorious pratfall from Wednesday night. The diva in me took over and was determined to make it a grand finale. The purpose of this type of breaking is for focus, precision, and speed. The boards aren’t that heavy so in theory they’re fairly easy to break although it is possible to miss, which I have done on more than one occasion.  I set up my holders and slowly practiced my aim and placement. When I turned slowly for a mock spin kick Grandmaster jerked his board out of the way and flashed a grin at me as if to say, “Quit messing around and get on with it!”

Go time. I slammed my elbow into the board with a shriek, turned and kicked the crap out of the next board with a jump snap kick and whorled around to face the last board.
POP! A piece of board flew towards the mirror (and a classmates’ head) after I smacked through it with a spin kick. Everyone cheered and started laughing. I turned around to flash a silly apologetic smile at my classmate’s wife (poor guy, I threw a kick at his head during my form because I was close to the wall where he was sitting; I guess I had it out for him) and bowed to my instructors as they smirked and handed me my broken pieces.

“Bye!” one of my younger classmates said as I walked to my car. “We’re bo dans!!” she screamed. In the sky was a brilliant full moon shrouded by a pink halo. I smiled and silently basked in its glow and a deep appreciation of that evening’s test and all it meant to me.

Finals Week – Bo Dan Edition

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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.
SPLAT!!!
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–

SPLAT!!

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.

Recovery Hacks
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.

The End of March Madness

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Shady’s back. Tell a friend….And now that song is stuck in your head. You’re WELCOME.

Last night I went to the dojang for an extra day of practice, and it felt like I was finally turning a corner on what has been a weird, mentally foggy month spent in a dark exile of depression compounded by snacks, Netflix, and wine. I don’t know what the hell was up with March, but by the end of it I felt like wrapping myself in a blanket, shuffling around my home with all the blinds closed, and saying annoyingly morose poetic things like, “Now is the winter of my discontent.”

BLEAHHHH!

At the end of March I took a much-needed vacation to the east coast to spend some quality time with my boyfriend and get away from the daily grind. It was just what I needed to regain my curiosity, hone my focus, and pull me out of my shell…well, as much as someone like me can be pulled out of one’s shell. I kept hearing George Harrison singing in my ear: “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting…here comes the sun!” And by that I mean the metaphorical lifting of my mood along with my optimism for the future, not just the big hot round yellow thing on the box of Raisin Bran. A good taekwondo practice was the icing the delicious sugary carby cake that I’ll soon be avoiding on the last leg to Black Belt.

Tuesday night is not a class night for me, but I asked to come in and use the space to work out since I am testing for bo dan at the end of the week and had missed three classes due to my vacation. I was a little worried about how I’d hold up in TKD after a week off, but it went surprisingly well.

It was white belt class night, so my instructor suggested that I stay in the back and help two other test preppers with their forms and then work on my own stuff. The best way to learn something is by experiencing it, and teaching and coaching others only adds to your understanding. As I said in a previous post, I’m not that great at sparring, but I caught on to refereeing a lot faster than I thought I would. Some of it involves common sense things like firmly telling a bossy seven-year-old that she was NOT allowed to do head contact even though she swore that last week the instructor said it was OK. Other times it requires a sharper eye to provide technique tips and guidance. So I took the opportunity to see what new things I could learn by helping others learn and practice.

The two other students testing were a young boy whose sixty-seven year old grandfather is a black belt in our advanced class. The other was a tall, lanky twenty-something orange belt who is being skipped to green belt. I had tested from white to green belt two months after I started back in taekwondo so I immediately felt a mix of empathy for the stress he was under and admiration for his advancement.  I walked them through palgwes il-jang and yi-jang, first doing it with them by my count to make sure they knew the sequence. Then I watched them flow through it by their own count. I challenged myself to provide useful feedback to them the way my instructor does whenever he leads us through forms. What good is having them do it over and over if the details of the technique aren’t correct?

The boy made the typical mistakes young children do—rushing through it without breathing, loose fists, weak front stances. The adult orange belt looked pretty darn good—his breath was controlled and purposeful, he landed his stances before performing a strike or block, his eyes were focused, and his posture was strong. I reminded him to make his front stances lower and more solid since weak stances stand out more on tall guys (not to mention throw them off balance) and helped him correct a front snap kick that was just flopping forward rather than being snapped back and landed correctly. His mind was getting wrapped up in all the things you have to do at once, which is overwhelming to a beginner. If he was making any particular mistake it was what all adult students do (yours truly included)—worry too much!

Then I got a taste of my own medicine when Grandmaster meticulously walked me through palgwe pal-jang, picking apart each movement until I did it to his satisfaction. “You need to fix your side kick,” he said, glaring at me.  His tone suggested that it was not just a friendly reminder. When I performed it the final time I tried to be mindful of everything I saw the other students do plus the things I needed to correct—breath control, strong striking while staying loose and relaxed, proper foot placement, and of course locking and then properly pulling back that damn side kick before landing. And to think side kick was my favorite kick when I was a child. UGH!

I ended my workout by practicing my breaking technique with Grandmaster and my instructor. I started with an elbow break, one of my favorite hand techniques, and then followed it with a jump front snap-kick which oddly enough is a lot better on the left side. My “finale” was a solid spin kick, my old nemesis. It felt cathartic to not only smack the crap out of a practice pad but to also prove to myself that I could do something that once seemed impossible. (But pride cometh before the fall. Funny story about spin kick to come later) Maybe this was all some kind of spring awakening after a mental hibernation. My favorite reader joaquindfw (yes, he’s my favorite and he knows why) shared a comforting thought from Nietzsche: “just as we pass through physical stages in life, we pass through various stages of consciousness. We are constantly growing.” Maybe March was a deliberate and needed period of suffering to work through some old habits, resistance, and mental blocks so I could progress along my journey. Either way, it’s nice to feel like my old (or new, really) self again and get back to life.

South American Headache Remedy

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Wednesdays are my long days and usually leave me exhausted, drenched in sweat, and mentally a little out of it by the time I get home. Seeing as it was my first week back after way too many schedule interruptions I was determined to go to class whether my body could keep up or not.

“Wow our students suck!” I joked as I walked into the dojang to find my instructor by himself, stretching on the floor. Apparently everyone in Texas is out of town for spring break, at least all of our orange and yellow belt students. The nice thing about spring break is the lighter traffic, so I had extra time to change and warm up before sparring class. As we warmed up my instructor mentioned that he was fending off a headache, and somehow we got on the topic of the power of the mind over the body such as the Silva technique and the law of attraction. Little did I know that was going to come back into play much later that night.

We ended up having a huge sparring class, mostly junior green and blue belts with a few older upper belts. One of my favorite things about big sparring classes is that the adults get to have more breaks. Wait, did I say that out loud? I mean we have more time to referee the kids. I didn’t think I would enjoy refereeing since I’m not very good at sparring, but I actually enjoy it very much. You don’t have to be a top athlete to coach a top athlete. It certainly helps, but the job of a coach is primarily to observe and provide feedback.  A side bonus is that it helps me learn and file away ideas for what I can use when I am actually sparring.

All the kids disappeared and we were down to five for red and black belt class. We had perfect partner pairs – two black belts, two bo dans, and two black tips, so we spent most of the time working on testing requirements. We all agreed to do a test prep workout on Saturday.

“You’re going to be tired on Sunday,” my instructor said.

“I need it!” I replied. “I gained three pounds during the ice storms!” He just laughed and rolled his eyes.
I finally made it home, gulped down some Gatorade and water and went to sleep.

About two hours later I woke up with a horrible headache, likely due to dehydration and/or being rattled from having the crap beaten out of me. I tried everything to make it go away—popping Tylenol, drinking water, telling myself silently that my headache was fading, being grateful for my pain-free head, doing a few gentle inversions to flush the blood. None of that provided any relief until I remembered a trick my boyfriend taught me. He is quite cosmopolitan and modern, but once in a while he brings up home remedies from his childhood in Bolivia. He swears by the headache trick—douse a bandana in rubbing alcohol, tie it tightly around your head, and let the magic happen. It took a while for it to work this time, but eventually I was fast asleep with the reading light still on, a book smashed into my pillow, and a light blue bandanna tied snugly around my head.

Dull remnants of the headache remained throughout today until I had a piece of dark chocolate after lunch. Coincidence? Hmm.

Is This the End or Just Beginning?

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“Any New Year’s resolutions?” my instructor asked, raising his eyebrows expectantly at the end of class.
“To not write 2014 on my papers,” remarked one of the teenage black belts with a  smirk. Even though his smart-assotry gets old pretty quickly I giggled at that one. My instructor rolled his eyes and bounced his question back to the rest of the class.

“To get my black belt,” said a classmate proudly. Damnit, he took my idea! My mind had wandered off to my usual internal hippie daydreams like meditating more, being more mindful and present (ironically I wasn’t), start swimming in the early mornings again like I used to, juicing when I what I really want to do is get curly fries at Arby’s. I had forgotten what was so obvious and looming for a few of us:
Black belt. This is it. This is the year.
Holy crap.

Now for those of you following along, you know as well as I do that first dan is just the beginning, not the end-all-be-all pinnacle of training. That’s where so many people, including many taekwondo students, get it wrong. Color belts are basic training; you don’t stop learning (or training although many do) when you achieve a black belt. In fact, that’s when you’re learning really kicks into gear along with leadership expectations and giving back to your little taekwondo community. There are several levels beyond first dan, and they take decades to attain. Even then the journey is never complete.

“2015 is going to be a good year,” our grandmaster chimed in as he padded quietly to the front of the room. “It’s important to set goals,” he said, glaring at each of us in the eye. This is a man who has run a successful business for over 40 years, written a book, and achieved many prestigious awards for his contribution to taekwondo and the community. This is a man who is living proof of the power of goal-setting and focus. We all shifted nervously and made silent promises to ourselves to step up our games.

I usually don’t make new year’s resolutions, and I sometimes even take a break from goal-setting…for a little while. I do frequently put my desires out to the Universe, toy with my expectations to see if they line up with what I truly want, and work my butt off if so required, I mean inspired. Things tend to work out if I don’t stress about them too much.

So here are my new year’s resolutions for taekwondo:

-To stop hopping during 360 roundhouse
-To cleanly and precisely execute a turning back side kick (not lifting my leg like a dog who’s about to…well, never mind)
-To be able to run through all color belt forms by memory
-To be able to accurately teach and correct other students (emphasis on accurately because I have sometimes taught them my bad habits!)
-To improve my left side spin kick to match my right side, which has vastly improved over the past year
-To really execute a flying side kick the way God and nature and all the taekwondo masters intended
-To finally nail a flying turning back side kick instead of getting confused and just doing a half-assed ballet tour jete
-To pull my partners in closer during takedowns (I tend to twist their arm out at an awkward angle)
-To memorize all the hand-to-hand techniques on both sides
-To accurately execute my one-steps….and bonus if I can memorize all the past one-steps
-To improve my speed, stamina, and strategy during sparring
-To break a board with a ridge-hand strike and with my nemesis the spin kick
-To get yoga teacher training during the summer during all this*

-And oh yeah, to get my black belt

*Summer yoga teacher training seemed like a sure thing for a long time. I have the school picked out, the money saved, and time blocked off on my calendar. With the black belt test and necessary training suddenly becoming a reality it forces me to reexamine how and where I will be directing my energy this year. It may be the right time to add this goal, or it may not be.

Black Tip Test – An Exercise in a LOT of Patience

Blacktip Shark5

HOW many yellow belts are testing? NOOOO! Swim away! Swim away!

Thursday night we held a color belt test in the dojang. I was testing for my black tip along with the two little prodigies Violet* and Karim, and Noah, whom I mentioned in a previous post, who was testing for bo dan. My boyfriend and I arrived there early so I could warm up and cram in a little flying kick practice. I had a talk with Noah about exercising some control during takedowns as my boyfriend glowered protectively in the background. We agreed not to kill each other and practiced our one-steps before the room became too choked with students warming up.

Apparently the gaggle of yellow belt boys who rushed in had been free-basing their Halloween candy before the test. Soon the room was filled with giggling tumbling little monsters as my instructor scurried around angrily trying to keep them from bashing themselves into the mirror.

We had to wait for five white belts, four orange belts, and about five thousand yellow belts to test, so I thought I would provide a good example to the group and show how an advanced belt sits quietly at attention. I perched prissily in half lotus, a smug smile of content on my face. That went out the window about ten minutes into the test. There’s only so much one can take of watching kids with glassy stares fumble through blocks, kicks, and a hot mess of forms and one-steps. Thirty minutes into the test I was rolling my eyes at my boyfriend and pointing an imaginary gun at my head.

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Three hours and a Whataburger patty melt later…

Two hours later it was finally my time to test! Thankfully my hips hadn’t tightened up too much and I was able to scramble to the middle of the floor without tripping over myself. Violet and Karim had tested together, much to the entertainment of the crowd. The kids whooped and cheered as they expertly threw snappy blocks and tossed each other to the ground. I wondered why everyone had to make a fuss over them since I saw them do it all the time in class, but my boyfriend reminded me later: they’re six. I often forget that.

Noah and I tested together although we did our forms separately and did different kicks. Thankfully I did not have to do my sad rendition of a jump spin kick. (Okay, the right side isn’t so bad). I was proud of how I performed my form, and jazzed it up a bit when I could. (Hint, breathing helps keep you from rushing) I was nervous during one-steps as usual, but got through it without forgetting anything and did a decent job of landing properly during a face-forward takedown. Breaking was a fun crowd-pleaser as usual. I did a palm-heel strike, jump side kick, and turning back side kick. All those years of smacking my steering wheel in rush hour traffic had prepared me well. My biggest concern was messing up my left and right during flying kicks. Thankfully I didn’t have to do a flying turning back side kick. Right now the closest I can muster is a tour jete from my college ballet days.

Finally it was over and my sweet long-suffering boyfriend and I went home, happy that I only have one more color belt test until the Big One.

*Names changed